The Darkside of Kansas
~Dedicated to my long time friend, Chris McKenzie for his help in remembering my taxi driver’s name~
I have always been asked where do I get my horrific ideas. Well, they come from many places. Books I’ve read, TV shows and movies, but mostly from the news. However, I have also had a couple of life experiences that have stuck in my head over the years.
I remember walking home in the 1960s with my friend Christine Warren from school. We were going to her house to play with her rabbits. I was in fifth or sixth grade. We were walking downtown in Shawnee, Kansas, and passed a parked car on the side of the road. Christine, who was nearest to the car, turned and whispered in my ear, “That guy isn’t wearing pants.”
I looked at her and said, “Huh? No way!”
Well, of course I had to step beside her and take a peek. I saw this nicely groomed, middle-aged man wearing sunglasses, a red pinstriped dress shirt, and a tie. As I looked down to his lap, I realized Christine was right. He wasn’t wearing any pants. He was naked from the waist down.
The man followed us in his car as we ran to Christine’s house. Her mother was in the front doing yard work, and the pantless man drove off. Christine’s mom called the police. They found him four blocks away. The police had received several reports of this man over the last two weeks.
Another time, I was with a group of older girls when a man pulled over and asked if any of us were available to babysit. He had his hand over his groin area the whole time he talked. When he saw he had our attention, he showed us what was underneath his hand. Being young and dumb we laughed and took off running. Knowing what I know now, we could have been in a lot of trouble both times.
How many of us have gotten that phone call from the pervert asking all kinds of personal questions? I know I have had at least three, maybe more.
But there is one encounter that has stuck with me over the years. It changed the way I view people. I worked at a plastic plant on the second shift, three thirty till midnight. I didn’t drive so my husband took me to work every day, then I called a cab to give me a ride home after my shift.
The taxi driver who picked me up was named DeLaTorre Collins. He had a five month baby girl named Satrina. He was nice and very personable. We struck up a causal conversation over the next few months. He talked about his girlfriend and his daughter. I talked about my husband and my son.
One night another driver picked me up. The next day I was shocked to read in the paper that Mr. Collins’ daughter had died. The newspaper reported they found bite marks all over the little girl. Their dog had viciously attacked her.
The police put the dog down and conducted an autopsy on the animal. The dog’s stomach contained no human remains. When the police confronted him, Mr. Collins confessed he threw his daughter against the wall for crying, and she stopped breathing. He got scared and decided he’d blame the dog. He took bites out of his own daughter to make the police believe his story.
I would have never guessed in a million years this guy was capable of doing such a horrible thing. The shock of that knowledge stays with me to this day. We never know what goes on inside another person’s mind. Serial killers and psychopaths fascinate us because they look like you and me. Yet they are not normal. And here in the United States we have many of them roaming around. This got me to wondering about my home state.
It might interest you to know that New York leads in the US with the most serial homicide cases at (137). California (128), Florida (112), Texas (97), and, following shortly behind, is Washington (95) (http://www.redding.com/databases/serial-killings-by-state/).
US holds the record for the most serial killers at 76%. Europe is second and has 17%. England has produced 28% of the European total, Germany produces 27%, and France produces 13%. As I dove into my research of Kansas Darkside, I discovered Kansas only rated a mere (24) in the break down of serial killers by state. But don’t let those statistics fool you. We had some notorious serial killers homegrown in the state of Kansas.
Let’s start with the Bloody Benders –a family who owned a small general store and inn in Osage township, Labette County, Kansas, from 1872 to 1873. They were not only Kansas’ first known serial killers but also the first known FAMILY of serial killers.
The family consisted of John Bender, his wife Kate (Ma), son John Jr. and daughter Kate. Their inn was a dingy place called the Wayside Inn. Kate Bender, 23, was cultivated and attractive. A self-proclaimed healer and psychic, she distributed flyers advertising her supernatural powers and her ability to cure illnesses. She also conducted séances and gave lectures on spiritualism.
Kate’s popularity became a large attraction for the Benders’ inn. Once inside Ma would fix them a hot meal while daughter Kate enticed them, and brother or father stood behind them with a hammer. Their house was rigged with a trap door under the kitchen chair where the men sat to eat. Once they were murdered and all their belongings stripped away from them, they would be stored in the cellar to await disposal.
Authorities found eleven bodies including one child buried on the property. The family fled town and was never found or convicted. To this day in Cherryvale Museum you can see the hammers they used as weapons.
Smith’s (above) and Hickock’s (below) mugshots taken by the KBI.
In 1959 Richard Hickock and Perry Smith murdered Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their children Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, in their rural Holcomb home. They were killed for forty dollars and a transistor radio. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were hanged at Lansing in 1966 for the murder of the Clutter family.
Truman Capote wrote a book called “In Cold Blood” about this case. He chose not only to write about the murders but about the Kansas community and the family members left to pick up the pieces of their life. Even though these two killers are considered “Spree Killers” and not serial killers, they are still killers from my home state. My husband drives to Holcomb, Kansas, every week, and in some small way, I feel connected to this family. I live in a small town in Kansas, on a small farm.
In 1974-Dennis Radar murdered Joseph and Julie Otero by strangling them and two of their children, Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9, in their home at 803 N. Edgemoor, Wichita, Kansas. The murders unleashed the beginnings of BTK, a serial killer in Wichita who, through the next 25 years, would often grip the city in fear. He sent the police and media letters demanding attention for his crimes. All told, police would eventually link him to ten murders in the Wichita, Kansas, area. He calls himself BTK for Bind, Torture, and Kill.
Dennis Radar, dressed in his dog catcher uniform.
