Psychopath Dennis Lynn Rader
Psychopath Dennis Lynn Rader, born on March 9, 1945, earned the moniker “BTK” for his own chilling self-description, standing for “bind, torture, kill.” This American serial killer committed heinous acts, taking the lives of ten individuals in Wichita and Park City, Kansas, spanning from 1974 to 1991.
Throughout his killing spree, he taunted law enforcement and media outlets by sending letters that provided disturbing details of his crimes. Following a break of thirteen years, Rader resumed sending letters in 2004, eventually leading to his arrest in 2005 and subsequent admission of guilt. Presently, he is serving ten consecutive life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Dennis Rader, born on March 9, 1945, was the eldest of four sons to Dorothea Mae Rader (née Cook) and William Elvin Rader. While sources differ on his birthplace, he grew up in Wichita. In his childhood, both of his parents were preoccupied with work and paid little attention to their children at home. Rader especially felt neglected by his mother and held resentment towards her.
From a young age, Rader nurtured sadistic sexual fantasies, involving the torture of “trapped and helpless” women. He also displayed zoosadism tendencies by inflicting harm on small animals, even leading to their deaths. Rader engaged in sexual fetishes like voyeurism, autoerotic asphyxiation, and cross-dressing. He often peered at female neighbors while dressed in stolen women’s clothing, including undergarments, and engaged in self-gratification using ropes or bindings around his arms and neck.
During the intervals between his murders, Rader took photographs of himself wearing women’s clothes and a female mask while bound. He later admitted that these actions were part of a disturbing sexual fantasy where he pretended to be his victims. Despite these inclinations, Rader managed to conceal his sexual preferences, and his community viewed him as “normal, polite, and well mannered.”
After completing his education at Wichita Heights High School, Rader pursued further studies at Kansas Wesleyan University, but his academic performance was lackluster, leading him to drop out after one year. Following this, he served in the United States Air Force from 1966 to 1970. Upon his discharge, he relocated to Park City, a suburb of Wichita, where he found employment in the meat department of an IGA supermarket, where his mother worked as a bookkeeper.
Rader tied the knot with Paula Dietz on May 22, 1971, and together they had two children, Kerri and Brian. He decided to continue his education by enrolling at Butler County Community College in El Dorado, earning an associate degree in electronics in 1973. Subsequently, he pursued higher education at Wichita State University and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Administration of Justice in 1979.
Initially, Rader worked as an assembler for the Coleman Company, an outdoor supply company. He later transitioned to ADT Security Services in Wichita, where he worked from 1974 to 1988. During his tenure at ADT, he installed security alarms, frequently dealing with homeowners concerned about the BTK killings. In 1989, he served as a census field operations supervisor for the Wichita area in preparation for the 1990 federal census.
In May 1991, Rader became a dogcatcher and compliance officer in Park City. In this position, neighbors recalled him as being sometimes overzealous and extremely strict, as well as taking special pleasure in bullying and harassing single women. One neighbor complained that Rader killed her dog for no reason.
Rader was a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita and had been elected president of the church council. He was also a Cub Scout leader.
On July 26, 2005, after Rader’s arrest, his wife was granted an “emergency divorce” (waiving the normal 60-day waiting period). In an interview with ABC News in 2019, Rader’s daughter Kerri said she still writes to her father and has now forgiven him, but still struggles to reconcile him with the BTK killer, stating her childhood seemed normal and they were a “normal American family”.
On January 15, 1974, a tragic event unfolded in Wichita, Kansas, resulting in the brutal murder of four members of the Otero family. The victims included Joseph Otero, aged 38; Julie Otero, aged 33; Joseph Otero Jr., aged 9; and Josephine Otero, aged 11. The horrifying discovery of their lifeless bodies was made by the three older children, Charlie, Danny, and Carmen, who had been away at school during the incident.
Following his arrest in 2005, Rader confessed to the heinous act of killing the Otero family, and he left a detailed letter hidden inside an engineering book at the Wichita Public Library in October 1974, describing the specifics of the January killings.
