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Dennis Rader

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Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader.jpg
Rader's mugshot at the El Dorado Correctional Facility
Born
Dennis Lynn Rader

(1945-03-09) March 9, 1945 (age 74)
Other namesBTK Killer, BTK Strangler
Criminal statusIncarcerated
Spouse(s)
Paula Dietz
(m. 1971; div. 2005)
Children2
MotiveSexual sadism
Conviction(s)Murder, in the first degree - 10 counts[1]
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 175 years
(10 consecutive life sentences)
Details
Victims10
Span of crimes
January 15, 1974 – January 19, 1991
CountryUnited States
State(s)Kansas
Date apprehended
February 25, 2005
Imprisoned atEl Dorado Correctional Facility[1]

Dennis Lynn Rader (born March 9, 1945) is a noted American serial killer known as BTK or the BTK Strangler. Rader gave himself the name "BTK" (for "bind, torture, kill").

Between 1974 and 1991, Rader killed ten people in the Wichita, Kansas metro area.

Rader sent taunting letters to police and newspapers describing the details of his crimes.[2][3][4] After a decade-long hiatus, Rader resumed sending letters in 2004, leading to his 2005 arrest and subsequent guilty plea. He is serving ten consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.

Life and background[edit]

Dennis Rader was born on March 9, 1945 to Dorothea Mae Rader (née Cook) and William Elvin Rader. He is one of four sons; his brothers are named Paul, Bill, and Jeff.[5][6] Though born in Pittsburg, Kansas, he grew up in Wichita. His parents both worked long hours and paid little attention to their children at home; he would later describe feeling ignored by his mother in particular, and resenting her for it.[7]

From a young age, Rader harbored sadistic sexual fantasies about torturing “trapped and helpless” women.[8] He also exhibited zoosadism by torturing, killing and hanging small animals.[9][10] He acted out sexual fetishes for voyeurism, autoerotic asphyxiation and cross-dressing; he would often spy on female neighbors while dressed in women's clothing, including women's underwear that he had stolen, and masturbate with ropes or other bindings around his arms and neck.[11] Later, during his “cooling off” periods between murders, he would take pictures of himself wearing women's clothes and a female mask while bound; he would later admit that he was pretending to be his victims as part of a sexual fantasy.[12] He kept his sexual proclivities well-hidden, however, and was widely regarded in his community as friendly and polite.[10]

Rader attended Kansas Wesleyan University after high school, but received mediocre grades and dropped out after one year. He spent 1966–1970 in the United States Air Force.[13] Upon discharge, he moved to Park City, where he worked in the meat department of a Leekers IGA supermarket where his mother was a bookkeeper.[14] He married Paula Dietz on May 22, 1971, and they had two children, Kerri and Brian.[15][16] He attended Butler County Community College in El Dorado, earning an associate degree in electronics in 1973.[17] He then enrolled at Wichita State University, and graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in administration of justice.

Rader worked as an assembler for the Coleman Company, an outdoor supply company. He 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.[15][18] Rader was a census field operations supervisor for the Wichita area in 1989, before the 1990 federal census.[19] In May 1991, he became a dogcatcher and compliance officer in Park City.[20][15][21][22] 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.[23] One neighbor complained he killed her dog for no reason.[24]

Rader was a member of Christ Lutheran Church and had been elected president of the church council.[15][25] He was also a Cub Scout leader.[15] On July 26, 2005, after Rader's arrest, his wife was granted an "emergency divorce" (waiving the normal waiting period).[16][26]

Case history[edit]

Murders[edit]

On January 15, 1974, four members of the Otero family were murdered in Wichita, Kansas.[27] The victims were Joseph Otero, aged 38, Julie Otero, age 33, and two children: Joseph Otero Jr. age 9, and Josephine Otero age 11. Their bodies were discovered by the family's eldest child, Charlie Otero, who was in 10th grade at the time, as he returned home from school.[27] After his 2005 arrest, Rader confessed to killing the Otero family.[28] Rader wrote a letter that had been stashed inside an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library in October 1974, which described in detail the killing of the Otero family in January of that year.[19]

In early 1978, he sent another letter to television station KAKE in Wichita, claiming responsibility for the murders of the Oteros, Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian and Nancy Fox.[19] He suggested many possible names for himself, including the one that stuck: BTK. He demanded media attention in this second letter, and it was finally announced that Wichita did indeed have a serial killer at large. A poem was enclosed titled "Oh! Death to Nancy," a parody of the lyrics to the American folk song "O Death".[29][30] In the letter, he claimed to be driven to kill by “factor X”, which he characterized as a supernatural element that also motivated the Jack the Ripper, Son of Sam, and Hillside Strangler murders.[31]

