Is Teri Hatcher's Lifetime Movie 'The Killer Inside' Based on a True Story?

The new Lifetime psychological drama The Killer Inside: The Ruth Finley Story, which stars Teri Hatcher in the title role, is based on the horrifying true story of a Kansas housewife who survived a violent attack at 16, only to be targeted again decades later by a mysterious stalker known only as “The Poet.” The story only gets weirder and more disturbing from there, and be warned—there’s a twist, so if you’d rather stay unspoiled until watching the adaptation, stop reading now. Otherwise, here are the details of the mind-boggling true case.

Is the Teri Hatcher Lifetime movie about Ruth Finley based on a true story?

Yes, the movie is based on a true story—and that story is the definition of stranger than fiction.

Per the Lifetime synopsis, the series will see Ruth “find herself on the run again decades later as the BTK killer terrorizes her hometown. With a team of police investigators and her devoted husband intent on saving her, the identity of her tormentor is too chilling to believe.”

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What is the Ruth Finley story?

Most of the available information about Ruth Finley’s story comes from an article by author Corey Mead, which was published back in 2021 in the digital magazine Truly*Adventurous.

In the summer of 1977, 47-year-old Ruth Finley was living a typical suburban life in Wichita, Kansas with her husband, Ed. One afternoon, after spending a few hours doing yard work, Ed suddenly collapsed from what turned out to be a heart attack. And the day was about to get even more nightmarish for Ruth—that evening, as Ed was recovering in hospital, she received a phone call from a mysterious man.

The caller knew Ruth’s name and specific information from her past, including the details of a horrific attack she'd survived as a teenager. At 16, she’d been attacked by a stranger who had chloroformed her and branded her with a hot flat-iron. Although she’d moved on from the trauma, it came flooding back as the caller spoke. He threatened to spread the details of her attack to everyone she knew, unless she gave him money.

Over the next year, the threats continued. Ruth received written notes in the mail, more harassing phone calls, and more than once she was ambushed in person by a “creep” demanding she talk to him. Many of the letters were written in rhyming verse, a detail which inspired Ruth’s husband Ed to nickname her stalker “The Poet.” But Ruth was convinced that she was in fact being targeted by a high-profile serial killer.

Who was the BTK serial killer?

Around the time that Ruth began receiving the threatening calls, Wichita was being terrorized by an unidentified murderer known as “the BTK killer.” That acronym stands for “bind, torture, kill,” which was the BTK’s MO. His first known murder was in 1974, and throughout the rest of the 1970s he murdered at least 10 people, usually in their own homes. He identified and stalked many of his victims before murdering them. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to his crimes, and his victims appeared to be selected completely at random—they included a 9-year-old boy, a 62-year-old retiree and several people in their 20s and 30s.

By 1978, the BTK killer was drawing national headlines thanks to his attention-seeking efforts to taunt local police. He sent letters to television stations, claiming responsibility for his five murders to date and comparing himself to other high-profile serial killers including Jack the Ripper and the “Son of Sam” murderer.

Seeing the news coverage of BTK, Ruth became convinced that he was her stalker, and that she was going to be his next victim. But when she went to the police, they were skeptical, according to Mead’s article, particularly because they were inundated with supposed BTK tips at the time.

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Was the BTK killer ever found?

The BTK killer’s last known crime was in 1991, when he murdered 62-year-old retiree Dolores Davis. After that, he dropped off the radar completely, and the case went cold for more than a decade. If it hadn’t been for the killer himself, he might never have been found at all.

In 2004, the BTK Killer began writing letters to newspapers and TV stations in Wichita, confessing to more crimes and offering what appeared to be hints about his identity. He also left a series of grisly clues at random locations around the cit—a cereal box which contained a graphic description of one of the murders, a driver’s license belonging to one of his victims, Nancy Fox, and a Barbie doll with a hood over its head and its arms tied behind its back.

Thanks to the evolution of DNA technology, police were able to trace these communications to a suspect: 60-year-old Dennis Rader. After he was arrested, Rader confirmed that he was the BTK killer and confessed to the murder of 10 victims. He also claimed that he had been planning to kill again.

Who was Ruth Finley's stalker "The Poet”?

Throughout 1978 and 1979, Ruth continued to be tormented by grotesque letters and threatening phone calls. On two occasions, her stalker actually tracked her down and tried to abduct her. The second time, in July of 1979, he dragged her into his car and stabbed her three times, before she was able to escape.

At this point, the local press had caught onto Ruth’s story, and the case of an ordinary housewife being targeted in such a vicious way drew an outpouring of sympathy from the public. The police were now taking her very seriously, and mounted an extensive investigation trying to identify the man who had attacked her—and whether he was the same man who’d been terrorizing the city for years. But as it turned out, Ruth Finley’s stalker was not the BTK killer—because Ruth Finley never had a stalker.

By the spring of 1981, the police were still no closer to solving the case of “The Poet,” and didn’t even have any plausible suspects. Police chief Richard LaMunyon decided to take matters into his own hands. Per Mead’s article, he typically held more of an administrative role at the department and let his detectives handle the investigative work, but the pressure to solve this case had become too intense. LaMunyon spent a weekend poring over the case, and then came to a shocking conclusion: Ruth had written the letters herself, and “The Poet” did not exist.

What was wrong with Ruth Finley?

Once the police began investigating Ruth as a suspect in her own stalking, they soon found evidence that confirmed LaMunyon was correct. They traced the Poet letters back to Ruth, and found a slew of incriminating evidence at her office, including sheets of paper on which she’d been practicing “The Poet’s” handwriting. But when the police confronted Ruth with conclusive evidence that she had mailed the letters herself, she seemed confused, as the following excerpt from the article shows:

“Ruth, astounded, said nothing. I’m The Poet? she thought. Ruth’s body sagged and a vacant look washed over her face. An image appeared in her mind: she was sitting in her basement writing a letter. The image was only a fragment, not a full memory. She wasn’t sure it was real.”

Ruth went on to make a full confession, describing how she had written the letters herself, planted threatening packages at her own home, and even stabbed herself to fake the attack in 1979. But when the detective asked her why, she didn’t have an answer. After confessing, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

During her intensive therapy there, Ruth’s psychoanalyst Dr. Pickens uncovered childhood memories of ongoing sexual abuse which she had repressed. She had coped with the abuse by dissociating, but years later, they had triggered a kind of fugue state, per Mead’s article:

Ruth had kept the memories of her childhood sexual abuse buried for forty-three years, until, Dr. Pickens believed, the stress of Ed’s hospitalization for a possible heart attack and the background specter of the BTK Strangler had forced her repressed trauma to the surface. (The branding attack in Fort Scott, Ruth always maintained, had been real as well.) Ruth had dealt with the emotional deluge by creating another self, The Poet. It wasn’t split personality disorder—The Poet was not a fully developed personality, nor an entirely separate identity—but an alternate consciousness, one Ruth had no memory or awareness of when in her regular conscious mind.

After reading the psychological report that Pickens wrote, the authorities in Wichita opted not to press charges against her, because her actions were “not malicious.”

In an interview with KAKE TV about Ruth’s case, Pickens said that she “really wasn't terrorizing herself, she was trying to get help for and protect herself from the terror she experienced as a little girl."

What happened to Ruth Finley?

Ruth spent seven years in intensive therapy with Dr. Pickens, during which she reportedly processed the trauma from her childhood, and how it had led her to dissociate to such a degree that she feigned being stalked without consciously knowing it. Her husband, Ed, stood by her, as did her children and siblings.

Is Ruth Finley still alive?

Ruth died in the summer of 2019, at the age of 89.

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