Dennis Rader known as BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) murdered 10 people in Kansas. He sent letters, poems, and dolls to the police and local news stations detailing his murders because he liked the cat and mouse game. Dennis ended up sending a floppy disk to the police and they were able to trace it back to him and he was finally arrested in 2005.
BOOK: Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer by Katherine Ramsland
Dennis Rader was born in Pittsburg, Kansas on March 9th, 1945, but he was raised in Wichita. When his mother was pregnant with him, she fell off of a horse. When he was 6-8 months old, she also dropped him on his head and he turned blue and had to go to the hospital. He says he always got along really well with his father, but he had issues with his mom. He loved her, but she wasn't very happy and Dennis held a grudge against her. There was a specific childhood memory that hints towards future problems. When Dennis was little, his mother's ring got caught in a couch spring and her hand was stuck. She was upset and told him to go get help. Dennis said that this was exciting for him to see a helpless woman and that's when he got ideas about trapping others. The thought of hanging someone or tying them up was arousing for Dennis and he even began experimenting by hanging himself until he would almost pass out. He grew up in a very religious family, but he felt really alone and began having dark thoughts/fantasies about bondage when he was 12 or 13 and he loved starting fires. In school, he was shy and was a slow learner, so he got picked on/ bullied a lot and this was very humiliating.
I know everyone perceives things differently, but I find this next part really interesting. In the book, Dennis says there was a specific childhood memory that was really traumatizing for him because he was highly sensitive to criticism. When he was about 5 years old, he found a toy truck on a sidewalk near his friend's house and he took it home with him. His mom freaked out and said he stole it and had to bring it back. He did return the toy, but he was furious that his mom made him go by himself and he felt really embarrassed and didn't know how to explain that he wasn't trying to steal this toy. It just doesn't sound that traumatic, but it clearly was to him. This is when he stopped trusting his mom and began hiding things from her. Dennis and some other kids also put metal on the nearby train tracks and the train would flatten it as it went through town. A railroad detective stopped by and talked to all the parents about this and Dennis' mother told his grandparents about the incident. This is an example where he describes not being able to trust his mother. I will agree that she didn't handle herself well on this next one though. When Dennis was about 10-11 years old, she noticed a stain in his underwear and she held his hands behind his back and whipped him with a belt and told him that if you masturbate, God will kill you.
She had this pattern where she would chase the kids, beat them, then hug and soothe them afterwards. Dennis didn't like the beatings, but realized he the chase was exciting and he liked the affection after. He was really into the feel of satin and would steal his mom's underwear, masturbate into them, and throw them away so he wouldn't get caught. He fantasized about dark haired women in satin, and realized that he was thinking about his mom. If you didn't cringe there, hold on. He spent a lot of time with his grandma and she used to tie ribbons in her hair. Dennis liked to rub her satin ribbons on his lips. If you think things started out really weird with Dennis, it was actually his younger brother that initially caused the family a ton of trouble and he tortured animals. Dennis ended up doing horrifying things to animals as well later on.
As a kid, Dennis had a lot of ear infections. So, they used to hold him down and pour warm oil in his ears. This became an early BDSM thought for him. He says he was held down, experienced pain, then comfort. He and his friends also played Cowboys and Indians and would actually tie each other up. As he grew older, he liked to climb and be really high up. His dad helped him put a ledge or seat in a tree and he would observe the neighborhood. He referred to this as his hidey hole. He got binoculars and started peeping in windows and prowling the neighborhood at night. He eventually started breaking into people's homes when they were gone and would just touch things that belonged to women and would take their underwear. When Dennis was 17, he had another head injury. He was driving fast on a foggy night, went around a bend, and ended up hitting his head on the windshield when he went into the ditch.
When Dennis was in High school, the Boston Strangler was all over the news and he was fascinated. He watched the movie and read the book over and over. He liked reading about how the Boston Strangler prowled around and he ended up wearing similar clothing, green pants and a sweatshirt during his first murders. Once he graduated from high school, he ended up in the Air Force because his grades were so poor. He had to find new Hidey Holes, so he hid things in his locker or in his tool box.
In 1970, when he returned home, his mom introduced him to a girl from the church. Dennis and Paula went on several dates, things worked out, and they got married. Dennis believed he would get to act out his fantasies with her and tried some light bondage, but she wasn't into this at all. So, he would often find an old barn to tie himself up in for awhile. He put ropes around his neck and bags over his head. He seemed to do alright when his life was really busy with work and school. If he had any free time, his mind wandered to bad places. This is exactly what happened when he suddenly lost his job.
