Over a 17-year span that ended in 1991, Dennis Rader, who dubbed himself “BTK,” murdered 10 people. Fourteen years later, in an attempt for lasting notoriety, the psychopath who became the president of his Lutheran congregation, led Wichita police to his front door.
by Denise Noe
For years on end, Wichita, Kansas and its surrounding environs were terrorized by a most peculiar serial murderer. Part of what made him so “peculiar” was that people who knew him in everyday life found him utterly normal. In contrast to the stereotype of the serial murderer as a lonely bachelor, Dennis Rader, who would become infamous as “BTK,” was a pillar of the community. His wife and two children loved him, he was able to rise to the top rung of his Lutheran congregation’s administration, he was active as a Scout leader, and he was able to keep his last job as a glorified dog catcher for 15 years. He literally was the serial killer next door.
On the other hand, he was totally without compassion or empathy for any of his victims, not even small children victims. He was a remorseless serial killer who aspired in his later years to treat his killings as if they were a motion picture and live in infamy after his death, his family be damned.
His background offers frustratingly few clues to what led to the warping of his personality – but warped it most assuredly was. Although he did not want the homicidal desires that obsessed him, enacting them did not leave him tormented. He could torment and murder, then return home or attend church with not the slightest sign of guilt or distress. What remains mysterious is how such extreme abnormality co-existed with a façade of perfect normalcy.
In many ways one of the most amazing aspects about Dennis Rader is that he was able to carry on as a serial killer for as long as he did. As serial killers go, he was extremely inept at his craft. Had he not virtually turned himself into the police years after he had actually stopped murdering people, the identity of BTK would most likely still not be known. One of the reasons he eluded capture for so long was that there was nothing “signature” about his modus operandi during the 17 active years of his killing spree. His murders and victims were so dissimilar that the police didn’t even know they were dealing with a serial killer until Rader himself informed them and gave himself the name “BTK.” Even then, when the police knew they were dealing with a serial killer, Rader could continue to murder his victims without the police knowing it was him – until he told them himself.
Rader’s murders were intended to have a signature. His goal was to slowly choke to death a woman or a young girl and then masturbate on them. Even though he would stalk his prey for weeks ahead of time, Rader’s best laid plans often went up in smoke at the outset. Sometimes, out of frustration at his own ineptitude in stalking his prey, he killed impulsively to quiet his urge. Only in the cases of four of the 10 people he murdered did events go anywhere near as planned and even then his full plans for a crime were often thwarted because he had not made adequate allowance for the time that it might take.
Birth and Upbringing of a Monster: Dennis the Divided
Although the identity of the BTK murderer would remain unknown to the public for three decades, he was Dennis Lynn Rader, born March 9, 1945 in Columbus, Kansas, not far from Pittsburg, in southeastern Kansas. He was the first child of the four sons of William and Dorothea Rader. Shortly after Dennis’s birth, the family moved to Park City, a suburb located six miles from downtown Wichita.
William Rader worked at a Wichita power plant and Dorothea Rader worked for a grocery store as a bookkeeper. Conservative Republicans, the Raders were also devout, church-going Lutherans.
Everyone around Dennis, both adults and peers, believed he was a good child. It is harder to notice things that are absent than things that are present. In retrospect, what stood out about young Dennis was the absence of the sort of activities usually found in a growing child’s life. Dennis played no musical instrument, did not participate in sports, had no collections, and belonged to no clubs. He did not read books or build model cars or airplanes. People would recall him as often appearing lost in thought, doing nothing at all.
Decades later, childhood friends could not recall anything unusual about him or about his family. The boy who would grow up to abuse so many innocent people stoutly denied he had ever been abused.
However, he readily acknowledges that he was often deeply confused during his childhood. When very little, he visited his grandparents’ farm and witnessed his grandmother wringing the necks of chickens. He found this sight exciting. One day he accidentally killed a cat. The death somehow made him feel powerful. He wanted to experience something similar again. He began taking cats, then a bird, and then small dogs to barns. There he would tie the animal up, choke it, release it, choke it again, repeating this cruelty several times before killing. The terrified eyes and whining sounds sent a rush of pleasure through the young boy.
He wondered what it might be like to do the same to humans who, unlike animals, could verbally beg for their lives and weep tears.
Despite his love of killing animals, he could also have tender relationships with them. He had a pet dog he loved.
William Rader was a distant father, leaving most childrearing to his wife.
Dorothea Rader disciplined the children by spanking them with a belt. The spankings hurt badly but in young Dennis’s case they also aroused excitement and pleasure. Dennis dreaded yet yearned for them. He often dwelled on the opposite feelings spankings caused, feelings he desperately wanted to understand but could not.
During his childhood, he never told anyone about the excitement he felt watching animals choked or the baffling pleasure he experienced when spanked. He did not want to be considered “weird” or, worse, “bad” in any respect. It was not until his adulthood and arrest for multiple murders that he would finally tell someone of the childhood feelings that had so bothered him. He wanted to be viewed as a “good kid.” Indeed, family and friends viewed him as the responsible oldest brother.
Thus began the division that would define his life: the outer Dennis that everyone saw, a trustworthy boy responsibly following rules and the inner Dennis, dwelling obsessively on the eerie excitement of spankings and animal deaths, yearning to talk about these feelings but unable to.
Tongue-tied, he had difficulty articulating thoughts. He was poor in spelling and grammar.
At 8 or 9, he came across photographs in a detective magazine of women tied up, apparently terrified. The images lingered in his mind. He identified with both the aggressors who had bound the women and the women who were in bondage.
Young Dennis was interested in drawing but those around him criticized his drawings as showing no talent. Some derided art as “sissy.” He feared pursuing it lest he be considered girlish.
When he got to his teen years, the future BTK began secretly peeping into women’s windows. Once he broke into a house in the middle of the day and stole lingerie.
He considered seeking psychiatric help but feared that would look bad on future employment records. He did not attempt to act out fantasies with prostitutes because that would necessitate discussing them – and having a living person know about his secret self.
In 1966, three years after graduating from high school, Rader enlisted in the Air Force. He hoped that serving in the military – a rite of passage for many men from youth to full adulthood – would make him normal.
In BTK Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer, Stephen Singular writes that “During four years in the military, he was a fine soldier and earned a number of awards, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal.” He was a sergeant when honorably discharged in 1970.
In conversations with authorities after his eventual arrest, he said that the obsessive fantasies of women bound and choking continued unabated.
Rader worked at the Coleman camping supplies factory in Wichita in the early 1970s. There he met friendly conservative Christian Paula Dietz. They wed on May 22, 1971 when Rader was 26 and Dietz 23.
He hoped marriage would cause his secret bizarre yearnings to dissipate. He thought his secrets might be comparable to the “wild oats” young men often sow before “settling down” into married life. The love of a good woman and the security of marriage would heal him.
He joined Christ Lutheran Church and attended regularly. Despite being busy with work, marriage, and church, the preoccupations remained. No matter how often he prayed to be relieved of them, they persisted.
Jack the Ripper fascinated Rader. This man, who murdered and mutilated prostitutes in London in 1888, had taunted police through letters and yet never had been caught. Rader believed Jack the Ripper must have been someone like himself who blended in well.
Rader gave the thoughts and impulses that had plagued him a name: “Factor X” or “Rex.” He drew Rex as a devilish little frog.