He also intended to kill others, such as Anna Williams, who in 1979, aged 63, 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.[32]

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 had killed her on April 27, 1985, and he took her dead body to his church, the 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. He had called his plan "Project Cookie".[33]

In 1988, after the murders of three members of the Fager family in Wichita, a letter was received from someone claiming to be the BTK killer, in which the author of the letter denied being the perpetrator of the Fager murders. The author credited the killer with having done "admirable work." It was not proven until 2005 that this letter was, in fact, written by Rader. He is not considered by police to have committed this crime.[30] Additionally, two of the women Rader had stalked in the 1980s and one he had stalked in the mid-1990s filed restraining orders against him; one of them also moved away.[34]

His final victim, Dolores E. Davis, was found on February 1, 1991, at West 117th Street North and North Meridian Street in Park City. Rader killed her on January 19, 1991.[35]

Cold case[edit]

By 2004, the investigation of the BTK Killer was considered a cold case. Then, Rader began a series of 11 communications to the local media that led directly to his arrest in February 2005. In March 2004, The Wichita Eagle received a letter from someone using the return address 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.[36] Before this, it had not been definitively established that Wegerle was killed by BTK.[36] 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.[37] Altogether, over 1,300 DNA samples were taken and later destroyed by court order.[38]

In May 2004, television station KAKE in Wichita received a letter with chapter headings for the "BTK Story," fake IDs, and a word puzzle.[14] On June 9, 2004, a package was found taped to a stop sign at the corner of First and Kansas in Wichita. It had graphic descriptions of the Otero murders and a sketch labeled "The Sexual Thrill Is My Bill."[39] 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 was dropped into the return slot at the downtown public library containing 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.[40] 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.[34] 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 Lt. Ken Landwehr, and a false autobiography with many details about Rader's life. These details were later released to the public.[citation needed]

In December 2004, Wichita police received another package from the BTK killer.[41] 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.[40]

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, more postcards were sent to KAKE, and another cereal box left at a rural location was found to contain another bound doll, apparently meant to symbolize the murder of 11-year-old Josephine Otero.[citation needed]

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 TV affiliate KSAS-TV in Wichita.[42][43] 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 about a serial killer.[43]

Police found metadata embedded in a deleted Microsoft Word document that was, unknown to Rader, still stored on the floppy disk.[44] The metadata contained the words "Christ Lutheran Church", and the document was marked as last modified by "Dennis."[45] An Internet search determined that a "Dennis Rader" was president of the church council.[42] From the Home Depot incident, the police also knew BTK owned a black Jeep Cherokee. When investigators drove by Rader's house, they noticed a black Jeep Cherokee parked outside.[46]

The police had strong circumstantial evidence against Rader, but they needed more direct evidence to detain him.[47] They obtained a warrant to test the DNA of a pap smear Rader's daughter had taken at the Kansas State University medical clinic when she was a student there. The DNA of the pap smear was processed by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation at their lab in Topeka, and demonstrated a familial match to the sample taken from Wegerle's fingernails. This indicated that the killer was closely related to Rader's daughter, and was the evidence the police needed to make an arrest.[48]

Arrest[edit]

Rader was arrested while driving near his home in Park City shortly after noon on February 25, 2005.[49] An officer asked, "Mr. Rader, do you know why you're going downtown?" Rader replied, "Oh, I have suspicions why."[50][51] 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."[52][53]

Legal proceedings[edit]

On February 28, 2005, Rader was charged with 10 counts of first degree murder.[54] Soon after his arrest, the Associated Press cited an anonymous source alleging Rader had confessed to other murders in addition to those with which he had been connected;[55] the Sedgwick County district attorney denied this but refused to say whether Rader made any confessions or if investigators were looking into Rader's possible involvement in more unsolved killings.[56] 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.[57]

On March 1, Rader's bail was set at US$10 million, and a public defender was appointed to represent him.[58] On May 3, the judge entered not guilty pleas on Rader's behalf, as Rader did not speak at his arraignment;[59] however, on June 27, the scheduled trial date, Rader changed his plea to guilty. He described the murders in detail, and made no apologies.[60][61][62]

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.[63] His statement has been described as an example of an often-observed phenomenon among psychopaths: their inability to understand the emotional content of language.[64] He was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years.[65] Kansas had no death penalty at the time of the murders.[63] On August 19, he was moved to the El Dorado Correctional Facility.[66]

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.[66][67]

Further investigations[edit]

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, Civil Air Patrol[68] 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, confirming early suspicions that Rader would have taken credit for any additional murders that he had committed. The ten known murders are now believed to be the only murders for which Rader is 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.[17]

