Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bob Berdella: The Kansas City Butcher

More Victims?

Even as detectives were working on identifications, the skulls were submitted to chemical dating tests at the University of Kansas. Under Dr. Finnegan's guidance, the team there estimated that the skull was that of a male between 25 and 36 when he had died. He might have been dead anywhere from six weeks to 10 months. The vertebra showed evidence of cutting with some implement, such as a knife or saw.

The skull from the closet was estimated to have been that of a man between the age of 21 and 32, and he had likely been dead for about a year and a half.

In neither case could anyone determine a cause of death. They would need the bodies for that—and even then, unless there had been clear damage to the bone, they might not be able to give a definitive statement on that matter.

A chainsaw seized from the home was taken to the crime lab for analysis. The analysts found traces of human blood, hair, and flesh. All of this was carefully preserved.

Berdella's background was excavated as well. Born in Ohio on January 31, 1949, he had been raised a Catholic. His father worked in a factory and his mother had been an ordinary homemaker. He had been a good student, especially in art. When he was 16, his father had died, devastating Bobby and souring him on his religion. He became a loner, aware at a young age that he was gay. He moved to Kansas City in 1967 to attend the art institute. He hoped to become a professor but instead became a chef. He also took on small-time drug peddling and for that and drug possession he was twice arrested, but he served no time. He purchased the house on Charlotte Street and began collecting artifacts and oddities. Ending his career as a chef, he devoted himself to his store.

Dr. Cyril Wecht
Dr. Cyril Wecht

Investigators continued to dig in the backyard to find bodies. The original hole, where the head was found, yielded a few more vertebrae but no other bones. They had divided the area into grids, working them with a group of police academy recruits one plot at a time. They were certain the place was filled with deceased victims, but further efforts proved unproductive. They found a few animal bones, writes Wecht, and some glass jars filled with bird feathers (which Berdella later claimed he had no knowledge of).

Luminol Glow at Crime Scene
Luminol Glow at Crime Scene

In the basement, crime scene technicians prepared to have a proper look for evidence there. They had seen what appeared to be items spotted with blood that had dripped from the ceiling, so they made some decisions about what they had to do.

 

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