Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify who attended a meeting 90 days ago about new cases potentially involving convicted serial killer Dennis Rader. We regret the error.
WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – An Oklahoma district attorney says there is insufficient information to pursue charges against serial killer BTK of Kansas regarding an Osage County cold case. But after he spoke, the Osage County Sheriff’s Office disagreed with some of his comments and said it would hold a news conference Tuesday afternoon to share updates on the case.
District Attorney Mike Fisher covers Osage and Pawnee counties in Oklahoma. On Monday morning, he held a news conference at the Pawnee County Courthouse in Pawnee, Oklahoma:
Last month, Osage County authorities said Dennis Rader, the man convicted of being the BTK serial killer in Wichita, is “a prime suspect” in some unsolved missing persons cases, including Cynthia Dawn Kinney from Pawhuska.
Last week, the Osage County, Oklahoma, undersheriff said they have at least four “pretty strong connections” to cold case investigations linked to Rader that they feel could go to trial.
On Monday, Fisher said he is not at a point where he can press charges against Rader.
“As of this date, the information that has been shared is insufficient to file criminal charges against Dennis Rader,” he said. “Given the interest that this information has garnered, I have asked that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation open a formal investigation into the disappearance of Cynthia Dawn Kinney.”
Fisher said he will file charges if he learns of any evidence that warrants it. He said he sat in on a law enforcement interview about Rader about 90 days ago. He said Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma investigators participated while Fisher and his investigator listened.
But he says the Osage County sheriff has not shared any physical evidence with the DA’s office.
“I have reached out to the sheriff through the undersheriff and asked if we could communicate on this, and so far, they have been reluctant to do so,” Fisher said.
“The information that we have received to this point, there are, I’ll call them rumors because they’ve not been substantiated yet, rumors as to potential other evidence that I have been made aware of,” Fisher said. “None of that at this point arises to the level of even reasonable suspicion.”
Fisher admits that he and Sheriff Eddie Virden do not have a good working relationship, but the DA says he has a good relationship with the OSBI. He said he has asked the OSBI to open a formal investigation because he wants to make sure information is being gathered appropriately.
“There are certain ways that an investigation is handled, and the things that I have seen give me pause and concern,” Fisher said. “The sheriff and I believe undersheriff went to Mr. Rader’s house with a search warrant, and they actually did a dig there. While I appreciate their enthusiasm, it’s probably not appropriate that they be doing that. It would probably be better left to investigators.”
He said he is not trying to cast aspersions on the sheriff.
“I’m not trying to create a conflict with the sheriff of Osage County,” he said. “But, there are certain ways to investigate a case, and I’m concerned that those proper investigative techniques have not been used. That’s why I asked the OSBI to assist.”
The DA’s concerns
Fisher pointed to concerns about things he has heard and read in the media about the Kinney case and any potential link to BTK.
The bank across from the laundromat
The sheriff’s office has said that investigators suspect Rader was in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, at the time of Kinney’s disappearance. They say he would have been installing security equipment at a bank across the street from the laundromat where she was last seen.
“A civilian hears, ‘OK, he worked for ADT,’ for instance. That was something that came out there. He worked for ADT,” Fisher said. “So ADT has this security system for a bank across the street from a laundromat where Ms. Kinney disappeared. The problem is … records with ADT don’t go back that far, so they have no way of confirming that Dennis Rader ever came into Oklahoma to install an ADT system. So that evidence would never make its way into court.”
In April, Osage County law enforcement dug up the site where the Rader’s shed once stood and said they found “pantyhose ligature” they believe Rader used to tie up victims. It has not been tested yet, but Fisher believes OSBI will have it tested.
“It’s a very difficult piece of pantyhose that’s been buried in the ground for who knows how many years,” Fisher said. “Trying to get definitive DNA evidence off that is going to be very difficult.”
He said if there is any evidence on the pantyhose, a proper search warrant helps determine if it is admissible in court. A reporter asked Fisher if a search warrant was necessary if the current owner of Rader’s old property gave permission for the property to be searched.
