Dennis Rader
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Cataloged in Creepy / Serial Killers

Dennis Rader: What Made Him Bind, Torture, And Kill 10 People?

Serial killer Dennis “BTK” Rader terrorized Wichita, KS for over 30 years, killing ten people while taunting police and the media. What made this exceedingly normal, boring-looking man such a monster?

Wichita, KS is an unexceptional town filled with unexceptional people located smack-dab in the middle of the American heartland. Its blandness is so strong you can almost taste it, which is what makes the case of Dennis “BTK” Rader so disturbing. How does such a flat, plain, bleh, place yield such a monster?

Like Wichita, Rader was about as middle-of-the-road as they come—at least from outward appearances. He was a balding, bespectacled, charm-free father of two who installed home security systems. He was also a local Cub Scout leader and a leader at his church.

But Rader claimed he had a dark side—he called it “Factor X,” an evil force which unleashed a character within him that he referred to as “The Minotaur”—that impelled him to Bind, Torture, and Kill—the three words which would form the acronym “BTK.” From 1974-1991 he killed 10 people; he taunted the press and media about it from 1974 until his arrest in 2005.

The Early Years of Dennis Rader

Dennis Lynn Rader was born the oldest of four sons born to William Elvin Rader and Dorothea Mae Cook.

He claims he was dropped on his head as a youth; if true, he would be like many other serial killers in that he suffered a traumatic head injury early in youth. Like many other serial killers, he claims he also tortured animals as a child. He would later claim that he found his many spankings as a child to be sexually arousing. He referred to being intensely aroused as “Sparky Big Time” and his orgasms in such a condition as “The Big G.”

The young Rader also developed a fetish for women’s panties, frequently stealing them and wearing them himself. He also claims that a formative influence on him were the True Detective-style magazines popular in the 1960s that described lurid crimes in graphic detail. He also claims that as a teen, he masturbated to his father’s book about Raymond Fernandez, the “Lonely Hearts Killer.” By the time he reached 18, Rader says his fantasies became focused on women in bondage.

But for the most part he was a typical Midwestern Christian family man who’d spent time in the military and several unexceptional jobs…until The Minotaur came a-knocking and it was Sparky Big Time all over again.

The BTK Killer: Murders of Dennis Rader

From January 1974 until January 1991, Dennis “BTK” Rader murdered 10 people—nine in Wichita, KS, and the other one in the adjoining town of Park City. The string of murders was remarkable not only for the fact that they remained unsolved for 31 years, but due to the fact that he consistently taunted police and the media about their inability to catch him. They were also unusual in the sense that there were sometimes huge gaps of time in between killings, the longest being nine years.

In each case he carefully followed and stalked his intended targets before killing them, referring to each new victim as a “project.” In many of the murders he brought along what he called his “Hit Kit”—tools and rope and duct tape from his shed that would enable him to pull off the murders smoothly.

A few of his intended targets in the 1980s got wise to him and filed restraining orders against Rader before he could complete his “project.” And after his arrest he revealed he’d been stalking another woman he’d intended to kill in the spring of 2005—in what he said would be his “opus,” he planned to hang her upside down and mutilate her while alive before burning her house to the ground—but his arrest and conviction made this impossible.

#1-4: The Otero Family…Joseph, Julie, Joseph II, and Josephine

January 15, 1974

For Rader’s first slaying, he picked the Otero family at random, entered their house, and proceeded to murder the mother, father, and two of their children. The two male Oteros died from suffocation as a result of bags Rader placed over their heads; he used his hands to strangle the mother to death. Then he took the eleven-year-old Josephine Otero down to the basement, lynched her on a water pipe, and masturbated to the sight of her fear.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I came through the back door, cut the phone lines, waited at the back door, had reservations about even going or just walking away, but pretty soon the door opened, and I was in….Well, I confronted the family, pulled the pistol, confronted Mr. Otero and asked him to—you know, that I was there to —basically I was wanted, wanted to get the car.… I was already—I didn’t have a mask on or anything. They already could ID me, and made—made a decision to go ahead and—and put ‘em down, I guess or strangle them.

