Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The BTK Story

Nightmare in Wichita - Book Review

By Marilyn Bardsley

Attorney Robert Beattie's book Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler has strengths and weaknesses.

Its greatest strength is a very detailed accounting of the individual known BTK murders that began with the Otero family in 1974. From interviews with police, victim family members and associates, and journalists, Beattie has gleaned quite a bit of detail that never got into the newspapers.

<em>Nightmare in Wichita</em>, by Robert Beattie
Nightmare in Wichita, by Robert Beattie

For example, he learned of some twelve BTK suspects that the police had at one time under surveillance: among them were a couple of former police officers, a journalist who allegedly practiced bondage, an emotionally disturbed Vietnam veteran, and a former fireman who was said to have bound and tortured a prostitute.  All of the twelve, who remain unnamed in his book, were cleared, mostly by DNA.

The book starts out strong with a very comprehensive examination of the Otero family murders, dispelling some of the myths that have floated around various Internet bulletin boards, such as there was semen all over the Otero house. Beattie clarifies that semen was only found at the scene of Josie Otero's murder, on her leg and on pipes behind her hanging body.

Despite the grim subject matter, Beattie inserts some humor when Wichita officials travel to Puerto Rico to investigate the Otero case and are stopped by customs officials because of the horrific crime scene photos in their possession.

The further one gets into the chronology of the case, the less appealing the book becomes. Beattie fills up many, many pages with his meetings with various individuals that clearly interested Beattie, but are likely to bore readers.  His excitement about suddenly being interviewed as an expert after BTK resurfaced in March, 2004, is given much more coverage than the reader really needs. One gets the feeling that he's using filler to get to whatever number of pages he promised.

The most serious weakness in Beattie's book is the rush to publish and cash in while the case is so much in the forefront of public consciousness. The result is that the most interesting aspect of the case in recent times — the character, culpability and motivations of suspect Dennis Rader — are barely addressed. Rader's personality and his interactions with the community have been addressed more thoroughly on cable news than the few pages of information that Beattie has stuck on to the end of his book. As a reader, I wished that Beattie had published a bit later after more is learned about the man police have called the BTK Strangler.

This problem is not entirely Beattie's but rather the problem created for book authors by Internet sites that can publish, update and distribute the news around the world in the speed of light.


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