Over the course of several years, between the spring of 1974 and winter 1977, Rader claimed the lives of three more women: Kathryn Bright (April 4, 1974), Shirley Vian Relford (March 17, 1977), and Nancy Fox (December 8, 1977). During the home invasion that led to Kathryn Bright’s death, her younger brother Kevin Bright was also present. He endured strangulation and gunshots but managed to escape by pretending to be dead. Kevin Bright stands as the sole known survivor of the BTK attacks.
In early 1978, Rader sent another letter to the Wichita television station KAKE, taking credit for the murders of the Oteros, Bright, Vian Relford, and Fox. He used the name “BTK,” a moniker he suggested himself, which quickly became associated with him. In this letter, he demanded media attention, and it was then publicly acknowledged that Wichita had an at-large serial killer.
Enclosed in the letter was a poem titled “Oh! Death to Nancy,” which parodied the lyrics of the American folk song “O Death.” In his writings, Rader claimed to be driven by a mysterious force he referred to as “factor X,” a supernatural element he believed also motivated infamous murderers such as Jack the Ripper, the Son of Sam, and the Hillside Strangler.
He also intended to kill others, such as Anna Williams, who in 1979, aged 63, escaped death by returning home much later than expected. Rader explained during his confession that he became obsessed with Williams and was “absolutely livid” when she evaded him. He spent hours waiting at her home but became impatient and left when she did not return home from visiting friends.
Marine Hedge, aged 53, was found on May 5, 1985, at East 53rd Street North between North Webb Road and North Greenwich Road in Wichita. Rader killed her on April 27, and took her dead body to his church, Christ Lutheran Church, where he was the president of the church council. There, he photographed her body in various bondage positions. Rader had previously stored black plastic sheets and other materials at the church in preparation for the murder and then later dumped the body in a remote ditch. He had called his plan “Project Cookie”.
In 1988, after the murders of three members of the Fager family in Wichita, a letter was received from someone claiming to be the BTK killer, in which the author of the letter denied being the perpetrator of the Fager murders. The author credited the killer with having done “admirable work.” It was not proven until 2005 that this letter was, in fact, written by Rader. He is not considered by police to have committed this crime.
Two women Rader stalked in the 1980s and one whom he stalked in the mid-1990s filed restraining orders against him. One of them also changed her address to avoid him. His final victim, Dolores E. Davis, was found on February 1, 1991, at West 117th Street North and North Meridian Street in Park City. Rader had killed her on January 19.
The investigation of the BTK Killer was considered a cold case by 2004. However, things took a significant turn when Rader initiated a series of 11 communications to the local media, directly leading to his arrest in February 2005.
In March 2004, The Wichita Eagle received a letter signed by someone using the name Bill Thomas Killman. The letter’s author confessed to the murder of Vicki Wegerle on September 16, 1986, and included photographs of the crime scene along with a stolen photocopy of her driver’s license. Up until this point, it had not been definitively established that Wegerle’s death was the work of BTK.
The police obtained crucial DNA evidence from beneath Wegerle’s fingernails, providing them with previously unknown leads. In response, they launched an extensive effort to conduct DNA testing on hundreds of men in hopes of identifying the elusive serial killer. Ultimately, more than 1,300 DNA samples were collected and later destroyed by court order.
In May 2004, Wichita’s KAKE television station received another letter that contained chapter headings for the “BTK Story,” fake IDs, and a word puzzle. Subsequently, on June 9, a package was discovered taped to a stop sign at a specific location in Wichita. This package contained explicit descriptions of the Otero murders and a sketch titled “The Sexual Thrill Is My Bill.” It also enclosed a chapter list for a proposed book titled The BTK Story, resembling a story written in 1999 by crime writer David Lohr of Court TV.
One of the chapters was titled “A Serial Killer Is Born.” In July, another package was found at a public library’s return slot, containing even more bizarre materials. Among them was a claim that the sender was responsible for the death of 19-year-old Jake Allen in Argonia, Kansas, earlier that month. However, this claim turned out to be false, as the death was ruled as a suicide.
