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 2: The town was freaking out as details of BTK were being discussed and there was an increased demand for security systems, so Dennis got a job installing them with ADT. The police placed an ad in the paper addressed to BTK and said that help was available and listed a phone number. Dennis and his wife had two kids, Briand and Kerri, but this ended up becoming a problem for Dennis because now his wife was home all the time. On March 17th, 1977, he murdered Shirley Vian while her children were locked in a bathroom nearby. In December of 1977, he broke into Nancy Fox's apartment, murdered her, and turned the thermostat up when he left. He called the police the next day so they could discover her body. Dennis sent a letter that included a poem to a local TV station and decided he really liked this cat and mouse game he was playing with the police. On April 26th, 1985, he murdered Marine Hedge who actually lived right down the street. He drug her body out of the home, took pictures of her in a church, then dumped her body in a ditch. This murder terrified Dennis' daughter Kerri because it was so close to home, but her father kept reassuring her that she was safe.
Since he was actually so busy with work, the church, and the boy scouts, he had to change things up by prowling on his lunch breaks. Project Piano was next because he heard the piano being played when he prowled around the house. On September 16th, 1986, Dennis went to the door of Vicki Wegerle (WAGERLY) and asked if he could come in to check her phone lines and she agreed. When he went inside, he saw a baby in a playpen and heard dogs barking. Dennis pretended to check the phone line and ended up pulling a gun on Vicki. She started crying and talked about the baby and mentioned her husband was on his way home for lunch.
Vicki was lead to the bedroom and tied up with stockings, but she broke free and fought back and was able to scratch his face up. Dennis strangled Vicki with stockings, took a few items from her home and left in a hurry. The baby was unharmed and Dennis left in Vicki's vehicle. At 11:45 AM Vicki's husband, Gordon called 911to report that his wife had been murdered. Gordon had been driving home for his lunch break and saw someone driving his Monte Carlo in the opposite direction. Gordon used a knife to cut the nylons and shoelace from his wife's neck and he became the prime suspect in her murder.
Dennis estimates that more than 30 of his “projects” happened during this time due to prowling during work hours. Many of them didn't turn into murders and one time he was attempting to break into a home and the couple came home, so he had to leave. There was a gruesome murder that Dennis didn't commit, but he sent a letter to the police to stir the pot and throw them off. In the summer of 1988, Dennis lost his ADT job. As we've seen previously, it's a terrible problem when he has extra time on his hands. Also, at this time, his wife, Paula, became the main bread winner in the household and that was a huge blow to Dennis' ego. He didn't like it when women were viewed as more powerful than him.
He did apply for jobs though.....it just might not be what you'd expect. Dennis wanted to be a police officer. He applied to the Witchita PD, the Sheriff's department, and highway patrol. He was turned down by all three and assumed it was due to his age. He got a job with the Census, but it was very temporary. He was in and out work, had a lot of extra time, and even had to be home with the kids for awhile.
Dennis liked to secretly bind himself. He dug holes or graves and would sit in them while being wrapped in plastic. He set his camera up to take the photos of him when he was tied up. It got to the point where he couldn't control himself anywhere. When he went on Boy Scout trips, they would all split up to find items to build their teepees. Dennis hoist himself upside down in a tree for a little “alone time” or self-gratification. He also became a regular at local motels and was involved in many sex parties. He often went there on his own do do his self-bondage. I don't want to dive too deep into this part, but feel free to read the book if you're looking for that information. I will say that he would rig a rope and pulley system in the bathtubs at these motels. Dennis says that as the water dripped into the bucket, the rope tightened around the plastic bag on his head. When something is highly arousing to him like this, he calls it Sparky Big Time.
Dennis was zeroing in on his next victim. He had been prowling around the Davis home for awhile and named this Project Dogside because there were dog kennels nearby. It had been about 4 years since his last murder and this wasn't the only person he was targeting. There was a lady at his church who lost her husband and he was planning to zero in on her, but became obsessed with Dolores Davis instead. On Pancake Scout Day, Dennis stayed at the church overnight to set up in the morning. He had a little sparky big time in Sunday school room, then he walked to the Davis home. Dolores was inside reading and he waited until she went to bed. He actually couldn't find an easy way into the house, so he threw a cinder block through the glass door. Dolores came running to the door and asked if he drove his car into her house. He of course did his wanted man bullshit and Dolores said she was expecting someone, so Dennis decided he had to rush now.
