The Wichita Case
Between 1978 to 1981, Ruth Finley, a quiet Wichita housewife claimed she was being stalked by an unknown menace. During her ordeal Ruth had been harassed, kidnapped and assaulted by an individual who the police dubbed “the Poet”, because of the rhyming letters that were sent by the perpetrator. It was during this same time that the city of Wichita was still under the shadow of the serial killer known as BTK, who stalked his victims before strangling them in their own homes. It was suspected there might be some link to BTK and the Finley case, but the truth would much more complex and led to one of the most baffling and bizarre cases in Wichita history.
The Finley’s lived in a quiet neighbourhood in Wichita, Kansas and led seemingly unassuming lives. Ruth was a quiet, soft spoken 48-year-old who worked in the security department at a phone company. Her 50-year-old husband Ed was an accountant and together they had raised two sons who had grown up and moved away from home. No one would assume that the Finley’s had any enemies, so when they walked into the Police department on November 6, 1978 to report that Ruth was being harassed, they were at a loss to determine why anyone would do such a thing. They claimed Ruth was receiving harassing phone calls and threatening letters and they brought one with them to show the officers;
Here’s to you my tender valentine.
Red with blood and tied with twine.
Nothing too much for a valentine.
Gone from here by a whim of mine.
The police took the matter seriously and registered the complaint, but with no leads they took no further action. At this time the Police were dealing with a far more insidious and dangerous threat which was stalking Wichita. The BTK Strangler had been active since 1974 and was still communicating with the authorities, sending letters to the media to feed his fame hungry need for recognition. The previous year in December 1977, BTK had claimed his seventh victim when he murdered Nancy Fox in her South Pershing Street home. He then immediately telephoned the emergency hotline telling the emergency despatcher, “Go to 843 South Pershing… You will find a homocide, Nancy Fox”, then hung up. The police found Fox dead in her home, strangled with a nylon stocking wrapped tightly around her neck in what was BTK’s signature.
Later on 31 January 1978, the killer mailed a letter to the Withita Eagle-Beacon in which he suggested several names for himself and then sent another on 10 February 1978 to the local television channel KAKE TV Channel 10. In this letter BTK was furious at the lack of exposure of his crimes, due to the Witchita Police not wishing to admit there was a Serial Killer on the loose. They were now faced with the prospect of revealing to the public the existence of BTK after he wrote, “How many do I have to kill, before I get my name in the paper or national attention?”
On the November 21, 1978, the case took an alarming turn when Ed Finley reported his wife missing. Several hours later Ruth reappeared, visible shaken by her ordeal. She told police that she had been abducted by two men whilst she was shopping in downtown Wichita. She said they drove her around for four hours before she was able to escape. Unable to give the investigators a description of either suspect, the police decided to step up their surveillance of the Finley’s for Ruth’s own protection. The Police were now faced with the possibility that BTK was behind the harassment and abduction of Ruth Finley.
But there were also doubts, most notably the diversion of M.O. in the assault on Ruth. BTK was a home invasion killer and did not abduct his victims off the street. Secondly he always killed his victims, leaving only the young Vian children alive because, he later claimed, he was interrupted. Investigators came to the conclusion that BTK and the Poet were not one and the same. Even with the increased police presence, the letters from the Poet continued and became even more sinister;
The River is searched for the perished.
Whores will hate me but by men I will be cherished.
Viper thoughts coil round my mind.
Torture and agony are unkind.
For five weeks the Police conducted a thorough surveillance of Ruth and during that time nothing untoward happened, and the operation was called off. The letters continued but no dramatic developments occurred, until August 1979. On August 31, Ruth was admitted to the St. Joseph Medical Centre with three knife wounds, one of which was nearly fatal after it punctured her kidney. She was kept in hospital for nine days and told police that a man had attacked her in a local mall parking lot.
The police stepped up their investigation and Ed Finley’s employer offered a $3000 reward for information that led to the apprehension of Ruth’s attacker. Meanwhile the police sent copies of the Poet’s letters to a psycho-linguistics consultant. Dr. Murray Miron had gain prominence when he worked on the Son of Sam case after examining the letters sent by the killer. He many several cursory observations about the Poet, stating that the letter writer was “severely psychotic, schizophrenic, wily, pathological, paranoid, and a loner with a deep feeling of persecution.”
During 1980 the harassment of the Finley reached an unprecedented level of intensity. It started as minor incidents, when eggs, and later faeces, were thrown at the Finleys’ home. A jar of urine was left on the Finley’s front porch and Ed discovered an un-ignited Molotov cocktail on their rear porch, whilst hair and firecrackers were found in the mail box. During December 1980 the Finley’s Christmas wreath was set on fire. It then escalated to more alarming behaviour outside of the home, when embarrassingly, the Health Department was contacted and notified that Ruth was spreading venereal disease. Then a local mortuary was contacted by someone claiming Ruth wished to learn more about their services.
