Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK Killer, is one of the most frightening serial killers in American history; accused of binding, strangling and asphyxiating his victims, becoming increasingly sexually aroused as he watched them gasp for breath, struggle for air and desperately cling to life. Nothing gave him as much sexual pleasure as watching another person in the throes of death, completely helpless.
If you watched the Netflix series “Mindhunter,” you undoubtedly saw the brief scenes featuring Rader knotting his ropes, staring at his neighbors’ houses and installing security systems, a major hint that Rader will be heavily featured in Season 2.
More information about Mindhunter is available in this article published by Vulture.
The actor playing Rader barely had any lines in the show, and yet, his scenes were absolutely chilling, masterfully playing the sociopathic, methodical and deranged serial killer who played cat and mouse with the police for 30 years, until he made a sloppy mistake that allowed the authorities to finally catch him, as CBS reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. On The Surface, Rader Appeared To Be Painfully Normal
Dennis Rader was born in a quiet Kansas town on March 9, 1945. His father, William was a former Marine who supported the family by working as an electrician, and his mother, Dorothea was a homemaker. The Raders purchased a modest home in Wichita, which Rader would eventually inherit from his parents. The Raders were Lutherans and regularly attended church.
Rader joined the Boy Scouts when he was in elementary school. Rader later admitted that he was just a child when he began having violent sexual fantasies involving bondage and torture. Rader admitted to torturing and killing small animals, which is not uncommon among serial killers.
One of Rader’s bondage photos taken of himself as an adult:
After graduating from high school, Rader enrolled in college but only completed two semesters. He worked part-time at a grocery store before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. Rader served four years and reached the rank of sergeant. He was the recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon and the Air Force Good Conduct Medal. In 1970, he returned home to Wichita, reports biography.com.
Shortly after returning to Kansas, Rader married his wife, Paula. Paula was a bookkeeper, and Rader worked for the Coleman Company while attending community college, eventually earning an associate’s degree in electronics. Rader went on to earn his bachelor’s degree at Wichita State University and was described as having academic difficulty.
Rader held several other jobs over the course of his career. He worked for ADT Security for a period of time, allowing him to learn about home security systems and how they worked in detail. He got to walk around inside other people’s houses and study them. He knew which homes were protected and which ones weren’t. It was during this time that Rader became obsessed with his violent sexual fantasies.
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Rader and his wife had two children. They lived in a normal, quiet, average neighborhood. They regularly attended church. Rader was a scout leader and also worked for his church. Ostensibly, the Raders were completely normal, average, and harmless. Rader had no criminal record whatsoever and appeared to be an upstanding citizen. There was nothing frightening about Dennis Rader.
2. Rader’s First Victims Were a Family of Four; The Oteros, Killed In 1974, Followed By Six More Victims Over The Course of the Next 27 Years
Rader’s crime spree would begin in 1974 when he was 29 years old. He is accused of killing the following victims, whose names, ages and dates and manner of death are as follows:
1. Joseph Otero, 38, January 15, 1974, suffocated with plastic bags;
2. Julie Otero, 33, January 15, 1974, strangled with a rope;
3. Joseph Otero, Jr., 9, January 15, 1974, suffocated with a plastic bag;
4. Josephine Otero, 11, January 15, 1974, hanged from a drainage pipe with a rope;
5. Kathryn Bright, 21, April 4, 1974, stabbed 11 times in the back and torso with a knife;
6. Shirley Vian, 24, March 17, 1977, strangled with a rope;
7. Nancy Fox, 25, December 8, 1977, strangled with a belt;
8. Marine Hedge, 53, April 27, 1985, manual strangulation;
9. Vicki Wegerle, 28, September 16, 1986, strangled with nylon stockings; and
10. Dolores Davis, 62, January 19, 1991, strangled with pantyhose.
A police photo from the Otero crime scene:
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There was a seven year gap between the deaths of Nancy Fox and Marine Hedge. Many serial killers will take a break during their crime spree; they take a cooling off period and go dormant for awhile. Rader’s alleged cooling off period, seven years, is considered an extremely long amount of time in comparison to other serial killers to wait in between crimes. Rader was patient; he watched, he waited, and he planned.
Several of Rader’s victims lived in his own neighborhood. He was able to closely observe his alleged targets; noting what time they left for work in the morning, what time they came home, if they lived alone or had roommates, if they locked their windows, if they went for walks on a regular basis and so forth, until he knew their routine, reports CBS News.
Crime scene photo showing Shirley Vian’s legs:
Rader is believed to have derived sexual pleasure from the crimes he is accused of committing. He did not rape his victims; it was a different sort of sexual sadism that Rader is believed to have enjoyed. During his confession to the court, he described becoming extremely aroused to the point of having an orgasm while he watched Josephine Otero die, gasping for breath and struggling against the rope she was hanging from. Rader admitted on multiple occasions that he got a sexual thrill from his alleged crimes, and as a result, much of his DNA was left behind at the various crime scenes.
The following is a 92-page summary of the evidence introduced at Rader’s trial, including graphic and disturbing descriptions of Rader’s alleged crimes:
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Summary of Evidence by Laura Kelley on Scribd
3. Rader Sent Taunting Letters & Packages to The Press: Bind Them, Torture Them, Kill Them; Bill Thomas Killman, Cat And Mouse
Rader sent several letters to the press during his crime spree, starting in the 70s. He came up with his own nickname, BTK, which of course stands for “bind, torture, kill.” Rader also signed his letters using a BTK symbol he designed. In his letters, he would throw in details that were not publicly available about the crimes so that the newspapers and police understood that the letters were not hoaxes. Rader seemed to crave attention and recognition for his crimes. He essentially asked the question – what do I have to do to get your attention?
