Dennis L. Rader, a.k.a. BTK Killer

 

Claims to fame: Congregation Council President of Christ Lutheran Church, Wichita, KS; Park City, KS, Compliance Officer; Cub Scout leader; Vietnam veteran (USAF); registered Republican; Wichita’s self-described BTK (Bind Torture Kill) serial killer

Moral apex: Hard to say; we can’t decide which of his 10 known torture-killings (seven women, two children, and one man) between 1974 and 1991 was the worst.

(If you were to count all the crimes Rader committed during the course of his killing wave, you’d have to add, according to District Attorney Nola Foulston, “stalking, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, attempted first degree murder, aggravated burglary, burglary, theft, criminal threat, aggravated indecent liberties with a child, aggravated sexual battery, animal cruelty, misuse of public funds, and terrorism in connection with the terroristic acts towards the Sedgwick County community.”)

Twinkie defense: Says he’s possessed by demons, which he calls (collectively) “Factor X.”

Is he nuts? Not according to the team of psychologists assembled by his defense attorneys; all the shrinks concluded that, despite a personality disorder or two, “there was no viable insanity defense in this case.”

How he was caught: He was a media whore. He couldn’t help bragging about the slayings, and, between 1977 and 1979, taunted police with letters, poems, word puzzles, and phone calls. One letter, left inside a book at the Wichita Public Library, read:

How many do I have to Kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention. Do the cop think that all those deaths are not related? Golly —gee, yes the M.O. is different in each, but look a pattern is developing. The victims are tie up—most have been women—phone cut— bring some bondage mater sadist tendencies—no struggle, outside the death spot—no wintness except the Vain’s Kids. They were very lucky; a phone call save them. I was [going] to tape the boys and put plastics bag over there head like I did Joseph, and Shirley. And then hang the girl. God—oh God what a beautiful sexual relief that would been. Josephine, when I hung her really turn me on…

May you not be the unluck one! P.S. How about some name for me, its time: 7 down and many more to go.

In the same letter, he compared himself to high-profile serial killers David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), Jack the Ripper, Albert de Salvo (the Boston Strangler), the Hillside Stranglers, Ted Bundy, et. al.

(“I just seemed to crave the attention of the media,” Rader would say in 2005. “You can understand that.”)

His missives stopped cold — until March, 2004, around the 30th anniversary of his first kill, when the Wichita Eagle newspaper received a copy of the driver’s license of one of his victims, as well as photos of her body. (The name on the return address was “Bill Thomas Killman.”)

Subsequent letters — and packages — mailed to local TV stations, dropped off at the library, sent directly to police, or just left in odd locations, arrived in short order. Some contained jewelry belonging to one or more victims.

Rader provided a great deal of “background information” about himself — mostly lies, obviously concocted to throw police off his trail. Nevertheless, the cops saw through much of the smokescreen, and, long before his arrest, were able to surmise a few genuine facts: “Was acquainted with PJ Wyatt, who taught a folklore class at WSU during the 1970s. … Utilized fake identification to gain access to people’s homes or to conduct surveillance.”

His final undoing was a floppy disk sent to police. “Using Guidance Software’s EnCase Forensic program,” the New York Times reported a year later, “the police retrieved deleted files that contained Rader’s name as the author. Other digital data indicated that the computer on which the disk was used was owned by Rader’s church, where he was president of the council.”

That, and DNA from semen and skin samples at several of the crime scenes, put Rader away. He was arrested — during a routine traffic stop — on Friday, February 25, 2005, in Park City, Kansas.

Did he want to get caught? His lawyer thinks so: “[The floppy] disk,” said Rader’s defense attorney Charles S. Osburn, “was provided to law enforcement after Mr. Rader had basically communicated with them asking them are you going to be able to get this information off the disk. He basically knew they probably could … even though they told him they couldn’t. In effect, he basically turned himself in.”

The D.A. doesn’t: “Mr. Rader did not turn himself in and go peacefully,” said District Attorney Nola Foulston. “Mr. Rader was caught and intended to commit an 11th murder, but for the actions of the Wichita Police Department in bringing him to the justice system.”

Where he is now: In a Kansas state prison. He pleaded guilty to all ten counts of first-degree premeditated murder, waived his right to a jury trial, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms (without possibility of parole for the first 15 — of each term), plus one “Hard 40″ — 40 years with no possibility of parole (for the murder of Delores Davis). Total time: 175 years.

