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Dennis Rader the BTK Killer
Joseph, Julie, Joey, and Josie Otero
On Jan. 15, 1974, Joseph Otero Jr., 38, his wife Julie, 34, and two children were found murdered in their home. Three other family members -- Charles, 15; Danny, 15; and Carmen, 13; were not home during the killing spree.
Born in Puerto Rico, Joseph Otero immigrated to the United States as a boy. He grew up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, and become a champion boxer. He fell in love with Julie, a popular, vivacious Puerto Rican immigrant from his neighborhood. As a child, she came to the US on a banana boat. After dating two years, they had a large wedding. Their first child, Charlie, was born nine months later.
As soon as he was old enough, Joseph joined the Air Force and served for 20 years. After he retired as a master sergeant, the aviation enthusiast with a commercial pilot's license moved to Wichita, “the Air Capital." In the fall of 1973, he worked as a mechanic and a flight instructor. Fun and outgoing he was a talented bongo player with a fascination for cars. He was a gourmet chef who collected recipes when traveling to exotic areas during his military career.
Joseph was a strict but proud father with high ideals for his children, especially in school. The children were expected to receive straight A’s on their report cards.
Julie, a devout Catholic, was a petite, kind spirited, Air Force wife. She didn't drink and never got angry. Passionate about her culture, she encouraged her children to speak Spanish. Her life was devoted to her family. Her oldest child, Charlie, described her as an “angel." She had a brown belt took in judo. She took lessons with her children on base.
The youngest of the family “Joey" Joseph Otero II, 9, was popular in his fourth-grade. He was athletic, a fast runner, and excelled in Judo. He loved his dog, "Lucky," that he received on his fifth birthday.
At eleven years of age, “Josie" Josephine, a shy, sensitive, 6th grader with an easy temperament and a yellow belt in judo wrote poetry, loved art, and played with Barbie dolls. She was the best student in the family and very close to older sister, Carmen.
Dennis Rader depressed after being laid off who was “trolling" on January 15th, 1974, when he spotted Julie leaving to take her children to school. He liked the dark hair, skin and eyes of Latinas. Struck by Julie’s beauty and taken with young Josie, he followed them to school. The mother and daughter were his perfect victims.
Nearly two months later, fueled by thoughts of bondage, Rader lived out his sexual fantasies through the Otero family. Prepared to attack the young girl, and her mother, he filled the pockets of his Air Force parka with bindings and weapons. He hadn't planned on Joseph or Joey being home. As Rader nervously waited for them to come, he cut the phone lines. He was ready to leave when Joey opened the back door for the dog. As he entered the family was making sandwiches in the kitchen.
He told the Oteros he was a "wanted" man in California in need of food, water, money, and transportation.
"That was my ruse to kind of calm him down."
Joseph thought it was a joke and asked if his brother sent him.
Rader ordered the family to lie on the living room floor at gunpoint as he explained that he wouldn't harm them if they cooperated. He took the family into a bedroom; while intermittently holding them at gunpoint, he tied them with a rope he brought. Julie was with Josie on the bed; Joseph and Joey were on the floor.
He loosened the bonds when they complained.
"I’m not a bad guy, I care for people... I’m trying to comfort them as much as I could... I have concerns for people. And I hadn’t really crossed that path yet where I
was going kill the people yet, so I was still in concern mode."
He tried to make Joseph comfortable after realizing that he was suffering from a cracked rib as a result of a car accident.
“as comfortable as I could ... I had him put a pillow down for his head."
Since he wasn’t wearing a mask he could be identified.
“I made a decision to go ahead and put 'em down, I guess, or strangle them."
Joseph and Julie's hands and feet were bound. Rader placed a plastic bag over Joseph's head and tightened the cords.
Then he strangled Julie.
“I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn't know how much pressure you have to put on a person or how long it would take ... I strangled Mrs. Otero... she went out, passed out and I thought she was dead. I strangled Josephine and she passed out... I thought she was dead and then I went over and put a bag on JR’s head …"
After Joseph chewed a hole in the bag, another bag was tightened over his head to strangle him.
Rader placed a plastic bag, with two t-shirts, and another bag over it Joey so couldn’t chew through.
"… Mrs. Otero woke back up... she was pretty upset with what's going on ... she asked me to save her son so I actually had taken the bag off… She screamed, 'You killed my boy! You killed my boy!'"
"... and she actually said, “God have mercy on your soul," is what she said. And I put her down permanently."
He strangled her to death with a rope.
“I strangled her... the death strangle at that time … it finally killed her at that time."
The children screamed as they watched their parent's murder.
"It was just something that I had to do. Once I started with Mr. Otero, I knew I
had to do all four of ‘em. It’s like an execution— you know, once you start it,
if there’s witnesses, you had to do it all the way around."
With both parents dead, Rader brought in a chair to sit back and watch Joey thrash about while he slowly suffocated to death. This was the "coup de grace," a term he mispronounced, meaning a "blow of mercy," to end the suffering of the mortally wounded.
As Josie screamed, "What did you do to my momma? Momma! Momma! Momma!" He asked her for a camera to take a picture. She she told him she didn’t have a camera.
She asked, “What is going to happen to me?"
Leading her down the basement steps, he said:
"Well, honey, you're going to be in heaven tonight with the rest of your family."
He would later tell police that the basement was “symbolic, like a dungeon."
Hanging was a central element of his fantasies.
“… So my encore was to just take her down there and hang her, if she had been dead, I would have still hung her, just to hang her."
In the basement, a rope was already prepared to hang Josie. To watch her struggle for her life she was hung so her toes barely brushed the ground as she as the noose suspended from a sewer pipe tightened. For "a sexual release" he pulled down her panties. Police found his semen traces near her body.
Thirty years later this DNA evidence forced Rader into a guilty plea.
“I went through the house, kinda cleaned it up: It's called the right-hand rule, you go from room to room clean things up."
When asked why he stole Joseph’s watch and radio he replied:
“I have no idea."
He left through the front door, drove their car to a closer location to his own car.
"I was really on a, not a sexual high, I was just scared high. I was really nervous, sweating; I had sweat running off me all over the place. And I just, you know, I had gloves on. I had rubber gloves, and they were just full of water, sweat. It was just really... my clothes were just soaked with sweat. Very nervous. Not like a master criminal at all. This is my first time that I’d ever crossed that barrier."
Charlie, 15, and Carmen 13, entered through the back door when they returned home from school. Charlie called out for his family when he saw items strewn across the kitchen floor. Carmen cried out when she stumbled on the crime scene in the bedroom with their parents bodies.
Charlie described the gruesome crime scene.
"My father was tied up, his eyes were bulging. His tongue was about bit off. My mother was on the bed. She didn’t even look like my mother. And I looked at my dad. I could smell the death and the fear in the room."
While Charlie and Carmen were at the police station they begged police to protect Joey and Josie from returning home, "You don’t have to worry about that. They were killed also."
Rader believed his victims would serve him in his afterlife. Joseph would be his bodyguard. Julie would bathe him. Joey would become a young sex valet. And Josie would be his "star young maiden."
In April of 1974, three months after murdering the Oteros, Rader struck again.
Copyright Kari Sable 1994-2006