- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Hurst Laviana, a reporter for the Wichita Eagle, had just finished covering a routine police briefing when a detective pulled him aside and said five persons had fingered him as a suspect in the BTK serial killings.

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

“Most of us thought it wasn’t a big deal,” Mr. 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 the press 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 — the killer’s nickname for himself that stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill” — took responsibility for eight unsolved killings from 1974 through 1986 in letters to the Wichita Eagle and local television station KAKE.

The letters cast some suspicion on the recipients.

“Because BTK has always communicated with the media, it doesn’t surprise me we continue to be part of the story — whether we like it or not,” said Eagle editor Sherry Chisenhall.

Press lawyer Mike Merriam, who represents Kansas newspapers and broadcasters, said police could not take DNA from a reporter without a search warrant or the person’s consent — and he doubted police could show get a warrant.

Still, several reporters contacted by the Associated Press said they consented.

“It sounds like the civic thing to do, but it seems the potential for abuse is so great I wouldn’t cooperate with them if they asked me,” Mr. Merriam said.

The reporters say they were told that police were following up on tips made to a hot line — which Mr. Merriam said is different than “if they decided to throw out a big media net and try to catch everyone in it.”

Still, with investigators getting thousands of calls, former reporter Randy Brown said the tips don’t carry much weight.

“We have these hot lines where people come in and fink on a name,” said Mr. Brown, now a senior fellow at Wichita State University’s Elliott School of Journalism. “When your name shows up three times, they start swabbing you. Any fool can call up and mention your name three times.”

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