Most Famous Case Ever Solved by Computer Forensics
January 6, 2011
•IADT Chicago, Computer Forensics, IADT General
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For more than 30 years, the case of the BTK serial killer went as one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in America. Police spent hundreds of thousands of hours and millions of dollars trying to learn the identity of the man had who killed 10 people in and around Wichita, Kansas, between 1974 and 1991.
Then, in a few short hours on February 16, 2005, computer forensicists accomplished what police had failed to do for more than 30 years by identifying the killer as a man named Dennis Rader. The case remains the most famous ever solved by computer forensics.
The case started on January 15, 1975, when Dennis Rader strangled to death four members of the Otero family. Over the next 15 years, he would admit to binding and killing six more victims, all female.
As he was murdering victims, Rader taunted police by sending them bizarre notes. His first letter was stuck in an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library. In that note, Rader claimed responsibility for the Otero murders, providing details only known by police. He also promised more murders and suggested a nickname for himself – BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill).
Rader went on to write many other letters to police, including twisted poems, puzzles and pictures. Sometimes he would send the letters straight to the police, other times he would mail them to the media or hide them somewhere. Police even suspected that he placed references to himself in the newspaper's classified section.
Local police, working with the FBI, spent thousands of hours studying these communications. They hired the best criminal psychologists, followed up on every possible lead and interviewed thousands of suspects. Even with this staggering collection of evidence, however, police were unable to tie any of the murders to Rader.
It was not until 2004, after more than 10 years of complete silence from the killer, that police finally caught a break. That year, Rader resumed his communications with police. He eventually sent them a Word document on a floppy disk that computer forensics experts immediately examined.
By using EnCase forensics software, police were able to pull up a Word document that had been deleted. The document contained metadata that revealed it had last been modified by someone named "Dennis" at Christ Lutheran Church. A quick search of the church's website revealed that Dennis Rader functioned as president of the church's congregation council.
By checking Rader's background and examining DNA evidence, police were able to quickly link him with the BTK murders. Rader originally pleaded not guilty to the murders, but he later confessed, providing hours of testimony filled with excruciating detail.
Today, computer forensics is used more than ever to solve murder, kidnapping, rape, fraud and embezzlement cases. Investigators routinely dig up information that was thought to be long gone on computers, cell phones, Web chats and networks. The tools they use are also growing more advanced every day.
In the digital age, computer forensics experts are more valuable than ever – just ask Dennis Rader. You'll find him in Kansas's El Dorado Correctional Facility. His earliest possible release date is February 26, 2180.
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