Dennis Lynn Rader
March 9, 1945
|Education||Butler County Community College (AE)|
Wichita State University (BS)
|Conviction(s)||First degree murder – 10 counts|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 175 years|
(10 consecutive life sentences)
Span of crimes
|January 15, 1974 – January 19, 1991|
|February 25, 2005|
|Imprisoned at||El Dorado Correctional Facility|
|Service/||U.S. Air Force|
|Years of service||1966–1970|
Dennis Lynn Rader (born March 9, 1945), also known as BTK (an abbreviation he gave himself, for "bind, torture, kill"), is an American serial killer who murdered at least ten people in Wichita and Park City, Kansas, between 1974 and 1991. Although Rader occasionally killed or attempted to kill men and children, he typically targeted women. His victims were often bound, sometimes with objects from their homes, and either suffocated with a plastic bag or manually strangled with a ligature.
In addition, Rader stole keepsakes from his female victims, including underwear, licenses, and personal items. He often sent taunting letters to police and media outlets describing the details of his crimes. After a thirteen-year hiatus, Rader resumed sending letters in 2004, leading to his 2005 arrest and subsequent guilty plea. He is currently serving ten consecutive life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Life and background
Dennis Lynn Rader was born in Pittsburg, Kansas, on March 9, 1945, to bookkeeper Dorothea Mae Rader (née Cook; September 17, 1925 – October 14, 2007) and Kansas Gas Service worker William Elvin Rader (November 21, 1922 – December 27, 1996), the eldest of four sons. Rader grew up in Wichita. Both parents worked long hours and paid little attention to their children at home; Rader later described feeling ignored by his mother in particular and resenting her for it.
From a young age, Rader harbored sadistic sexual fantasies about torturing "trapped and helpless" women. He also exhibited zoosadism by torturing, killing and hanging small animals. Rader acted out sexual fetishes for voyeurism, autoerotic asphyxiation, and cross-dressing; he often spied on female neighbors while dressed in women's clothing, including women's underwear that he had stolen, and masturbated with ropes or other bindings around his arms and neck.
Years later, during his "cooling off" periods between murders, Rader would take pictures of himself wearing women's clothes and a female mask while bound. He later admitted that he was pretending to be his victims as part of a sexual fantasy. However, Rader kept his sexual proclivities well-hidden, and he was widely regarded in his community as "normal, polite, and well mannered".
After graduating from Wichita Heights High School, Rader attended Kansas Wesleyan University; he received only mediocre grades and dropped out after one year. Rader served in the United States Air Force from 1966 to 1970. On discharge, he moved to Park City (a suburb of Wichita), where he worked in the meat department of an IGA supermarket where his mother was a bookkeeper.
Rader married Paula Dietz on May 22, 1971; they had two children, Kerri and Brian. He attended Butler County Community College in El Dorado, earning an associate degree in Electronics Engineering Technology in 1973. He then enrolled at Wichita State University and graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in Administration of Justice.
Rader initially worked as an assembler for the Coleman Company, an outdoor supply company. He then worked at the Wichita-based office of ADT Security Services from 1974 to 1988, where he installed security alarms as part of his job, in many cases for homeowners concerned about the BTK killings. Rader was a census field operations supervisor for the Wichita area in 1989, before the 1990 federal census.
In May 1991, Rader became a dogcatcher and compliance officer in Park City. In this position, neighbors recalled him as being sometimes overzealous and extremely strict, as well as taking special pleasure in bullying and harassing single women. One neighbor complained that Rader killed her dog for no reason. Rader was a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita and had been elected president of the church council. He was also a Cub Scout leader.
On July 26, 2005, after Rader's arrest, his wife was granted an "emergency divorce" (waiving the normal 60-day waiting period). In an interview with ABC News in 2019, Rader's daughter Kerri said she still writes to her father and has now forgiven him, but still struggles to reconcile him with the BTK killer, stating her childhood seemed normal and they were a "normal American family".
On January 15, 1974, four members of the Otero family were murdered in Wichita, Kansas. The victims were Joseph Otero Sr., 38; Julia Maria "Julie" Otero, 33; Joseph "Joey" Otero II, 9; and Josephine "Josie" Otero, 11. Their bodies were discovered by the family's three older children who had been at school at the time of the killings. After his 2005 arrest, Rader confessed to killing the Otero family. Rader claimed that he first targeted the family two months prior to their murders when he spotted Julie leaving to take her children to school and followed them. On the morning of January 15, Rader cut the phone lines and entered the Otero residence when Joey opened the back door for the family dog.