The Wichita Eagle published an article about the BTK murders to mark the 30th anniversary of the deaths of the Otero family. Additionally, an author was planning on writing a book about the crimes. Rader could not stand the idea of someone else telling his story. He sent a letter to the Wichita Eagle from “Bill Thomas Killman.” The envelope also contained a copy of the driver’s license of one of his alleged victims, Vicki Wegerle, as well as photos of her dying. The letter was signed with BTK’s signature symbol used in his earlier letters. The FBI confirmed that the letter was authentic.
Rader sent another letter to KAKE, the local news station. The letter was a coded word puzzle that the FBI was able to confirm as authentic; however, no one was able to decode the message. Rader then began to become even more brazen with his cat-and-mouse game with the police. He left a package in the street containing a graphic letter describing the slaying of the Oteros and a drawing of a female victim suspended from a rope in June of 2004, the way 11-year-old Josephine Otero died. “The Sexual Thrill is My Bill” was written on the drawing. The following month, another BTK package was discovered at a library. The letter referenced a potential female victim who was being targeted. On October 22, 2004, a manila envelope was discovered inside a UPS drop box. The envelope contained cards with images on them. One was of a woman, bound and tied with ropes. Another card had a poem on it entitled “Death to Landwehr.” Ken Landwehr was the lieutenant in charge of the BTK case.
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In December, a man walking through a park discovered a package someone had propped up against a tree. The man brought the package home and opened it. It contained a doll, its hands and feet bound together, with a plastic bag on its head (this would later be referred to as a “doll-gram” as CBS News explains. There was something tied to the doll’s feet; a driver’s license belonging to Nancy Fox, who was one of BTK’s victims killed in 1977. The man called the police and KAKE. The items were photographed and documented; however, KAKE agreed not to broadcast anything about the package for fear of giving the killer what he wanted.
In January of 2005, Rader hid a cereal box labeled “BTK” and “bomb” in the bed of a pickup truck parked at a Home Depot owned by an employee. Upon noticing the box, the man threw it in a trash can. Luckily, the box was not destroyed, which will be discussed in more detail below. Surveillance footage of the Home Depot parking lot was reviewed, but the police were unable to get a clear image of the man’s face who put the cereal box in the truck. They were, however, able to identify the vehicle as a black Jeep.
Later in the month, Rader dropped off another cereal box, cleverly joking that he was the “cereal killer.” The box was discovered after Rader sent a note to KAKE. The letter was from “S. Killet” with the Otero residence listed as the return address. The note referred to the cereal box left in the pick-up truck at Home Depot, and police were able to track down the man who owned the pick-up truck before his trash was collected.
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4. After 30 Years, Rader Was Finally Caught By An Extremely Sloppy Mistake Involving a Floppy Disk
KAKE received another postcard in February. It contained a message from Rader asking if it was safe to use a floppy disk to correspondence, as The Atlantic explains. If so, Rader asked that a message be printed in the newspaper saying “Rex, it will be okay.” The message to “Rex” was printed, as requested, and a few days letter, a package was sent to the local Fox affiliate in Wichita. The package included a purple diskette labeled as “Test Floppy for WPD review.”
It didn’t take long for investigators to trace the disk back to the Christ Lutheran Church, last modified by “Dennis.” Apparently, Rader thought that as long as he deleted the files that were originally saved on the disk, it would be untraceable, reports The Atlantic.
Investigators were able to locate one Dennis Rader, president of the Christ Lutheran Church. Secretly, the police began to monitor Rader while they subpoenaed some of his daughter, Kerri’s medical records. That way, the familial DNA could be compared to the DNA contained in the semen stains that were found at multiple crime scenes. It was a match.
On February 25, 2005, Rader was driving home when he was suddenly surrounded by a group of police cars. He did not resist arrest and was placed into a squad car, reports the ABA Journal.
5. Rader Made a Full Confession In Court
The charges against Rader are outlined in the following Complaint, State of Kansas v. Rader which was filed in 2005:
Complaint by Laura Kelley on Scribd
Rader initially entered a plea of not guilty, but later plead guilty to the charges filed against him. The following is the transcript of Rader’s confession to the court:
Transcript – Guilty Plea by Laura Kelley on Scribd
In addition to describing the crimes he was accused of, Rader explained his various sexual fetishes, including taking bondage photos of himself, which investigators are believed to have discovered shortly after Rader’s arrest in 2005. After the BTK killer Dennis Rader was arrested on February 25, 2005, police uncovered his stashes of writings, photos, artwork and other assorted items he had kept over the years related to his crimes. He had a bondage fetish and enjoyed wearing the undergarments of his slain female victims. He enjoyed tying himself up in all sorts of ways. Using various mechanisms he was able to photograph himself with a Polaroid camera. During his years as a Boy Scout troop leader, he nearly got caught once when he couldn’t escape his own bonds after tying himself up inside a camper during a scout outing. He eventually worked himself loose.
After testimony was completed, individual members of the victims’ families gave their emotional victim’s statements. Many of the victims’ loved ones chose to speak before the court, describing the heartbreak of losing their loved ones in such a cruel way.
Once the victims’ impact statements were read, Rader had the option to address the court. He gave a rambling speech that went on and on for about 20 minutes. Rader wanted to thank all the people who helped him.
Rader was given the maximum sentence allowed, a minimum of 175 years to life. Rader will not be eligible for parole until 2180.
Rader was taken to the El Dorado Correctional Facility in El Dorado, Kansas. He is said to be in permanent solitary confinement to protect him from the general population.
Rader’s full confession to the court can be viewed here: