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Out of the Morgue
Conspiracy story, BTK, and the crows of St. John
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St. John in Stafford County used to have a sizeable population of crows to contend with throughout the winter months. Today, they appear to have moved on to winter in other locations. - photo by Tribune file image

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

This week in 1974, the U.S. and Germany jointly launched space probe Helios, which flow close to the surface of the sun. In just a few days, the classic comedy movie Young Frankenstein would be released.  Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were” was the number one song on the Billboard charts.  
Locally, Thies Packing Company, Inc. was undergoing management changes, and a manufacturing plant in Ellsworth was laying of part-time workers, mostly students, in fewponse to auto industry cutbacks in Detroit.  

‘Monster’ surfaces
It was 40 years ago that the Wichita Eagle released a letter sent to the Wichita police two months earlier from a person that claimed to be the murderer of the Otero family of Wichita.  It was the first communication received by the killer that would come to be known as BTK.  
An AP story ran in the Dec. 12 edition of the Great Bend Tribune, Cites ‘monster’ as real killer.
“In a news conference Wednesday, Police Chief Floyd Hannon denounced the release of the letter by a Wichita newspaper, but he said the author was either responsible for the killings nearly 11 months ago or had intimate knowledge of the deed, ” the AP story read.  
He would go on to kill at least nine more times before entering a decades long quiet period, resurfacing again nearly 30 years later, July 17, 2004.  This time, the police were able to detect who he was thanks to residual digital data on computers and DNA evidence that matched that which was collected from one of the victims.  Dennis Rader, a former compliance officer for Park City, admitted to being BTK, and is now serving several consecutive life sentences, a total of 179 years, along with one “hard 40” sentence, in solitary confinement in a federal prison.

Crows of St. John
Living close to Cheyenne Bottoms, migrations are a common and celebrated sight in this area, and have been for, well, as long as there have been people here to witness them.  But in 1974, St. John residents didn’t feel like celebrating.  Instead, they dreaded the annual appearance of hundreds of thousands of crows that arrived each year to winter over.
“Stafford county is one of several “crow capitals” where the birds flock to nest.  Motorists driving through the area at dusk are amazed by clouds of the birds heading for catalpa groves to roost.  The sight of a crow-covered mile field is reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
The story went on to enumerate the droppings, disease, damage to crops, and other damage done by the hoards of black birds.  They had no natural predators in the area, which didn’t help.
“The law banning destruction of crows was amended for Kansas and placed under standing depredation order.  This means that crows may be eliminated when they are committing or about to commit depredations on trees, livestock, crops or are concentrated in such numbers as to constitute a hazard to health or sanitation.”
Decoys, bait, calls and tapes of calls were implemented by hunters intent on taking care of the problem.  
According to a recent online article at, it appears the masses of crows have found new winter quarters in other rural locations including Danville, Ill.  where the crows have now become a huge problem too.
“And in the 1940s and ‘50s, Stafford County, Kansas, hosted upwards of a million crows in winter, though that roost eventually disintegrated.”

Porn opinion
An editorial with an eye-catching title reminds us that smut was not always legal, let alone accessible by virtually anyone, regardless of their age, as it is today.
“Putting new life in old porn,” commented on a story in Newsweek that cited a 33 percent reduction in revenue across the board from all sources from the sale of porn compared to a year earlier.
“The reason seems to be the one that many predicted would come into operation when and if pornography became freely available.”  But the Supreme Court issued less liberal interpretations of obscenity, which the opinion piece cited for reviving the “ailing smut industry.”
“In community after community, prosecutors are...cracking down on the dirty books and movies.  If the reaction continues, the forbidden fruit, grown stale with familiarity, may become enticing again.  The censor has always been the pornographer’s most valuable ally.”  
Perhaps, but some today might say that position has been replaced by the internet.

Just for fun
Just in time to help keep those holiday pounds from taking up residence on the hips of readers, the Tribune ran “Debi Horn on her second “lockjaw” diet.”
Horn was the first American to have her jaw wired shut for weight loss.  That way, she would have to take sustenance through a straw.  She lost 73 pounds with her first round of dieting, but after regaining five, she sought to have them rewired so she could use 40 more.  She started at 230 pounds, so losing and keeping off that much weight was sure to be a challenge.  
Making a quick internet search, “wiring jaws shut for weight loss,” brought up several blogs from people you have done it, as well as advertising for retainer-like devices that can be purchased.  Another modern approach, albeit more expensive and invasive, is the gastric sleeve.  

Conspiracy theory
Ever hear the one about the engine two guys created in the 1970s that doubled the efficiency of the standard engine?  The story has undergone numerous variations over the decades, with alternating entities being accused of purchasing and suppressing the technology for their own economic gain.  The origin was likely a wire story that ran in several newspapers this week in 1974.
‘Feds check new car engine,’ told of the Environmental Protection Agency ordering experiments on an engine modified by Robert and Edward LaForce of Richmond, Va., who claimed to have doubled the efficiency of a standard Detroit engine by capturing and burning heavier gasoline molecules normally “wasted” in the regular combustion process.  
According to EPA data, experiments showed the innovation was not all the LaForce brothers claimed.  This was ground zero for the conspiracy theory.
The latest version we could find was in March, 2013, on a blog called Before its news where they claim Mitsubishi has a new type of vapor burning carburetor that allows the engine to get 200 MPG.   Even though it was verified by Ford Motor Company, it has not been allowed to be brought to the United States, the article claims.
“Through your donations and investments, this and many other energy solutions can be made available to the public.”