He tied Dolores up and went to the kitchen for water, because you know, that's his signature thing. He went back to the bedroom and Dolores begged him to leave her alone, but he strangled her with pantyhose. He put her in a blanket and placed her in the trunk of the car and left her body in the bushes by a lake. He went back to the church and hid items from the murder there. Then, he brought the car back to Dolores' house and when he was there, he realized he had left his gun behind. He took her driver's license and jewelry and this is where he changes his MO again. He drove back to the lake in his station wagon and took Dolores' body. He originally planned to bring her to an old barn, but it was foggy and snowy, so he couldn't find his way there. He put Dolores under a bridge and figured this would keep her out of the elements and he could come back for photos later.
On January19th, 1991, officers were sent to the home of Dolores Davis for a possible robbery. A friend of hers stopped by because he was supposed to do some work on her car. The friend noticed the broken glass door and saw her vehicle in the driveway, but knew she always parked in the garage. Police found a purple hairnet outside and the car keys were on the garage roof. A rug was in the trunk of the car, and there were sheets and a mattress pad in a culvert nearby. Police didn't realize it at the time, but a piece of Dennis' gun was mixed in the broken glass door that shattered. The area near the home was being searched for clues and the police were also stopping anyone that looked suspicious or out of place and they actually stopped Dennis.
He told the Scout leader that he had a headache and needed to go get pills, so he left the camp for a bit. He was really going out to pick up some of the items he had ditched after the murder. Afterwards, he stopped at a rest stop to change his clothes. While he was on the toilet, a highway patrol officer said he needed to talk to him. He was questioned, but ultimately told the officer that he was a scout leader and just stopped to change clothes. If the officer had searched the vehicle, he would have found all of the items that were stolen from Delores. Right after this close call, Dennis actually headed to the bridge where he left Delores' body. He put a mask on her and took several photos.
On February 1st, a boy was out walking his dog and found Dolores under a bridge. Pantyhose were still around her neck and knees, a hand painted porcelain mask was near her, and animals had eaten parts of her face, hands, and feet. After this, Dennis decided to lay low for a bit. He figured the officer that stopped him at the rest stop would have ran his license plate and he didn't want to be connected to anything. He attempted to find a job, but was having a tough time. He claims that he considered ending his life for awhile, but in May of 1991, he got a full time job as a compliance officer. He would be enforcing Park City's ordinances. He was so glad that his new job came with a file cabinet that locks, a new Hidey Hole! In all seriousness, he was actually hiding things everywhere. He even planned to create hiding spots in the kids' tree house, but he didn't get around to it. Dennis had to carry cards with him that listed where he was hiding everything because he was burying evidence all over town.
In January of 2004, a reporter for the Wichita Eagle published a story about the Oteros because it had been 30 years unsolved. The writer mentioned that someone was working on writing a book about BTK and boy oh boy did this catch Dennis' attention. In March, Hurst Laviana, the newspaper reporter, received a letter from Bill Thomas Killman (BTK). The letter was mailed on March 17th which is the anniversary of Shirley Vian's murder. There were 3 Polaroid photos of a woman bound and Vicki Wegerle's license was included. There was a series of letters at the top of the page and a BTK symbol in the right hand corner. The return address was linked to an abandoned building. The police never took photos of the scene at Vicki's murder, so this was obviously straight from the murderer himself. Robert Beattie was the one working on a BTK book and the series of symbols or letters at the top of the page from BTK said, Let Beattie know for his book.
On May 4th, 2004, Dennis sent a coded letter to KAKE TV from Thomas B Kingman that included two handmade ID cards and a photocopy of a special officer badge. Around the same time, a postal worker also found a police badge in a drop box. Dennis decided that if a book was being written about him, he wanted it to be factual. On June 13th, a clear plastic bag was taped to a stop sign and had a letter detailing the Otero murders. At the end, he warned that the games were over and he was considering his next hit. In his letters, he acted as if he was talking to his fans. As more things came out in the news about BTK, his daughter Kerri was getting very upset and scared and his wife noticed there was a similarity in the words that were misspelled in the BTK letters. They were obviously warning people that the killer could blend in, but how could it be her husband? In fact, he had just been elected Vice President at Christ Lutheran and was eligible to be president next.
On July 17th, a library employee found a bag with 5 pieces of paper from BTK. BTW he calls these letters a BTK flash gram. Anyways, he spun some awful story about a 19 year old who had been murdered named Jake Allen. Dennis said he talked online with Jake and murdered him, but police found out he was lying. Jake hadn't had any communication with someone online. At this time, Dennis was 59 years old and decided that he wanted to retire from murdering soon. He planned to do just two more murders so it was an even 12, but anything past that would be excessive. He started stalking a woman to learn her routine and decided to break into her home on October 22nd. Dennis knew the woman would be home on her lunch break, so he headed over, but to his surprise, there was a work crew working on the street nearby, so he couldn't commit the murder. Later that day, a UPS driver found a plastic bag with BTK field grams and Dennis says he did this to stir the pot. The letter was sent with the expectation that he would have been successful in the planned murder that afternoon. Dennis provided many details about his childhood and basically put the blame on his mother for turning him into a serial killer.