Rader told the Otero family that he was a "wanted" man in California before he ordered them to lie on the living room floor at gunpoint. Then he led the family into a bedroom and tied them with rope he had prepared. Joseph and Joey were on the floor, while Julie and Josie were on the bed. The wrists and feet of Joseph and Julie were restrained. Joseph's head was covered by a plastic bag, which Rader then secured with ropes, but after he chewed a hole in the bag, another bag was tightened over his head which caused Joseph to slowly suffocate to death.
Rader attempted to strangle Julie and according to Rader: "Mrs. Otero woke back up... she was pretty upset with what's going on... she asked me to save her son so I actually had taken the bag off. She screamed, 'You killed my boy! You killed my boy!' ... and she actually said, 'God have mercy on your soul,' is what she said. And I put her down permanently.” strangling her to death with rope. With both parents dead, Rader then also placed another plastic bag, with two T-shirts, and an additional bag over it on Joey's head and watched as he thrashed about while being suffocated. Afterward, Rader led Josie down into the basement where he hanged her with a noose from a pipe. Police later found Rader's semen near her partially-clothed body. Rader then eventually wrote a letter that he stashed inside an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library in October 1974, describing in detail the killing of the Otero family.
On April 4, 1974, Rader broke into the Wichita home of 21-year-old Kathryn Doreen Bright through her screen door but was taken aback to discover her 19-year-old brother Kevin Bright was also present in the property. He transported Kathryn to another bedroom and tied her down after forcing Kevin, who was being held at gunpoint, to restrain his sister with a rope Rader had provided. Rader attempted to strangle Kathryn to death before stabbing her three times in the back and lower abdomen with a knife when she struggled too much. Kevin was also strangled and shot in the head, but survived by feigning death and later escaping.
On March 17, 1977, 25-year-old Shirley Ruth Relford was found dead in her Wichita home. Rader was pursuing a nearby potential target that ended up not being in her house when he randomly located Relford by following her 5-year-old son. Rader entered their residence and pulled a handgun out from under his jacket, frightening the family. After tying up her three children and locking them in the bathroom, Rader took Relford to the back bedroom. Rader had Shirley restrained while she vomited before tying her legs to her bedpost. He then strangled her with rope after placing a plastic bag over her head while her children screamed and banged down the hallway. Similar to the Otero murders, Rader intended to murder Relford's children although they were ultimately able to escape before he could do so.
When Rader noticed 25-year-old Nancy Jo Fox going into her Wichita home, he marked her as a potential victim and began stalking her. On December 8, 1977, Rader knocked at her door; when nobody answered he cut the phone lines before breaking in to wait for Fox in her kitchen. Fox's murder would be described by Rader as "what I call a perfect – a perfect hit. Although she gave me a lot of verbal static, she cooperated, she didn’t fight me. I had complete control of her, that’s why it was one of the more – more enjoyable kills, as I call them." Rader killed Fox by strangling her with his belt on her bed although before she died, Rader told her that he was responsible for the prior Otero murders. The following day, Rader called police from a phonebooth telling them they would find Fox's body at her home.
In early-1978, Rader sent another letter to television station KAKE in Wichita, claiming responsibility for the murders of the Oteros, Bright, Vian Relford, and Fox. He suggested many possible names for himself, including "BTK". He demanded media attention in this second letter, saying "How many do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?" A poem was enclosed titled "Oh! Death to Nancy," a parody of the lyrics to the American folk song "O Death". In the letter, he claimed to be driven to kill by "factor X", which he characterized as a supernatural element that also motivated Jack the Ripper, the Son of Sam, and the Hillside Stranglers. During this time, Rader also intended to have killed others, such as 63-year-old Anna Williams, who in 1979 escaped death by returning home much later than expected. Rader explained during his confession that he became obsessed with Williams and was "absolutely livid" when she evaded him. He spent hours waiting at her home but became impatient and left when she did not return home from visiting friends.
Marine Hedge, aged 53, was found on May 5, 1985, at East 53rd Street North between North Webb Road and North Greenwich Road in Wichita. Rader killed her on April 27, and took her dead body to Christ Lutheran Church, where he was the president of the church council. There, he photographed her body in various bondage positions. Rader had previously stored black plastic sheets and other materials at the church in preparation for the murder and then later dumped the body in a remote ditch. Two women Rader stalked in the 1980s and one whom he stalked in the mid-1990s filed restraining orders against him. One of them also changed her address to avoid him.