“I always ask law enforcement to do a search warrant,” he said. “That’s why I like to be involved early on in an investigation … If that search is based upon consent only, then the burden is on the prosecution, the state, to prove that the consent was voluntary.”
If evidence is found on the pantyhose, and if the case proceeds, there would be an evidentiary hearing before the court.
“If the court found that the chain of custody did not exist or there was a break in the chain of custody, we would not be able to introduce the evidence,” Fisher said.
Journal entry about “Bad Wash Day”
The Osage County Sheriff’s Office also released a journal entry allegedly written by Rader, referring to “PJ-Bad Wash Day.” In part, Rader allegedly said he would watch a nearby laundromat for a possible victim.
Fisher said his concern about that and what he has heard about the investigation is that it did not follow the usual investigative protocol.
“Investigations at the very basic level start out with, ‘What do we have?’ and ‘What evidence is there?’ and ‘Where does that evidence lead us?’ There’s not a law enforcement officer in the country that won’t tell you the best way to do an investigation is to follow the evidence.”
He said it does not appear the sheriff followed those steps.
“We had Sheriff Virden going to Kansas and interviewing Dennis Rader before he had ever seen any of his journals,” Fisher said. “Before he had gathered any evidence, he went, and he met with Dennis Rader in prison.”
The DA says that is not the way to handle the case.
“Yet that was the step that they took,” Fisher said. “Then they started working backwards, getting the search warrant, digging up Mr. Rader’s property, going through his journals, looking through that stuff, trying to find things.”
Plus, Fisher said the journal entries have been there during at least two previous investigations of the Kinney case.
Letter referring to more victims
The Osage County sheriff has previously said that Rader allegedly wrote to a friend claiming there were more victims and there was more evidence on his old property.
Fisher said that as a prosecutor, he would have questions about the letter.
“Who is the friend? Why did they reach out to the sheriff? What specifically did the letter say? And what specifically was the conversation that took place with Dennis Rader?
But Fisher said it would be naive to think that Rader has not committed more murders.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s committed more murders,” he said. “But I’ve still seen no evidence at all from any source that suggests he’s been in Pawhuska.”
“My preference would have been that Sheriff Virden had reached out to me early on and said, ‘Hey, I got this letter, and I suspect that Dennis Rader may be involved, and I’d like to go up and interview him, and would you like your investigator to go up with me?'” Fisher said. “I would have said, ‘Absolutely. Let’s do it. Let’s see what we’ve got and then work from the very beginning together.”
Fisher said they would have brought in the OSBI at some point.
Immunity from the death penalty
Rader, 78, has been in the El Dorado Correctional Facility since his sentencing in 2005. He is serving 10 life sentences for 10 convictions of first-degree murder.
His daughter, Kerri Rawson, has said that a federal prosecutor offered her father immunity if he confessed to any other murders that he may have committed.
Fisher does not believe the Kinney case would rise to the federal level. But he said the sheriff’s office asked him about offering immunity from the death penalty.
“I was contacted by the sheriff’s office several months ago in the early stages of this investigation about whether I would be willing to allow the sheriff’s office to offer immunity from the death penalty if Mr. Rader would confess to this crime, and I advised them that I would not,” Fisher said. “I said that not because I’m trying to be difficult, but the courts are very suspect, as you can imagine, of any confession that results from that type of agreement.”
Fisher said he is concerned that someone else committed the crime against Kinney, and he said they have someone else they are considering.
“I asked the OSBI to not only look at Dennis Rader but to look at other possibilities,” he said. “We’ve had, since this has all occurred, we’ve had a lead on somebody else.”
“That’s in the very early stages, but there is a second possibility,” Fisher said. “If Mr. Rader is a first possibility, there is a second possibility that actually, in my mind, probably makes a little more sense.”
“The things that I have heard pertaining to the second suspect, I believe, are more verifiable than perhaps the information we have that suggests Dennis Rader’s involvement,” he said.
He said the second potential suspect is dead.