I think this would make a great story to tell from Dennis Radar’s daughter’s POV. Not many people know this, but his daughter helped the police capture him by giving her permission for them to use her DNA for comparison. Talk about conflict and having to pick up the pieces of your life after your father was convicted of such horrible crimes. What a great story that would make.
In 1983-Rev. Bird and Lorna Anderson- The car of Sandra Bird, wife of the Rev. Thomas Bird, ran off the road near a Lyon County bridge just outside Emporia. Sandra drowned in the Cottonwood River. Martin Anderson was shot and killed. The pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Emporia, Rev. Bird, was discovered to be having an affair with his church secretary, Lorna Anderson. They met in church and planned to kill Anderson’s husband, Martin Anderson, and Bird’s wife so they could be together. The two were convicted of their spouses’ deaths. Again, they were not serial killers, but premeditated murders from my home state.
I attended Emporia State University and earned my undergraduate degree there. Sandra Bird worked at the University years before I went, and I have been to the bridge mentioned above. Again, there is that connection.
Robert Andrew “Bob” Berdella- The Kansas City Butcher
In 1988, Chris Bryson was found running down a Kansas City street naked, beaten, and bloody wearing nothing but a dog collar and a leash. He told police about Bob Berdella, a local business person who owned Bob’s Bizarre Bazaar, a novelty shop that catered to occult type tastes. He told police how Berdella had captured him, held him hostage, raped him, tortured him, and photographed him over a period of several days.
Police later arrested Berdella and searched his home where they found several hundred Polaroid photographs, a detailed torture log, envelopes of human teeth, and a human skull. It was soon discovered that Berdella had murdered 6 young men in his home after drugging them and performing his sick acts of sexual torture. Some lived the horrors for only a few days, one for 6 weeks. After they were dead Berdella would cut up the bodies with an electric chain saw and a bone knife and place the body parts in empty dog food bags for trash collection on Monday. Neighbors petitioned (and were granted) to have the city tear down his house.
In 1989 Richard Grissom Jr. murdered Joan A. Butler, 24, Overland Park; Theresa Brown, 22, and Christine Rusch, 22, roommates living in a Lenexa apartment. A career criminal on parole for burglary and theft, at age 16 he had killed a Lansing, Kansas, woman.
He had connections to a Wichita woman found dead in her apartment about two weeks before Butler disappeared. Someone had viciously mutilated the body of 25-year-old Terri Maness. Dozens of officers on both sides of the state joined the investigation. A day after the roommates vanished, authorities found Grissom’s car abandoned at a Grandview apartment complex. Identification cards belonging to Rusch and Brown were inside along with keys to the women’s apartments. He was caught and convicted, but to this day, the bodies of these women have never been found. His neighbors and the city voted to burn his house down after his conviction. This would make a great police story on how they connected him to the murders.
John Robinson, husband, father, grandfather and serial killer
In 1990 John Robinson Sr. sought out and targeted lonely, troubled women. He also met some of his female victims through Internet sex and bondage networks. The Johnson County man left bodies in Missouri storage sheds and in barrels on property he owned in Linn County. Again, this story could take on a new life with a modern twist-Internet Murders.
Mass murderers Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh- Army buddies. Terry Nichols of Herington and Timothy McVeigh, formerly of Fort Riley, conspired to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building, in 1995, killing 168 people and injuring 500 others. This is not just an Oklahoma tragedy, but a nation’s tragedy. The stories that come to my mind about what could be written are about the firefighters and police who risked their lives to save people. Also the FBI’s impressive tracking techniques and so many others.
2004–Terry Blair-aka The Prospect Killer in KC, Mo., was an African-American man who had just gotten out of prison for killing his wife and mother of his children because she was a prostitute. He was eventually convicted of killing seven prostitutes. I discovered no books were written about this case. I’ve asked myself why not? Is it a racial thing? A social economic component? These prostitutes had names. They were daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. They counted in this world, and as a writer we have the ability to bring their story to life.
Books related to post:
The Bloody Bender -Books:
The Saga of the Bloody Benders, by: Rick Geary
Celebrated Criminal Cases of America, by: Thomas Samuel Duke
History of Labette County, Kansas, by: Nelson Case
The Benders in Kansas, by: John T. James
The Clutter Murders-Books
In Cold Blood, by: Truman Capote
Sentenced to Death: The American Novel and Capital Punishment, by: David Guest
Dennis Radar- Books
Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door, by: Roy Wenzl
Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the Thirty-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer, by: John E. Douglas
CASE CLOSED: Serial Killers Captured – Bundy, Dahmer, BTK & More (Serial Killers Series) by: RJ Parker
The BTK Murders: Inside the “Bind Torture Kill” Case that Terrified America’s Heartland by: Carlton Smith
Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer by: Stephen Singular
Rev. Tom Bird and Lorna Anderson Book
Caged Bird by: Dave Racer
Richard Grissom Books
Suddenly Gone: The Terrifying True Story of a Serial Killer’s Grisly Kidnapping-Murders of Three Young Women by: Dan Mitrione
Bitter Harvest by: Ann Rule
John Edward Robinson Books
Tracker: Hunting Down Serial Killers by Grover Maurice Godwin
Online Killers: Portraits of Murderers, Cannibals and Sex Predators Who Stalked the Web for Their Victims by: Christopher Berry-Dee and Steven Morris
Digital Evidence and Computer Crime, Third Edition: Forensic Science, Computers, and the Internet by: Eoghan Casey
Anyone You Want Me to Be: A True Story of Sex and Death on the Internet by: John E. Douglas
Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh Books
Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy by: Peter Israel and Stephen Jones
By Blood Betrayed: My Life With Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh by: Lana Padilla
Secrets, Plots & Hidden Agendas: What You Don’t Know about Conspiracy Theories by: Paul T. Coughlin
Terry Blair Books-NONE
Story edited by: Sally Berneathy