Homicide investigator, WSU instructor, dies at 59

Ken Landwehr
Ken Landwehr

By Shelby Reynolds
The Sunflower
Jan. 22, 2014

When Wichita State students enrolled in Lt. Ken Landwehr’s classes, they knew what they were getting themselves into: a straightforward, sometimes blunt, look at homicide investigation.

“He was real,” graduate teaching assistant Julian Dedeaux said. “He was a real, humble guy … He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He was purely honest about all situations.”

Landwehr worked in the Wichita Police Department for more than 20 years, helped solve more than 600 homicide cases and played a large role in the BTK case that captured Dennis Rader in 2005.

Landwehr died of kidney cancer Jan. 13. He was 59.

Since 2000, Landwehr taught as an adjunct professor with Wichita State, teaching a class each semester. Enrollment reached 150 to 160 students.

Michael Birzer, criminal justice professor and director of school of community affairs, said Landwehr brought valuable insight to WSU’s criminal justice department.

“He had this ability where he would bring in criminological theory,” Birzer said. “He would bring in profiling theory … He would bring in practice experience from being an investigator … And the students just loved it.”

WSU instructor and Wichita Police Det. Tim Relph worked with Landwehr in the field for about 22 years.

“We went through a lot of experiences at work,” he said. “A lot of tough cases. But life’s a lot easier to go through when you admire the people you work with.”

Relph will take over Landwehr’s Serial Killers class this semester, with Dedeaux as the teaching assistant.

“I don’t know how many of these [students] took the class for the content, or for the instructor. I guess we’ll find out,” Relph said, laughing.

Last semester, Dedeaux was enrolled in Landwehr’s Homicide Investigations class.

“Toward the end of the semester, you could tell he would slightly go downhill,” he said.

Class would sometimes end abruptly.

“He just kept coming day after day,” Dedeaux said. “He would come to class knowing he wouldn’t feel well. It just showed how strong he was as an individual.”

Relph was called in to substitute teach for Landwehr on occasion, as Landwehr was going through heavy treatment and chemotherapy.

“We knew he was going to be down for the count a while,” Relph said of the treatments. “Then it was like ‘now he’s not going to be better.’”

Disbelief. That was the reaction students and instructors felt after hearing about Landwehr’s death.

“I was kind of in disbelief,” Dedeaux said. “It was less than a month ago when class had ended. It just caught me off guard.”

Birzer described Landwehr as “one of the good guys.”

“As far as just Ken himself, when you met him once, that was Ken, you know? He was the same guy.”

Since his death, Birzer said he received an outpouring of emails and phone calls expressing their condolences.

“I can tell you there have been students who have graduated from here and then went into police work because of him,” Birzer said.

Yet, Landwehr spoke frankly about his career experiences in homicide.

“People had complaints about the language he used,” Dedeaux said. “He dropped the F-bomb. ‘I’ve seen some pretty f’ed up stuff,’ is how he’d say it.”

“It was nice to hear him be honest. He talked about how it impacted his personal life, so he definitely inspired me. Absolutely.”

Birzer said he has big shoes to fill now.

“I think you could ask any faculty on this floor,” he said, “if you looked at our adjuncts … ‘who was the instructor that stood out?’ They’re going to say Kenny Landwehr.”

Find the story on thesunflower.com

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