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
In Part 1: Dennis Rader's mom fell off a horse when she was pregnant with him, dropped him on his head when he was a baby, and he had a major head injury when he was in a car accident. He was working for Cessna in the electrical department in 1974, but he ended up being laid off and this was a huge blow to his ego. Now that he had too much time on his hands, he was able to stalk people and prowl around neighborhoods. On January 15th, 1974, Dennis entered the Otero's home and murdered Julie Marie Otero, Joseph Otero, Joseph Jr. Otero, and Josephine Otero. He entered the home wearing an Air Force parka and pretended that the went AWOL and was wanted by the police. He ended up losing his knife and had to drive back tot he scene of the crime to find it. On April 4th, 1974, Dennis went inside Kathryn Bright's home and waited for her. Kathryn and her brother Kevin arrived home and Dennis put on his wanted fugitive act. Kathryn passed away after being stabbed 11 times and strangled, but her brother Kevin survived and was able to give a description of Dennis. Police found three people that may be responsible for the Otero murders and one guy confessed. This made Dennis very angry because he didn't want someone else taking credit for his murders, so he wrote a letter to the police that provided details that only the murderer would know and that's where we left off.
As you can imagine, people around town were getting really freaked out and there was an increased demand for security systems. Dennis got a job INSTALLING SECURITY SYSTEMS. He got the job with ADT in 1974 and would install security systems at homes and businesses during the day, then he would go to school at night. His wife Paula worked at the VA and they were both youth leaders in church. They did very normal things together. They discussed future dreams/goals, watched the news, and read the paper together. Dennis did get too paranoid and Paula was noticing the changes.
The police placed an ad in the Wichita Eagle's personal section and it was addressed to BTK. It said Help is available and a phone number was listed. Dennis loved that they were taking him seriously. This is the attention he craved, but he knew he couldn't call the number and he also didn't want police to realize that there was a connection between both of his murders. He had only admitted to the Otero murders, but couldn't say anything about Kathryn since Kevin Bright was still alive. He didn't want the police to increase their efforts to find him. Even though he was thrilled with the attention he received from the police in the paper, his behavior became more erratic. He would watch the road in front of his house and wait with a loaded shotgun. He also carried a gun in the vehicle, but his wife got upset when she found out about all the guns, so he had to hide them all from her.
Dennis liked living a double life and calls this cubed which basically means he compartmentalizes things in his mind. He was able to lead a normal looking life with his wife and have non-BDSM sex with her, but had harsh fantasies about other women that he stalked. He describes how he often wondered if one of the students in his class could be an undercover police officer, so he had to be careful. He really started hiding shit all over town though. He would find photos of women being tied up and he would copy it, print it small and put it on a 3x5 card. His hidey holes weren't just at his parent's house anymore. He was hiding things at church, in a shed, an abandoned farm, a crawlspace in his house, and even a bank deposit box. On the flip side, he was trying to have a baby with his wife and that winter, she was indeed pregnant. Paula was 26 at this point and Dennis was 29. Their first baby, Brian was born July 26th, 1975 and Paula left the VA to be a stay at home mom. It didn't take long for Paula to get pregnant again and this ended up being problematic for Dennis. He wanted a family, but he was getting that itch again. He wanted to commit more murders, but it was more difficult now that his wife was always home.
One night, Dennis did see a woman in her home alone and decided he wanted to go in. He cut the phone line, but luckily, the neighbor's dog bark and he changed his mind a left. On August 11th, 1976, Dennis saw a trailer for sale and named this project trailer. He noticed that the woman selling the trailer was alone and he was going to pretend to be interested in it. On this same exact day, a sniper started shooting downtown from the Wichita Holiday Inn and police were everywhere, so Dennis had to give up on his trailer plan.
It was decided that the next hit would be in March simply because it's the 3rd month and he was also on spring break at school. On March 17th, 1977, He followed a few women, but the first attempts didn't work out. As he was prowling neighborhoods, he saw a young boy and figured he may be heading home to his mom. Dennis pulled out a picture of his wife and baby and pretended he was looking for them and spoke to the child. He watched the boy head to his house and he followed him. Dennis knocked on the door and the young boy and his brother answered. He told the boys he was a detective looking for a lady and her baby. Shirley Vian, the boys' mother showed up at the door to see what was going on. Dennis pointed a gun at Shirley and forced his way into the house. He skipped the wanted fugitive act and said he had problems with sexual fantasies and needed to tie her up. He attempted to tie the kids up first, but they started crying and he got frustrated. He locked the kids in the bathroom instead and gave them toys and blankets.
As Dennis was tying up Shirley, she vomited, so he helped her before tying her up again. He taped her arms behind her back and tied her legs to the bedpost. He put a rope and bag over her head and strangled her. The kids were banging on the bathroom door begging Dennis to leave their mother alone. The phone rang and it startled him. The family had mentioned that the neighbor was supposed to stop by and check on them because Shirley had been sick that day. He originally planned on targeting the kids next, but now he had to pack up and get out quickly. The police found Shirley, lying naked and face down on the mattress. A plastic bag was over her head, she was tied up, and the shades were all shut. Her boys, ages 6 and 8, were locked in the bathroom with their younger sister, but the boys were able to break the bathroom window and run to the neighbor's for help.