In 1974, Dennis Rader was working for Cessna in the electrical department. He helped build parts that were used in planes. Many people were laid off during this time and Dennis was one of them. On his last day, he ended up stealing small parts and walking out with them. Instead of handling things like a normal person, this sent him off the deep end. Being fired really hurt his ego and he had a horrible temper. That evening, when his wife Paula went out, Dennis decided to go case a neighborhood that he was really familiar with. He parked on a side street and positioned his vehicle so he could get a good look at a corner house. He liked corner houses because there is less traffic. It was early evening and all the lights were off which meant no one was home. Dennis walked around the house and when he was sure no one was there, he broke the front window, reached in, and unlocked the front door.
Once inside, a dog growled, but didn't seem to cause too much trouble. He saw boxes everywhere and realized that the family was just moving in. Dennis wanted to take some treasures, so he grabbed things like drill bits, small tools, a hatchet, a pen, and a pillowcase to carry the items. Then, he went home to wait for his wife and told her he'd been fired that day. Since Dennis had so much free time now, he decided he should kidnap someone. He had previously attempted to kidnap someone twice, but failed. He was interested in a bank teller from Twin Lakes Bank. He had been there many times before and knew when her lunch hour was and he knew what vehicle was hers. He waited in the lot and when she got to her car, he tried to get inside, but she screamed and fought back. Dennis ended up apologizing and telling the woman that he was just trying to steal a vehicle to leave the area and he ended up walking away, leaving her unharmed.
Dennis was actually signed up for school during this time, the semester just hadn't started yet. He was going to attend Wichita State University on the GI bill. He spent a lot of his free time stalking neighborhoods, watching people, and he couldn't get that house on the corner out of his mind. He bought some rope at a drugstore and now he needed a name for what he was going to do and he referred to the first one as Project Little Mex. He had been stalking the family for weeks and learned their routines. Dennis arrived at the Otero's home at 8:20 AM on January 15th, 1974, because he knew the father of the house always headed to work at 8 AM and the older kids were taken to school. This would leave the mother and small children in the home alone. He jumped the fence and went into the backyard to cut the phone wire. He actually saw prints in the snow from the dog and had second thoughts. Should he risk it? He had never seen the dog while he was stalking this family. He's not afraid of a dog, but they can be unpredictable... So, here comes Dennis, carrying a gun, and the pre-knotted cords. He sees that the garage door is open, he hears voices inside the home, and as he comes trekking through the yard, the back door opened. He grabs Mrs. Otero and brings her back in the house. Her husband comes out of the bedroom and actually thought this was a joke that the brother-in-law put someone up to. He realized very quickly that this wasn't a joke.
Dennis had entered the home wearing an Air Force parka. He told the couple about his years in the Air Force and said he went AWOL and was wanted by the police, but really just needed money for food. Mr. Oteoro told him to take their typewriter and sell it for cash. The dog was barking non-stop by this point, so Dennis had Mr. Otero bring the dog outside. So, Even though Dennis thought he was so clever when he watched the family, he never noticed that they had a dog, and he didn't realize that Mr. Otero was out of work due to an injury. He also wore a ski mask, but forgot to pull it down. He claims that his initial plan really wasn't to kill the couple, but now he had to because they could ID him. He tied everyone up with first-aid adhesive tape, but the family complained that they were going numb because it was so tight. He ended up tying them up with cord instead. Every time someone complained, he loosened, and re-tied the cords. Mr. Otero had cracked ribs, so Dennis put a pillow and a coat under him so he would be more comfortable. I find this really fascinating. He already came to the conclusion that he must murder this family, but he keeps trying to make them more comfortable.
He used pillowcases, socks, and t-shirts to gag all four family members and told them he would call the cops and send them to the house once he left. He began strangling each person, but they were only passing out for a brief time and waking back up. He didn't realize how difficult it actually was to strangle somebody and it took longer than he planned for. He put plastic bags over everyone's heads and started strangling them again. When Mrs. Otero woke back up she started yelling a making a lot of noise. Dennis says he considered leaving at this point, but , unfortunately, he didn't. He strangled Mrs. Otero again and she said, may God have mercy on your soul.
