Search for I-70 killer continues nearly 30 years after murder spree

Key to solving cold case may be gun used by killer
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The I-70 Killer. It’s the name given to a man police say killed at least six people across three states in the early 90s, including two in Wichita. As new attention falls on this cold case, Factfinder 12 sat down with the Wichita detective working the case to learn what it will take to track down this killer.

Up a set of stairs at the KWCH studios, in a room, all but forgotten for the most part, sit hundreds of video tapes. All contain memories of Wichita’s past. Unfortunately, many of those are bad memories. The type people would like to forget. Such is the case with one tape labeled, “April 1992.” Before any of the video found on that tape was shot, it started as a typical day of business at one Wichita bridal shop, but it would not last.

Long before the current lineup of Factfinder 12 investigators worked at KWCH, there were other Eyewitness News journalists covering the story. The video tape pulled from that forgotten room contains the voice of one of those delivering the awful details of what happened at la’Bride d’Elegance bridal store on East Kellogg. It was April 11, 1992.

“The victims have been identified as Patricia Magers and Patricia Smith,” the reporter said. “Police say they were staying open late for a customer when they were attacked.”

The two women, one the owner of the store and the other a worker, were executed by a gunman in the back room. The murders were quickly linked to the so-called I-70 Killer who went on a 29 day killing spree across three states in the spring of 1992. Years later, Eyewitness News spoke to Patricia Smith’s father Bob Trendel, who made a prediction that would, sadly, come to be.

“I don’t think they’ll ever catch him,” Trendel said. “Not in my lifetime at least”

Bob Trendel died in 2018 and the man that murdered his daughter has still never been caught.

Wichita homicide detective Tim Relph has worked the case for decades and thinks about it often. He says every day he comes to work, the case file is still sitting on his desk. In 1992, there was initial hope that someone might recognize a sketch of the killer made from the description of an eyewitness to the bridal shop murders. It produced no solid leads and the case went cold.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to look at this picture and say, ‘Oh, yeah, someone you know.’ It’s so well circulated, if someone was going to come forward, I believe they’d already have done that,” Detective Replh said.

At the strip mall where the bridal shop was located, not much remains of what was there in 1992. Bad memories, of course, and it’s a particular memory police believe may help solve this case. The unusual weapon used by the killer. Probably not seen by anyone Wichita, but maybe by someone somewhere...and if investigators can connect that person and place to Wichita, it may be the key to catching the I-70 Killer.

“This was an unusual gun,” Relph explained. “He was probably a collector of weapons. You know, someone who probably had’d remember this gun.”

Relph says the gun us believed to be a .22 caliber Erma Werke Model ET 22. Ballistics confirmed it was linked to six murders in three states.

“It is a recreation of a of a German naval weapon from the probably back in the 20s,” Relph added.

Police believe the weapon used to murder six victims by the I-70 Killer was an Erma Werke ET-22...
Police believe the weapon used to murder six victims by the I-70 Killer was an Erma Werke ET-22 semi-automatic pistol.(Wichita Police Dept.)

Detective Relph suspects the gun itself is long gone but hopes someone remembers it once belonging to a person whose work in the early 90s required them to travel.

“They thought that this person probably traveled with some kind of purpose, whether it was for a job...the travel seemed to have some kind of purpose because it goes back and forth,” he said.

In November, Relph will meet with other investigators from agencies still searching for the I-70 Killer. Once again, hoping technology or some new theory may bring the killer, likely still alive and without question still very dangerous, to justice.

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