On September 16, 1986, Rader strangled 28-year-old Vicki Lynn Wegerle to death with a nylon stocking at her house in Wichita. Rader entered the residence by pretending to be a telephone repairman. Rader rearranged her clothes post-mortem and took a number of photographs of her nude body. Rader's final victim, 62-year-old Dolores Earline "Dee" Davis, was found dead on February 1, 1991, at West 117th Street North and North Meridian Street in Park City, Kansas. Rader had killed her on January 19 by strangling her with pantyhose.
On August 23, 2023, the Associated Press reported that Rader was considered the prime suspect in two further killings in Oklahoma and Missouri. Authorities discovered "possible trophies" from victims after launching a search for evidence at his former Kansas home resulting in the investigation of Rader's potential involvement in additional unsolved disappearances and murders:
- 16-year-old Cynthia Dawn Kinney was last seen in Osage, Oklahoma, on June 23, 1976, at Osage Laundromat. Witnesses said she left the laundromat at 9:30 a.m. and got into a faded beige 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. In 2023, Osage Sheriff Eddie Virden claimed that Rader was identified as a prime suspect after it was determined that Rader was involved in Boy Scouts in the area and when it was learned that Rader had included the phrase "bad wash day" in his writings. A bank was also having new ADT alarms installed across the street from the laundromat when Kinney went missing. Rader was a regional installer for ADT at the time. Furthermore, Rader has allegedly claimed to have "fantasized about kidnapping a girl from a laundromat." Rader has denied involvement in the murder. Sheriff Virden has stated he believes Rader's denial is because being tied to a murder in Oklahoma could open him up to retrial and the death penalty.
- 22-year-old Shawna Beth Garber, formerly known as "Grace Doe", was found murdered in McDonald County, Missouri on December 2, 1990. An autopsy revealed she had been raped, strangled and hog-tied with six different types of cords about two months before her body was found. Garber went missing from Topeka, Kansas, on November 3 and her remains were identified in 2021. In 2023, authorities announced that Rader was the prime suspect in Shawna's murder due to photographic evidence found in one of his journals which tied him to the crime scene.
By 2004, the investigation of the BTK Killer was considered a cold case. Then, Rader initiated a series of eleven communications to the local media. This activity led directly to his arrest in February 2005. In March 2004, The Wichita Eagle received a letter from someone using the name "Bill Thomas Killman". The author of the letter claimed that he had murdered Vicki Wegerle on September 16, 1986, and enclosed photographs of the crime scene and a photocopy of her driver's license, which had been stolen at the time of the crime. Before this, it had not been definitively established that Wegerle was killed by BTK. DNA collected from under Wegerle's fingernails provided police with previously unknown evidence. They then began DNA testing hundreds of men in an effort to find the serial killer. Altogether, more than 1,300 DNA samples were taken and later destroyed by court order.
In May 2004, television station KAKE in Wichita received a letter with chapter headings for the "BTK Story", fake IDs, and a word puzzle. On June 9, a package was found taped to a stop sign at the corner of First and Kansas roads in Wichita. It had graphic descriptions of the Otero murders and a sketch labeled "The Sexual Thrill Is My Bill." Also enclosed was a chapter list for a proposed book titled The BTK Story, which mimicked a story written in 1999 by Court TV crime writer David Lohr. Chapter One was titled "A Serial Killer Is Born." In July, a package dropped into the return slot at a public library contained more bizarre material, including the claim that he was responsible for the death of 19-year-old Jake Allen in Argonia, Kansas, earlier that month. This claim was false, and the death was ruled a suicide.
After his capture, Rader admitted in his interrogation that he had been planning to kill again and he had set a date (October 2004) and was stalking his intended victim. In October 2004, a manila envelope was dropped into a UPS box in Wichita. It had many cards with images of terror and bondage of children pasted on them, a poem threatening the life of lead investigator Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, and a false autobiography with many details about Rader's life. These details were later released to the public. In December 2004, Wichita police received another package from the BTK killer. This time, the package was found in Wichita's Murdock Park. It had the driver's license of Nancy Fox, which was noted as stolen from the crime scene, as well as a doll that was symbolically bound at the hands and feet, and had a plastic bag tied over its head.
In January 2005, Rader attempted to leave a cereal box in the bed of a pickup truck at a Home Depot in Wichita, but the box was discarded by the truck's owner. It was later retrieved from the trash after Rader asked what had become of it in a later message. Surveillance tape of the parking lot from that date revealed a distant figure driving a black Jeep Cherokee leaving the box in the pickup. In February 2005, more postcards were sent to KAKE, and another cereal box left at a rural location was found to contain another bound doll.