Occasionally Rader returned to his childhood home where his parents still lived – not to visit them – but to sneak into the basement. There he stripped naked and dressed in women’s clothes. Sometimes he would wrap a cord around his neck and stage a hanging of himself. He photographed himself in these odd postures, often with a female mask or a towel over his face. It seems possible that he hoped to purge himself of his fantasies by acting them out on himself.
Rader started thinking obsessively about a woman who worked nights at a nearby convenience store. He cased the store, imagining that he would kidnap the woman, tie her up, kill her, and leave her corpse in the countryside. Still struggling to keep his impulses at bay, he did not follow through.
He stalked a woman out of a mall. She whirled around, scaring him away.
After deciding on another particular woman as a target, he drove to the countryside and dug a grave for her. He broke into her house when she was not home and waited for her. As it got dark, she still did not come home. He feared his wife would miss him so he got in his car and returned home.
In early 1973, Rader began working for Cessna, a major company that manufactures small aircraft.
“Project Little Mex”
Julie Otero, a lovely Hispanic woman who used to work at the Coleman plant, had caught Rader’s attention and held it. He often drove by her home at 803 North Edgemoor in northeast Wichita. On these drives, he saw that she had a preteen daughter. He was powerfully attracted to the daughter.
He found females with black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin like many Hispanics possess extremely attractive. He also felt there was something wrong about being attracted to women outside his own white Anglo ethnic group.
Rader had a conventional sex life with his wife but he feared even suggesting bondage to her, thinking her conservative Christian values might cause her to react with horror. Perhaps even more importantly, he did not want someone he would see in the future to know about this part of himself.
In late 1973, Rader lost his job at Cessna. The Wichita Eagle quotes Rader after he was finally arrested as stating in a taped interview that the loss of the job “was demoralizing to me.” He also said it meant he had “idle hands,” and referred to the old saying that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
He may have also been depressed because his appearance was changing. As his hair receded and he put on weight, he went from handsome to homely.
The unemployed Rader began casing Julie Otero’s family. It had five members. Her husband, Joseph Otero, relished jokes, cars, airplanes, and drumming on bongos. Born in Puerto Rico, he came to the mainland as a child and came up of age in New York City where he met Julie. In the 1970s, Joseph worked as a mechanic and flight instructor for the Rose Hill Airport.
The Otero kids were Charlie, 15, Danny, 14, Carmen, 13, Josephine “Josie” Otero, 11 and Joseph or “Joey,” 9.
Rader felt a special pull toward Josie, a pretty girl with long, dark hair. She liked Barbie dolls, painting, and poetry. Although Carmen was also pretty, she held no interest for Rader. He planned to intrude into the home when only Mrs. Otero and Josie were present. He gave his plans a specific title, one that focused on the girl: “Project Little Mex.” The title indicated that he assumed incorrectly that the Oteros were of Mexican background.
After stalking for several weeks, he picked a date and time to attack. From what he had observed of the movements of Otero family members, Rader was certain that only Mrs. Otero and Josie would be home around 7:30 a.m. on the morning of January 15, 1974 when he arrived at the residence equipped with rolls of black tape, rope, wire cutters, gloves, a knife, and a .22 handgun.
When Rader arrive at the Oteros’ garage that morning, he saw something that alarmed him: a dog’s fresh paw prints. In all his stalking of the family, he had somehow missed seeing their pet. The weather was cold but Rader was sweating profusely. His hands shook. The back door of the house opened. A 9-year-old boy let a dog into the backyard.
Little Joey Otero looked up to see a stranger in his parents’ garage. Rader emerged from the garage, drew his gun and shoved Joey into the house, leaving the dog in the yard. When Rader got in the house, he was startled to see not only the grown woman and young girl for whom he was there but an adult man. Only the Otero’s three teenage children had already left the house that morning.
Joseph Otero spoke first. Thinking the man holding a gun was making a practical joke, he asked, “Who sent you over? My brother-in-law?”
Rader claimed he was a fugitive wanted in California and Mr. Otero believed him.
Rader told the four people that he was not going to harm anyone but needed food, money, and their car. He said he had to tie them up but would take what he needed and leave them unharmed.
Rader guided the four into the parents’ bedroom. He set the gun close beside him and tied their hands behind their backs with pre-knotted Venetian-blind cords and adhesive tape. Mrs. Otero and Josie were on the bed and Mr. Otero and Joey were on the floor.
All four Oteros complained about pain. Mr. Otero said he had a cracked rib from a recent car accident so Rader placed a pillow and coat under him. He loosened the bonds on the others.
The Oteros continued complaining.
Distraught by the noise, Rader considered just leaving but thought they could identify him because he wore no mask so he would be arrested if he left them alive. Besides, he had come so far he wanted to see it through.
Rader placed a plastic bag over Mr. Otero’s head and started choking him. When Mr. Otero stopped moving, Rader assumed he was dead.
Mrs. Otero, Josie, and Joey screamed and frantically squirmed. Rader choked Mrs. Otero. She quit moving and he believed she was dead. To Rader’s shock, he heard a noise from Mr. Otero who had bitten through the bag and was gasping for air. Rader strangled him again, this time actually to death.
Rader pulled Joey into another room where he tied two t-shirts and then a bag over the boy’s head. He choked Joey until he almost stopped breathing. Then Rader watched as the child tried desperately to breathe and then fell off the bed and died.
Again to Rader’s shock, he heard Mrs. Otero scream, “You killed my boy!”
Rader ran back to the master bedroom and strangled Mrs. Otero to death. Josie sobbed as she watched her mother being killed. Rader took Josie down to the basement. Cellars had strong sexual associations for him as he had taken pictures of himself in drag and demeaning poses in his parents’ basement. The terrified girl asked what Rader was he going to do to her.
He answered, “Well, honey, you’re going to be in heaven tonight with the rest of your family.”
Rader partially disrobed her and pulled her underpants down to her ankles. He tied her legs together and tightly bound her hands. He wound a cord around her neck and attached it to a sewer pipe.
“Mommy!” she screamed. “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”
Rader choked her to death.
Immediately after she died, the sexually aroused Rader masturbated close to her body, ejaculating on her leg.
Before leaving the house, he took Mr. Otero’s wristwatch, Joey’s radio, and the car keys. He drove the family’s car back to the Dillon’s parking lot where he had left his own car.
That afternoon, Danny, Carmen, and Charlie came home. Danny and Carmen got inside before Charlie. Puzzled by the absence of seeing anyone or hearing anything in the living room or kitchen, the pair went to their parents’ bedroom.
Danny and Carmen screamed at the horrifying sight before them. Their father lay on the floor with a plastic bag tied around his head. His feet were tied at the ankles and his hands at the wrists. Their mother lay diagonally across the bed, without a bag on her head but similarly bound. Neither was breathing.
When Charlie heard his siblings scream, he ran into that room. In shock at the sight, he grabbed a yardstick and snapped it in two.
Danny went to the kitchen. He fetched a knife that he took back to his parents’ room. He cut them free of the ties and shook them but they did not move. He picked up a phone to call an ambulance. There was no dial tone. The phone lines had been cut.
Danny ran outside and found neighbor Dell Johnson whom he told about the terrible sight. Dell ran to the house and saw the bodies. Then he raced home and called police.