#5: Kathryn Bright

April 4, 1974

Three months after murdering the Otero family, Rader selected Kathryn Bright but also unexpectedly confronted her brother Kevin, who fought with him and was able to escape. Kathryn would be his only stabbing victim.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I broke into the house and waited for her to come home….She and Kevin Bright came in. I wasn’t expecting him to be there. And come to find out, I guess they were related….I think I had him tie—I think I had him tie her up first, and then I tied him up, or vice versa….The strangulation wasn’t working on her, and I used a knife on her.…I stabbed her. She was stab—either stabbed two or three times, either here or here, maybe two back here and one here, or maybe just two times back here.…She was bleeding. She went down. I think I just went back to check on Kevin, or at that basically same time I heard him escape….So I quickly cleaned up everything that I could and left.

#6: Shirley Vian

March 17, 1977

After a three-year hiatus, Rader returned to killing. He murdered Shirley Vian while her six-year-old son watched in horror through a peephole. Luckily, her son and daughter were able to escape.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I had the gun here and I just kind of forced myself in. I just, you know, walked in—just opened the door and walked in and then pulled a pistol. … I told Mrs.—Miss Vian that I had a problem with sexual fantasies, that I was going to tie her up, and that—and I might have to tie the kids up….She got sick, threw up. Got her a glass of water, comforted her a little bit, and then went ahead and tied her up and then put a blag [sic]—a bag over her head and strangled her.…

#7: Nancy Fox

December 8, 1977

Apparently Rader’s proudest triumph, the murder of Nancy Fox occurred after a long period of his stalking her. As with the murder of Josephine Otero, Rader masturbated to the sight of her strangled corpse.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I knocked at the—knocked at the door first to make sure, see if anybody was in there ‘cause I knew she arrived home at a particular time from where she worked. Nobody answered the door, so I went around to the back of the house, cut the phone lines. I could tell that there wasn’t anybody in the north apartment. Broke in and waited for her to come home in the kitchen.…I confronted her, told here there—I was a—I had a problem, sexual problem, that I would have to tie her up and have sex with her.… I took the belt and then strangled her with the belt at that time…and then at that time masturbated, sir.

#8: Marine Hedge

December 8, 1977

Pushing his luck, Rader decided to murder a woman who lived on his own block. After strangling her, to took her to his church and posed her corpse for several lewd Polaroids.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I very carefully snuck into the house, she wasn’t there. So about that time the doors rattled, so I went—went back to one of the bedrooms and hid back there in one of the bedrooms. She came in with a male visitor. They were there for maybe an hour or so. Then he left. I waited till wee hours of the morning. I then proceeded to sneak into her bedroom and flip the lights on real quick like, or I think the bathroom lights. I just—I didn’t want to flip her lights on, and she screamed, and I jumped on the bed and strangled her manually.…After that, since I was in the sexual fantasy, I went ahead and stripped her and probably went ahead and—I’m not for sure if I tied her up at that point in time, but anyway, she was nude, and I put her on a blanket, went through her purse, some personal items in the house, figured out how I was gonna get her out of there. Eventually moved her to the trunk of the car. Took the car over to Christ Lutheran Church—this is with the older church—and took some pictures of her.

#9: Vicki Wegerle

September 16, 1986

After a nine-year hiatus from killing in which Rader mostly faded into the background as a father, home-security-system installer, Cub Scout leader, and church leader, Rader struck again, killing a young woman named Vicki Wegerle who struggled violently with him trying to save her own life. At first, Wegerle’s husband was the prime suspect but was quickly cleared.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I told her, when we went back to the bedroom, I told her I was going to have to tie her up. She was very upset….I finally got the hand on her and got a nylon sock and started strangling her….I finally gained on her and put her down and I thought she was dead but apparently she wasn’t. But, uh, after she was down and not moving any more I rearranged her clothes a little bit and took some quick photos —I think three of them if I remember. And then after that there was a lot of commotion. She had mentioned something about her husband coming home so I got out of there pretty quick.

