"I am BT. I’m the guy they’re after -- 100 percent."
BTK stands for "Bind, Torture and Kill," a style the killer used. He used the initials "BTK" in letters he sent to local media. This was a nickname the killer gave himself.
"I just put it in one of the first letters. I’m always surprised I put it up there first. I think it was just — Bind, Torture, Kill. Now I had a label on me. It was like the 'Green River Killer' and “Son of Sam” and a whole slew of others stuff—'The Boston Strangler.' "
BTK is responsible for ten homicides from 1974 to 1991.
On March 9, 1945, Dennis L. Rader, the first of four sons, was born to William E. Rader, a firm but fair father, and a loving mother, Dorothea Rader. The clean cut boy was active in the Lutheran church family with the rest of his family. His brother states Dennis did not display traits that would indicate he had problems and that there was absolutely no abuse in the home.
As a young child, Dennis was aroused by his mother's spankings. As a boy, he secretly obtained S&M magazines, stole panties, and peeped in windows. He began strangling dogs and cats, as a child. He would bind strays with baling wire and hang them in a barn.
In grade school he sketched violent sexual fantasies of bondage.
"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."
He dressed in women's underwear in the basement of his parent's home, tied a rope around his neck, as if he were hanging and took pictures of himself.
He was a virgin when he graduated from high school in 1963. He received his sexual experience while in the military. He served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1970 in Turkey, Greece, South Korea, and Japan (from early 1968 through August 1970).
In 1971 he worked in the meat department of an IGA Grocery store where his mother was a bookkeeper. He has lived at the same residence in Wichita Kansas since 1971, not far from where he grew up. Coleman Company officials show Rader working in their heating and air division from June 1972 to July 1973.
Rader married Paula Dietz, a secretary at the VA Hospital in 1973. They have two children. Paula sang in the choir. Rader claimed they had a good marriage for over 30 years. After his arrest he began complaining that marriage cramped his lifestyle.
"Personally I would like to live by myself, be a lone wolf completely.
"My big problem was my social contacts. When you live at home with a wife, you can't go out and prowl around till 3 or 4 in the morning without your wife being suspicious. So I had to connect this all with school and work and family life. It was difficult, but that's the way I did it, kind of like a spy.”
The 195 pound, 5-foot-11 college educated, family man in Park City, Kansas was president of the Lutheran church he attended for 30 years and a Boy Scout leader. He was described as an arrogant, rude, confrontational, control freak that enjoyed the power of his office. One neighbor saw him measure a neighbor's lawn with a ruler before calling the city to complain the lawn too high. Others described him as efficient, friendly, and a regular nice guy.
Rader accidentally left a disturbing poem at home about Shirley Vian Relford that frightened his wife. He claimed it was for justice classes at Wichita State University.
"It scared, scared her. She said, 'Well, what's these?' I said, 'Well, we are working drafts because we are doing this BTK thing, whatever, you know, at school.' "
Shortly before her husband's arrest she told him he spelled "just like BTK."
BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) stalked and trolled for vulnerable women he could catch alone.
"If you read much about serial killers they go through what they call different phases, that's one of the phases they go through, a trolling stage. You're looking for a victim at that time and you could be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become stalking and that might be several of them but you really hone in on that person. They basically become the, that's the victim. Or that's what you want the victim.
"Stalking stage is when you start learning more about your victims, potential victims. Went to the library, I looked up their names, address, cross reference, called them a couple of times, drove by there whenever I could."
An individual he honed in on or referred to as “projects,” or "PJs," his term for a targeted victim. He used code words for their names.
“Potential hits. In my world, that is what I call them. Project – hits ... I had a lot of them, so it's just... if one didn't work out, I just moved to another one.”
Rader's biggest thrill was the anticipation before and the memories afterwards, not the actual murders. He fantasized about torturing and enslaving his victims after their death, in "after-life concepts of victims," or "AFLV." He took personal items as souvenirs from victims as time allowed.
“It was hit and miss. If it was a controlled situation, where I had more time, I took something, but if it was confusion and other things, I didn't 'cause I was trying to get out of there.”
Rader used a “hit kit.”
"Plastic bags, rope, tape, knife, gun, all those would be in a kit they’d be where I could have them in the house and gather them up."
The drawer in his City Hall office contained souvenirs from the killings, plus murder journals, sexual fantasy sketches, bondage, death, and torture chambers plans.
In his kitchen pantry he kept the scout knife used to stab Kathryn Bright.
In a home closet he kept bondage pictures of women in scrapbooks and "slick ads" of sexual content in a plastic storage box. His wife didn't go in that closet and never asked about it. He cut out ads of girls in lingerie or swimsuits that he glued on 3x5 index cards to carry in his pocket. There were hundreds of these with sexually explicit fantasies scrawled on the back.
