Woman tells of escape from BTK
Ex-Lawrence resident claims she had run-in with killer in 1981
Globe, a sensational supermarket tabloid, bought her harrowing story for $500.
But Wichita police say Mary Willis’ account of her night with the BTK serial killer and her attempts to warn them about Dennis Rader are preposterous.
Willis, a 49-year-old former Lawrence resident who has lived in Wichita since the 1980s, says she can’t prove she spent a night at the mercy of the BTK killer and lived to tell about it. But she’s eager to be believed, nonetheless.
“It really took a toll on me,” she said of the purported experience. “I was scared all the time” until Rader was arrested years after the episode.
Robert Beattie, a Wichita attorney and author of “Nightmare in Wichita/The Hunt for the BTK Strangler,” said Willis’ story “is not totally implausible.”
Rader, he said, has admitted stalking hundreds of women over the years.
“But keep in mind,” Beattie said, “for a while there, I was getting a phone call a day from women who were sure they’d been stalked by BTK. I don’t know if he did, but he may have. He’s a strange guy.”
Willis insists that after she was attacked by Rader, she tried to alert Wichita Police and was ignored.
But police say otherwise.
“Apparently, she’s a media hound,” said Wichita Police Department spokeswoman Janet Johnson. “We’ve never heard of her – other than through her dogged pursuit of media attention.”
Willis has spent time in prison and admits to alcohol abuse.
But she says she is on the straight and narrow now since Rader was captured and the fear she lived with for decades has subsided, eliminating her reasons to “self medicate.”
“I know my record isn’t all that good,” Willis said. “But that doesn’t change what happened. I know what happened, and I’ll take a polygraph or do hypnosis or whatever to prove it.”
Willis tells her story with vivid detail. It goes like this:
She says she accepted a ride home from the man she identifies as the BTK killer one night in January 1981 after a brief encounter at The Gasser, a south Wichita bar in a rough neighborhood.
Willis was new to town and had gone there looking for a friend who might help her find work.
Soon after arriving at the club, Willis, then 25, said she went to the bathroom to comb her hair.
“There by the bathrooms, I passed this big guy who was pushing a little guy into the wall,” she said. “I said something like ‘What are you picking on him for?’ and then I went in the bathroom.”
When she came out, the altercation had broken up. She went to the bar to wait for her friend. Soon, she noticed the ‘little guy’ was sitting across from her.
“He didn’t say anything,” she said. “He just stared at me. It made me a little uneasy, so I went next door to the restaurant to get something to eat and then go home.”
Minutes later, the strange man approached Willis in the restaurant.
“I said, ‘Are you all right?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, thanks to you’ because my little comment had sort of broken up the fight,” Willis said. “Then he said I reminded him of someone he knew, and he asked me if I went to WSU (Wichita State University). I said no.”
Willis said when she excused herself to call a cab, the man offered to give her a ride home.
“I know it sounds stupid now, but I didn’t have much money and it was cold outside and I hated waiting for cabs,” she said. “I was pretty naive. I thought he was weird, I didn’t think he was dangerous.”
The man didn’t take Willis to her apartment.
“He said he had something he wanted to show me, and then he said he had a cassette – some music – he wanted me to hear because he had seen me play some songs on the jukebox,” Willis said.
The man, she said, took her to a sparsely furnished apartment where he offered her wine and what she thought were hallucinogenic mushrooms.
“I didn’t accept either one because I could tell he wanted to get me under the influence of something,” she said. “I was standing there acting cool, you know, like none of this was bothering me. But I was thinking, ‘Man, I have got to get out of this place.'”
Willis said she noticed 2- and 3-feet pieces of rope, a small cat-o’-nine-tails whip and a pair of blood-encrusted scissors on the floor.
“Then I saw this ring sitting on table and – I’m trying not to act alarmed – I said ‘Oh, that’s a pretty ring. Where did you get it?'” Willis recalled. “And he said, ‘Don’t touch that, it belonged to one of my victims.'”
Within seconds, she said, the man started choking her.
“I got away from him and I said I didn’t care what he’d done in the past. It was cool with me. I just wanted out,” Willis said. “And then he started crying and got down on his knees and was saying stuff like ‘Forgive me, mama, I didn’t mean to.’ I thought, ‘Man, this guy is really tripping out.'”
Willis said the man agreed to let her use the bathroom, which was a few steps from the front door.
“I could see the front door was locked, so I went the bathroom to sort of regroup,” Willis said. “I decided I’m just going to go for the front door and hope and pray I can make it.”
She didn’t. “I went to the left, he was standing there on the right,” she said. “He wrapped the rope around my neck and started strangling me. The last thing I remember was my ears popping, my throat hurting and everything turning white. I passed out.”
When she awoke, Willis said she was tied spread-eagle to a bed frame and a bare mattress.
“My shirt was undone, my pants were open,” she said. “There was two-inch cut, a slash between my breasts. The scar is still there.”
The man had left. Willis said she worked herself free and fled the apartment.
“I just ran,” she said. “It was daybreak, and I just ran.”
Willis said she reported the incident to a Wichita detective, but nothing came of her report.
“I talked to a detective there who said they were kind of busy. He said he’d get back to me, but he never did,” Willis said. “I think he thought I was crazy or something.”
BTK, who killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991, murdered three women after the alleged incident with Willis.
Willis said she left behind her purse with identification when she escaped from the apartment. For years, she said, she was terrified Rader would come looking for her.
She said she robbed a Wichita liquor store, knowing she would be caught and sent to prison.
“I got to the point where I figured I’d be safer in jail than I was on the streets,” she said. “I didn’t have any place else to go.”
She spent the next six years in prison, returning for eight months in 1988-89 and 14 months in 1990-91 for parole violations.
Willis’ account of her BTK encounter appeared in last week’s edition of Globe.
“They said they’d pay me $500, but I haven’t received it yet,” she said.
Now that she’s seen Rader’s picture and heard his voice on television, Willis said she’s positive he was her assailant.
“I’m telling the truth,” she said.
Willis is the daughter of Harlan and Bonnie Randall. While living in Lawrence from about 1962 to the mid-1970s, Harlan Randall was a baker and cook at Haskell Indian Junior College, which later became Haskell Indian Nations University.