#10: Dolores Davis

January 19, 1991

It would be nearly five years before Rader’s final murder, the strangulation death of a 62-year-old woman who lived alone only a mile and a half from where Rader lived.

From Rader’s Courtroom Confession:

I had cased the place before, and I really couldn’t figure out how to get in, and she was in the house, so I finally just selected a—a concrete block and threw it through the plate glass window on the east and came on in.…I handcuffed her and kind of talked to her, told her that I would like to get some food, get her keys to her car, and kind of rest assured, you know, walked—talked with her a little bit and calmed her down a little bit….I went back and checked out where the car was, simulated getting some food, odds and ends in the house, kind of like I was leaving, then went back and removed her handcuffs and—and then tied her up and then—and then eventually strangled her….I drove northeast of Sedgwick County and dropped her off underneath a bridge.

Taunting Police And The Media

Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader, 2005. (Kansas Department of Corrections)

Rader has almost zero personal charisma and there is nothing extraordinary about the methods he used to kill his victims. What makes him stand out from almost all the other famous serial killers, though, was his propensity to taunt police and the media with messages in the midst of all his killing. A few other serial killers became famous using this tack—namely, Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac Killer. Unlike Rader, though, they were never caught.

It is thought that the exceedingly bland Rader was so narcissistically starved for attention, though, that he couldn’t help himself from contacting the media and law enforcement. It was a simple error of technical ignorance—he didn’t realize that the floppy disk he sent to the Wichita Eagle contained metadata leading back to a persona account at his church—that would pin him as the elusive BTK killer who terrorized Wichita since the early 1970s.

The following are some highlights from the messages Rader sent to the media and police from 1991 until his apprehension in 2005. They are printed with the original typos unedited; Rader later claimed that he purposely filled his messages with mistakes to throw off investigators. These and several other Dennis Rader quotes are on Quote Catalog.

I’m sorry this happen to the society…It hard to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up’. Where 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 wall as society….It a big complicated 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 somt-times he run the game to his liking. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t.

He has already chosen his next victim or victims. I don’t know 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. PS: Since sex criminals do not change their MO or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code words for me will be…bind them, torture them, kill them, BTK, you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim.

—In October of 1974, the Wichita Eagle newspaper’s Don Granger received an anonymous call telling him to go find a mechanical engineering textbook at the Wichita Public Library. Inside the book was this letter from BTK.

Oh! Death To Nancy
What is this taht I can see
Cold icy hands taking hold of me
for Death has come, you all can see.
Hell has open it,s gate to trick me.
Oh! Death, Oh! Death, can’t you spare me, over for another year!
I’ll stuff your jaws till you can’t talk
I’ll blind your leg’s till you can’t walk
I’ll tie your hands till you can’t make a stand.
And finally I’ll close your eyes so you can’t see
I’ll bring sexual death unto you for me.
B.T.K.

—A poem about victim Nancy Fox that was sent to the Wichita Eagle on 2/10/1978.

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….

Josephine,when I hung her really turn me on; her pleading for mercy then the rope took whole, she helpless; staring at me with wide terror fill eyes the rope getting tighter-tighter. You don’t understand these things because your not under the influence of factor X). The same thing that made Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, Havery Glatman, Boston Strangler, Dr. H. H. Holmes Panty Hose Strangler OF Florida, Hillside Strangler, Ted of the West Coast and many more infamous character kill. Which seem s senseless, but we cannot help it. There is no help, no cure, except death or being caught and put away….

