Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The BTK Story

Dawn

On January 15, 1974, a chilly winter day, 15-year-old Charlie Otero began his afternoon walk home from school.  Charlie, his parents, and four siblings had recently moved into a quiet peaceful suburban neighborhood in a small frame house located at 803 North Edgemoor Street.

Charlie, happy that another school day had come to an end, walked gingerly up the side walk towards his home.  As he opened the front door and walked into the living room, nothing immediately seemed out of the ordinary. "Hello, is anyone home?" he called out into the quiet house.  There was no response.  Not even a bark from his dog. Such quiet was unusual. With some trepidation, Charlie walked toward his parents' bedroom.  A strange feeling of dread welled up inside him.

Julie Otero
Julie Otero

Charlie's father, Joseph, 38, was lying face down on the floor at the foot of his bed; his wrists and ankles had been bound.  His mother, Julie, 34, lay on the bed bound in similar fashion, only she had been gagged.  For a few seconds, Charlie could not move, he didn't know what to do.  Moments later his senses came back to him and he rushed out in desperation to get help for his parents, not realizing that he had experienced only a portion of the horror that the house had in store.

Joseph Otero
Joseph Otero

A neighbor who came over to the house to help realized that when he tried to call the police, the phone lines had been severed.

Joseph Otero II
Joseph Otero II

As the police searched the house, they were shocked to find nine-year-old Joseph II in his bedroom face down on the floor at the foot of his bed.  His wrists and ankles were also bound, the only difference being that over his head was a hood -- and according to one reporter, he had three hoods covering his head.

Josephine Otero
Josephine Otero

The worst was yet to come. Downstairs in the basement, Charlie's eleven-year-old sister, Josephine, was discovered hanging by her neck from a pipe; she was partially nude, dressed only in a sweatshirt and socks, and she had been gagged.

Investigators were stunned at this daytime execution-style multiple murder in such a quiet neighborhood.

From the very beginning of this case, police have been very cautious about revealing the details of the murders. What they did say was that all four of the victims had been strangled with lengths of cord cut from a Venetian blind. There were no cords like that in he house, so the killer had brought the cords, hoods, tape, wire cutters and possibly a gun with him.

According to Capt. Paul Dotson of the Wichita Police Department, semen was found throughout the house, and it appeared as though the killer had masturbated on some of the victims, although none had been sexually assaulted.  Joseph Otero's watch was missing from the scene and has never been recovered.  Aside from Julie Otero's purse being dumped and the missing watch, there was no real evidence of forced entry, robbery, or a struggle.

The coroner determined that all four murders occurred well before noon and very likely around 8 or nine in the morning. Police theorized that while Joseph Otero was driving the older three children to school that the murderer gained entry into the house where Julie and her two younger children were by themselves. Once the killer subdued and bound the three of them, he waited for Joseph to come home to take the younger two children to school and caught him by surprise. Someone had put the Oteros' notoriously unfriendly large dog out in back of the house.

The killer hung around for about an hour an a half, then took the Otero family car and left it parked near Dillons grocery not far away. Otero's neighbors noticed a man, possibly with a dark complexion, leaving Otero's home in their car.

The Otero's car was discovered in Oliver Square's parking lot
The Otero's car was discovered in Oliver Square's parking lot

Police initially wondered just who these Oteros were and what they had done to warrant this brutal execution. Several things they learned suggested motives, but nothing conclusive.

Joseph Otero had been born in Puerto Rico and, after moving to the States, began a career in the military. Just before his death, he had retired from the Air Force where he was a flight instructor and mechanic. He was physically very fit and was an excellent boxer. His colleagues liked him and no one could voice a motive for his slaying.

The same type of report came back on Julie. She had recently been caught in a downsizing at Coleman Company, but she would have been rehired when business picked up again. She, too, was a friendly person and a very good mother. Like her husband, she was very accomplished in the art of self-defense. She had extensive training in judo.

A police sketch of the man believed to have been seen in the area
A police sketch of the man believed to have been seen in the area

The Otero children were very good in school and were liked by the people who knew them. They, too, took up the family sport of judo and were well beyond the average when it came to self defense.

So, what to make of this case? This brilliantly planned and orchestrated crime which required surveillance, perfect timing, and the ability to subdue a group of people who were normally more than capable to defending themselves. It had the hallmarks of a military operation, but then there were these nagging details that the police didn't want to discuss. Police Chief Floyd Hannon told the Wichita Eagle in January of 1974 that "the way in which family members were slain indicates a fetish on the part of the assailant."  

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