Officers of the Wichita Police Department arrived. They found Joey in his room, also dead and with a bag around his head.
In the cellar they found little Josie, clad in sweater and socks, panties pulled down, hanging dead by the neck from a sewer pipe. No rape had occurred but semen was on Josie’s inner thigh and elsewhere in the basement.
The Oteros’ car was not at their home. It was discovered that evening in a nearby Dillon’s parking lot. Examined for fingerprints, the only ones found were those of the Oteros.
The only item identified as missing from the Otero residence was Joey’s radio.
In the days that followed, Rader suffered no remorse or was he troubled by the possibility of being caught. He was pleased that neither his wife nor anyone else noticed anything amiss about him.
In the aftermath of the Otero murders, Rader was haunted by a deep sense of disappointment. He had expected to receive a catharsis. He had satisfied his cruel, murderous, sexually brutal impulses. He thought he should be rid of them. But he was not. They were as strong, persistent, and troubling as ever.
He had learned something from killing the Oteros: It took a lot of strength to strangle a human to death. He purchased a small rubber ball and habitually squeezed it to build strength in his hands.
In the aftermath of the Otero massacre, fear seized Wichita. Gun sales and security-system installations skyrocketed. Women locked their doors and children were forbidden to play outside without adult supervision.
“Project Lights Out” – The Killing of Kathryn Bright
Rader believed that the reason the Otero slaughter had failed to relieve him of his obsessions was that it had not gone according to fantasized plan. The presence of males plus the disorder and noise had interfered with his ability to exorcise his impulses once and for all. He thought he might be rid of them if he could adhere more closely to his fantasies in another murder.
With her cheerful disposition, blonde hair, denim clothes and antique beaded purse, Wichita assembly line worker Kathryn Bright, 21, seemed to personify her last name. She captivated Rader. In his warped mind, admiration led to a desire to destroy.
As a reference to Bright, he called his plans for her “Project Lights Out.”
For weeks he followed and observed her. She lived alone. She had no boyfriend. He did not want a male around this time. He decided not to cut her phone line and to use rope but not Venetian-blind cord because he did not want cops connecting this crime with the Otero murders.
Rader knocked on Kathryn Bright’s door on April 4, 1974, less than three months after he murdered the Oteros. No one answered. He walked to the back of the house and broke the glass back door. Her hid in her closet. While huddled among her clothes, he touched the .22 and accidentally fired the gun. Startled, he worried Kathryn Bright might smell gunpowder but stayed put. Excitement stirred through him when he heard the front door open.
Rader exited the bedroom and pointed the gun at – to his surprise and disappointment – two people: Kathryn Bright and her 19-year-old brother Kevin Bright.
Rader later recalled that he tried to “ease them” with the same story he had told the Oteros: He was a fugitive from California and wanted only food and a car. At gunpoint, Rader ordered Kevin to tie up Kathryn in a bedroom. Kevin obeyed.
Then Rader ordered Kevin into the other bedroom where Rader bound him with a stocking and turned the stereo on loud. Rader tightened the fabric around Kevin’s neck. Kevin desperately fought back and broke free. He grabbed Rader’s .357 out of Rader’s belt and fired at Rader but the gun jammed. Rader wrestled the gun away, then brought out his .22 and shot. The bullet hit Kevin in the forehead. He crumpled to the floor, unconscious.
When Kevin came to, he heard his sister being strangled. He raced into the room in which she was tied up on the bed. Kevin jumped on Rader and grabbed his .357. He tried to fire it and it jammed again. Rader reacted by shooting the .22 into Kevin’s mouth. It ripped open his lip and took out two teeth. Kevin hit the floor but remained conscious. Rader turned his attention to Kathryn. Kevin managed to run out of the house. The bleeding Kevin shouted for help. A driver picked him up and took him to Wesley Medical Center.
In the meantime, Kathryn fought desperately. Rader took out his knife and stabbed her seven times in the back and four times in the belly before fleeing the house. He considered the crime “a total mess . . . I didn’t have control.”
The police found Kathryn, having crawled out of the bedroom, lying in a pool of blood on the living room floor. She was rushed to the same hospital where Kevin was being treated and she clung to life for five hours before dying.
Kevin was in the hospital two weeks before being released. He told police the story the assailant had told him about being a fugitive from California. Police were uncertain as to how much credibility to give Kevin’s description of the man due to confusion from his injuries.
When Rader fled, he tried to start Kathryn’s car but could not. He ran to the Wichita State University campus where he had parked his own car. Covered in sweat, he drove home and cleaned up. Again he was relieved that his wife suspected nothing.
But again he was disappointed that he had had to deal with someone other than his target and that the crime had not gone as planned. Later he was disappointed to find that this crime had also failed to relieve him of his troubling obsessions.
In October 1974, six months after Kathryn’s killing, a man was arrested for trying to have sex with a duck. While questioned, the would-be duck rapist confessed to murdering the Oteros. He implicated two other men whom cops soon arrested. They also confessed to the murders.
On October 22, 1974, a man phoned Don Granger, director of community affairs for The Wichita Eagle and head of the Secret Witness hotline. The caller stated that the murderer of the Oteros had placed a letter in a mechanical engineering textbook at the main downtown branch of the Wichita Public Library. Then he hung up.
Granger reported the call to the police. Detective Bruce Drowatsky searched the library and found the typed letter. It was glutted with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes but its message was clear. Its author said he wanted to save taxpayer money and police time by informing them that the three in custody were innocent of the Oteros’ slaughter. The author had committed the crime by himself. He then described the positions in which the victims had been found, the manner in which each had been killed, and the clothing they wore at the time of death. The writer said he stole little Joey’s radio and Mr. Otero’s wristwatch.
Then the icy, callous tone of the letter changed as the writer claimed he was sorry the murders were committed but that he had little control over the “monster” that entered his brain and that he as well as “society” was hurt by it. He wrote, “Maybe you can stop him. I can’t.” In a P.S., the writer said, “Since sex criminals do not change their M.O., or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code words for me will be . . . Bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K.”
The WPD decided not to publicize the letter. The letter did serve to clear the three emotionally disturbed men. Only investigators and the murderer could know the details it recited.
After a period of unemployment Rader began working for ADT Security Services. He went to homes throughout Wichita to install security services. Some people told him they wanted security installed to protect against a murderer who was at large. Rader expected knowledge of security systems to help him with future crimes.
When Rader’s wife informed him that she was pregnant in 1975, he hoped that becoming a father might finally free him from his murderous urges. Brian Rader was born that year. As with the military, prayer, and marriage, Rader was disappointed to find fatherhood did nothing to alleviate his obsessions.
Rader’s son Brian entered the Cub Scouts as soon as he was old enough. His father became a troop leader. Rader especially enjoyed teaching the boys knot tying. In the mid-1970s, Rader also enrolled at the Wichita State University where he majored in the administration of justice. He received his B.S. in 1979.
Popular with his neighbors, Rader often told them that he appreciated living in Park City because the suburb had a much lower crime rate than nearby Wichita. Most people liked Rader but a few were put off by his prudishness. Rader was disgusted by off-color jokes and swearing. He often objected when men swore around women.
