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Police Tie BTK Strangler to Professor, Folk Song

Writings from the serial killer show he knew a Wichita State academic and 'Oh Death,' they say.

August 21, 2004|From Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. — Investigators in the BTK serial killings disclosed Friday that they had evidence from his writings that the killer was familiar with a professor at Wichita State University who died in 1991 and a folk song she had discussed in class.

Police Lt. Ken Landwehr asked the public for help in identifying anyone who had contact with the late professor P.J. Wyatt or knew someone familiar with the song "Oh Death."

In a series of letters, the BTK killer claimed responsibility for eight deaths in Wichita between 1974 and 1986. The letters "BTK" stand for "bind, torture, kill." The communications had stopped for more than two decades before resuming this year.

Police said Friday that a letter sent in May to KAKE-TV included a table of contents titled the "BTK Story" that had a chapter titled "PJs."

Landwehr also disclosed that in a 1978 letter, the killer included a poem titled "Oh! Death to Nancy" that had striking similarities with the lyrics of the folk song. One of the BTK victims was Nancy Fox.

"The FBI profilers have confirmed our belief that there is a definite connection in the reference to PJ in the letter we received last May and the folklore song 'Oh Death,' " Landwehr said.

Wyatt discussed the song "Oh Death" in an English literature class at Wichita State University during the 1970s. It was a relatively unknown song at the time, though more recently it has become known from a version in the 2001 movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

While a professor at Wichita State, Wyatt was interviewed by police investigating the BTK killings, said Amy Geiszler-Jones, spokeswoman for Wichita State.

Wyatt worked with investigators to analyze the folk song and also reviewed her student class lists with police, Geiszler-Jones said. The spokeswoman said she had learned this information Friday from colleagues of Wyatt's.

Wyatt, who specialized in American folklore, taught in the English department at Wichita State from 1964 until she retired in 1986.

Attention has refocused on BTK since March, when the Wichita Eagle received a letter with information on an unsolved 1986 killing. The letter contained a copy of the victim's driver's license and photos of her taken after she was slain.

It was the first communication from the killer known as the BTK Strangler since the late 1970s, and police said it linked the serial killer to the eighth slaying. The other seven people were slain in the 1970s.

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