On December 8th, Dennis called a Quick Trip and said there was a bomb left there. It wasn't a bomb. Inside the package was a doll with the hands bound behind it's back. Nancy Fox's driver's license was tied to the dolls ankle. Around this time, America's Most Wanted aired an episode about BTK, so you know he was to send more letters. On January 5th, 2005, KAKE TV received a postcard that had the Otero's address on it. The note gave a specific location where a cereal box could be located. Dennis also had a request. He said he wanted someone to figure out a way to communicate back to him that the cereal box had been found. The police did find another box and there was a doll hung from a PVC pipe inside. The note said that there was also a package let at a nearby Home Depot. So, police head to Home Depot and an employee said they found a cereal box in the bed of his pickup truck. Inside the box was a blue beaded necklace and a note, but he threw it away. Luckily, they were able to locate the box in the trash. The note inside said, “The BTK Story” “An Organized serial killer did the murders , it is the true sadistic sexual killer profile that happened here”.
The cereal box that had been thrown away actually had the most important information for two reasons. First, police checked the Home Depot security cameras and while it was horrendously grainy, they were able to see a man exiting a dark colored SUV and this was the first time they had seen a glimpse of the murderer. Also, there was a note in the box labeled communication. Dennis said he wanted to communicate safely with the police. He planned to start sending things to them on a floppy disk and wanted to know if this would be safe and he tells the police to be honest. If it's safe, he wanted the police to place an ad in the paper that said, Rex, it will be ok. Since he's basically 10, he chose the name Rex because it rhymes with sex. He also sent his letters in cereal boxes because he thought it was so funny. Cereal boxes, serial killer. But wait, it gets more dumb. He used Raisin Bran for the B. Post Toasties for the T. Special K for the K. Dennis had questioned an officer named Randy Stone about the safety of communicating via email and learned that it's traceable. He believed that floppy disks were different and was really excited to share more of his story.
A new BTK task force was assembled and analysts studied the information they received to determine the following: The murderer lived locally, had a dark SUV, was likely a white male around 60 years old, had military experience, and had some kind of tie to Wichita State University. The police ran an ad in the paper assuring Dennis that floppy disks weren't traceable. He was really pumped because it would be so much easier to use a computer and stop copying things over and over. Unfortunately, his home computer wasn't working, but the church computer sure was. Since Dennis had recently been elected president of the congregation, he was able to use the computer whenever he needed.
On February 16th, police received a floppy disk and their computer expert was able to determine that this was sent by Dennis. How did they figure this out? In the properties section of the disk it said Dennis. He had signed into the church computer with a password that was linked to his name. The police were able to see that the disk was created at Christ Lutheran Church and when they did a google search, Dennis popped up as the president and they got his address. The police headed to the church to talk to the pastor and he said that Dennis Rader had recently used the church computer. He confirmed he was a compliance officer, graduated from Wichita State University, and had a military background. The pieces were all starting to fit together. Dennis: father, husband, family man, boy scout leader, and church president was the serial killer.
Dennis had absolutely no idea about the recent developments in this case, so his ass was at home working on another doll and communication. He thought he was outsmarting everyone. The police wanted to make sure they had everything in order before they went after Dennis, so the task force spent time watching him. Just like he had stalked others and learned their routines, the police did the same thing to him. The police also found out that his daughter, Kerri had recently been in the hospital, so they got a subpoena for her DNA and it was a familial match to the semen left at the Otero's, Nancy Fox's apartment, and Vicki Wegerle's fingernail clippings. On February 25th, the police got search warrants for Dennis' home, church, and office. Since they had been watching him, they saw that he went home on his lunch break at the same time everyday and that's when they wanted to get him. A whole fleet of marked and unmarked police vehicles lined one of the streets on his route. At 12:15 PM, Dennis turned the corner and was pulled over by two detectives, swarmed, and handcuffed.
Dennis just couldn't believe that police had lied to him about the floppy disk. After his arrest, he got to meet the man that found his name on the disk. It was Randy Stone, the officer that gave him advice about email security. When he realized they already had a DNA match, he just started confessing to everything. He was interviewed for 30 overs over the next two days. He said that he was normally a pretty nice guy, but he murdered for his sexual fantasies. He said that if he hadn't been caught, he was planning to send a doll with a bomb next. He hoped that it would cause a dilemma for them. Should they figure out how to disassemble the bomb to preserve the evidence? Or just let the bomb go off? Then he would include a play production with a final curtain call because he thought it would be funny. It would be named BTK Productions.