“Project Waterfall” – The Impulse Killing Shirley Vian
Between “projects,” Rader fondly mulled over memories of murders he had committed. He also obsessively fantasized about possible future murders.
As The BTK Strangler Serial Killer Bondage Photos and Artwork notes, “He used tracing paper to reproduce female images from photographs, and then would add ropes and other bindings. Rader was obsessed with cutting out magazine and newspaper ads of women models and sketching binding materials over them.”
He stalked women and considered various candidates for killing. But he did not strike again until three years after Kathryn Bright’s death.
Two Wichita women lived together in a house near a street called Hydraulic so Rader called his plan to murder one or both of them “Project Waterfall.”
On the morning of March 17, 1977, carrying a briefcase filled with what he called his “hit kit,” he knocked on their front door. No one answered. He decided not to break in.
He recalled, “I was all keyed up.”
As he walked down the sidewalk, he encountered 6-year-old Steve Vian on his way home from an errand to the grocery store. His mother suffered a recent mild sickness so she had sent him out to buy groceries. Rader stopped Steve, telling the boy, “I’m a police detective. I’m looking for these people.” He displayed a photograph of his own wife and son and asked if Steve had seen them. Steve said he had not and continued home.
His brother Bud and sister Stephanie, both small children, were watching TV but Steve did not join them. After he put down the groceries, he crawled in bed with his ailing mother.
There was a knock on the door. One of the children answered and Rader again stated that he was a detective. After briefly chatting with the children, he forced his way in. He immediately turned off the TV, lowered the blinds, and showed a gun to Bud and Stephanie.
Hearing a commotion, Shirley Vian, still wearing a pink nightgown, ran into the living room. She asked Rader not to hurt her and her children. He assured her he would not. He ordered the three kids into the bathroom. Then he told Mrs. Vian to gather toys and a blanket. She did. Rader tied the door of the bathroom to another door and shoved the bed against the door to trap the children.
Although Rader was disgusted by the lingering odor of vomit left because Mrs. Vian had thrown up early that morning as well as the relatively unkempt appearance of the house, he was determined to see “Project Waterfall” through to a satisfactorily brutal conclusion.
He told Mrs. Vian he was going to tie her up and rape her. She objected that she was sick. As Rader began tying her, she vomited. He went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water for her to settle her stomach. She drank it.
“Leave our Mom alone!” was one of the messages the kids shouted as they banged frantically against the bathroom door.
Little Steve managed to peek over the transom. He saw his mother tied up lying face down with a plastic bag tightly drawn over her head. Stephanie climbed up and also saw her mother. The children screamed in terror and demanded the man stop. Bud pushed against a little bathroom window so hard he broke the glass and badly cut his hand. The ruckus rankled Rader who was always upset by disorder. When the phone rang, Rader ran from the house, leaving Mrs. Vian dead and the children screaming in the bathroom. If he had had the time, he would have murdered all three children.
It was a relief to get back to his quiet and orderly office at ADT.
This scene had been another disappointment: He had not had time to masturbate during or after Mrs. Vian’s murder.
After the intruder departed, Steve managed to ram his little body so hard against the bathroom door that he knocked it ajar. He squeezed through. Horrified by the sight of his mother bound and not breathing, her panties next to her, he ran outside and asked neighbors to call police.
The children were interviewed by authorities and then by a psychologist. They moved to Oklahoma to be raised by their maternal grandparents.
Two detectives working on the Shirley Vian homicide believed BTK could be the culprit but most thought that unlikely. The Otero children had been killed but not the Vian kids. BTK had not struck in three years so it was commonly believed that he had died, was incarcerated, or in another area.
“Project Foxhunt” – The Vicious Murder of Nancy Fox
In late 1977, Rader started stalking Nancy Fox, a young woman employed at Helzberg’s Jewelry Store. When he peeked into a window of her home, he saw that she kept a clean and tidy home. He admired that as well as her evident kindness. In his twisted psyche, admiring a woman led to wanting to kill her.
On December 8, 1977, he began “Project Foxhunt” by breaking into her house through a rear window and waiting in her closet until she returned from work. When she got to her bedroom, Rader burst out of the closet. Seeing a strange man in her bedroom, she ordered him out and threatened to call the police.
He told her he had cut her phone line. He added, “I just want to have sex and take some pictures of you but I have to tie you up to take pictures.” Realizing she could not fight him off, she said, “Let’s get this over with.” She asked his plans. He said, “I’m going to tie you up and then probably rape you.”
She said, “You’re sick.”
He easily agreed, “Yeah, I’m sick, ma’am but that’s the way it’s got to be.”
She asked if she could use the bathroom. He said she could but must be nude when she came out. Nancy Fox was naked when she exited the bathroom.
Rader clamped handcuffs on her and she got into bed. He began putting other binds on her with pantyhose and a sweater. To terrorize her even more, he told her he was the serial murderer BTK. In her terror, she squirmed around as she fought desperately, clawing his testicles in the process with her handcuffed hands.
The next morning, Rader called police from a pay phone and said they would find a homicide at 843 South Pershing and that the victim was Nancy Fox. Cops found her with her ankles bound with a sweater. Several sets of pantyhose were tightly wrapped around her neck and the hands that were cinched behind her back. She was gagged with pantyhose.
For the first time, Rader had spent as long as he wished with a victim. Her face was grotesquely swollen from the repeated cycle of choking, releasing, and choking. After he killed her, he masturbated while gazing at her corpse. The police found semen in a negligee lying next to her head.
Rader never had raped a victim and never would. He masturbated either while or after strangling a victim if things went as planned. When they went awry, he left the scene of the crime without an orgasm.
In January 1978, Mrs. Rader told her husband she was pregnant again. She delivered daughter Kerri a few months later.
Rader kept busy working for ADT and studying for classes at Wichita State.
Paula Rader discovered a poem her husband had written. It frightened her and she asked him about it. “We’re working on a BTK thing at school,” he said. She accepted the explanation.
In early February 1978, The Wichita Eagle received a card on which a poem was written that began, “SHIRLEYLOCKS SHIRLEYLOCKS WILT THOU BE MINE.” Reporters and editors as the paper realized it probably referred to the 1977 murder of Shirley Vian and turned it over to police.
On February 10, Wichita’s KAKE-TV received a letter than included a poem entitled “Oh! Death to Nancy.” A drawing of Nancy Fox lying dead was with the letter. The writer expressed frustration that there was not more publicity. He stated, “How many do I have to Kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention.”
He also stated that he would have killed the Vian children if time had permitted. He continued that he would have enjoyed hanging the girl: “what a beautiful sexual relief that would have been. Josephine, when I hung her really turn me on; her pleading for mercy then the rope took whole, she helpless; staring at me with wide terror fill eyes the rope getting tighter-tighter.” As always, Rader’s grammar was poor but his meaning was all-too-clear.
The Mysterious and Fatal “Factor X,” also called Rex
The letter speculated about what the author called “Factor X,” a mysterious impulse that drove the writer along with other serial murderers. Rader wrote, “There is no help, no cure, except death or being caught and put away.” He called having such desires a “terrible nightmare” but continued, “I don’t lose any sleep over it. After a thing like Fox, I go home and go about life like anyone else.” He wrote that he planned to murder another victim.
Police announced that a serial murderer was loose in Wichita. Terror gripped the city as people bought locks and guns.