He escaped execution because all the crimes of which he was convicted were committed before the death penalty was reinstated in Kansas in 1994.

Memorable quotes:

The code words for me will be… Bind them, toture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim.

— Postscript to first letter to the Wichita Eagle
October, 1974

Do it now — Life is complicated and short so stay young at heart as long as possible: It was so easy in ’59.

— Rader’s “pearl of wisdom,”
in response to a questionnaire
for an eighth-grade class reunion, 1984

RADER: First of all — First of all, Mr. Otero was strangled — or a bag put over his head and strangled. Then I thought he was going down. Then I went over and strangled Mrs. Otero. I thought she was down. Then I strangled Josephine. Thought she was down. And then I went over to Junior and put the bag on his head. After that Mrs. Otero woke back up, and, you know, she was pretty upset what’s going on, so I came back and at that point in time strangled her for a — for the death strangle at that time. …

So basically when Mr. Otero was down, Mrs. Otero was down, I went ahead and … took Junior — I put another bag over his head and took him to the other bedroom at that time. …

And then when I went back Josephine had woke back up.

THE COURT: What did you do then?

RADER: I took her to the basement and eventually hung her.

. . .

RADER: I had many what I call them projects. They were different people in the town that I followed, watched. … There was many places in the area… it just was basically a selection process, worked toward it. …

Potential hits. That — In my world, that’s what I called them. …

THE COURT: And why did you have these potential hits? Was this to gratify some sexual interest or—

RA
DER:
Yes, sir.

. . .

THE COURT: So all of these incidents, these ten counts, occurred because you wanted to satisfy a sexual fantasy; is that correct?

RADER: Yes, mm-hmm.

— Rader’s dispassionate recounting
of the Otero family murders
The State of Kansas v. Dennis L. Rader, June 27, 2005

Memorable observations:

[S]ervice awards went to Chief George Capps for 15 years, and to clerk Judy Ferguson, J.B. Brashear, Eric Miller, Randy Berry and Dennis Rader, all for 10 years. Congratulations to all of you, and to the rest of the city workers. Without you to pick on, I wouldn’t have much to write about. All kidding aside, you are the backbone of Park City and we are very proud of you.

— Margaret Wellman
Around Park City
Ark Valley News
October 4, 2001

Dennis Rader used just about everything good in his life as tools for evil.

— Ron Sylvester
Litany of horror
Wichita Eagle
August 18, 2005

Daddy, he tricked us — didn’t he?

— Five-year-old son of a Christ Lutheran usher,
after seeing Rader’s photo on television

No action or sentence bestowed upon Dennis Rader will begin to compare with the reckoning he will endure when his time for judgment comes before the Lord. I truly believe the Lord will pass judgment and sentence as is befitting Dennis Rader’s actions and beliefs. No amount of posturing or deception will save him from the eternity he has created for himself with his time here on earth. …

As far as I’m concerned, when it is all done, Dennis Rader has failed in his effort to kill the Oteros.

— Charlie Otero
Victim impact statement

Although we have never met, you have seen my face before. It is the same face you murdered over 30 years ago. The face of my mother, Julie Otero.

I will not address you as Mr. Rader, because mister is a word of respect. … BTK is how you want to be known and I will not give you that satisfaction. Rader is an appropriate name for you, as one who invades, a surprise attack. That is nothing to be proud of.

— Carmen Julie Otero Montoya
Victim impact statement

For the last 5,326 days I have wondered what it would be like to confront the walking cesspool that took my mother’s precious life. …

If my focus were hatred, I would stare you down and call you a demon from hell who defiles this court at the very sight of its cancerous presence.

If I embraced bitterness I would remind you that you are nothing but a despicable, child murdering, cowardly, impotent eunuch and pervert masquerading as a human being. …

If I had your devil nature, I would delight in the fact that your congregation has turned its back on you, that your friends have deserted you, that your wife has divorced you, that your own children have disowned you. …

If I were to sink to your level I would say that this world would have been much better off had your mother aborted your demon soul before you were unleashed on this world, sparing ten innocent lives and avoiding untold heartache for this community. …

If I were judgmental I would call you the most despicable form of hypocrite for profaning Christianity by daring to associate yourself with my faith and for blaspheming God’s house with your demonic actions.

If I were unforgiving, I would tell you that I will accept any shameful, meaningless attempts on your part to feign remorse by responding that I will grant you forgiveness the same day that hell freezes over; although I know that my mother in her Christian grace has already long since forgiven you.