The plastic bags that Dennis brought with him were from the dollar store. There were actually holes in them, so he had to put shirts over the bags to cut off the air supply. All the family members kept waking back up and he spent so long going back to strangle them all, it's awful. His last victim in the house was Josephine and that's because he wanted to hang her. He found a pipe in the basement and carried her down. He initially wanted a photo of her, but she said they didn't have a camera. This part is filthy. Dennis masturbated as Josephine was dying. Then, he went room to room and cleaned up a bit and turned up the thermostat to throw off the time of death, he apparently learned this from a book. Then, he locked the back door and left in the Otero's car. He parked in a thrift store parking lot and threw the keys in a drain. As he was walking away, he realized he didn't have his knife on him. Was it in the car? Or did he leave it at the Otero's home? So, he had to go back to their house and found the knife by the phone line he had cut.
On the afternoon of January 15th, 1974, three teens arrived home from school and found their parents murdered inside. When the police arrived, they found a purse on the floor and it was dumped out. A wallet was lying open in the kitchen. The father, Joseph Otero was on on the floor in the bedroom with his ankles tied with white cord and his hands were bound behind him. When the kids discovered his body, there was rope and a plastic bag over his head and they cut that off of him. The mother, Julie, was lying on the bed and had been strangled. Her ankles were bound and her hands were behind her back. Both bodies were cold and stiff. At this point, the teens didn't realize that two of their siblings had also been murdered in the house as well. In another bedroom, the police found 9 year old Joseph Jr. His hands and ankles were bound with cord from blinds and there was a pillowcase, two plastic bags, and a T-shirt placed over his head. When an officer entered the basement, he bumped into the body of 11 year old Josephine, hanging from a sewer pipe. Her underwear had been pulled down and her bra was cut in the front. A cord was wrapped around her ankles and knees and her hands were behind her back. All of the cords on her were from venetian blinds. The knots were tied in a very specific, expert kind of way and there was semen on her legs. The family dog was tied up in the backyard which was very unusual for this family, but luckily, the dog was unharmed.
It looked like the family had been in the kitchen making lunch. The three teens had been driven to school that morning by their father. He was currently out of work because he had been hurt in an accident. The phone line had been cut, so the teens ran to a neighbors house to call the police. The family's Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser was missing, but was found that evening at Dillons grocery store which is a half mile away. The Otero's had only lived in this home for 9 weeks. The police noticed that there was a chair in the bedroom where Joseph Jr. was murdered and they believed that the murderer sat in the chair to watch him die. Dennis later said that wasn't true, he doesn't know why the chair was in the room.
Even though Dennis really wanted to keep certain items from the murder, he knew he had to get rid of evidence.... why? Because true crime books told him to do that. He didn't think of this on his own. He learned it from books. He had notes and sketches that he worked on as he was stalking the family and he also had left over rope, so he burned it all, but he did keep the bloodstained Air Force parka. He figured if it ever came up, he would say he wore the parka while hunting. He began writing in a journal to document all of his murders. This is where he first chose his “serial killer name” BTK bind, torture, kill. He wrote about his first murders and said his brain was on fire and there was so much pressure in his head. He didn't understand why other murderers hadn't described this post-murder experience. He cut out newspaper articles about the Oteros and put them in his new hidey hole located in the back of the shed so his wife wouldn't find anything.
For the next several weeks, Dennis followed people around town and prowled neighborhoods during his free time. He referred to this as his projects or Pjs. He was ready to murder again because he wanted to feel that rush. One day, in between his classes, he spotted Kathryn Bright at her mailbox and disgustingly, he says she fit his fantasy profile. Dennis became absolutely fixated on Kathryn, especially when he realized that her house and street number had 3's in it. He was obsessed with the number 3. He decided to call this, Project Lights Out. He put everything he needed in his car and casually headed to class as normal. Afterwards, he changed his clothes and put on the Air Force parka. He put on leather gloves because he saw a move with Jack Nickelson who played a hit man. As he headed to Kathryn's house, he carried some books because he was planning to tell her he was a student looking for a tutor to get her to open the door. She wasn't home, so he broke in and waited. When Kathryn arrived home, she was with a male. This was now the second time that Dennis had planned a murder and a male was in the home which is something he hadn't planned for. This is also the second time that he showed up with a mask and didn't wear it.