That fear had to have affected 63-year-old Anna Williams. She had suffered a terrible trauma the previous year, in 1978, when her husband died. She sought treatment for depression and other health problems. Seeking to lift her spirits by keeping active, she was at a square dance on Saturday night, April 28, 1979.
While she was at the square dance, Rader broke out a basement window at her house at 615 South Pinecrest. He cut her phone line and searched the house. Happy to see no dog, he headed to her bedroom where he stole jewelry, a scarf, and $35 in cash. Fearful but excited, he hid in her closet, eagerly anticipating the fulfillment of “Project Pine Cone.”
He had selected Anna Williams as his next victim because he thought her age meant she would put up little fight against a 34-year-old attacker, although by now Rader had gotten rather flabby.
He waited and waited but still she did not come home. Time was running out. Rader knew his wife would miss him if he did not return before midnight. Frustrated by the delay, he left the closet and went through the house looking for more items to steal. Before departing, he returned to her bedroom and left rope and part of a broomstick handle beside her bed. At least that would scare her when she found them and inform the cops that BTK had been there.
When Anna returned at about 11 p.m., she was indeed alarmed to find her house in disarray and the broom handle and rope by her bed. She tried to phone the Wichita Police Department but found her line was cut. She made the call from a neighbor’s house.
Six weeks later, on June 15, 1979, Anna received a large manila envelope in the mail. It was addressed to her late husband Clarence R. Williams. Inside she found her stolen scarf and jewelry, a typed poem and drawings. The drawings were of a naked woman gagged and bound, her eyes wide with fright.
The poem was entitled, “Oh ANNA Why Didn’t You Appear.” Now there was no doubt the intruder into Anna’s home was BTK. She moved out of the house and in with a daughter.
On June 16, 1979 KAKE-TV received an envelope with another scarf and a letter confirming it was BTK who had broken into Anna’s house.
Police investigators determined that a Wichita State University copier had been used for these latest BTK communications.
Following these letters, BTK would not write again for 25 years. People speculated he had died, been imprisoned, or left town.
Rader was proud when his son Brian became an Eagle Scout and his daughter Kerri became a high school golf champion during the early 1980s.
Although Rader was reputed to be humorless, he amused the Scout troop one evening during this time period when he and another man dressed in women’s clothes and put on a funny skit. The Scouts hooted and howled.
“Project Cookie” – The 1985 Murder of Neighbor Marine Hedge
Unlike Rader’s previous victims, 53-year-old Marine Hedge resided in Park City. In fact, her home was only six doors away from his. The friendly woman frequently smiled and waved at her neighbors. Originally from Arkansas, her high-pitched voice carried a hint of a drawl that reminded some of the voice of singer Dolly Parton. Marine Hedge enjoyed gardening, playing bingo, cooking, attending her Baptist church, and dressing nicely. The recently widowed grandmother worked at a coffee shop which may have been why Rader named his nefarious plans for his good neighbor “Project Cookie.”
Rader had always avoided attacking women in Park City but found an advantage in it now because it was so easy to stalk her since they normally saw each other and waved. He was wary of younger women because Nancy Fox had so painfully clawed his testicles. He believed Marine Hedge would be unable to put up much of a fight. In addition, she had no dog and no regular gentleman caller.
In early 1985, Rader hid rolls of black plastic, together with thumbtacks, at the Christ Lutheran Church. He had something special planned for Mrs. Hedge – or rather for her corpse.
The Scout troop to which his son Brian belonged was holding a campout on the Friday of April 26, 1985. Since the plan was to campout until the next day, Rader saw an opportunity to murder without fretting about getting home to his wife before she worried about him.
He was wearing his Scout leader uniform when he complained about a terrible headache and left the campsite. He changed into dark clothes. Carrying a bowling bag with his hit-kit inside, he walked into a bowling alley. There he ordered a beer that he swished inside his mouth and also purposefully spilled on his clothes. He called a taxi. He asked the driver to let him out near his home. Deliberately slurring his words to feign drunkenness, he said, “I need to wear this off.”
To his delight, Rader saw that Marine’s car was parked in her driveway. He cut her phone line. However, when he broke in through the back door, he was disappointed to find she was not home. He looked around the house until he was startled by the sound of a car door slamming and a man’s voice. He ducked into her bedroom closet, disappointed that yet again another male might be on the scene.
In the closet, Rader heard a lengthy albeit muffled conversation between Marine and her male companion. Then he heard the welcome sounds of the man leaving, the door closing behind him, and the car driving off.
Marine was in her bed asleep when Rader made his move. He left the closet and flipped on a light. Then he got on the bed. Awakened, Marine screamed, “What in the hell is going on?”
Rader choked her for a long time, his hands tiring in the process, before Marine died. He removed her sleeping garments, wrapped her in blankets, and carried the corpse to her car and put it in the trunk. Then he drove her car to Christ Lutheran Church. He tacked black plastic over the church windows with thumbtacks so people could not tell that the lights were on. He took the body from the trunk and dragged it into the church.
He took her body to the basement, a part of a building that, as previously noted, had special connotations for him. He put black high-heeled shoes on her feet, tied her hands behind her and stuck a gag in her mouth.
He photographed the corpse posed in various positions.
When he finished, he put her back in the trunk and drove to a wooded area where he placed the body in a culvert. Then he drove her car to the shopping center where he had left his own car. He took his car back to the church where he cleaned himself up and changed into his Scout leader’s uniform. Then he drove his own car from the church to the campsite. As usual, no one noticed anything amiss with Dennis Rader.
Marine’s car was found a few days later and her decomposing body was discovered a few days after the car was found. No BTK victim had previously been found outdoors or been murdered in Park City so police made no connection.
“Project Piano” – The 1986 Murder of Vicki Wegerle
Often while working at his ADT job and sometimes on lunch breaks, Rader passed in a car or on foot the Wegerle home. He sometimes heard Vicki Wegerle playing piano. He was entranced by her talent and how pleasing the notes and chords of her music sounded. He called his plan to murder her “Project Piano.”
On September 16, 1986, Mrs. Wegerle drove her 9-year-old daughter Stephanie to school. Back at home, Mrs. Wegerle’s 2-year-old son Brandon was on the floor playing with toys and Mrs. Wegerle was playing her piano when they heard a knock on the door. Mrs. Wegerle went to answer the door.
Rader had disguised himself as telephone repair worker. He wore a hardhat with a Southwestern Bell logo and displayed a fake ID. He told Mrs. Wegerle he had to check her phone line and she let him in. At first, Rader pretended to test her phone. Then he pulled out a gun. He told Mrs. Wegerle they must go to her bedroom.
Weeping, she told Rader she expected her husband soon. This was not just a ploy as she did in fact expect husband home for lunch.
Rader said, “I hope he won’t be home too soon.” Then he forced her into the bedroom as her toddler continued playing in the living room.
When Rader began to tie her up, she fought and they both landed on the floor. She scratched his face. She begged and then prayed as Rader strangled her. When she was close to death, Rader took out a camera and snapped a series of photographs.
Leaving a 2-year-old child alone in a house with a dead woman, Rader stole the Wegerle car and drove it to the shopping center where he had left his own ADT truck. As he drove off in the truck, he saw Emergency Medical Services racing toward the Wegerle residence.
