catch killers returns to Netflix for a four-episode second season. On his first turn, catch killers covered Seattle’s Green River Killer, Aileen Wuornos and Keith Hunter Jesperson, aka “The Happy Face Killer”. Catching Killers: Season 2 explores the Phoenix Serial Shooter, dedicates two episodes to the Toronto Village Killer and, in its premiere, the effort to identify and capture the infamous BTK.
Opening shot: The International-style cubic block of Wichita City Hall rises above a downtown landscape of small buildings and parking structures. Police cruisers dot the foreground. A graph tells us that today is March 22, 2004.
The essential: The second season of catch killers returns to the familiar format of the Netflix True Crime offering. Each episode is relatively brief, averaging just over 35 minutes in length, and explores the activities of infamous serial killers from the perspective of police investigating crimes. As “Bind. Torture. Kill: BTK” opens, the year is 2004, and the Wichita Police Department examines an envelope they received containing a photocopy of three Polaroids. Detectives Dana Gouge, Kelly Otis, and Tim Relph recalls how they recognized the dead woman in the photos as Vicki Wegerle, a victim of the Wichita-area BTK serial killer, who went silent after murdering Wegerle and nine others between 1974 and 1991. Alone the killer himself could have had these Polaroids, and since the envelope was sent to the police, it meant that BTK was announcing his return.
Interviews with Otis, Gouge and Relph form the bulk of the episode. Detectives explain how they immediately created an investigative task force and returned to grisly crime scene evidence from two or more decades prior. They also tracked BTK’s correspondence with the media, one of the killer’s favorite tactics and something they knew fueled his narcissism. The uncertainty and fear surrounding BTK’s crimes had plagued Wichita for decades, so police saw his re-emergence as a unique opportunity to unmask and arrest him. They also had access to a level of forensic technology not available to the original investigators. First, the killer’s DNA comes from evidence dating back to 1974; now it was just a matter of matching him to the genetic profile of a contemporary suspect.
As the investigation drags into its sixth month, the detectives’ physical and emotional stress increases. But so does their stack of tantalizing new clues. Packages left by BTK for the cops to find, and communication with him via personal ads in the newspaper – it’s all a terrible game of cat and mouse, with the killer’s next victim always a target. The break they need finally comes when BTK slips up and science shines a light on their mistake. Wichita resident Dennis Rader’s DNA matches that of the killer, and in 2005, 31 years after his rampage began, authorities stepped in to finally apprehend BTK.
What shows will this remind you of? In January 2022, A&E launched the four-episode series BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer, which examined Dennis Rader’s psyche as well as his motivations. BTK also surfaced in the Netflix series spirit hunter, which featured a fictionalized version of Rader with his ADT Serviceman persona. And the streamer’s true crime runs deeper and deeper with shows like The raincoat killerwhich explored the investigation and capture of a Korean serial killer.
Our opinion : The killer catchers format is rewarding in its economy. There is no on-screen reporter to serve as a guide, someone from Deadline universe like a Keith Morrison or an Andrea Canning. There are no interviews with the families, friends or colleagues of the victims. In fact, there is no attempt to fill the narrative with anything other than the verbiage of its title. The cops are the narrators as they describe the methodology behind their investigation, the probative findings about their case, and the revelations that led to the perpetrator’s arrest and prosecution. It’s all very tidy, almost like a summary of the usual true crime documentary style, which tends to unfold with a wider scope and more gradual pace.
That said, catch killers perhaps would have devoted more time to certain aspects of his subject. Rader’s media fetish, for example. There are fascinating insights into his correspondence – “How much must I kill before I get a name in the paper or national attention?” — and the tenor of archival local news broadcasts whenever a new BTK post drops flirts with sensationalism. But the tight deadline does not allow for any investigation. There is no room for an interview with any reporter or presenter who might have received the note. Hearing a homicide detective recount how he picked up the evidence on a TV station and raced it to the crime lab isn’t nearly as exciting as Killers seems to think. And before very long, the series arrives at the station, its crime solved and the author executed. Whereas catch killers tells his story competently, it is possible that the seriousness of his subject deserves more depth.
Sex and skin: Nothing.
Farewell shot: The episode ends abruptly with a reflection of Wichita PD homicide detectives finally catching BTK. “It’s Dennis’ worst punishment ever,” Kelly Otis said. “Not that he’s locked up, but that no one gives a fuck about him.” For Tim Relph, Rader’s capture calmed his childhood demons. “Very few people manage to defeat their tormentors.”
Sleeping Star: Once police arrested Rader, he was immediately questioned in a lengthy recorded interview. catch killers only uses part of this footage, but it’s the scariest audio in the episode.
The most pilot line: Detective Otis recalls the scene at the Wichita Police Department Homicide Division in 2004, when they learned that BTK had resurfaced. “My boss read that letter and I will never forget what he said. ‘Gentlemen, hug and kiss your families because we are going to be working for a very long time. BTK is back.
Our call: STREAM IT, especially if you like brevity when it comes to true crime. catch killers get their what, why and how in 35 minutes.
Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicagoland. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glenganges