Kathryn and her brother, Kevin, entered the house and Dennis did his whole wanted fugitive act. He pointed a gun at Kevin and made him tie his sister up in the back bedroom, then he told them he needed money. Dennis tied Kevin to the bedpost, then he moved Kathryn to another room. He headed back to Kevin, turned the radio on, and planned to strangle him, but Kevin fought back, so Dennis shot him. He heads back to Kathryn and starts strangling her, but he hears movement in the other room and realizes Kevin isn't dead. He heads back to Kevin and he actually broke free from his restraints and they fought over the gun. Dennis shot Kevin for a second time and he fell to the floor. Then, he punched him in the mouth and knocked some teeth out. This hadn't panned out the way Dennis had planned at all. He didn't want to shoot Kevin because he knew that would make Kathryn fight back if she heard this.
Dennis tried to tell Kathryn that he did shoot Kevin and he was going to survive, but she fought back. He had lost control of the situation, so he began stabbing Kathryn. Then, he heard Kevin escape out the front door, so he had to start cleaning up fast. Kevin knew that their only chance at survival was to call for help and that's exactly what he did.
On April 4th, 1974, Kathryn Bright was discovered in a pool of blood. She had mutliple stab wounds, but was able to provide her name and age to the police before passing out. Nylon stockings were tied to her wrists and ankles, and there was a cord and a blue scarf around her neck. In Kathryn's house, the radio was on and her purse had been dumped out. Her underwear drawer was open and the phone had been disconnected from the wall. Next to the closet, the police found some shirts that were tied to a blood-soaked nightgown and there were two teeth on top. A red garment was tied to the bed, a bullet hole was in the bathroom door, and pieces of a small caliber bullet were nearby. A chair in the back bedroom had stockings tied to it and it was soaked in blood. The glass had been broken on the back door and plastic cord had been discovered in Kathryn's father's car. Her brother, Kevin, was shot twice and had cord around his neck. Unfortunately, after being rushed to the hospital, Kathryn died during surgery. She had been strangled and stabbed 11 times. Kevin survived the attack and was able to provide a pretty accurate description of Dennis and mentioned that he was profusely sweating during the attack.
Dennis had to rush home before his wife got there to clean up. He had bloody clothes and weapons that he needed to hide, so he went to his parent's house and found hiding places there since they weren't home. He decided their place had better Hidey Holes, so he moved all of his “treasures” to their house and he added Kathryn's ID to the box. Not only did he stash shit at their place, but he did all of his bondage stuff at their home when they were out of town.
When you hear about serial killers, it's often brought up that the MO doesn't change, but it already changed quite a bit between his first two murders. The police didn't believe there could be a connection initially. Even the knots used to tie up the victims were different. Dennis kept a close eye on the news that came out about this case and figured he may have to kill Kevin, but he was never able to come up with a perfect plan for this. He had to lay low for a bit, so he got some detective magazines where they show pictures of girls tied up. He would cut out the pictures and add tape over their mouths. Dennis did break into a few homes and found a few victims to stalk in his spare time. He found a woman in one of his classes at WSU and he followed her home. He called her Project Co-ed, but he found out she lived with her parents, so he wasn't able to do anything. He found someone else to stalk and called her Project Milo. He broke into her home, but found a lot of male items and figured she had a husband or boyfriend, so he left.
One thing about Dennis is that he was obviously obsessed with studying other serial killers, but he also desperately wanted the credit for his kills. At one point, three men were suspected in the Otero murders, one of them confessed, and this drove Dennis crazy. He didn't want to get caught, but he didn't want someone else getting the credit. He decided to play a cat and mouse game to make sure the police knew they had the wrong guys. On October 22nd, 1974, Dennis called Don Granger, a columnist at the Wichita Eagle. He disguised his voice and tells Granger that he needed to go to the library and look inside the book called Applied Engineering Mechanics. There would be a letter about the Otero murders that proved police had the wrong guys. Granger gave the tip to the police and they did indeed find a letter. Dennis wrote this with his typewriter and the grammar is off, but I want to read it exactly how he said it.
"I write this letter to you for the sake of the tax payer as well as your time. Those three dude you have in custody are just talking to get publicity for the Otero murders. They know nothing at all. I did it by myself and with no ones help. There has been no talk either. Let's put this straight...." (Dennis input details about each victim that hadn't been in the papers. It's information that we have already gone over.)
"I'm sorry this happen to society. They are the ones who suffer the most. It hard to control myself. You probably call me 'psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.' When 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 well as society. Society can be thankful that there are ways for people like me to relieve myself at time by day dreams of some victims being torture and being mine. 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 sometimes 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"
Although the letter was unsigned, it contained this postscript:
"P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code word for me will be....Bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim."