Rader's mugshot at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas
Dennis Lynn Rader
March 9, 1945
Pittsburg, Kansas, U.S.
|Other names||BTK Killer, BTK Strangler|
(m. 1971; div. 2005)
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 175 years|
(10 consecutive life sentences)
Span of crimes
|February 25, 2005|
Dennis Lynn Rader (born March 9, 1945) is an American serial killer known as BTK or the BTK Strangler. He gave himself the name "BTK" (for "Bind, Torture, Kill"), which was his infamous signature. Between 1974 and 1991, Rader killed ten people in the Wichita, Kansas metro area.
Rader was particularly known for sending taunting letters to police and newspapers describing the details of his crimes. After a decade-long 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 El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Early life and career
Dennis Rader was born on March 9, 1945, and is the oldest of four sons born to Dorothea Mae Rader (née Cook) and William Elvin Rader. He has Danish, German and Swiss ancestry. Though born in Pittsburg, Kansas, he grew up in Wichita. According to many reports, including his confessions, he tortured animals as a child. He also had a sexual fetish for women's underwear and stole underpants from his victims and wore them himself.
Rader spent 1966–1970 in the United States Air Force. 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. He married Paula Dietz on May 22, 1971, and had two children. He attended Butler County Community College in El Dorado, earning an associate degree in electronics in 1973. He then enrolled at Wichita State University, and graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's 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 a 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, he became a dogcatcher and compliance officer in Park City. In this position, neighbors recalled him as being sometimes overzealous and extremely strict. One neighbor complained he euthanized her dog for no reason.
On March 2, 2005, the Park City council terminated Rader's employment for failure to report to work or call in. He had been arrested for the murders five days earlier.
Rader was a member of Christ Lutheran Church 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 waiting period).
|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|
|Joseph Otero, Jr.||M||9||Suffocated||Plastic bag|
|Josephine Otero||F||11||Hanged from a
|Kathryn Bright||F||21||April 4, 1974||3217 East 13th Street North, Wichita
died at Wesley Medical Center.
|Stabbed 11 times
in torso and back
|Shirley Vian||F||24||March 17, 1977||1311 South Hydraulic Street, Wichita||Strangled||Rope|
|Nancy Fox||F||25||December 8, 1977||843 South Pershing Street, Wichita||Strangled||Belt|
|Marine Hedge||F||53||April 27, 1985||6254 North Independence Street,
|Vicki Wegerle||F||28||September 16, 1986||2404 West 13th Street North, Wichita||Strangled||Nylon stocking|
|Dolores E. Davis||F||62||January 19, 1991||6226 North Hillside Street, Wichita||Strangled||Pantyhose|
On January 15, 1974, four members of the Otero family were murdered in Wichita, Kansas. The victims were father Joseph Otero, aged 38, mother 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 grade 10 at the time and had returned home from school. After his 2005 arrest Rader confessed to killing the Otero family. Rader wrote a letter that had been stashed inside an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library in October 1974 that described, in detail, the killing of the Otero family in January of that year.
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. 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."
He also intended to kill others, such as Anna Williams, who in 1979, aged 63, escaped death by returning home much later than he 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 had killed her on April 27, 1985.
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. 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.
His final victim, Dolores E. Davis was found on February 1, 1991, at West 117th Street North and North Meridian Street in Sedgwick. She had been killed by Rader on January 19, 1991.
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. 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, over 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, 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." 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. 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 Lt. 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, 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.
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. Also enclosed were a letter, a gold-colored necklace with a large medallion, and a photocopy of the cover of a 1989 novel about a serial killer: Rules of Prey.
Police found metadata embedded in a deleted Microsoft Word document which was, unknown to Rader, still stored on the floppy disk. The metadata contained 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. 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.
The police had strong circumstantial evidence against Rader, but they needed more direct evidence to detain him. 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. 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 DNA of the sample taken from victim Vicki 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.
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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 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 Rader had confessed to other murders in addition to those with which he had been connected; 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. 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 thirty-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.
According to witnesses, 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 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, Civil Air Patrol 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.
Evaluation by Robert Mendoza
Massachusetts psychologist Robert Mendoza was hired by Rader's court-appointed public defenders to conduct a psychological evaluation for Rader, and determine if an insanity-based defense might be viable. He conducted an interview after Rader pleaded guilty on June 27. NBC claimed Rader knew the interview might be on TV, 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.
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."
A 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 in one of the most-lauded performances of his career.
Rader is a character in the Netflix series Mindhunter. He appears throughout season one in small 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").
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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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"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." Richard M. Gray 2010). Psychopathy and the Will to Power: Ted Bundy and Dennis Rader. In S. Waller (Ed.), Serial Killers and Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
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- "Finding BTK" Investigation Discovery
- When your father is the BTK serial killer, forgiveness is not tidy