She was a 26-year-old reporter at The Wichita Sun when a trusted source gave her a copy of a letter from a man who claimed he had killed a family of four -- binding and strangling them, hanging an 11-year-old girl from a basement pipe and leaving her parents and brother in their bedrooms.
It was signed, "Yours, Truly Guiltily ... BTK" for "Bind, Torture, Kill."
Now a sports editor at The Seattle Times, Henkel said police kept the letter secret for months after acting on a tip and finding it tucked inside a book at the downtown public library.
"Thirty years later, the words of a madman are still horrifying to read," Henkel wrote for a story in Sunday editions of the Times, the day after police announced they had arrested Dennis L. Rader, the man they believe was the BTK serial killer, blamed for some 10 killings.
Recalling the letter, Henkel said the BTK killer's sentences were clipped, his grammar was poor, and his words were misspelled. Still, she said, the letter was numbing.
"When this monster enter my brain, I will never know," the letter read. "But, it here to stay ... Society can be thankful that there are ways for people like me to relieve myself at time by day dreams of some victim being torture and being mine. It a big compicated game my friend of the monster play putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting ... Maybe you can stop him. I can't. He has areadly chosen his next victim."
Back in 1974, after the Sun, a now-defunct weekly, ran her story about the letter, Henkel said police shut her out. She received some threatening calls, one from a gravelly voiced man who said something like, "I'm going to get you," she told The Associated Press. She wondered if they were crank calls or if BTK was stalking her.
The killer sent letters, drawings, and poems to the news media, taunting police. Then he stopped writing for 25 years.
He broke his silence last March, sending more letters to the media and leaving packets around the city. One was in a Post Toasties box by a roadside containing trinkets taken from his victims: a driver's license, jewelry, photos of a victim before and after her death, and finally, chapters of a book he was writing about his life titled "The BTK Files."
In an Internet chatroom, Henkel got vilified for protecting her source. Someone suggested she "should be hung." She got letters at the Times, but said she doesn't believe any she's ever received over the years came from the BTK killer.
At one point several years ago, police cordoned off a block in east Wichita, hovered overhead in a helicopter, and beat on the door of one of Henkel's best friends, Dan Rouser. She said they believed Rouser fit their profile. He was a former cop and a crime reporter, he lived in the area of the killings, and he had a copy of that letter.
The police reached Henkel at the Times and asked her about the letter. She told them she gave a copy to Rouser when she moved to the Northwest 28 years ago.
"Dan and I used to talk a lot about BTK, gathering theories," she wrote. "We also worked with Bob Beattie, a Wichita attorney who has been writing a book about the killer for the past three years. It was supposed to be published next month, but who knows now?"
Henkel said Rouser quit journalism long ago and now is a vice president at Euroflight Inc., an aviation services company in Wichita.
Last spring, Henkel was back in Wichita caring for a sick friend not long after BTK had returned to the scene, claiming a victim police had not attributed to him.
"It felt like 1974 again," Henkel wrote.
On Saturday, 1,800 miles away from the city where she grew up, she watched Wichita's mayor and police chief hug at a news conference announcing Rader's arrest.
"The suspect has a face now," she wrote. "He is 59, married, has two grown children. He lives in Park City, a Wichita suburb, and is a 1979 graduate of criminal justice from Wichita State University. He is the president of his church congregation and has been a Cub Scout leader. He worked for the city.
"My heart still skips when I think of him. It is hard to believe that these horrible crimes might finally be solved.
"If so, there can be peace at last."
By: (AP) The letter still burns in Cathy Henkel's hands decades after she read it.