In his letters to police, Rader asked if his writings, if put on a floppy disk, could be traced or not. The police answered his question in a newspaper ad posted in The Wichita Eagle, saying it would be safe to use the disk. On February 16, 2005, Rader sent a purple 1.44-Megabyte Memorex floppy disk to Fox affiliate KSAS-TV in Wichita. Also enclosed were a letter, a gold-colored necklace with a large medallion, and a photocopy of the cover of Rules of Prey, a 1989 novel by John Sandford about a serial killer. Police found metadata embedded in a deleted Microsoft Word document that was, unknown to Rader, still stored on the floppy disk. The metadata contained the words "Christ Lutheran Church", and the document was marked as last modified by "Dennis". An Internet search determined that a "Dennis Rader" was president of the church council. When investigators drove by Rader's house, a black Jeep Cherokee—the type of vehicle seen in the Home Depot surveillance footage—was parked outside. This was strong circumstantial evidence against Rader, but they needed more direct evidence to detain him.
Police obtained a warrant to test a pap smear taken from Rader's daughter at the Kansas State University medical clinic. DNA tests showed a "familial match" between the pap smear and the sample from Wegerle's fingernails; this indicated that the killer was closely related to Rader's daughter and, combined with the other evidence, was enough for police to arrest Rader.
Rader was arrested while driving near his home in Park City shortly after noon on February 25, 2005. An officer asked, "Mr. Rader, do you know why you're going downtown?" Rader replied, "Oh, I have suspicions why." Wichita Police, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, and ATF agents searched Rader's home and vehicle, seizing evidence including computer equipment, a pair of black pantyhose retrieved from a shed, and a cylindrical container. The church he attended, his office at City Hall, and the main branch of the Park City library were also searched. At a press conference the next morning, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams announced, "the bottom line: BTK is arrested."
On February 28, 2005, Rader was charged with 10 counts of first degree murder. Soon after his arrest, the Associated Press cited an anonymous source alleging that Rader had confessed to other murders in addition to those with which he had been connected. However, the Sedgwick County district attorney denied the story, yet refused to say whether Rader had made any confessions, or if investigators were looking into Rader's possible involvement in more unsolved killings. On March 5, news sources claimed to have verified by multiple sources that Rader had confessed to the 10 murders he was charged with, but no other ones.
On March 1, Rader's bail was set at US$10 million, and a public defender was appointed to represent him. On May 3, the judge entered not guilty pleas on Rader's behalf, as Rader did not speak at his arraignment; however, on June 27, the scheduled trial date, Rader changed his plea to guilty. He described the murders in detail and made no apologies.
At Rader's August 18 sentencing, victims' families made statements, after which Rader apologized in a rambling 30-minute monologue that the prosecutor likened to an Academy Awards acceptance speech. His statement has been described as an example of an often-observed phenomenon among psychopaths: their inability to understand the emotional content of language. He was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years. Kansas had no death penalty at the time of the murders. On August 19, he was moved to the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Rader talked about innocuous topics such as the weather during the 40-minute drive to El Dorado, but began to cry when the victims' families' statements from the court proceedings came on the radio. He is now in solitary confinement for his protection (with one hour of exercise per day, and showers three times per week). This will likely continue indefinitely. Beginning in 2006, he was allowed access to television and radio, to read magazines, and other privileges for good behavior.
Following Rader's arrest, police in Wichita, Park City and several surrounding cities looked into unsolved cases with the cooperation of the state police and the FBI. They particularly focused on cases after 1994, when the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas. Police in surrounding states such as Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas also investigated cold cases that fit Rader's pattern to some extent. The FBI and local jurisdictions at Rader's former duty stations checked into unsolved cases during Rader's time in the service.
After exhaustive investigations, none of these agencies discovered any further murders attributable to Rader, supporting early suspicions that Rader would have taken credit for any additional murders that he had committed. As a result, the ten known murders were at that point believed to be the only murders for which Rader was actually responsible, although Wichita police are fairly certain that Rader stalked and researched a number of other potential victims. This includes one person who was saved when Rader called off his planned attack upon his arrival near the target's home due to the presence of construction and road crews nearby. Rader stated in his police interview that "there are a lot of lucky people", meaning that he had thought about and developed various levels of murder plans for other victims.