After his capture, Rader admitted in his interrogation that he had been planning to kill again and he had set a date, October 2004, and was stalking his intended victim. In October 2004, a manila envelope was dropped into a UPS box in Wichita. It had many cards with images of terror and bondage of children pasted on them, a poem threatening the life of lead investigator Lt. Ken Landwehr, and a false autobiography with many details about Rader’s life. These details were later released to the public.
In December 2004, Wichita police received another package from the BTK killer. This time, the package was found in Wichita’s Murdock Park. It had the driver’s license of Nancy Fox, which was noted as stolen from the crime scene, as well as a doll that was symbolically bound at the hands and feet, and had a plastic bag tied over its head.
In January 2005, Rader attempted to leave a cereal box in the bed of a pickup truck at a Home Depot in Wichita, but the box was discarded by the truck’s owner. It was later retrieved from the trash after Rader asked what had become of it in a later message. Surveillance tape of the parking lot from that date revealed a distant figure driving a black Jeep Cherokee leaving the box in the pickup. In February 2005, more postcards were sent to KAKE, and another cereal box left at a rural location was found to contain another bound doll.
In his letters to police, Rader asked if his writings, if put on a floppy disk, could be traced or not. The police answered his question in a newspaper ad posted in The Wichita Eagle, saying it would be safe to use the disk. On February 16, 2005, Rader sent a purple 1.44-Megabyte Memorex floppy disk to Fox affiliate KSAS-TV in Wichita. Also enclosed were a letter, a gold-colored necklace with a large medallion, and a photocopy of the cover of Rules of Prey, a 1989 novel by John Sandford about a serial killer.
Police found metadata embedded in a deleted Microsoft Word document that was, unknown to Rader, still stored on the floppy disk. The metadata contained the words “Christ Lutheran Church”, and the document was marked as last modified by “Dennis”. An Internet search determined that a “Dennis Rader” was president of the church council. When investigators drove by Rader’s house, a black Jeep Cherokee—the type of vehicle seen in the Home Depot surveillance footage—was parked outside. This was strong circumstantial evidence against Rader, but they needed more direct evidence to detain him.
Police obtained a warrant to test a pap smear taken from Rader’s daughter at the Kansas State University medical clinic. DNA tests showed a “familial match” between the pap smear and the sample from Wegerle’s fingernails; this indicated that the killer was closely related to Rader’s daughter, and combined with the other evidence was enough for police to arrest Rader.
Shortly after noon on February 25, 2005, Rader was taken into custody while driving near his residence in Park City. When an officer questioned him, asking if he knew the reason for going downtown, Rader cryptically replied, “Oh, I have suspicions why.” Following the arrest, a thorough search was conducted by Wichita Police, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and ATF agents at Rader’s home and in his vehicle. During the search, they seized various pieces of evidence, including computer equipment, a pair of black pantyhose found in a shed, and a cylindrical container.
The investigation extended beyond his residence, and they also searched the church he attended, his office at City Hall, and the main branch of the Park City library. At a subsequent press conference the following morning, Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams made the significant announcement, declaring, “the bottom line: BTK is arrested.”
On February 28, 2005, Rader faced 10 counts of first-degree murder charges. Following his arrest, an anonymous source cited by the Associated Press alleged that Rader had confessed to additional murders beyond the ones already connected to him. Despite this, the Sedgwick County district attorney refuted the story but declined to confirm if Rader had made any confessions or if investigators were exploring his possible involvement in other unsolved killings. On March 5, news sources claimed to have verified from multiple sources that Rader had indeed confessed to the 10 charged murders but not any others.
On March 1, Rader’s bail was set at US$10 million, and he was appointed a public defender to represent him. During his arraignment on May 3, the judge entered not guilty pleas on his behalf since Rader remained silent. However, on June 27, the scheduled trial date, Rader changed his plea to guilty. He provided detailed descriptions of the murders and offered no apologies.
