BTK: the story of Dennis Rader, the unsuspected serial killer

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A series of shocking crimes lasting 17 years. A sadistic and organized serial killer that enjoyed challenging the investigators. After a long period of silence, the truth will come out leaving everyone speechless.

The nightmare of Wichita

1974. Life flows normally in Wichita, a quiet Kansas town. Its inhabitants certainly do not imagine the events about to happen, bound to terrorize the entire population.

January 15. Charlie Otero, 16, is returning home after school. It is an ordinary day like many others but when he opens the door he is faced with a shocking scene: his father Joseph (38), his mother Julie (33 years) and brother Joseph Jr (9 years) lie lifeless on the floor. Joseph and Joseph Jr were suffocated with plastic bags, while Julie was strangled with a rope. The body of his sister, Josephine (11 years old), who was strangled and later hanged, is also found in the cellar.

A fourfold violent and cruel murder. The killer showed no mercy for any of those human lives.

The authorities receive a letter. An anonymous person invites them to go to the library to look for an engineering book. The investigators trace the concerned text and inside they find a letter describing in great detail the murders of that January 15th.

The murderer signs himself with a pseudonym: BTK, an acronym for Bind, Torture, Kill.

April 4, 1974. Another body is discovered. Kathryn Bright, 21, stabbed numerous times in the abdomen. She was attacked along with her brother, Kevin, who manages to survive and provides a description of the killer: about 178 cm tall, between 25 and 30 years, black hair and with a mustache.

A little time passes, and the murders stop. Perhaps the killer is afraid of being discovered. Unfortunately this break won’t last long.

March 17, 1977. Shirley Vian, 24, is at home with her four children when a man breaks into her home. Armed with a gun, he orders the children to lock themselves in the bathroom. Left alone with Shirley, the man ties her up and strangles her to death with a rope. The killer also leaves his seminal fluid on the corpse’s underwear before leaving.

December 9th. A call arrives at the police station: a mysterious voice provides the coordinates of a house, declaring the presence of a person killed on site. Police head to the scene and discover the body of Nancy Fox, 25, tied up and strangled. Another victim of the BTK Killer.

At the beginning of 1978 another anonymous letter arrives, this time to the television station KAKE. The murderer confesses all the murders, signing himself with the now sadly known pseudonym.

It will be a few years before the chain starts again.

On April 27, 1985, the murderer breaks into the home of Marine Hedge, 53, killing her like the previous victims. Her body is found in a ditch near her home.

September 16, 1986. This time the victim is Vicky Wegerle, 28, also tied up and strangled.

The last murder takes place on January 19, 1991, against Dolores Davis, 62. Her body is discovered under a bridge.

The long silence and the return

The investigations are continuing without and major breakthrough. Years pass and the killer seems to have stopped for good. The affair becomes an unsolved case.

In 2004, The Wichita Eagle newspaper publishes a commemorative article for the thirtieth year of the quadruple murder of the Otero family, which also tells the story of the BTK. The publication seems to trigger something in the mind of the unknown killer.

March 17, 2004. A letter, signed by Bill Thomas Killman, arrives at the editorial staff of The Wichita Eagle. Inside there are photographs of Vicky Wegerle, one of the victims. The letter also contains the wallet of the murdered woman.

After 13 years the killer is back with the intention of challenging the authorities again.

In the following months, several letters continue to arrive containing puzzles, photos of the victims, descriptions of the murders, dolls, threats. In one of his last letters, the author asks the police whether the data placed on floppy disks are traceable. The investigators reply that the data cannot be identified, so on February 16, 2005 a disk is sent to the television station KSAS-TV.

Police examine the floppy, tracking down a deleted Word file. The document bears the title “Christ Lutheran Church” and the last modification made by a user named Dennis.

A brief search on the internet reveals that Dennis Rader is the name of the president of the Council of the Congregation of the Lutheran Church. Through an investigation they identify his car, which matches the description of the killer’s car by the witnesses. A further DNA test carried out on the daughter, compared to the traces on the bodies, clears all doubts.

Dennis Rader is the BTK Killer.

Dennis Rader

Born in 1945, he grows up in Wichita, where he spend a normal childhood, without any particular trauma or problems. In 1971 he marries Paula Dietz and they have two. During the years, Rader changes various jobs, first assembler of camping equipment then operator for an aeronautical company. In 1991 he is hired as Supervisor of the Department of Vigilance in Park City, where he deals with urban planning, animal control, execution permits and housing problems.

In this role, he exhibits a rigid and meticulous character regarding following the rules. He measures the height of the grass in private gardens with a ruler or sometimes he clashes with residents about the observation of the norms. A member of the Lutheran Church, he is also elected President of the Council of the Congregation. Among his hobbies there is children training, in fact he is also a Scout Leader.

In short, the classic good neighbor. A highly unsuspicious profile, in the style of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. No traumatic childhood or behaviors that could suggest that a serial killer is hiding under that mask.

Rader is arrested on February 25, 2005. Inside his house, photos of the victims, newspaper articles, graphic representations of the murders are found. There are also a series of self-portraits of the killer tied up, dressed as a woman or with disturbing masks. A sadistic passion for bondage.

During the trial he pleads guilty and describes the murders with an appalling coldness and cynicism, showing no remorse for the victims. On August 18, 2005, Dennis Rader is sentenced to ten life imprisonments with the obligation to remain in prison for 175 years.

Thus ends, more than 30 years after the first murders, the story of the BTK serial killer. A subject who has managed for years to hide within himself his perverse nature, sheltering himself behind the image of an ordinary man. A narcissistic and obsessive-compulsive mind that studied and planned every crime in the smallest details.

The case of Dennis Rader remains much discussed today and is often addressed in films, documentaries and books. His character, played by Sonny Valicenti, is also present in the TV series Mindhunter.

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