Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The BTK Story

Digital Footprints

For as long as computers have been around, so has the science of computer forensics. It is a science that has been used for various purposes, especially compiling electronic evidence for use in criminal investigations. The BTK case is no different. Investigators in the case have claimed that the use of computer forensics is one of the methods used to bring BTK suspect Dennis Rader to justice.

Many believe that when they erase a document from their computer or floppy disk the evidence is lost forever. This is usually not the case. In fact, David Stenhouse, a computer investigator at Seattle's University of Washington said that, "a savvy investigator with the right tools can fairly easily reconstruct information that the user thought had been deleted," Dion Lefler of the Wichita Eagle reported.

According to an article by Joan Feldman and Roger Kohn of Computer Forensics Inc., computer-based evidence that has been recently deleted (residual data) can be recovered up until the time it is "overwritten with data from a newly saved file or until it is 'wiped' by specialized programs." In the case of the diskette and church computer allegedly used by Rader, this was not the case. Investigators were able to recover, at least partially, the digital footprints left behind when he purportedly wrote a message to Wichita Fox News affiliate station KSAS on February 16, 2005. When they recovered the data and contacted the church whose name was on the disk, Rader's name is purported to have popped up, leading to his arrest as key suspect in the BTK case. It is believed that their case was further strengthened by DNA evidence obtained either prior to or after Rader's arrest.

The precise evidence compiled against Rader, which eventually lead to his arrest is vague and the various theories surrounding it unsubstantiated. It is likely to remain that way for some time, at least until the case goes to trial. Lefler stated in another Wichita Eagle article that District Judge Greg Waller who is presiding over the BTK case has "issued a pair of orders" sealing the files that explain why Rader was arrested. The reason why the judge has issued the orders has been publicly withheld but the report stated that one reason is to prevent such disclosure from damaging the ongoing case against Rader.

District Judge Greg Waller
District Judge Greg Waller

The order to keep Rader's files closed has left many, especially the media, in an uproar. At present, information concerning the case has been wrought with inaccuracies and false reports. The Wichita Eagle, who has requested more information into Rader's arrest in an open letter to the judge, believes that the release of data might "quell much of the rumor and speculation that is currently running rampant."

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