At the sentencing on August 18, family members of the victims delivered statements, after which Rader presented a rambling 30-minute monologue that the prosecutor likened to an Academy Awards acceptance speech. His statement exemplified a commonly observed trait among psychopaths: their inability to grasp the emotional content of language. He received 10 consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years, as Kansas had no death penalty at the time of the murders. On August 19, he was transferred to the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Rader talked about innocuous topics such as the weather during the 40-minute drive to El Dorado, but began to cry when the victims’ families’ statements from the court proceedings came on the radio. He is now in solitary confinement for his protection (with one hour of exercise per day, and showers three times per week). This will likely continue indefinitely. Beginning in 2006, he was allowed access to television and radio, to read magazines, and other privileges for good behavior.
After Rader’s arrest, law enforcement agencies in Wichita, Park City, and neighboring cities collaborated with the state police and the FBI to investigate unsolved cases. Their focus was primarily on cases occurring after 1994, following the reinstatement of the death penalty in Kansas. Similarly, police in nearby states like Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas examined cold cases that bore similarities to Rader’s modus operandi. Concurrently, the FBI and local authorities at Rader’s previous duty stations also looked into unsolved cases from his time in the service.
Despite conducting exhaustive investigations, none of these agencies uncovered any additional murders connected to Rader, validating their early suspicions that he would have claimed responsibility for any further killings he committed. As of now, the ten known murders are attributed solely to Rader. However, the Wichita police strongly believe that he targeted and researched several other potential victims.
One such individual was fortunate enough to be spared when Rader abandoned his planned attack upon realizing the presence of construction and road crews near the target’s home. During his police interview, Rader admitted that he had developed various murder plans for other potential victims, leaving some people to consider themselves fortunate.
Assessment by Robert Mendoza
Massachusetts psychologist Robert Mendoza was enlisted by Rader’s court-appointed public defenders to conduct a psychological assessment of Rader, aiming to determine the potential viability of an insanity-based defense. The evaluation took place after Rader had pleaded guilty on June 27, 2005. Mendoza’s diagnosis revealed that Rader suffered from narcissistic, antisocial, and obsessive–compulsive personality disorders. Notably, Rader exhibited traits such as an inflated sense of self-importance, a belief in his exceptional nature and entitlement to special treatment, an insatiable need for attention and admiration, an excessive preoccupation with maintaining rigid order and structure, and a complete absence of empathy.
Subsequently, the videotaped interview conducted by Mendoza found its way onto NBC’s Dateline. NBC alleged that Rader was aware of the interview’s potential televising, but the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office refuted this claim, asserting that Rader had no knowledge of such intentions. Rader himself mentioned the interview during his sentencing statement. Then, on October 25, 2005, the Kansas attorney general filed a petition to sue Mendoza and Tali Waters, co-owners of Cambridge Forensic Consultants, LLC, on grounds of breaching their contract, alleging that they intended to gain financial benefits from using information obtained during their involvement in Rader’s defense. Eventually, on May 10, 2007, Mendoza settled the case for US$30,000 without admitting any wrongdoing.
|Name||Sex||Age||Date of death||Place of death||Cause of death||Weapon used|
|Joseph Otero||M||38||January 15, 1974||803 N. Edgemoor Street, Wichita||Suffocated||Plastic bag|
|Julia Maria Otero||F||33||Strangled||Rope|
|Joseph Otero, Jr.||M||9||Suffocated||Plastic bag|
|Kathryn Doreen Bright||F||21||April 4, 1974||3217 E. 13th Street N., Wichita|
(died at Wesley Medical Center)
|Stabbed three times|
|Shirley Ruth Vian Relford||F||24||March 17, 1977||1311 S. Hydraulic Street, Wichita||Strangled||Rope|
|Nancy Jo Fox||F||25||December 8, 1977||843 S. Pershing Street, Wichita||Strangled||Belt|
|Marine Wallace Hedge||F||53||April 27, 1985||6254 N. Independence Street,|
|Vicki Lynn Wegerle||F||28||September 16, 1986||2404 W. 13th Street N., Wichita||Strangled||Nylon stocking|
|Dolores Earline Johnson Davis||F||62||January 19, 1991||6226 N. Hillside Street, Wichita|
(east of Park City)