The threatening letters baffled Wichita police for four years, from 1977 to 1981. As Corey Mead explains in an almost impossible-to-believe account at Medium, a letter writer who came to be dubbed "The Poet" sent regular letters to a woman named Ruth Finley threatening to kill her. Worse, his menacing went beyond letter-writing. Finley reported a series of escalating physical confrontations, the first serious one being an abduction she escaped thanks to a can of mace hidden in her purse. Later, Finley was stabbed multiple times but managed to escape again, though she ended up in the ER with a knife sticking out of her side. As all this was playing out, Wichita police also were trying to stop the city's first serial killer, the BTK Strangler. Were the cases related? Detectives couldn't overlook the possibility.
It wasn't until 1981, when Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon decided to personally pore over years of case files, that the mystery was cracked: LaMunyon concluded that Finley's tormentor was Finley herself. Surveillance photos later captured her mailing letters to herself and to a local TV station. Confronted, she confessed, though she seemed confused when attempting to explain why. Psychoanalysis suggested severe childhood trauma, including sexual abuse by a neighbor, played a role. Also, as a teenager, Finley was sexually assaulted and branded with a flat-iron on her thighs, an attack that also made local headlines. (Finley maintains that attack was real.) She was never charged for her Wichita hoax. The leading theory is that she snapped and created an alternate personality, perhaps triggered by stress related to a health scare with her husband (he was clueless about the hoax) and headlines about the BTK Strangler. Read the full, fascinating story. (Read more Longform stories.)