Eventually it became more threatening, when their phone line was cut, and Ruth found a knife wrapped in a newspaper left by her work office. One day they made a sinister discovery outside the house, it was the Poet’s trademark, a piece of red bandanna. The Finley’s were distraught at these events and requested more police protection, but they had very little information to go on. The police compiled a composite based on Ruth’s description of her attacker, and suspects were questioned and then released. They installed a camera in the backyard, and Ruth and Ed spent several evenings watching their backdoor, but nothing happened.
The Police Chief Richard LaMunyon had not become personally involved in the case, however that changed in the Summer of 1981 when the Poet began sending letters to others, including his wife Sharon. On September 5, he decided to take home the 15 volume case files on the Poet and studied them over the weekend. He then came to a startling conclusion. On the September 17, the Finley’s are placed under secret surveillance by the Witchita Police Department. A helicopter observed Ed driving the couple to a mail box where Ruth mailed five letters. These letters were retrieved by the police and the stamps were later revealed to have come from the same book located in the Finley home. Three of the letters were either bills or private correspondence, but two of the letters were from the Poet. A later search of Ruth’s workplace office revealed more swatches of Red bandanna cloth.
On October 1, Ed Finley was summoned to Police headquarters and questioned. He voluntarily took a polygraph test, which he passed and was cleared of any involvement. That same day Ruth was also questioned and confronted with the evidence from her office and the letters she mailed. After more than an hour of questioning, Detective Mike Hill turned to Ruth and said, “Ruth, it’s time you tell me why. Ruthie, look at me… I am not mad at you. Ruth, I don’t know why you are doing this, but we got to find out why.” Ruth then broke down in tears, confessed to being the Poet and admitted she needed help. “Yes, I wasn’t sure I was guilty, but I did know something was very wrong with me”. She told the detectives, “I wish I were dead, I guess I am just crazy.”
Chief LaMunyon surmised it could only have been Ruth because there were too many coincidences that pointed to either Ed of Ruth. When the police installed a camera in the couples garden, the Poet switched to targeting the front of the house. Even though it had cost the police $370’000 and took three years of investigation, they decided they would file no charges against Ruth on the provision that she would voluntarily seek psychiatric help at St. Joseph Medical Centre. On November 2, 1981, Ruth entered into a psychotherapy course with Dr. Andrew Pickens. Under the care of Dr. Pickens Ruth found it difficult to express herself and with his support she began to write poems which were the key to understanding her behaviour and manifestation of the Poet;
Hickory, Dickory, Dock
The hands fell off the clock
Run from the man, and get away
My legs are gone, so I have to stay
The potty was warm and red
Hide the mess on the bed
I hate him, he feels like a railroad track.
The red bandanna would be revealed to be the catalyst for her psychosis. During sessions, Ruth revealed a normal childhood which was marred by abuse. This abuse had not come from her parents, her father Carl Smock had been a farmer and her mother Fay had been a housewife. Dr Pickens was able to help Ruth pinpoint the association of the red bandanna and its significance. When Ruth was 3 1/2 years-old she began to receive special attention from a family friend who was also a neighbour of the Smock Family. This neighbour began to groom Ruth, first by playing innocuous games of hide and seek and began to tie her to the bed with a red bandanna. For several months Ruth was sexually abused by this man, who would stuff the red bandanna in her mouth to keep her quiet and threatened her to keep quiet about the abuse.
During these instances of rape, Ruth disassociated herself from the abuse and remembered a feeling of floating above her bed, watching herself and believing it was someone else and wasn’t happening to her. Ruth’s older brother Carl remembers a conversation their parents had, during which the neighbour was discussed. He remembers their father telling their mother, “He wouldn’t do anything like that”, referring to the neighbour. It was after this that the visits to the neighbours stopped and Ruth’s abuse ended, but it left her with deep psychological scars. She used poetry as a way to keep her bad thoughts a secret from others, only to be used during times of stress, keeping a poetry book she was gifted hidden in the family barn. Her way of disassociating herself from the negative thoughts came at great times of traumatic stress.
It is believed that several factors triggered this psychological defence mechanism, firstly Ed was hospitalised in 1978 with a suspected heart attack and the BTK Strangler was active with the community. Dr. Pickens believes these events unleashed Ruth’s manifestation of the Poet as a way of dealing with emotions she had repressed since her childhood. He also believes it was a way for Ruth to get the protection she needed from both Ed and the Police, by subconsciously using the Poet as a external threat. Ruth was fully able to perpetrate the actions of the Poet, without realising she was doing anything wrong, whilst keeping the trauma of her past hidden. After more than 5 years of treatment, Ruth Finley was able to come to terms with her memories of what happened during her childhood and was supported by her family, friends and co-workers.