When Bill Wegerle came home for lunch, he discovered his wife’s almost naked body sprawled on the bedroom floor and called 911.
Police made no connection between this crime and BTK. They believed it likely Mr. Wegerle had murdered his wife. He took two polygraph tests – and failed both. However, cops were never able to gather enough information to charge him.
For 18 years, Bill Wegerle lived under a cloud of suspicion. Children taunted Stephanie and Brandon as having a father who had murdered their mother.
“Project Dogside” – The 1991 Murder of Delores Davis
In late 1990, Dennis Rader became president of Christ Lutheran’s Congregation. Everyone on the 12-member church council was delighted with his selection and impressed by how prepared and efficient he was when he chaired meetings.
During January of 1991, Rader began stalking attractive Delores Davis, 62, who lived in the country a half-mile east of Park City. Rader was happy to learn that she lived alone. He did not want to run into a male again. Retired from an oil and gas company, Mrs. Davis had a part-time job selling Mary Kay cosmetics. She loved animals. When her grandchildren visited, she often sat with them on the couch and watched films that revolved around dogs, cats, or horses.
Mrs. Davis lived near a dog kennel so Rader called his plans for her “Project Dogside.”
One evening he peered through her window but her cat struck the window with its paw, scaring Rader off.
On January 19, 1991, he pushed a cinder block through her sliding-glass patio door.
Awakened, she ran into the kitchen where she saw an intruder. The shocked woman asked if he had hit her house with a car. He said he had and that he was a fugitive from the law who needed to take some food and then her car. She said he could not be in her house.
He insisted, “You’ve got to cooperate. I’ve got a club, I’ve got a gun, I’ve got a knife. You take your choice how you want it.”
She promised to cooperate.
He handcuffed her. She said she expected a visitor and “he” would soon be there. Rader believed her and was dismayed that his luck could be so bad once again. He forced her into her bedroom and started wrapping pantyhose around her throat. She begged him not to kill her and he said, “Too late.” He strangled her to death.
Taking some personal items, he dragged her body outside and deposited it in the trunk of her own car. He drove her corpse to a lake and hid it in bushes. He drove her car back to her house and walked to where he had left his own car. He drove back to the lake and hid the body under a bridge.
After spending the next day with a Scout troop, he drove to Mrs. Davis’s corpse. He was upset to find that animals had already eaten away at her face. He returned to his car and fetched a female mask. He placed the mask over her face. He shot a series of pictures of her in various bondage positions, and then covered her corpse with debris.
Police found her decomposing corpse two weeks later but as with the Vicki Wegerle murder, they did not connect this murder to BTK. As far as the police knew, the last BTK murder was that of Nancy Fox in 1977.
In 2004, as Rader was approaching 59 years of age, he was an unattractive, middle-aged man whose life was a routine of work as a Park City compliance officer. He had held this job, which consisted of enforcing minor ordinances about such things as how high grass could grow in a lawn and ensuring dog owners kept their pets under control and on leashes and had current licenses since the mid-1990s. It had been over a decade since his last murder and a quarter of a century since he had written to anyone as BTK. Brian and Kerri Rader were no longer at home. Outside of work, his life was taken up with church attendance as well as the day-to-day chores he and his wife shared as a long married couple.
Although he had reached the end of his killing spree 13 years earlier with the murder of Delores Davis, he was not content to take his terrible secrets to the grave with him. To stave off this possibility, he came up with a plan he called “BTK Productions.” He would take all drawings, photographs, writings, and other memoirs associated with his crimes and put them on CDs and put the CDs into a safe-deposit box. His will would stipulate that the box be opened after his death.
The CDs would treat his murders as a movie – one that would certainly leave the entire community of Wichita, particularly those who knew him, in shock. He would die with the knowledge that he had outwitted them all and not lost a day of his freedom. Among those whom BTK Productions would shock were his wife and children but, despite his later insistence that he loved his family, he was quite willing to put them through this trauma and resulting shame.
On January 17, 2004, Rader read an article in The Wichita Eagle that upset him. The article was headlined: “BTK Case Unsolved, 30 Years Later.” Reporter Hurst Lavinia quoted authorities who believed BTK was probably dead or perhaps imprisoned. When he read that Wichita attorney Robert Beattie was writing a book about BTK, he was particularly disturbed. Rader was offended that anyone could presume to know about him and why he had murdered.
The Wichita Eagle received a letter postmarked March 17, 2004. Inside the envelope was a photocopy of a driver’s license as well as three photocopied photographs of a dead woman in three different poses. The newspaper passed both envelope and contents on to the Wichita Police Department.
The photographs were of Vicki Wegerle, who had been strangled to death on September 16, 1986. The license was hers as well. Authorities finally realized that BTK had murdered Vicki – and that husband Bill Wegerle, despite failing two polygraph tests, was innocent.
The return address on the envelope read: Bill Thomas Killman; 1684 S. Oldmanor; Wichita, KS 67202. No one by that name lived in Wichita and cops instantly recognized the initials as BTK. There was no Wichita street called Oldmanor.
BTK was back.
Headed by Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, a fresh investigation began. On March 25, 2004, Lt. Landwehr held a news conference announcing the re-opening of the BTK investigation. He discussed the crimes and then tried to directly address the culprit, saying, “The individual would be very interesting to talk to.”
Leads poured into hotlines and a website called CatchBTK.com was set up that also took leads.
Profilers were divided about whom to look for. Some were convinced BTK had to be a loner. A man with a wife and family could not possibly commit such horrible crimes without someone realizing something was wrong with him. Others guessed the truth that BTK had mastered the art of blending in and that his apparent normalcy functioned as the perfect cover.
Semen samples tested for DNA showed that BTK was a Caucasian man and would probably be in his 50s or 60s by 2004.
Police combed Wichita taking DNA swabs from the mouths of middle-aged white men, most of whom easily cooperated. No swabs from men in Park City were taken.
As the hunt for BTK intensified, Rader contemplated a final, most hideous project. A woman would be strangled and wrapped in diaphanous plastic and hung from the ceiling. However, he never worked out the specifics of how to do this.
On October 22, 2004, he left an envelope at a UPS drop box. It was labeled “BTK Field Grams.” Inside were magazine pictures of children with bindings penned across their faces and bodies. There was a poem entitled “Detective Ken Landwehr” that threatened detectives.
Finally, there was a purported history of BTK.
Lt. Landwehr held a press conference on November 30, 2004. He revealed that BTK had given what he claimed was his history. The detective related that history.
Not surprisingly, most of what Rader had written about himself was false. Unlike the character he described, his father had not died when he was young nor did Rader frequent Wichita prostitutes. He was too tight with money to patronize hookers. Indeed, as far as is known, he never performed an actual sex act with any woman other than his wife. He masturbated and ejaculated when or immediately after murdering but did not rape. He had no affairs. It is possible he believed he remained “pure” if he did not commit adultery.
The claim that his father died young may have reflected a psychological truth: He felt his mother was so much more important that she might as well have raised him alone. His mother was the one who disciplined Rader as a child – and sexually aroused him while spanking him. The boy aroused during punishment became a man who viciously punished those who aroused him.
December 8, 2004 was the 27th anniversary of Nancy Fox’s murder. Rader marked that day by making a call from a pay phone to a QuikTrip store. When the QuikTrip clerk picked up the phone, he heard a man talk about a package near the intersection of Interstate 35 and Ninth St. When the clerk seemed uninterested, Rader slammed the phone down.