Dennis took some of Shirley's underwear for his Hidey Hole. He didn't just leave his stuff hidden all the time though. He occasionally wore the items from his victims and would pretend he was them during his bondage. While he was at school, he studied poetry and decided to write a horrendously cringey poem about the murder of Shirley Vian.
Wilt thou be mine
Thou shalt not scream
Not yet fee the line
But lay on a cushion
And think of me and death
And how it is going to be
In December of 1977, Dennis was on the prowl again and found a woman, and named this Project Fox Hunt. He stalked Nancy Fox and learned her routines. Once he was ready, he showed up at her house, cut the phone lines, broke in through a window, and waited in her kitchen. When Nancy arrived home and saw Dennis, he told her he traveled a lot, had sexual issues, and wanted to tie her up, take pictures of her, and have sex. Nancy was obviously upset by this and they talked for awhile, but she eventually said ok let's just get this over with so I can call the police afterwards. As usual, Dennis wasn't wearing a mask, so he knew he had to make sure she was dead. Nancy was cuffed to the bed and strangled with a belt. She was able to grab his penis and squeezed hard, but this backfired because this turned him on more. Dennis put pantyhose around Nancy's neck and then he masturbated into her nightgown. He took some of Nancy's clothing, jewelry and her ID. Then, he cleaned up the house and turned up the thermostat before he left.
The next day, Dennis called the police and provided Nancy's address so they could discover her body. He covered the payphone with his handkerchief to disguise his voice, but he didn't hangup the phone when he was done so they were at least able to trace the location of the call. In January, Dennis actually decided to add some details to his Shirleylocks poem, but he left it lying out and his wife found it. She questioned him and he was like, oh, I'm studying BTK in school, so it's a project for that. She dropped the subject, but he was feeling pretty antsy because there hadn't been any recent BTK coverage. He wrote a two page letter that included a poem and a drawing of Nancy Fox and signed it BTK. The letter was sent to a local TV station KAKE-TV. A receptionist ended up opening the letter on February 10th and saw that BTK was taking responsibility for the murders of the Oteros, Shirley Vian, Nancy Fox, and an unidentified victim. The poem inside was titled
Oh! Death To Nancy
What is this that I can see
Cold icy hands taking hold of me
For death has come, you all can see
Hell has open it's gates 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 bind your legs 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
The letter that was attached was even more horrifying and I don't think that poor receptionist was paid enough to receive this at work. It mainly provided details of all of his murders and said more were coming. Even though he chose the name BTK for himself, he clearly wasn't sold on it because he actually included a list of other names and asked which one they liked. This part of the letter says, “PS. How about some name for me, it's time. I like the following, how about you?
The BTK Strangler
The Bondage Strangler
The Wichita Hangman
The Wichita Executioner
The Garote Phantom
Project Iron Mountain took place in Salina, Kansas. Dennis was doing a job for ADT in the area and he saw a couple leaving a house. He hadn't planned this one or even stalked the couple, it was an impulsive move. Later that evening, he was waiting inside the house and the man entered first. The woman ended up stopping outside to chat with a neighbor, so the whole thing was botched. Dennis pointed his gun at the man and demanded his keys. He took off in their vehicle and then ditched it once he got close enough to his work vehicle. Project Steaks and Ale was next and the name matches a restaurant that was nearby. Dennis stalked this woman for awhile. In 1978 to 1979 he focused on Project Waco and this woman lived in a corner house. He waited inside and when she walked through the door, he grabbed her and she screamed, so he got scared and left.
Paula, his wife, was still home all the time because she was raising their child. When she did leave the home for awhile, Dennis liked to dress up in women's lingerie and he would role play that he was the victim. One day, Paula came back to the house to get something and caught Dennis. She was extremely upset, but didn't necessarily know how to process what she had seen and her biggest concern was if this would harm their children somehow. She ended up speaking to a professional and buying self-help books. She sort of accepted things and they never talked about it. On June 19th, 1978, their second child was born and they named her Kerri Lynn.
Police were getting many tips, but nothing was panning out. They were urging people to keep their windows and doors locked. On April 28th, 1979, Anna Williams discovered that someone had been inside her home and cut her phone line. The intruder entered thorough the basement window, clothes and wire were next to the bed, and money and jewelry were missing. The police didn't have any leads and didn't realize this was the work of BTK until June 15th. Anna Williams received a package in the mail that was addressed to her deceased husband. Her daughter opened the package and found a photocopied poem, a drawing of a woman who was bound and being sexually violated, and a scarf and piece of jewelry that belonged to Anna.
Twas perfect plan of deviant pleasure so bold on that spring night
My inner feeling hot with pro-pension of the new awakening season
Warn, wet with inner fear and rapture, my pleasure of entanglement, like new vines so tight
Oh, Anna, why didn't you appear
Drop of fear fresh spring rain would roll down from your nakedness
to scent to lofty fever that burns within
In that small world of longing, fear, rapture, and desperation, the games we play, fall on devils ears
Fantasy spring forth, mounts, to storm fury, then winter calm at the end
Oh Anna, why didn't you appear
Alone, now in another time span I lay with sweet enrapture
Garments across most private thought
Bed of spring moist grass, clean before the sun, enslaved with control, warm wind scenting the air, sun light sparkle tears in eyes so deep and clear
Alone again I trod in pass memory of mirrors, and ponder why you number eight was not.
