by Kayla Cobb (@kaylcobb)
'Catching Killers: Season 2' Netflix Review: Stream It or Skip It?When BTK resurfaced in 2004, his apprehension became an obsession for a group of Wichita detectives. Catching Killers has their story.
Catching Killers returns to Netflix for a second four-episode season. In its first go-round, Catching 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, devotes two episodes to the Toronto Village Killer, and in its premiere, the effort to identify and capture the infamous BTK.
Opening Shot: The cubic international style block of Wichita City Hall rises over a downtown landscape of smaller buildings and parking structures. Police cruisers dot the foreground. A graphic tells us it's March 22, 2004.
The Gist: The second season of Catching Killers returns to the Netflix true crime offering's familiar format. Each episode is comparatively brief, averaging just over 35 minutes, and explores the activities of infamous serial murderers from the perspective of the police investigating the crimes. As 'Bind. Torture. Kill: BTK' opens, it's 2004, and the Wichita Police Department is examining an envelope it received containing a photocopy of three Polaroid. Detectives Dana Gouge, Kelly Otis, and Tim Relph recall how they recognized the dead woman in the photos as Vicki Wegerle, a victim of Wichita-area serial killer BTK, who had gone silent after murdering Wegerle and nine other people between 1974 and 1991. Only 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. The detectives explain how they immediately established an investigative task force, and returned to the grisly crime scene evidence from two or more decades before. They also tracked BTK's correspondence with the media, one of the killer's favorite tactics and something they knew stoked his narcissism. The uncertainty and fear surrounding BTK's crimes had plagued Wichita for decades, so the police viewed his reemergence as a singular 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 was sourced from evidence dating back to 1974; now, it was a only a matter of matching it to the genetic profile of a contemporary suspect.
As the investigation drags into its sixth month, the physical and emotional grind on the detectives increases. But so too does their stack of enticing 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 arrives when BTK slips up and science illuminates his mistake. The DNA of Wichita resident Dennis Rader is a match with the killer's, and in 2005, 31 years after his rampage began, authorities moven in to finally apprehend BTK.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? In January 2022, A&E debuted the four-episode series BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer, which examined the psyche of Dennis Rader as well as his motives. BTK also surfaced in the Netflix series Mindhunter, which featured a fictionalized version of Rader with its ADT Serviceman character. And the streamer's true crime well runs ever deeper with series like The Raincoat Killer, which explored the investigation and capture of a Korean serial killer.
Our Take: The Catching Killers format is rewarding in its economy. There's no on screen journalist to act as a guide, somebody from the Dateline universe like a Keith Morrison or an Andrea Canning. There are no interviews with the victims' families, friends, or colleagues. In fact, there's no attempt to pad 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 evidentiary discoveries their case turned on, and the revelations that led to the perpetrator's arrest and prosecution. It's all very tidy, almost like an abstract of the usual style of true crime documentary, which tends to unfold with a wider scope and more gradual pace.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: The episode abruptly ends with some reflection from the Wichita PD homicide detectives who finally nabbed BTK. 'That is Dennis' most worst punishment,' Kelly Otis says. 'Not that he's locked up, but that nobody gives a shit about him.' For Tim Relph, Rader's capture calmed his childhood demons. 'Very few people get to vanquish their tormentors.'
Sleeper Star: Once the police had arrested Rader, he was immediately questioned in a lengthy taped interview. Catching Killers only utilizes a portion of that footage, but it's the most chilling audio in the episode.
Most Pilot-y Line: Detective Otis recalls the scene in the Wichita Police Department's homicide division back in 2004, when they learned BTK had resurfaced. 'My boss looked over that letter and I'll never forget what he said. 'Gentlemen, hug and kiss your families because we're gonna be working for a long long time. BTK is back.'
Our Call: STREAM IT, especially if you're into the whole brevity thing when it comes to true crime. Catching Killers gets in its what, its why, and its how in a compact 35 minutes.
Will you stream or skip the true crime docuseries #CatchingKillers Season 2 on @netflix? #SIOSI
— Decider (@decider) February 10, 2022
Johnny Loftus is an independent writer and editor living at large in Chicagoland. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges