Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bob Berdella: The Kansas City Butcher


Just as Bryson had described, they found a closed room with a bed and a television. On the bed were some burned ropes, which Bryson said he had lighted with discarded matches to free himself, and some bindings tied to the bars on the headboard. Upon closer examination, it was clear that those bars had been well worn by something like a great deal of rubbing by these bindings. Jackman and Cole use this detail to foreshadow what was to come by hinting that Bryson's treatment had been done there before, perhaps many times.

Near the bed was some sort of electrical device, plugged in, with wires that led to the bed. The police also found syringes on a tray on a table, prepared and ready. A bottle of eye drops and a bottle of what appeared to be a liquid drug sat with them. Pornographic magazines lay on the floor.

It was all pretty much as Bryson had told them—his captor had been injecting him as he was tied to the bed. Corroborating another part of his story, the window was damaged as well. But that did not yet mean that this scenario could not be evidence of some perverse game between lovers.

In the adjoining room, the searchers found a box full of Polaroid snapshots of Bryson, who appeared to be frightened and suffering. They catalogued everything methodically, still believing that there would be a mundane motive behind it all.

But then things shifted. Inside another room, which appeared to be Berdella's bedroom, detectives discovered two human skulls and two envelopes full of teeth. That was jarring. Then back in the torture room, they found a collection of audiotapes, what appeared to be a log or notebook full of scribbled notes that looked like code, and more photographs.

But these were not of Bryson. They depicted other males, also bound and assaulted. One of them looked dead.

An examination of the log, as detailed in Giannangelo's analysis of serial crimes, revealed a meticulous mind with a clear need for control. The scribbler had made notes about what he had done to a victim and whether or not there was a reaction. If the reaction was verbal, he recorded the exact words the person had said. If he made an injection, he noted what it was and how much he had given. The sexual assaults were easy to decipher, and each one was accompanied by a notion regarding the victim's response. In peculiar shorthand, he jotted the times, the victim's slightest movement, whether the victim was aware of things being done to him, and sometimes an ominous notation, "DD" or "86." After that, for each person, there was nothing more, aside form the date and time of this unexplained event.

Dr. Michael Finnegan
Dr. Michael Finnegan

To find out where they stood, police called in additional personnel, including forensic anthropologist Dr. Michael Finnegan from Kansas State University.   The crime scene unit had already arrived and they were busy dusting for fingerprints. They collected bed sheets from the suspect bed, the pillowcase that Bryson had described having over his head, and items that appeared to be bloodstained.

When Dr. Finnegan arrived that evening, he examined the skulls and said that one was old and was probably a fake curio purchased from somewhere, but the other one was recent and human. The teeth appeared to be associated with that skull and he estimated it to be from a young male.

Another search warrant was sought, but this time for suspected murder.

More photographs turned up, along with more written records, and a wallet with a man's name in it that was not Berdella's turned out to be a missing person. Then newspaper articles about another missing man were discovered on a table. Even worse, a fresh area of cement had been poured in the basement's concrete floor.

This case was no lovers' quarrel or even just a case of sexual assault. Something much larger was happening. Now, on the suspicion of murder, they could look through the entire house. The crime scene personnel suited up to protect themselves from bacteriological contamination, should they turn up a body. No one knew what to think and it was better for them that they not form any hypotheses just yet.


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