— Jeffrey Davis
Victim impact statement

This was a man who hid his life and hid his deeds in order to continue his ability to continue his sexual passions. This is a man who might say he’s human and not a monster. This is a man who might stand up in court today and — and act like he has tears in his eyes or crocodile tears. But the fact is, when I saw him on Dateline, maybe I missed something, but this was an individual who loved the media attention, enjoyed being BTK, and said he was a star and seemed to relish the fact that he had committed all these homicides. …

Now, you know, it’s pitiable for Mr. Rader to stand here looking all pale and pasty and say how sorry he is. Well, that’s usually the culmination of what happens when defendants go to their last chance in order to convince a judge, you know, gosh, I’m really sorry. Well, what else do you say after you killed ten people?

— District Attorney Nola Foulston

He’s proud of what he did. He can think he’s a Christian all he wants … He is nothing but a perverted serial killer.

— Police Lt. Ken Landwehr

Final word:

The atrocious crimes I’ve committed has continued. Sedgwick County has a monster. I’ve brought the community, my family, the victims dishonor. There’s no — it is all self-centered. It was what they call — I would call a sexual predator. Today is my final judgment for me. …

With remorse, responsibility, with corrections, concepts of apology, the old me started whatever it was, factor X, sexual predator. The volcano was the building of all these years was the Otero, and probably the most devastating, upsetting to everybody is Josephine. I just don’t know. Self-centered, very selfish, and it exploded on that day. And it did continue off and on. Dishonesty, definitely. …

And I think honesty, people will say I’m not a Christian, but I believe I am. …

Probably the most damaging to me was the pornography they [the prosecution] displayed. Yes, they have pornography of what I drew. But I didn’t see where they had a lot of pornography, but they brought two pictures out. Family will know I didn’t own a camper. I had a pickup with a camper top, but I didn’t have any shelves in that. So basically the evidence was totally tainted. …

Christian Bible verse I found and I think helping me, will help me, leading me. This is John 8:12. I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but have light of life. Now that I’ve confessed, put myself out to let everybody know what’s going on, I expect to be healed and have life, and hopefully someday God will accept me.

I think Sedgwick County, myself, we speak of a man as an evil man, a dark side is there, but now I think light is beginning to shine. So I appreciate the family and friends and all I can be thankful for. And I think that will keep me from finally going to the dark side early on.

— Dennis L. Rader
Sentencing hearing, August 19, 2005

Other disturbing addenda:

• As a youth, Rader used to fake his own hangings in the basement of his parents’ house.

• He also tortured animals to death. And he served on the Sedgwick County Animal Control Advisory Board.

• He was a 1979 graduate of Wichita State University, with a degree in Administration of Justice.

• Per the Crime Library, “He worked at ADT Security Services from 1974 through 1989. In 1989, he also worked for the U.S. Census bureau going door-to-door collecting information. While working in both positions, Rader had access to many area residents’ homes. It is believed that he might have initially encountered some of his victims while on the job.”

• He told several of his female victims he had a “sexual problem,” and that he was going to tie them up and rape them. But he never got around to the rapes; he just strangled (and/or suffocated and/or stabbed) them to death.

• He placed the nude body of one victim in the trunk of her car, and, he said during his guilty plea: “Took the car over to Christ Lutheran Church… and took some pictures of her.”

What he didn’t mention was that he laid the victim’s body out on the church altar, and posed her a a variety of explicit sexual positions for the camera.

“Alive or dead,” Rader told Sedgwick County sheriff’s Sgt. Thomas E. Lee, “she was going to that church.”

• Rader’s ancestry includes a long line of devout Lutherans.

• Rader and his three younger brothers were all Boy Scouts.

• Members of the Otero family, who were murdered in their home January 15, 1974, included Joseph, 38, Julie, 34, and two of their children, a girl, 11, and a boy, 9. Their bodies were discovered by their three other children, all teenagers.

• He rushed the killing of one victim because he had to get back to a Boy Scout campout.

• He fantasized about sex-torture slayings of Annette Funicello, Halle Berry, and Meg Ryan: “Annette Funicello was my favorite fantasy hit target when she was on the Mouseketeers. … I had these imaginary stories of how I was going to get her, kidnap her, and do sexual things to her in California.”

• For the record, Rader was a married father of two. He started killing before his first child, a son, was born (in 1975).

Suggested Bible reading for Mr. Rader:

Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

— Psalm 109:6-8
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