Dennis was booked into Sedgwick County Jail and he drew several maps to show police where his hidey holes were. They didn't find everything, but in the end, it didn't really matter. They had evidence to charge him with 8 murders, but he confessed to all 10 and let them know that he had been working on his 11th. Dennis was given a psychological assessment for competency to see if he could stand trial. It was determined that he had narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and hypergraphia which is a behavioral condition characterized by the intense desire to write or draw. It was noted that he showed a lack of empathy for his victims, and he had a sense of grandiosity or an unrealistic sense of superiority, like you can only be understood by people that are equally as special as you. He had a strong need for admiration and attention, and showed a high sense of entitlement. He was also obsessed with rules, patterns, and structure. Dennis was ultimately found competent to stand trial. He agreed with most of the assessment and said he was narcissistic, but he rejected the theory that he had hypergraphia.
Pastor Michael Clark from the Christ Lutheran Church was completely blown away when Dennis was arrested. He wholeheartedly believed that the police had the wrong guy. Once Dennis confessed, Pastor Clark began coming to terms with things, but figured he must be possessed by demons. He brought this theory up to Dennis and did many interviews with him. Pastor Clark was working close with someone on a book about Dennis and this actually made him feel completely betrayed.
On the morning of June 27th, people were swarming the packed courtroom just waiting to hear what Dennis would say. Judge Gregory Waller asked for his plea and Dennis said guilty. Judge Waller read 10 counts of murder and Dennis said guilty to all of them. In a very flat tone, Dennis launched into the full story and described his murders. During the sentencing phase in August, DA Foulston showed a PowerPoint that included many photos of Dennis in various states of self-bondage. I will say that there was a photo included in the book and I was shocked because it was so unexpected. Dennis is kneeling on the ground and he's on a blanket. A belt is fastened around his thighs, and he's wearing black female underwear and a bra with pantyhose around his chest and most likely tied around his hands which were behind his back. There's a white garment or towel draped over his head and the caption reads: Rader in self-bondage.Courtesy of the office of the District Attorney. Courtesy, as if they are doing us a service? I could have gone without, but thanks.
Dennis said he was really embarrassed when they showed his self-bondage photos, but when he provided a statement, he explained how he had so much in common with many of his victims. He received 10 consecutive life sentences to be served at the El Dorado Correctional Facility for a minimum of 175 years before the possibility of parole. His wife divorced him and the family house went up for auction. When Dennis had been held at Sedgwick County Jail, the inmates referred to him as the Podfather and he thought this was hilarious. Things weren't as funny to him when he got moved to El Dorado in August 2005. Inmates in segregation are locked up for 23 hours a day and only get an hour a day for exercise. They also do not receive TV, newspaper, or radio privileges right away, you have to earn it.
Even though Dennis rejected the previous theory that he obsessively keeps notes, he obsessively keeps notes.... He actually writes down the details of each day including what he ate. In one entry he wrote: Today, Oatmeal, 2 turkey sausage patties, a biscuit, juice, and milk. He claims that he had done a lot of reflecting and will forever be haunted by the last words of two of his victims. Kathryn Bright said I can't breathe, help me and Julie Otero said, May God have mercy on your soul. Dennis says he knows many people will not believe that he feels sorrow and shame about he murders. When Stephen King learned about this case, he published a story called “A Good Marriage” which was loosely based on Dennis Rader and his wife. King explained that it's a story about what he believes Paula Rader must have experienced when she found out her husband was a serial killer.
Over the years, Dennis watched many movies and read books that caused him to find similarities in himself. He said he wanted to understand how he could care so deeply for some people such as friends or family, but also be able to murder others. He has an actual dent across the top of his head that's about 4 to 5 inches long and wonders if he has a brain defect. Could something have happened to his brain when he was dropped on his head as a child, when his mom fell off the horse when she was pregnant, or could her smoking during pregnancy cause damage? He has studied other serial killers and just feels that his personality traits and upbringing don't make sense. Many murderers have traumatic or abusive child hoods or are neglected. Dennis acknowledges that he really did have a good child hood and both of his parents loved him. He hopes that the book can help those that study criminal minds to gain a better understanding.
Dennis has never been formally diagnosed with anything because he only received a series of simple tests to see if he was fit to stand trial. Many specialists that have reviewed his letters have all agreed that he has hypergraphia which could point to possible developmental issues and learning disabilities. Today, Dennis is still serving his sentence at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Butler County, Kansas. He leaves his cell for an hour a day for exercise and showers, and he isn't allowed to speak with reporters or appear on TV, but he can communicate through letters. He has some health issues and it's believed that he may have had a stroke in 2018 and has short-term memory loss and dementia. He's not allowed to read any true-crime literature which means he can't read the book his daughter, Kerri wrote. She wrote a book called A Serial Killer's Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming.
Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer by Katherine Ramsland