Evaluation by Robert Mendoza
Massachusetts psychologist Robert Mendoza was hired by Rader's court-appointed public defenders to conduct a psychological evaluation of Rader, and determine if an insanity-based defense might be viable. He conducted an interview after Rader had pleaded guilty on June 27, 2005. Mendoza diagnosed Rader with narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and antisocial personality disorders: He observed that Rader has a grandiose sense of self, a belief that he is "special" and therefore entitled to special treatment; a pathological need for attention and admiration; a preoccupation with maintaining rigid order and structure; and a complete lack of empathy.
The videotape of Mendoza's interview ended up being used on NBC's Dateline. NBC claimed Rader knew the interview might be televised, but this was false according to the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office. Rader mentioned the interview during his sentencing statement. On October 25, 2005, the Kansas attorney general filed a petition to sue Mendoza and Tali Waters, co-owners of Cambridge Forensic Consultants, LLC, for breach of contract, claiming that they intended to benefit financially from the use of information obtained through involvement in Rader's defense. On May 10, 2007, Mendoza settled the case for US$30,000 with no admission of wrongdoing.
|Name||Sex||Age||Date of death||Place of death||Cause of death||Weapon used|
|Joseph Otero||M||38||January 15, 1974||803 N. Edgemoor Street, Wichita||Suffocated||Plastic bag|
|Julia Maria Otero||F||33||Strangled||Rope|
|Joseph Otero, Jr.||M||9||Suffocated||Plastic bag|
|Kathryn Doreen Bright||F||21||April 4, 1974||3217 E. 13th Street N., Wichita
(died at Wesley Medical Center)
|Stabbed three times
|Shirley Ruth Vian Relford||F||24||March 17, 1977||1311 S. Hydraulic Street, Wichita||Strangled||Rope|
|Nancy Jo Fox||F||25||December 8, 1977||843 S. Pershing Street, Wichita||Strangled||Belt|
|Marine Wallace Hedge||F||53||April 27, 1985||6254 N. Independence Street,
|Vicki Lynn Wegerle||F||28||September 16, 1986||2404 W. 13th Street N., Wichita||Strangled||Nylon stocking|
|Dolores Earline Johnson Davis||F||62||January 19, 1991||6226 N. Hillside Street, Wichita
(east of Park City)
Multiple works draw on the case:
- Stephen King has said his novella A Good Marriage, and the film based on it, were inspired by the BTK killer.
- Novelist Thomas Harris has said that the character of Francis Dolarhyde in his 1981 novel Red Dragon is partially based on the then-unidentified BTK Killer.
- Episode 4 of season 6 (2004) of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is based on this case.
- Episode 15 of season 1 (2006) of Criminal Minds is based on Rader's murders.
- Rader's case is portrayed in Episode 2 of season 2 (2022) on the Netflix series Catching Killers.
- A character based on Rader played by actor Sonny Valicenti appears in the Netflix series Mindhunter.
- Writer-director Ulli Lommel depicted Rader's murder spree and subsequent capture in the highly-fictionalized B.T.K. Killer (2005).
- Kane Hodder portrays Rader in the 2008 movie B.T.K., a half biopic and half fictionalized account of the murders.
- The antagonist from the movie The Clovehitch Killer was inspired by Dennis Rader.
- Thrash metal band Exodus wrote a song entitled "BTK" for their album Blood In, Blood Out, which was inspired by Dennis Rader's crime history.
- The song "Raider II" from Steven Wilson's 2011 album Grace for Drowning is written primarily about Rader's murders.
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Dennis Lynn Rader was born just outside the tiny town of Columbus, Kansas, on March 9, 1945 ...
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Rader was born on March 9, 1945 in the tiny town of Pittsburg, Kansas.
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The trait served Rader well in his next job, as a compliance officer for Park City, a Wichita suburb—but his nit-picking won him few friends.
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For most people, emotional words and scenes lead to heightened activity in the amygdala as the emotional sense of the situation overcomes them, often shutting down higher functions. For psychopaths, the amygdala responds less powerfully to the same items and when it does respond it does so in step with higher cortical activity. The cortex is the brain area associated with rational thought and interpretive functions. So, psychopaths presented with an emotional stimulus have to think about its meaning and rationally make sense of it in order to parse their response. They do not feel the effects of others' fear, sadness, or pain, so they have to work to interpret their environment.
This characteristic appears clearly in the allocution of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Standing in court before the judge, the victims' families, and the assembled press, Rader listened as the judge read out the details of his offenses. Without blinking an eye, Rader stopped the judge at several junctures to correct some minor detail. Unmoved by the enormity of his crimes or the responses of the people gathered there, Rader makes almost casual responses to the facts in the case; at one point making mouth noises as he sought a precise fact. This is a man who cannot even begin to appreciate the impact he had on others.
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