Puzzled, the clerk mentioned the odd phone call to his supervisor, who called police about it. Cops drove to that intersection but found nothing.
Five days later, William Ervin walked across a nearby park and picked up a white plastic bag. Inside was a doll with make-up on its eyes and lips, hands tied behind its back and Nancy Fox’s driver’s license attached to an ankle. An accompanying paper described Nancy’s murder.
Police officers searched stores that sold the doll. Surveillance tapes were examined but all the purchasers of the doll were females.
The white bag came from Leeker’s grocery store in Park City but this was not considered significant. Both Rader’s mother and his wife’s mother had worked at that store.
Since Rader was a serial murderer, he thought it would be witty to place a communication in a cereal box. He placed a Special K box in the open metal bed of a randomly chosen pickup parked in a Home Depot parking lot.
The pickup’s owner thought the cereal box was trash and consigned it to a wastebasket at his house. After a few days, the woman he lived with saw the box in the trash and noted the handwritten “BTK” and “bomb” on top of it. She looked inside and saw a necklace and computer paper. Although she was puzzled, she waited several days before contacting the police.
Hearing nothing about the Special K communication on the news, on January 17, 2005, Rader left a Post Toasties box propped up against a road sign.
He sent a postcard to Wichita radio station KAKE. The return address read “S Killett” and 803 North Edgemoor, the address of the Oteros when murdered. On the postcard, Rader stated the address where the Post Toasties box could be found.
Police found the box. Inside it was a doll that had rope tied around its neck and was fastened to a pipe. The paper stated “LITTLE MEX,” a clear reference to Josephine Otero. Experts divide serial murderers into organized and disorganized. Rader wrote on a paper placed in the box, “An Organized Serial Killer Did the Murders.”
That same paper had a question: “Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer. Be honest.”
Officers were shocked by the naïve inquiry. Could BTK really not know that experts could discover on which computer information had been input in a floppy disk? Could he be ignorant of the ability of computer experts to retrieve deleted information? Could he really expect police to answer the question honestly?
Cops were wary, thinking this could be a trick. However, they took out a newspaper ad reading: “Rex, it will be OK.”
Rader saw this ad. He sent a postcard to KAKE: “Tell WD that I receive the Newspaper Tip for a go.” Bowing to police wishes, KAKE did not publicize the postcard.
Rader mailed a floppy disk to Wichita Fox TV station KSAS. It was turned over to police. The file that immediately came up stated, “This is a test.” It continued that the author wanted more communications through the newspaper.
Then cops retrieved deleted data. The names “Christ Lutheran Church” and “Dennis” popped up. Detective Randy Stone googled Christ Lutheran Church and discovered that Dennis Rader was congregation president. He then learned that Dennis Rader was a Park City compliance officer who resided at 6220 Independence St. in that suburb for over 30 years.
Officers had to be cautious. After all, the initial questions about whether or not cops could trace a floppy disk or retrieve deleted information from it – with the expectation that police would not mislead a serial murderer – had seemed astoundingly stupid. The whole thing could be an attempt by BTK to send police on a wild goose chase or, worse yet, to arrest someone BTK was setting up to take the fall.
Rader was placed under 24-hour surveillance. Detectives obtained Kerri Rader’s Kansas State University medical records. Her pap smear was examined. A lab reported that DNA proved that the man who had left semen in the Otero basement was Kerri’s father.
This did not conclusively prove that Rader was the man. Kerri could have been conceived through rape or an extra-marital affair. But the chance that Dennis Rader was the biological father of the girl who called him “Dad” was enough to justify an arrest.
On February 25, 2005, Rader was driving home for lunch when he noticed a police car behind him with its red light flashing. He parked his Park City compliance officer’s truck at the side of the road. Other police cars surrounded him.
“Hit the ground!” an officer shouted.
Rader got out of his vehicle and dropped to his belly. He was handcuffed. A detective asked if he carried any weapons and Rader answered, “A knife.” It was taken from a pocket.
A small smile was on Rader’s face as he rode in the transport car. He saw Lieutenant Landwehr. Rader said, “Hello, Mr. Landwehr.”
The detective replied, “Hello Mr. Rader. Do you know why you’re going downtown?”
The Christ Lutheran Church president said, “I have a pretty good idea.”
After Rader was swabbed for DNA at the station, Detective Landwehr recited the famous Miranda rights. Rader said he did not want a lawyer.
At first, the two men discussed the BTK case in general terms. Then Det. Landwehr placed the disk Rader had mailed on the desk. Calmly Rader said, “I’m BTK.”
Soon after, Rader asked in a hurt tone, “Why did you lie to me, Ken?”
Lt. Landwehr answered, “Because I was trying to catch you.”
For the next several hours, Rader discussed his 10 murders in a matter-of-fact tone. He expressed no remorse but voiced concern about ramifications for his family and church. He seemed relieved at finally dropping the mask of normalcy he had worn for so many years.
When Rader’s DNA test returned from the lab, it stated that his DNA was that found in the semen at the Otero, Fox and Wegerle crime scenes.
While cops were delighted to have BTK in custody, they were saddened at the task of having to inform his family.
Rader’s 79-year-old mother had trouble understanding the news. Paula, Brian, and Kerri Rader were shattered, each telling the police that there must be some terrible mistake. His brothers were amazed. They also insisted that no one in the family had ever been abused sexually or in any other way. They said they had grown up in a moral and loving family.
The mood throughout Wichita and its surrounding environs was one of celebration and relief. The boogeyman that had terrified and haunted citizens for over three decades had finally been run to ground. A storeowner put up a sign: “Even the dogs feel safer now.”
Rader’s mugshot was widely seen. In pictures prior to his arrest, he looks homely yet amiable. The hard, cruel expression on the mugshot renders him ugly. It seems likely this may have been the face seen by his victims.
While in jail awaiting trial, Rader spent much time reading the Bible. Pastor Clark visited once a week.
Paula, Brian, and Kerri Rader never visited and refused all media requests for interviews. Rader received a bitter letter from his daughter in which she told him he had ruined all their lives. Rader wept.
“Guilty, Your Honor,” Rader pleaded
Judge Gregory Waller, a black jurist with a reputation for fairness, set a trial date of June 27, 2005.
There were various pleas open to Rader. He could plead not guilty by reason of insanity; he could enter a plea of no contest, acknowledging the evidence was there to convict without acknowledging guilt; he could, despite the enormous evidence against him, plead not guilty. Or he could save Wichita the expense and time of a trial and plead guilty.
His attorneys were public defenders Sarah McKinnon and Steve Osburn. The lead prosecutor was Sedgwick County D.A. Nola Foulston.
They were all in the courtroom, along with Lt. Landwehr and other BTK detectives, as well as several family members of BTK victims, on the morning of June 27.
Rader was dressed in a cream-colored suit, crisp white shirt, and dark tie. He wore a trimmed goatee. Nothing could make him appear handsome but he looked polished.
Judge Waller asked Rader what his plea was. “Guilty, Your Honor,” he replied.
Judge Waller proceeded to question Rader closely about exactly what had transpired at each murder scene. Writer Singular wrote that Judge Waller might have wanted “a public purging of the evil Rader had created, the torment and hatefulness he’d imposed on an entire city for more than three decades.”
