Sunday, March 06, 2005

Solving the BTK Puzzle

Flummery is what I would call it if you were to ask me to put it on a single dimension what pronounced opinion I might possibly orally have about them bagses of trash which the mother and Mr. Unmentionable (O breed not his same!) has reduced to writing without making news out of my sootynemm. An infant sailing eggshells on the floor of a wet day would have more sabby.

James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake

I have to admit that I’d never heard of the BTK killer until the recent headlines, and haven’t followed the story very closely as I am getting tired of hearing about famous defendants. Especially hearing about billionaire defendants being fitted with ankle bracelets, and other such obsessive minutia. But when I heard that the BTK killer had sent a word puzzle to the media, I knew I had to take a look. So I took the trouble to read the short history of the case at The Crime Library – a site which the BTK killer himself had closely followed, making repeated references to it in his cryptic communications to the authorities.

The so-called BTK puzzle is divided into three sections, with each section containing 9 columns of a letters, each column being 13 characters high. The first thing you notice is that there are obviously words contained in the jumble of letters, running up or down the columns or across the rows. Everyone has seen the common children’s puzzle where you search a block of letters and circle the words. So let’s play BTK’s game and see what we get (questionable words which might be coincidental and unintended are in parentheses):

First section, across

(PIN? ) (UP?)

First section, down


Second section, across


Second section, down


Third section, across


Third section, down


We know that “PJ” is significant, because the BTK killer repeatedly referred to PJ in his other communications. It apparently signifies Professor P.J. Wyatt of Wichita State University, who died in 1991. Wyatt once analyzed the folksong “O Death” in one of her classes, which BTK may have attended. BTK wrote a ghastly poem about one of his victims, Nancy Fox, which was obviously based on “O Death”.

“MO” (modus operandi) is also common BTK jargon. And in one of his letters BTK referred to MO-ID-RUSE. The first letters of each section spell out MO-ID-RUSE.

So far, so disappointing. Of course, in the children’s puzzles that you see in your newspaper’s Sunday supplement, you can also discover words diagonally. The columns of the puzzle are too far apart to allow diagonal examination, but if you push them together there is nothing of apparent interest. A few short words occur, probably coincidentally. So BTK’s crappy little puzzle doesn’t even include diagonal words, which puts it a notch below the simple children’s puzzle.

Of course, there is a possibility that the puzzle is loaded with anagrams, which would take many hours of effort (and sheer guess work) to unpack if they exist. But many of the columns are filled with cumbersome consonants, indicating that they are probably not anagrams. Glancing at the first section, the word “subdue” suggests itself, with the letters closely scrambled on two adjacent columns, and above that “O Death” and “Fox” (the name of the victim that BTK mocked in his so-called poem “Oh! Death to Nancy”). If these are intentional anagrams, there is no apparent pattern to them that would allow you to discover additional anagrams.

Most surprising is what’s not in it. Nowhere do the letters BTK appear in sequence, for example. It was reported that the suspect’s name (D. Rader) appears in it, but if so it’s not in sequence and is probably coincidental. There may be other “hidden” words intended that are not obvious because they are misspelled.

Surely that can’t be it. The profilers were all agreed that BTK must be a highly intelligent person, probably experienced with puzzle-solving, who liked to play sophisticated word games (containing multiple layers of meaning) with the police. He was even compared to James Joyce. But the words in this puzzle, besides being as obvious as a trout in a punch bowl, are remarkably prosaic. His poems and earlier letters are likewise sloppy, unimaginative, and horribly misspelled, but the profilers believed that BTK was being extra-clever – deliberately mangling the King’s English in order to camouflage his superior wits.

Obviously, that’s not all. The most interesting part of the puzzle – the only interesting part, in fact – is the second section, in which several columns have characters missing, and several of the characters or spaces are preceded by numbers. This suggests a code of sorts, beyond the childish word-finding game. Actually, the numbers are probably just an extension of the word-finding game, as they include “6220” (Dennis Rader’s street address) and “USD 259” (a Wichita school district, as a poster at Master of None pointed out).

With evidence piling up against Rader, there is no urgent need to wring any further meaning out of this puzzle. Any third grader could have devised a more interesting one.

So it possible that the criminal master mind BTK, who once hung a child from a ceiling pipe and masturbated on her while she died, is just another evil, perverted dunce? Another greasy bag of sociopathic filth, who would be shipped to Bethesda in a crate and vivisected by clinical psychologists if Jesus and Civilization did not forbid such treatment? We can’t even execute people like BTK anymore, but we can at least stop heaping fertilizer on their sick egos.