“They’re models I use for sexual fantasies."
He took Polaroid pictures of himself in bondage, wearing underwear he'd stolen from victims. In some photos he wore a mask.
He kept notes of his bondage fantasies. He planned to document his “mother lode” in a computer files kept in a safe-deposit box, under an alias, to be opened after his death because he didn’t want his family to find to the stuff.
"But I figured if I had a safe deposit box with a CD or a floppy in it with a bogey name on it, you know, 10 or 20 years, whatever, they going through the estate deal, they probably find it and they say, 'Oh, gee, man, this is BTK.' And that was my master ..."
The initial contact, a poorly typed, misspelled statement, taking responsibility for the Otero family slayings addressed to The Wichita Eagle and Beacon Secret Witness Program was received October 1974. Under the program, crime information reported to the newspaper without the witness divulging their identity. The statement said the three major suspects were not involved. After divulging details only known to someone at the scene, the letter stated:
"I'm sorry this happen to society. They are the ones who suffer the most. It hard to control myself. You probably call me 'psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.' When this monster enter my brain I will never know. But, it here to stay. How does one cure himself? If you ask for help, that you have killed four people they will laugh or hit the panic button and call the cops.
"I can't stop it so the monster goes on, and hurt me as well as society. Society can be thankful that there are ways for people like me to relieve myself at time by day dreams of some victims being torture and being mine. It a big compicated game my friend of the monster play putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting ... the pressure is great and sometimes he run the game to his liking. Maybe you can stop him. I can't. He has aready chosen his next victim or victims. I don't who they are yet. The next day after I read the paper, I will know, but it to late. Good luck hunting.
"YOURS, TRULY GUILTILY"
"P.S. 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, toture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim."
No further communications were received.
The police flashed a subliminal message created by profilers on KAKE-TV evening news. The subliminal message appeared as a flash of light but said, “Now call the chief.” There was no response.
Using the letter, experts compiled a personality profile revealing a disturbed male with a fetish for bondage. His sexual release was to be bound by and to bind others.
Wichita psychologist, Tony Ruark, described him as a sociopath with severe anti-social personality disorder rendering him unable to feel:
"There are no indications of regret or guilt or negative feelings surrounding it at all. He can just do it in a very casual, relaxed cool kind of way, almost clinical. His analogy of it being a production is more of that disassociative kind of thing. ’I wanted to be the producer and director.’ That’s more of that control we see all through this man’s behavior."
Rader rambles about his sickness...
"If I had never gone into sexual fantasies, really off the deep end, I’d never became what I was. I just went from one fantasy to bigger, bigger, bigger."
“The person has to be controlled. My sexual fantasy is, if I’m going to kill a victim or do something to a victim, is have them bound and tied. In my dreams, I have what they call torture chambers or what I call the Holmes Castle. To relieve your sexual fantasies you have to go to the kill."
"If I could just say ‘No, I don’t want to do this’ and go crawl in a hole -- but it’s, you know, it’s driving me. So that’s when, I guess, factor X, whatever, the monster took over totally then."
"You have to have the control, which is the bonding. That’s been a big thing with me. My sexual fantasy is of, if I’m going to kill a victim or do something to the victim, is having them bound and tied. In my dreams, I had what they called torture chambers. And to relive your sexual fantasies you have to go to the kill.
"I got this fantasy. I started working out this fantasy in my mind. Once that person became a fantasy, I could loop it over. I would lay in bed at night thinking about this person, the event and how it’s going to happen. It became like a picture show. I want to produce it, direct it and go through with it no matter the cost or consequences. It was going to happen one way or another. Maybe not that day, but it was
going to happen."
In 1974 Rader was employed by ADT Home Security Company where he worked until 1989, when most victims were killed. According to ADT co-workers nobody liked him. A co-worker recalled him beating a company truck as he confronted an employee.
His position with ADT allowed him inside homes. He rigged an alarm so he could get back into a woman's home.
"... to go after her.... I could hot-wire or go around it if I ever got in.... I think that's the only one I ever did."
On February 10, 1978 a two-page, single-spaced letter from BTK arrived at KAKE-TV, claiming responsibility for the deaths of Shirley Vian Relford, Nancy Fox, and an unnamed victim. He compared himself to numerous infamous serial killers, including Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, and the Hillside Strangler, claiming they were driven by "Factor X."
“It seems senseless but we cannot help it. There is no help, no cure except death or being caught and put away.
"Factor X is probably something I’ll never know. Actually, I think I may be possessed with demons. I was dropped on my head when I was a kid. ... actually the Bible says that there’s demons within you that can come into you. That’s the only thing I can figure out. Something drove me to do this. You know, normal people just don’t do this."
Wichita police denied BTK publicity after profilers theorized he was killing for attention, and would continue to kill if he got it, but BTK kept killing anyway.
In 1979 Rader graduated with a degree in administrative justice from Wichita State University but none of his instructors from the small department recall him. One letter sent by BTK was traced to a Wichita State University photocopier.
He applied for a job as a Wichita police officer but his application was rejected.
On Aug. 15, 1979, a 1977 phone call was broadcast. Police received 110 tips the first day. They captured his voice when he called 911 to brag about murdering Nancy Fox. The police enhanced the technical quality repeatedly before broadcast broadcasting it. Nobody recognized the voice. After his arrest Rader said he enjoyed hearing his voice played over and over again.
In 1979 he quit communicating for years. By the mid-80's BTK was a cold case and the police unit dedicated to the case was abandoned.
In 1989 Rader left ADT. While working for the US Census Bureau in 1989 as a census field operations supervisor in Wichita, verifying home addresses, which gave him access to homes.
Around 1990 he became a compliance supervisor of animal control, nuisances, inoperable vehicles, and codes but did not work for the police department. When women complained about harassment by Rader they were told he was doing his job.
More than 200 DNA samples were taken from men living near the victims to compare with semen from several of the crime scenes. No matches were found.
On April 10, 1996, Rader was appointed to the Sedgwick County Animal Control Advisory Board on the recommendation of County Commissioner Betsy Gwin. He resigned in 1998. Park City Mayor Emil Bergquist presented Rader with an award for 10 years of service on October 2001.
On January 17, 2004, the 30th anniversary of the Otero killings, The Wichita Eagle published a story.
"I read that in the paper and I always though, you know, I'd like to bring this back out again, but should I? And I think I've reached the point in my life — the kids were gone. Not really bored, but kind of bored."
The news was out that a local attorney was writing a book on the case.
"Eventually I was going to tell the story in my terms and not his terms ... But they didn't know how I worked and moved around the projects, the haunts, how I picked my victims ... I could just really stir the hornet nest up with the media by just showing them pictures and puzzles and playing a game with them."
March 17, 2004, an envelope arrived at The Wichita Eagle containing a photocopy of Vicki Wegerle's driver's license and photocopies of three Polaroid crime scene photographs of Vicki taken by the killer. Until this evidence was received Vicki's murder was not attributed to BTK.
On May 2004, KAKE received correspondence containing chapter headings for the "BTK Story," with fake IDs and a handmade word puzzle containing letters spelling D. Rader and the numbers of his address. The police received a letter on June 2004. On July 17, 2004 a package was found at Wichita Public Library. A package was found at a UPS drop box on October 22, 2004. A package with Nancy Fox's driver's license and a bound doll were found in a park on December 14, 2004.
A postcard received by KAKE on January 25, 2005, mentioned a package at the east-side Home Depot store. Security cameras captured Rader’s vehicle repeatedly driving through the parking lot.
KAKE received a postcard on February 3, 2005, but police request suppress the information until March 1.Rader communicated with police through classified ads in The Eagle. On February 16, 2005 he sent a message to Wichita's Fox affiliate on a floppy disk. A forensic examination showed a valid file titled 'Test A.RTF.' The document stated:
“This is a test. See 3X5 Card for details on Communication with me in the newspaper."
The index card included instructions for future communications through the classified ads.
Examination of the disk “properties” revealed the words “Dennis” and “Christ Lutheran Church.” An Internet search for “Christ Lutheran Church” revealed that Rader was the president of their congregation.
To get a DNA match authorities obtained a warrant for a tissue sample from Rader’s daughter on file at a Kansas medical clinic without her permission. Tests showed it was a close match to the evidence from the crime scenes.
February 25, 2005, Rader was arrested within blocks of his home at approximately 12:15 PM while going home for lunch from work.
"I saw this whole line of police cars up. That’s not good. And —they were right on me. Just that quick. I thought maybe it was a traffic stop or something. But as soon as one of ‘em’s behind me with the red lights and sirens, I knew that was it."
"They pulled guns on me. Told me to lay down. And I sprawled out and they grabbed me real quick like in handcuffs and stuck me in a car. 'Mr. Rader, do you know why you’re going downtown?' And I said, 'Oh, I have suspicions, why?'
"At first it was kind of—kind of a cat and mouse game. That they had a suspect. But it, but it, but it did kind of hurt, you know. Like you said, I had the power, you know, I was a law enforcement officer technically and here I am—these law enforcement officer were trying to do my duties. That kind of hurt a little bit.
"I know a lot of the police terminology. I know how they do things. So it yeah, it’s kinda a bonding type thing, you know.
"I enjoyed it. And once the confession was out and I admitted who I was, then, then the bonding really started. You know, I just really opened up and you know we shared jokes and everything else. It’s just like we were buddies."
Police announced the arrest on the following day.
Rader was planning to murder for the first time since 1991.
"If you guys hadn't caught me, I might have pulled it off."
Rader gave investigators so many details; they filled 17 DVDs. Rader told police the killings fulfilled sexual fantasies. Proud of his "kills" he intended to terrorize the community with his messages. He bragged that he saw himself as a John Wayne or James Bond, from the way he drew his gun to his style of dress for home invasions.
He admitted to "trolling" in other cities. When he was staying outside Wichita installing an alarm system in an adjoining city he broke into a woman's home.
"I waited and I waited. They weren't coming." He took a souvenir -- some "real fancy red underwear" -- which he later used in his self-bondage "fantasy world."
"I had been all over, you know, I was omnipresent, and there was no place in Kansas that you were really safe if I was on the prowl."
Although he admitted to murdering 10 people -- no more -- He had hundreds of potential victims.
"I had attempts. And they were very close, very lucky people."
Rader was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and bond was set at $10 million. March 1, 2005 three public defenders were assigned to his case.
"I don’t think it was actually the person that I was after; I think it was the dream. I know that’s not really nice to say about a person, but they were basically an object. That’s all they were. I had more satisfaction building up to it and afterwards than I did the actual killing of the person."
The Rev. Michael Clark, the pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, which Rader attended for more than 30 years, meets with Rader twice a week to pray with him.
Rader told psychologist, Robert Mendoza that he believes in God.
“I believe there is a God. Not sure if it’s the Christian God everyone talks about but I believe there is a God. Hopefully I can make peace with that person. I’m trying to. It’s a struggle, it really is."
"Well, if I make peace with him in the proper way, I hope to go to his home," said Rader. "You know, according to the Bible and Christianity, you can do terrible things and be accepted, but you can’t keep doing it you know."
When asked what he prayed for, Rader responded:
"Actually, uh, like for the other day I prayed for the family to accept me in court. That they would accept that as forgiveness … My family -- my immediate family. And also I mentioned the victim families, not that they could forgive me but maybe someday they could realize that, you know, I’ve got some problems."
During this interview he expressed disdain for the local law enforcement.
"They had 30 some years to break it and they couldn’t do it. The taxpayers who are paying the money for the Sedgwick County, they really need to have a sharper bunch. Although they tried and they tried and they tried. "
Investigators interviewed his wife for days but concluded she knew of her husband's crimes. Neither she nor their children visit him. A younger brother has. Rader's father is deceased and his mother remains in seclusion.
Paula was awarded the family house in an emergency divorce. The house sold at an auction for $90,000 to the owner of an exotic dance club, Michelle Borin. She wants the proceeds to go to Paula.
In court Rader recounted how he lived out his fantasies by torturing, binding, and killing victims he chose carefully. He licked his lips while viewing crime scene and autopsy photos considered too appalling for the live television.
He addressed the court in a 25 minute speech to thank people and to take responsibility for his actions.
"A dark side is there, but now I think light is beginning to shine. Hopefully someday God will accept me."
"I know the victims' families will never be able to forgive me. I hope somewhere deep down, eventually that will happen.
"A final apologize to the victim’s families. There is no way I could ever repay them. That’s all, sir."
The ten victims' family members, seated outside the courtroom, mocked his mispronunciations and laughed at the stupidity of his statements. Danny, Charlie and Carmen Otero wiped their tears.
On August 17, 2005, at age 60, Rader received 10 consecutive life sentences, 175 years before being eligible for parole, the maximum sentence possible. On the way to the El Dorado Correctional Facility he visited casually about the scenery and the media coverage of his case.
“Dateline" interview by Harvard psychologist, Robert Mendoza, who was hired by defense to assess Rader’s sanity. Mendoza performs more than a hundred evaluations for criminal and civil cases each year.
Transcript: Rader's own words
Bob Costas in for Larry King Panel: Kevin Bright, the only known BTK survivor, Kathryn Bright, his 21 year old sister, was murdered in April of 1974 in her home. Attorney and author Robert Beattie of "Nightmare in Wichita: the Hunt for the BTK Strangler." Richard Lamunyon, former Wichita police chief from 1976 through 1989 and Larry Hatteberg, KAKE TV Wichita anchor.
June 26, 2006
Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006