Rader answered clearly and precisely. Occasionally, emotion would come through as he blushed, a hand trembled, or sweat burst on his forehead. He often used the term “put them down” as if describing euthanizing dogs or cats.
When discussing his crimes against Kathryn and Kevin Bright, he noted that the bonds he had tied them up with were from their house. He elaborated, “If I had brought my own stuff and used my stuff, Kevin Bright would be dead today. I’m not bragging, that’s just a fact.”
Judge Waller set the sentencing hearing for August 17. Sentencing Rader to death was not an option for the judge to consider because all of the murders Rader had committed had occurred prior to 1994 when Kansas reinstated the death penalty.
Most everyone believed Rader would be imprisoned for life. Nola Foulston wanted to ensure that he had no chance of freedom even if he lived to be over 100. On the first nine murders, he could apply for parole after 15 years even if he received life with the terms served concurrently. On the 10th count, Delores Davis’s murder, D.A. Foulston sought the “hard 40,” meaning he could not apply for parole until he served 40 years. Since he was 60 at the time, it would guarantee he had to be 100 before he could apply for parole.
On the first day of his sentencing hearing, August 17, 2005, Rader appeared pale and thin in a dark blue coat.
D.A. Foulston was confident and dynamic as she displayed photographs of his victims, their eyes grotesquely bulged due to strangulation and their partially clad bodies posed in various degrading positions.
The next day, she put up pictures he had taken of himself. In some, he had snuck into his parents’ basement to photograph himself in a mask, a wig, and women’s clothes. He was also in that basement when he posed with a black bra, bindings, a towel over his face, and a rope from his neck simulating his own hanging.
Other pictures had been shot outdoors such as the one in which he photographed himself inside a grave he had dug, tied up, and wearing a female mask. Singular observes, “Pain and shame and desperation leaked out from these photos.” They were photographs in which he appeared to punish himself by turning himself into a victim.
In the afternoon, surviving victims and their relatives gave victim impact statements. Charlie Otero stated, “Dennis Rader caused irreparable damage to my blood family.” However, he asserted that he and his surviving siblings remained strong, remarking, “Dennis Rader has failed in his efforts to kill the Otero family.”
Kevin Bright testified, “My sister suffered so much.” He noted that it took her hours to die. Kevin Bright said he has permanent nerve damage from the gunshot wounds that causes his body to sometimes “overheat and become weak” and left him with a “digestive system [that] is out of whack” so he has to be extra careful about what he eats. He elaborated that even though he was injured, “I’m glad I was there that day to stop him from acting out his sexual fantasy on [his sister].”
Rader burst into tears.
Jeff Davis, son of last victim, Delores Davis, appeared to embody the fury of the community. He reviled Rader as “social sewage,” “a rabid animal,” “a social malignancy,” and “a quagmire of madness” who had “blasphemed in God’s house.”
Public Defender Steve Osburn asked Judge Waller for leniency, stating that Rader had “in effect . . . turned himself in” and pointing out his cooperation with law enforcement
Then Judge Waller asked if the defendant had anything to say before sentence was passed. As Rader rose, all of his surviving victims and family members of victims who were in the courtroom stood up and walked out the courtroom. He appeared startled by this walk out. Then, with tears on his face, he began a remarkable, rambling speech. “I brought the community, my family and the victims dishonor. It was all self-centered, selfish. I’m a sexual predator.” He acknowledged more than once that he had been “selfish” and “dishonest.”
He mused on similarities between himself and those he killed. He noted that both he and Joseph Otero had served in the Air Force, that he enjoyed gardening like Marine Hedge and that he was fond of animals like Delores Davis. This led him to observe, “I have a lot of memories as a kid with a dog. A boy and a dog is what you have to have when you’re a kid.” He appeared to see no contradiction between this and the cruelty he’d shown to animals. He noted that little Josephine Otero had liked Barbie dolls as his own daughter Kerri had at that age.
His drawing of parallels between his life and those of the people he murdered was tone deaf and pathetic.
He talked about his respect for law enforcement and said, “Sedgwick County has a good police force.”
He began thanking people involved in his case. He stated fondly, “Sarah (another public defender) has been my workhorse.” He thanked the person who cut hair from the sides of his baldhead and chose his courtroom attire. He thanked many others.
The D.A. appeared amused by this round of congratulations.
Rader read a poem from a Christian magazine and a New Testament verse: “He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but have light of life.” He ended his statement, “We speak of a man as an evil man. A dark side is there but now the light is beginning to shine. . . . Hopefully, this will keep me from going over to the dark side.”
Then Rader said, “That’s it.”
Judge Waller said, “Thank you very much.” Then he asked if the district attorney wished to speak. She did.
Remaining seated, Foulston noted, “Mr. Rader did not turn himself in and go peacefully. Mr. Rader was caught and intended to commit an 11th murder, but for the actions of the Wichita Police Department in bringing him to justice.” She characterized Rader as “an individual who cannot be rehabilitated by the nature of the crimes.” She ridiculed him for treating this hearing like “the Golden Globe awards” with his round of thank-yous.
Foulston asked for life sentences for each murder to be served consecutively. In the 1991 murder of Delores Davis, the prosecutor urged a “hard 40” sentence that prohibited a convict from applying for parole until 40 years had been served. The “hard 40” statute had been enacted in Kansas in 1990 for murders judged “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel.”
Judge Waller sentenced Rader to 10 consecutive life terms and put a “hard 40” provision in for the Davis murder. He would not be eligible to apply for parole for 175 years.
Rader, who turned 67 in 2012, is imprisoned at the El Dorado Correctional Facility where he is isolated and spends 23 hours of each day in his cell.
BTK Confession, Part 1 -- the Otero Family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCh_9Oe2OA8
BTK Confession, Part 2 – Kathryn Bright. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQYs6ZAe9mo&feature=relmfu
BTK Confession, Part 3 – Shirley Vian.
BTK Confession, Part 4 – Nancy Fox.
BTK Confession, Part 5 – Marine Hedge, Vicki Wegerle.
BTK Confession, Part 6 – Delores Davis
BTK Photo Gallery. http://www.freewebs.com/thebtksite/btkphoto.htm
BTK Victims Impact Statements -- Part 1
BTK Victims Impact Statements – Part 2
BTK Victims Impact Statements – Part 3
BTK Victims Impact Statements – Part 4
Dennis Rader’s Sentencing Statement, Part 1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwfXDPNpCxc
Dennis Rader’s Sentencing Statement, Part 2.
Dennis Rader’s Sentencing Statement, Part 3.
Dennis Rader’s Sentencing Statement, Part 4.
Finger, Stan. “’Bored,’ Rader decided to resurface.” The Wichita Eagle. March 14, 2007.
Lavinia, Hurst. “Missing Woman’s Car is Found Empty.” The Wichita Eagle. May 3, 1985.
Singular, Stephen. BTK Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer. Scribner. New York, NY. 2006.
The BTK Strangler Serial Killer Bondage Photos and Artwork. http://www.freewebs.com/thebtksite/btkbondage.htm
Transcript of Dennis Rader’s sentencing. http://www.freewebs.com/thebtksite/sentencingtranscript081805_7.htm