Beyond Cold Blood: The KBI From Ma Barker To BTK
Author: Larry Welch
Publisher: Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 292p.
Reviewer: Jaclyn Schildkraut | May 2013
Mention the State of Kansas to most people, particularly those from larger metropolitan areas within the United States, and the immediate vision is probably one of cattle and/or corn, or more likely, lots and lots of both. Very few would likely think of it as a state in the dynamic forefront of modern criminological procedures and law enforcement techniques, working hand-in-hand with the FBI and other federal and local agencies to investigate and solve some of the most heinous crimes in this country.
Many are familiar, even if only peripherally, with the real-life events made famous by Truman Capote in his bestselling book, In Cold Blood — the fact-based account of the slaughter of four members of the Clutter family on their Kansas farm which was one of the cases that catapulted the fledgling Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) to local, national, and international prominence; where it remains to this day.
Beyond Cold Blood: The KBI from Ma Barker to BTK is written by the tenth director of the KBI, Larry Welch, a former special agent for the FBI for 25 years, whose tenure with the Kansas organization from 1994-2007 was second in length only to the 17 year leadership of its founding Director, Lou Richter. The book’s twenty chapters are a comprehensive, behind the scenes look at the agency from the germination of an idea initially funded but not wholeheartedly endorsed by the Kansas legislature to the internationally known and respected group of law enforcement professionals that it is today. Each chapter details not only a specific case but also the inner workings of the Bureau itself throughout the time period, with emphasis on the important roles played by individuals both within and outside the KBI in the development of the agency.
Originally funded by the legislature in 1939 with just $46,000 to cover salaries, equipment, and supplies for the ten agents who were to cover the entire state, the KBI of today has a personnel roster of 300 people on the front lines and in support positions, and an annual budget of $30 million. The KBI had the first forensic laboratory to attain the coveted accreditation of the American Society of Criminal Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) on the first review, and today, all four of its forensic labs state-wide have earned the same certification.
The agency was given a shot in the arm by its professional handling of a 1941 bank robbery in Macksville, Kansas that firmly established the KBI in the public eye. Originally envisioned as the Kansas counterpart of the infamous Texas Rangers, the agency has gone on to become a model in its own right for other similar agencies in other states. While the slate of crimes that the agency has dealt with over the past 70 plus years since its inception has shifted focus, the principles that guide it today are the same as they were in 1939: “Dedication, Service, Integrity.”
As at its beginning, today’s KBI still enters a case only at the request of the local jurisdiction. Its agents continue to assist, not to usurp power from those they have come to help, and all media releases are still handled solely by the agency that has called in the KBI for assistance. It is an agency with a reputation few can match, having not been tainted by scandal, disgrace, or dishonor in its nearly seventy-five years of existence.
The book is well written with an engaging style that will capture and hold the attention not only of serious students in the field of criminal justice, but also those outside of academia with an interest in law enforcement and crime-related matters. Packed with information about the KBI from its inception to the present, the anecdotal nature of the Welch’s style, partially told from a personal point of view while he was Director, can lead the reader to overlook the wealth of information contained here. As Director for a quarter century, Welch was in a position not only to observe the growth of the agency but to also be a major part of its history during that time. This gives his writing a unique perspective, particularly because of his ready access to documents and Bureau information. That said, had the author included more about the day-to-day functioning of the KBI, about its personnel, its fiscal struggles, and the like, to give the Bureau more substance in the reader’s mind, it would have added depth and connection to the cases described in the book.
Jaclyn Schildkraut, Doctoral Instructional Assistant, Texas State University