Evaluation by Robert Mendoza[edit]

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 pleaded guilty on June 27, 2005. Mendoza diagnosed Rader with narcissistic, antisocial and obsessive-compulsive 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 for his victims.[69]

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.[70]

Victims[edit]

Name Sex Age Date of Death Place of Death Cause of Death Weapon Used
Joseph Otero M 38 January 15, 1974 803 North Edgemoor Street, Wichita Suffocated Plastic bag
Julia Maria Otero F 33 Strangled Rope
Joseph Otero, Jr. M 9 Suffocated Plastic bag
Josephine Otero F 11 Hanged from a
drainage pipe
Rope
Kathryn Doreen Bright F 21 April 4, 1974 3217 East 13th Street North, Wichita
died at Wesley Medical Center.
Stabbed 3 times
in abdomen[71]
Knife
Shirley Ruth Vian Relford F 24 March 17, 1977 1311 South Hydraulic Street, Wichita Strangled Rope
Nancy Jo Fox F 25 December 8, 1977 843 South Pershing Street, Wichita Strangled Belt
Marine Wallace Hedge F 53 April 27, 1985 6254 North Independence Street,
Park City
Strangled Hand(s)
Vicki Lynn Wegerle F 28 September 16, 1986 2404 West 13th Street North, Wichita Strangled Nylon stocking
Dolores Earline Johnson Davis F 62 January 19, 1991 6226 North Hillside Street, Wichita Strangled Pantyhose

In media[edit]

Forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland wrote Confession of a Serial Killer about Rader, compiled from her five-year correspondence with him. In the introduction, she describes the book as a "guided autobiography" of Rader, stating that she interjects only to "assist with chronology or provide substance, sense, or background."[72]

The horror writer Stephen King says his novella A Good Marriage, and the film based on it, was inspired by the BTK killer.[73]

The novelist Thomas Harris has said that the character of Francis Dolarhyde from his 1981 novel Red Dragon is partially based on the then-unidentified BTK Killer.[74]

A 2005 made-for-TV movie, The Hunt for the BTK Killer, told the story from the perspective of the Wichita detectives who worked the case for 31 years. Rader was played by Gregg Henry.[75]

Rader is a character in the Netflix series Mindhunter. He appears throughout season one and season two, in vignettes set in and around Park City, Kansas. (Although the character is credited as "ADT serviceman", the German language dubbing credits specifically list him as "Dennis Rader".)[76][77]

The story of Dennis Rader is also told in the 2008 movie B.T.K., written and directed by Michael Feifer, and starring Kane Hodder in the title role.[78]

Musician Steven Wilson wrote a song entitled "Raider II" inspired by the story of Rader on his 2011 album Grace for Drowning.[79]

The 2018 film The Clovehitch Killer is loosely based on Rader.[80]

The "Cold Case Files" podcast covered the story of the murders and eventual solving of the cold case that led to Rader's arrest in their December 5, 2017 episode called "Finding BTK."

The 2019 special "BTK: A Killer Among Us" detailed the 30-year investigation that led to the arrest of Dennis Rader. It first aired on the Investigation Discovery network on February 17, 2019.

In 2019, Rader's daughter, Kerri Rawson, released the book A Serial Killer's Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming, where she wrote about growing up with her father and struggling to understand his double life as a serial killer after his arrest.[81]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Beattie, Robert. Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler. New American Library, 2005. ISBN 0-451-21738-1.
  • Davis, Jeffrey M. The Shadow of Evil: Where Is God in a Violent World?. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1996. ISBN 0-7872-1981-9. (Davis is the son of BTK victim Dolores Davis.)
  • Douglas, John E. Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind Thirty Years of Hunting for the Wichita Serial Killer. Jossey Bass Wiley, 2007. ISBN 978-0-7879-8484-7.
  • Ramsland, Katherine. Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer. Foredge, 2016. ISBN 978-1512601527.
  • Singular, Stephen. Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer. Scribner Book Company, 2006. ISBN 1-4001-5252-6.
  • Smith, Carlton. The BTK Murders: Inside the "Bind Torture Kill" Case that Terrified America's Heartland. St. Martin's True Crime, 2006. ISBN 0-312-93905-1.
  • Wenzl, Roy; Potter, Tim; Laviana, Hurst; Kelly, L. Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of the Serial Killer Next Door. HC an imprint of HarperCollins, 2007. ISBN 978-0-06-124650-0.
  • Welch, Larry. Beyond Cold Blood: The KBI from Ma Barker to BTK. University Press of Kansas, 2012. ISBN 978-0700618859.

External links[edit]