May 21, 2024

An Oklahoma-based investigation into whether Wichita serial killer Dennis Rader — also known as BTK — kidnapped and murdered an Osage County teen girl has been swept up in a bitter political fight between a district attorney and a sheriff.

Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden insisted Tuesday that he has evidence pointing to Rader as the prime suspect in the death of 16-year-old Cynthia Dawn Kinney, who was last seen at a laundromat in Pawhuska 47 years ago.

Mike Fisher, district attorney for Pawnee and Osage counties in Oklahoma, said he would gladly bring charges against Rader if Virden had better evidence. Right now, Virden’s BTK theory rests on speculation and would not stand up in court, Fisher said.

The public spat between the two top law enforcement authorities in Osage County, both Republicans, came to a head Tuesday when Fisher crashed Virden’s news conference, standing silently behind news reporters as Virden accused him of playing politics and jeopardizing his investigation. Fisher said Virden’s public comments are causing emotional distress to Kinney’s octogenarian parents.

Virden’s primary leads in the investigation include a journal entry by Rader that mentions a “laundry mat” in 1976 and pantyhose retrieved from Rader’s yard in Park City, just north of Wichita. He has also interviewed Rader multiple times, including as recently as Monday afternoon.

“This case is ongoing,” Virden said. “We have locations provided to us by BTK, where he says he has other trophies hid. We are in the process of working to go try to recover those items.”

Fisher indicated that trophies such as the pantyhose recovered by Virden have almost no value unless they can be linked to Kinney through DNA. He said, based on information he has received from a former Wichita Police Department investigator, that Rader’s journal entry actually undermines the idea that he’s writing about a laundromat in Pawhuska.

“What Dennis Rader was doing was watching a laundromat from 17th Street,” Fisher said. “That eliminates this laundromat. We’ve got a 17th Street here in town. The only way you could see from 17th Street here in town to that laundromat would be to dig a tunnel through the hill that’s in between them and cut down every tree that’s in between. Because you can’t see it. It’s impossible.”

Wichita also has a 17th Street, near the campus of Wichita State University, which includes a laundromat that has been in operation since as early as 1970. The laundromat is visible from Wichita State, which Rader attended from 1973 to 1979.

“All of these questions pop up, and they all come out, and they all cast doubt on what information we have at this point,” Fisher said.

Virden expressed frustration that other law enforcement agencies have not shown much interest in his investigation. He said he has impaneled a volunteer task force to dig into Kinney’s disappearance and any other cases that could be linked to BTK. He said the task force includes “some of the top people in the United States that will give input into this and insight far above anything that I have the capability of doing.”

Members of the task force include a mixed bag of television personalities — including Nancy Grace — retired law enforcement personnel, amateur sleuths, a celebrity dog trainer, a handwriting expert, a serial killer profiler and Rader’s daughter, Kerri Rawson.

“In other words, if I can’t do it, I’m going to find the right person,” Virden said. “And we’re going to do it, and our credentials can’t be touched.”

Fisher had a different perspective.

“I want an investigation,” Fisher said. “But I want an open and honest and fair and complete investigation not done by some task force of people that I’ve never heard of, quite frankly.”

Fisher has asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to open its own investigation into Kinney’s disappearance.

Additional BTK survivors?

Virden said additional alleged BTK survivors have surfaced since he named Rader as the primary suspect in the Kinney case. But he said Fisher’s comments undermining his investigation have deterred them from coming forward.

“We have got five people that have come forward, who claim that they were victims of BTK,” Virden said. “And were not killed. We are in the process of trying to validate and research and go through that information to have those people are here in Oklahoma. One of those people because of this, sent me an email last night that said they didn’t want to move forward.”

Fisher said he has not heard from any potential BTK survivors in Oklahoma.

Virden said he asked the Oklahoma Attorney General to investigate whether Fisher should be impeached for his statements at a Monday news conference that cast doubt on the strength of Virden’s evidence. It would not be the first time Virden has formally complained about Fisher. Virden also filed a complaint against Fisher with the Oklahoma Bar Association and the attorney general’s office over his handling of an investigation into stolen political signs. Both were determined to be unfounded, Fisher said.

Virden also invited Pawnee County Sheriff Darrin Varnell to speak at his news conference on Tuesday. Varnell defended Virden and attacked Fisher, who supported Varnell’s opponent in his last election.

“As far as I can tell, what’s happened to us . . . is just like what you’re seeing in Washington DC with the FBI,” Varnell said. “Our DA has weaponized the OSBI to come after us and in doing that, waste tax dollars, and keep us from being able to do our job like we need to be doing.”

Fisher filed embezzlement charges against Varnell’s undersheriff in 2022, a charge that was eventually dismissed and placed under investigation by the OSBI. It’s unclear whether it’s still an open investigation.

“They are discussing articles of impeachment against me,” Fisher said. “And I agree with the sheriff, bring it on. Bring it on, because I am prepared to address every allegation he’s got. Because what we have is a situation where you’re getting half truths or you’re being told bald faced lies, one of the two.”

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