In January 1987 a triple murder occurred in Witchita, Kansas that left the neighbourhood at a loss to explain the depravity of those responsible. Someone entered the Fager home and killed husband and father Philip and then his two daughters Kelli and Sherri in a vicious and senseless act. Even after a suspect was arrested and later acquitted at trial, the exact circumstances of the murders were never explained and the case remains unsolved.
The events of the case began when Mary Fager returned home on 31 January 1987 after spending several days away visiting family. As she entered her Witchita home at 7015 E. 14th St., she found her husband Philip dead. He had been shot in the back twice. Police believe he had returned home, because he was still wearing his coat, and must have surprised an intruder. When police arrived on the scene they found the bodies of the Fagers daughters in the basement.
Sherri Fager was 9-years-old and her sister Kelli was 16. Both their bodies were found in the basements hot tub, which had been covered over to conceal the bodies and the water temperature had been turned up to 90 degrees. Sherri had been bound and it was assumed she had also been strangled with the same electrical tape used to bind her. It could not be established if she had been placed in the water after she was bound and strangled or if she was placed in the hot tub first and drowned as a result of the strangulation. Kelli had not been bound and there were no apparent injuries on her body, however investigators did find semen in the hot tub. There were no signs of forced entry and very little resistance was given to the killer by the victims.
When the police checked with Mary Fager, they discovered the family car was missing. They also learned that Philip had employed a local handyman who had been contracted to do some work around the family home. The handyman, William Butterworth was also missing and at first police believed he may have been another victim. Several days later Butterworth's van was found just seven blocks away, but a search gave up no clues.
Almost a year later on 3 January 1988, William Butterworth was located in Stuart, Florida when he called his wife and a family member reported it to police. When the police arrived, Butterworth was still on the phone to his wife. When confronted he did not resist arrest and was not armed. Police found they car keys to the Fagers stolen car, which was nearby aswell as stolen credit cards in his pocket. Butterworth, described as a guy who would do anything he could to help someone, was a father to three children, a three year old and six month old twins.
Under questioning, Butterworth told police that when he entered the Fager home he found the body of Philip Fager by the front entrance. He then heard noises coming from somewhere inside the house and became frightened and fled, taking the family car. He described being in a trance like state, and did not regain rational thinking for afew days. Although he had been having some financial issues in the week leading up to the murder and had no clear motive for murdering the Fagers. He could offer police no clear reason why he fled to Florida. Butterworth did not have a police record and he was not a match for the semen found in the hot tub or the fingerprints found inside the house.
At the request of his defence attorney, Butterworth underwent 20 hypnosis sessions during a four month period to see if he could remember more details. His story remained the same but he the hypnosis did reveal more a more detailed story about the events prior to the murders. Butterworth remembered working on a sun room he had been hired to build and when he returned from his lunch break he recalled Kelli Fager was in the basement hot tub with someone else. He had assumed it was her boyfriend but he never got a good look at the individual. Because of the condensation from the hot tub covering the glass, he decided to leave the work until later and left the family home. He went and bought some shirts and then met a friend, retired police captain William Dotts. Dotts confirmed Butterworths version and verified the time of their meeting. He recalls that Butterworth did not seem agitated, shaken or nervous when he saw him.
Most importantly, the hypnosis revealed what he remembered when he returned to the Fager home. It was around 4:30pm and when he entered the house, the lights were off. He entered the Solarium and noticed Sherri Fager face down in the hot tub. He then went upstairs and found the body of Philip Fager by the front door where he had been shot. The he retrieved Fagers car keys from the floor and then heard a noise, possibly a scream emanating from the basement. Realising the murderer was still there and was now attacking Kelli Fager, he became frightened and decided to run. He bolted to his van but realised he was using the Fagers car keys instead of his own and so after quickly moving his stuff from his van to the family car, he drove off as fast as he could.
If Butterworth's version of events are to be believed, then it would mean Philip Fager was the first to be killed, either shot as he returned home or as he was about to leave. Then Sherri Fager was bound and submerged in the hot tub before Butterworth himself returned to the Solarium to continue his work. Lastly Kelli was murdered whilst he fled the family home. He later claimed to feel remorse and shame for leaving, because he might have been able to save Kelli Fager if he had gone back into the basement.
During the 1970's the then unidentified Serial Killer known as the BTK Strangler was active in Witchita, where he murdered several people and made contact with both the police and media. In January 1988 BTK sent a communication to Mary Fager in the form of a letter. In the letter BTK did not claim responsibility for murdering the Fagers, however he did show his appreciation for the real killer. BTK - "I did not kill them, but I admire who did". Along with the letter, BTK also sent a drawing of his imaginary fantasy of Sherri Fager bound and cowering in fear. At the trial in June 1988, Butterworths lawyer Richard Ney used several different methods to get his client acquitted. He wished to use the BTK letter sent to Mary Fager as proof that it was the elusive Serial Killer who had killed the Fagers and not William Butterworth. The Judge refused to allow Ney to enter the BTK letter as evidence.
BTK drawing of Sherri Fager
The Judge also refused to allow the evidence of a boyfriend of Kelli Fager to be used in their defence strategy. Despite these setbacks, Butterworth was acquitted of the triple homicide. The Police believed they had their man and let him slip through their fingers. But the prosecution never established any motive, had no witnesses and no murder weapon was ever found. There were inconsistencies in Butterworths testimony and his version of events had to be established through the use of hypnosis. On the day of the murders, Butterworth claimed he had jumped the fence out the backyard several times, but there were no shoe imprints in the snow.
Police were of the theory that the family had let Bill Butterworth into the home because they knew him and he was responsible for their murders. Lieutenant Landwehr later claimed that had they had a different jury then it may have been a different outcome. Upon his arrest for the BTK Strangler murders, Dennis Rader had in his possession the original copy of the 1988 Letter he sent to Mary Fager. He denied any involvement in the murders and no evidence was ever found to link him to the crimes. The murder of the Fager Family remains unsolved.