30-yr-old case reopened

Roxana Hegeman and Roxana Hegeman

WICHITA, Kan. – Hurst Laviana had just finished covering a routine police briefing for The Wichita Eagle when a detective pulled him aside and said five people had fingered him as a suspect in the BTK serial killings.

Like some other reporters in the Wichita area, Laviana allowed a DNA swab.

“Most of us thought it wasn’t a big deal,” Laviana said. “It’s almost like joining a fraternity. You want to get a T-shirt that says, ‘I’m not BTK.'”

Since the serial killer resurfaced in March with letters to media and police, investigators have been looking at reporters and within their own ranks for suspects.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation confirmed it has done hundreds of DNA swabs in connection with the BTK investigation, but did not offer specifics. No arrests have been made.

BTK — a self-coined nickname that stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill” — claimed responsibility for eight unsolved killings from 1974 through 1986 in letters to The Wichita Eagle and local television station KAKE.

Ronald Loewen was news director at KAKE when the Wichita station got a letter in the 1970s from BTK. Loewen did the story himself.

Police, thinking the killer would be more likely to contact Loewen than to use an anonymous mailbox, provided protection for him for some time. Loewen has kept that information to himself all these years.

Loewen, 56, is now vice president of strategic development for Greenville, S.C.-based Liberty Corp., which owns a group of 15 television stations. This summer, he was contacted by Wichita police Lt. Ken Landwehr and asked to submit a DNA sample.

“I was more than happy to do it,” Loewen said.

He said reporters who covered the murders in the 1970s and 1980s lived the story and experienced the terror of the community.

“This guy happened to commit his crimes in very small television market before [the coming of] 24-hour news, so he never got the notoriety he wanted,” Loewen said.