Fisher also said he does not think they will ever solve the Kinney case because of how many years it has been since she disappeared.
“I hope I’m wrong, and I hope this new lead, that there’s enough information, and we do have some stuff, I’m hoping there’s enough information that it may take the OSBI down a path that will clearly identify a suspect,” he said, “But I don’t hold out a lot of hope.”
Concern for victim’s parents
In the meantime, Fisher is concerned for Kinney’s parents. He met with them for about two hours on Friday. He said they are both in their 80s, and the recent speculation has taken a physical toll on them.
“Cynthia went missing 47 years ago. They’ve got no answers,” Fisher said. “We have reason to believe that it may have been a homicide. We can’t say that with any absolute certainty, but we’ve seen nothing to suggest otherwise as there’s been no contact with Cynthia Dawn since 1976, since her disappearance.”
He said the recent news coverage has her parents considering progressively worse scenarios of what could have happened to her. They have both lost weight in the past few weeks. So, he is asking people to give them their privacy.
Osage County Sheriff’s Office responds
After the district attorney held his news conference, the Osage County Sheriff’s Office released a statement disagreeing with some of the things he said. Undersheriff Gary Upton said the sheriff’s office has actively engaged with OSBI and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at various points during the course of the investigation.
“Contrary to the statements made by District Attorney Fisher, the OCSO has had two meetings with both agencies to share information and work collaboratively,” Upton said in a statement. “Despite this, there has been no further communication from the OSBI regarding the investigation. The OCSO remains committed to cooperating fully with the OSBI and other law enforcement agencies in pursuit of justice for Cynthia Kinney.”
Although Fisher said he has reached out to the sheriff’s office about the case, Upton said Fish has not reached out.
“Therefore, his comments regarding the case are based on incomplete information and do not accurately represent the OCSO’s efforts or the progress made,” Upton said. “District Attorney Fisher attempted to derail the investigation by contacting the prison where Dennis Rader (BTK) is held in an attempt to halt further interviews between Dennis Rader and our investigators.”
The sheriff’s office said its primary focus is on finding the truth and bringing closure to families. Upton said the sheriff’s office regrets any further distress that has been caused to the Kinneys.
The sheriff’s office said it remains committed to the case and will work diligently with OSBI, the KBI and federal authorities.
Osage County District Attorney news release re-investigation into the disappearance of Cynthia Dawn Kinney in 1976
Law enforcement nationwide understand that a criminal investigation is only complete when a suspect is identified based upon evidence, that can be used in a court of law, against that subject. Without such evidence, it would be unjust to arrest someone and then file charges against and convict that person.
Information has been shared with the media during the last thirty days that suggest that Dennis Rader (aka the “BTK killer”) is a suspect in the disappearance of Cynthia Dawn Kinney in 1976. While that information may lead to speculation and rumors, our legal justice system cannot guess as to someone’s involvement in a crime, no matter the history of the person being accused. As of this date, the information that has been shared is insufficient to file criminal charges against Dennis Rader.
Given the interest that this information has garnered, I have asked that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, open a formal investigation into the disappearance of Cynthia Dawn Kinney. While there have been prior investigations into Ms. Kinney’s disappearance, I feel it is incumbent upon me, as the District Attorney, to do everything possible to ascertain whether Dennis Rader or someone else was involved in her disappearance. Toward that end, the OSBI will pursue all reasonable leads to identify those who may or may not have been involved in Ms. Kinney’s disappearance. If evidence comes to light that is sufficient for the filing of charges, the District Attorney’s Office in District 10 will file those charges as appropriate and as the law requires.
As this investigation moves forward, I am asking that everyone respect the privacy of the Kinney’s. These are wonderful, kind, broken hearted folks who have suffered enough. For forty-seven years they have had to live with not knowing what happened to their daughter. The latest speculation and rumors have only caused them pain, heartache, sleepless nights and emotional distress. Please give them their privacy.
Should anyone have any leads or information pertaining to this matter, please contact the District Attorney’s Office at (918) 287-1510.