How about some name for me, its time: 7 down and many more to go. I like the following How about you? ‘THE B.T.K. STRANGLER’, WICHITA STRANGLER’, ‘POETIC STRANGLER’, ‘THE BOND AGE STRANGLER’ OR PSYCHO’ THE WICHITA HANGMAN THE WICHITA EXECUTIONER, ‘THE GAROTE PHATHOM’, ‘THE ASPHIXIATER’.
B.T.K

—Letter received at KAKE TV-10 in Wichita on 2/10/78.

#5 You guess motive and victim.

#6 You found one Shirley Vain lying belly down on a unmade bed in northeast bedroom-hand tied behind back with black tape and cord. Feet & ankles with black tape &legs. Ankles tied to west head of the bed with small off white cord, wrap around legs, hands, arm, finally the neck, many times. A off white pla stic bag over her head loop on with a pink nitie was barefooted. She was sick use a glass of water and smoke I or Two cigarette-house a total mess- kids took some toys with them to the bathroom-bedagainst east bathroom door. Chose at random with some pre-planning. Motive Factor X.

#7 One Nancy Fox-lying belly down on made bed in southwest bedroom-hands tied behind back with red panty hose-feet together with yellow nitie-semi-nude with pink sweather and bra small neckless-glasses on west dresser-panties below butt-many different than the hosery. She had a smoke and wbnt to the bathroom before the final act-very neat housekeeper& dresser-rifled pursein kitchen-empty paper bag—white coat in living-room- heat up to about 90 degrees, Christsmas tree lights on- nities and hose around the room- hose bag of orange color it and hosery on bed-driver licence gone-seminal stain on or in blue women wear. Chose at random with little pre-planning, Motive Factor ‘X’.

#8 Next victim maybe: You will find her hanging with a wire noose-Hands behind back with black tape or cord -feet with tape or cord-gaged- then cord around the body to the neck -hooded maybe- possible seminal stain in anus-or on body. Will be chosen at random. Some pre-planning-Motive Factor’X’.

—Rader describes the murders of Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian, Nancy Fox, and Marine Hedge. Letter received at KAKE TV-10 in Wichita on 2/10/78.

After an extremely long break from taunting authorities, Rader emerged in March 2004 when he resumed sending letters to the Wichita Eagle. This first letter identified him as the murderer of Vicki Wegerle in 1986 and included a Xerox of her driver’s license. It would be the first of 11 communications with the local media in 2004 that eventually led to his apprehension when metadata on a floppy disk was traced to an account at Rader’s church. These “communications” included poems, pornographic drawings, dolls that were bound hand and foot and had plastic bags tied over their heads, and chapters from an autobiography that Rader was apparently writing.

Arrest And Imprisonment of Dennis Rader

After tracing the floppy disk to Rader’s church and testing a DNA sample from Rader’s daughter that matched DNA found under murder victim Vicki Wegerle’s fingernails, police arrested Rader in February 2005. As he was cuffed and headed downtown, police asked him if he knew why he had been arrested. “Oh, I have my suspicions,” was Rader’s response.

After initially entering a not guilty plea, Rader abruptly switched gears and offered a 45-minute courtroom confession that was remarkable for Rader’s deadpan delivery as he nonchalantly described binding, torturing, and killing 10 people:

Since Kansas had abolished the death penalty, Rader was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms, which would require him to serve 175 years before even being considered for parole. At his sentencing, he delivered a rambling 25-minute apologia that was again remarkable for its emotion-free cluelessness. The best that Rader could muster was that he’d been “selfish”:

But listening to Rader’s droning monotone as he describes his deeds doesn’t come close to capturing their horror. That’s conveyed far better by the crime scene photos of his victims and Rader’s artwork depicting his murders.

In truth, only Rader knows what it was deep inside him that enabled him to live a textbook boring Midwestern life most of the time, only to have dark switch flip inside and turn him into a serial-killing psychopath. Deep inside his mind lurks the real reason he could switch so easily from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. TC mark