BTK word search

Like Zodiac, serial killer Dennis Rader, also known as BTK, taunted police and newspapers with letters boasting of his crimes.

Among the many correspondences was a word puzzle Rader sent to Wichita television station KAKE on May 5 of 2004 [1] [2], shown here:

It was not difficult for people to find several words relevant to Rader’s crimes, such as:

  • SERVICEMAN: Rader served four years in the air force
  • SPOT VICTIM, FOLLOW, CRUISE, PROWL, FANTASIES: Evocative references to his crimes
  • ANDERSON: Possible reference to Floyd E. Anderson, suspected in another Wichita multiple slaying
  • WICHITA: Location of his horrific crimes
  • LOST PET, OFFICER: Rader was an animal control officer.
  • MO, WRONG ADDRESS, RUSE, HANDYMAN, FAKE ID, REALTORS, REMODEL, INSURANCE, TELEPHONECO: Possible references to his MO, in which he would adopt various roles to gain entrance to his victim’s houses.

The site TabloidColumn.com posted this copy of the puzzle, which includes their annotations of the found words:

I recently posted an article about ambiguous word searches, and created a word search gadget, so it seems logical to add the BTK word puzzle to it. Now, when you go to the word search gadget page, a new “btk puzzle” button appears below the cipher text.

When you click it, the BTK word puzzle, with all the numbers removed, appears in the grid.

Also, near the controls, this new dropdown list appears:

When you select a different word, it is highlighted in the grid. The list of words includes words found by others, and words found using a brute-force search I ran against the grid. For small words, however, it becomes difficult to impossible to distinguish between intentional placement and coincidence. You can get a sense of this by entering a three- or four-letter word and clicking the “Shuffle” button. You’ll see that your word can usually be found after very few random shuffles.

I noticed that Rader’s puzzle contains some “sequential filler”. If you look at your computer’s keyboard, you’ll see three rows of letters in this order:

QWERTYUIOP, ASDFGHJKL, ZXCVBNM

In the word puzzle, you can find sequences of letters that are in the same order:

This suggests Rader filled some of the gaps of his puzzle by simply typing letters in order on his computer’s keyboard.

Glen Wishard’s 2005 article contains several interesting observations:

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”

Click here to see three occurrences of “PJ” in the puzzle. If you relax the word search rules, you can find “O Death” as well.

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.

It is true that the puzzle is loaded with closely scrambled anagrams. But they are very likely inseparable from coincidence, since many similar scrambled anagrams can arise from purely random text. Here is a small sampling of anagrams found in the puzzle:

TRANSCENDING, SPOTLIGHTED, TIMETESTED, STRESSFREE, SOPHOMORES, SERENADING, SECONDTIME, POSTSCHOOL, PERSONNAGE, FOOTLIGHTS, CISTERCIAN, TIMELINES, RESISTORS, ONEPERSON, NONSCHOOL, ISLANDERS, CASCADING, AMNESTIES, AIRSTREAM, TORRANCE, RISKFREE, RHODESIA, NEARERTO, LOBSTERS, IMITATED, IGNORANT, HANNIGAN, CONSORTS, CENSORED, CANADIAN, ATLANTIS, ATLANTIC, AMERICAS, ALTRUIST, TOILETS, SLENDER, SLASHED, RAMADAN, OPIATES, LENDERS, HELMETS, FLOATED, FIREMAN, and ANDREAS






Even more words emerge when you allow gaps in their continuity in the puzzle.

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.

Click here to see the best appearances of the letters “BTK”, and click here to see all the variations of “D RADER”. I agree that their appearances are likely to be coincidental: a few shuffle tests confirm this.

Can you find anything that hasn’t already been discovered in this puzzle?

UPDATE (July 14, 2017): A reader noticed that the word puzzle has exactly 340 letters and numbers in it. The same length as Zodiac’s 340-character cryptogram. Interesting coincidence!

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