Oh Anna why didn't you appear.
A similar envelope had been dropped off to KAKE TV at 4AM the day prior to these items being received. Dennis handed the letter to the receptionist and it had a copy of the poem, drawing, and a few items that belonged to Anna. There was also a BTK symbol included. Anna was 63 years old and she wasn't actually the main target. Her 24 year old granddaughter was the one that caught Dennis' attention. He saw a vehicle in the garage and assumed someone was home, but Anna didn't return until 11 PM, so he ended up leaving. Dennis claims he scribbled a message on the mirror that was missed. He says that when he got drunk at bars, he also liked to write on bathroom mirrors in small letters saying BTK was here. Police may not have seen a message in the mirror, but they did notice that many of the communications from Dennis were photocopied. They reached out to the Xerox Corporation to figure out where the messages were being copied. He had actually used several different copiers for his letters and just graduated from school anyways.
He was still working at ADT and spending a lot of time at the church. There was another incident where Paula caught Dennis in his bondage and she told him if he ever did that in the house again, she was filing for divorce. He started doing bondage in their shed and also when he was away on work trips. His son also joined the boy scouts and Dennis became a scout leader. He didn't harm anyone for several years at this point. He had been in Anna's house in 1979 and was inactive until 1984. They were coming up on the 10 year anniversary of the Otero murders and investigators still wanted to know who BTK was. The FBI profilers studied the crime scene photos and letters that Dennis had sent and they came up with a list of characteristics they believed fit this person.
The killer was:
Read detective magazines and liked porn
Drove around or prowled
He was a lone wolf type
Had an ordinary car
Lived near the area of his murders
Worked at a job where he wore a uniform and probably did well at his job
Had military training and was interested in law enforcement
People may notice that this person was critical of cops and especially critical about the investigation of BTK
For the most part, Dennis had always tried to make sure that there wasn't a tie between him and his victims. Everything changed in 1984. 53 year old Marine Hedge lived down the street from Dennis and they didn't have any interactions together, but she would wave when she saw him. He knew that Marine lived alone and decided she was the next target. If police are looking for the same MO, he would change it up. Dennis called this Project Cookie and he used Boy Scouts as his cover. On April 26th, 1985, he parked his car on a hill near the camp so he could easily sneak out without being noticed. He kept his murder items in a bowling bag and eventually told the Boy Scouts that he had a headache and wanted to go to bed.
He left the camp and headed to a bowling alley, ordered a beer, and waited. After being there for awhile, he called a cab to bring him to Park City and he swirled beer in his mouth and splashed it on his face so the driver would think he was drunk. When the taxi driver got close to his neighborhood, he said he actually wanted to get out and walk the rest of the way. He walked a block to Marine's house and cut her phone line. He crept inside the house and realized she wasn't actually home like he thought she was. Dennis heard voices and a car door being shut. He quickly ran and hid in a closet. Marine entered the home with a male friend which didn't please Dennis, but he stayed hidden until the man left. Marine went to bed and Dennis waited until she was in a deep sleep before entering her room. When he flipped on the light, Marine screamed and jumped out of bed. Dennis says he strangled her right away, then he took her clothes off and tied her up. Then he went through her purse and got a glass of water. This part of the book sounds so stupid. Dennis is always like, I cut the telephone lines, that's my trademark. Now, he says oh, I got a glass of water, that's my trademark. Are you kidding me right now?
Dennis stole Marine's car keys, drivers license, some jewelry, and a few pairs of underwear. This is where things get really different in comparison to his other murders. He wrapped Marine in blankets and carried her body to the car. He drove her vehicle to Christ Lutheran Church, covered the windows, and brought her body in the church. He posed Marine in many horrific ways and did a whole photo shoot. When the sun was starting to come up that morning, he drove to an area where people dump their trash and he left Marine's body in the ditch. Dennis ditched her car, went back to the bowling alley to get his car, then drove back to the church to clean up quick. As he drove back to the Boy Scouts camp, he threw some of Marine's items out the window. He did end up having to go back to Marine's body at one point because he left the cord around her neck and that would have tipped the police off that BTK was the killer since he used that previously.
Marine Hedge worked at a coffee shop and people were concerned when she didn't show up for her shift. A coworker called her son and he dropped by his mother's house and noticed that her car wasn't there. He wasn't too worried initially, but when he found out she wasn't home or at work the next day, he contacted the police. On May 2nd, Marine's car was found at a shopping center, it was muddy, bu the inside was wiped clean. Marine's body was later discovered in a ditch and her friend that was last seen at her home became the main suspect.
Dennis Rader's daughter, Kerri remembers the night of Marine's murder because it was really stormy and her father wasn't home because he was camping with Boy Scouts. When she found out that her neighbor had been murdered, she was terrified, but her dad kept reassuring her that the family would be safe.