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In Kansas, a serial killer, a mysterious envelope, and a search for clues

A serial strangler who taunted police in Wichita, Kan., three decades ago, then resurfaced this spring to claim credit for an unsolved slaying, may be reaching out again -- this time with a word puzzle that specialists said might hold clues about his methods.

An plain white envelope containing the puzzle, a fake ID, and an outline for the killer's autobiography arrived last week at KAKE-TV in Wichita. Employees turned it over to police.

Investigators haven't ruled out a hoax, but Lieutenant Ken Landwehr said they are taking the communique seriously. "We are proceeding on the possibility this letter is from B.T.K.," he said, using the initials the strangler gave himself to allude to his predilection for binding, torturing, and killing.

B.T.K. stalked working-class neighborhoods in east Wichita from 1974 to 1979. In his first known attack, he killed two children and their parents. He later killed three women in separate attacks.

He wrote long letters to the media about the pleasure he felt carrying out his sadistic fantasies. His last letter came in 1979. Then he fell silent for 25 years.

In March, he sent the local newspaper a copy of the driver's license of a young mother who had been killed in 1986. He also sent three photos of her body that only the killer could have taken. Police declared the letter genuine and warned that B.T.K. was back.

The source of the latest communication is not so easily verified. Missing from the mailing was a special mark that B.T.K. made on almost all of his letters to prove their authenticity. It includes only information that the general public would be able to get with some research; there's nothing that only the killer would know.

Still, retired Wichita police chief Richard LaMunyon finds it compelling.

Police will not discuss their investigation in detail.

A typed label taped to the envelope indicates it's from a Thomas B. King. The return address given does not exist, said Bryan Frye, marketing director for KAKE-TV.

Inside the envelope were three sheets of paper. One lists titles for 13 chapters of "The B.T.K. Story." Another is a grid of letters, apparently a find-the-hidden-words puzzle. The third page contains a photocopy of an open billfold..

Those who pored over the word puzzle have concluded that it refers to ploys B.T.K. may have used to gain access to his victims' homes.

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