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Dennis Rader (The BTK Killer)
Dennis Rader was born March 9, 1945, the eldest of four brothers. After high school, he did a four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force before returning to Park City, Kansas, where he completed an undergraduate degree in administration of justice at Wichita State University in 1979. Beginning in 1974, Rader worked in a variety of positions at ADT Security Services over the next 14 years. Investigators believe that knowledge he gained in this experience later enabled him to bypass home security systems so as to break into homes undetected.i
It was also in 1974 that Rader’s murderous criminal career began. On the morning of January 15, 1974, he killed four members of the Otero family, including father Joseph, mother Julie, 11-year-old Josephine, and 9-year-old Joseph II. Each victim was subjected to various acts of torture before ultimately being killed. The two males died from asphyxiation after Rader tied them up at gunpoint and placed plastic bags over their heads. The females were strangled, with Rader later reporting that the mother woke up after he thought she was dead and had to be strangled again. In court testimony many years later, he attributed the killings to sexual needs, and he apparently molested at least one of the females. The four bodies were discovered when 15-year-old Charlie Otero returned from school later that afternoon.ii
The Otero murders were the start of a long series of murders. Kathryn Bright, 20, was stabbed to death just three months later, on April 4, 1974. Amazingly, her 19-year-old brother, Kevin, survived the attack by Rader despite being shot twice in the head.
Almost three years elapsed before the BTK struck again on March 17, 1977, by strangling 26-year-old Shirley Vian. Uncharacteristically, the BTK locked the three young Vian children in the closet, permitting them to survive. Just nine months later, on December 8, 1977, police found Nancy Jo Fox, 25, dead in her bedroom, strangled with a nylon stocking. BTK’s final three killings occurred on April 27, 1985 (Marine Hedge), September 16, 1986 (Vicki Wegerle), and January 18, 1991 (Dolores Davis); all were strangled.iii
A strange component of the BTK murders was the way the killer periodically wrote taunting letters to the local police and newspapers. His goal seemed to be to receive some kind of credit for the murders. In some writings, he expressed his indignation that other suspects were being accused of crimes he had committed or that the story of his murderous activities was not receiving adequate press coverage. “How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?” he complained in the letter in which he also coined his BTK nickname.iv
The frequency of the BTK letters decreased by the end of the 1980s, as he became dormant. In 1991, Rader became a Park City Compliance Officer,v where he developed a reputation as a by-the-book “bureaucratic bully.”vi
In March 2004, new BTK letters began surfacing. Over the course of the next year, a total of 11 communications were received. One, which had been mailed to police on a computer floppy disk, was forensically identified as having been created on Rader’s church computer and had electronic residue that included the name Dennis. That disk led directly to Rader’s arrest on February 25, 2005. At his arraignment on May 3, Rader stood mute and a trial date of June 27 was set.
Rader subsequently surprised everyone when, on June 27, he confessed in open court to the murders of ten people. In response to direct questioning from the judge, Rader recounted in chillingly graphic and dispassionate detail exactly how he had killed each of his victims.
Author’s Note: Graphic testimony from Dennis Rader’s 2007 trial is available at http:/
i “Neighbors Paint Mixed Picture of BTK Suspect,” MSNBC, February 27, 2005, http:/
ii Marilyn Bardsley, Rachael Bell, and David Lohr, “BTK—Birth of a Serial Killer,” CourtTV Crime Library, http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/unsolve… (accessed June 16, 2007).
iv “Neighbors Paint Mixed Picture of BTK Suspect,” MSNBC.
v “Report: Daughter of BTK Suspect Alerted Police,” Cable News Network, April 19, 2005.
vi Bardsley et al., “BTK—Birth of a Serial Killer.”