Every serial killer is different. Each has their own modus operandi, or ‘MO’, which can be almost as unique as the fingerprints they try so hard not to leave at the scenes of their crimes. The infamous BTK Killer, aka Dennis Rader, is a case in point.
Recently brought back into the public consciousness by Netflix’s popular and critically-acclaimed FBI procedural drama Mindhunter, Rader achieved infamy after spending more than three decades as simultaneously a multiple murderer and a free man. In that time he devised, established and refined a very particular style, attitude and system when it came to murder.
This is The BTK Killer’s very particular approach to murder. His guide, if you like, to serial killing…
Never be greedy and know when to stop
When it comes to body counts, there’s a commonality amongst most serial killers. Many begin their criminal careers as burglars or peeping toms. They often escalate to assaults, then rapes and, ultimately, murder. Their blood lust usually increases into a frenzy (sometimes known as ‘berserker mode’) as they kill more and more and become sloppier and sloppier. Eventually, it gets them caught. A good example of this can be seen in the murders and behaviour of Ted Bundy.
He would often fantasise, recalling past murders and imagining future ones.
Working within the metropolitan confines of the Kansas city of Wichita, Dennis Rader’s span of crimes lasted from January 1974 to January 1991. In fifteen years of murdering women, his tally of victims was ‘just’ ten. Compare that to the Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, who was convicted of 49 murders, confessed to 71 and may have been responsible for more (in a similar time frame) and you’ll see that - comparatively - Rader kept in control. Not getting caught was extremely important to him.
Delay compulsions to kill with autoerotic fantasies
Rader wanted to kill more women than he did. Yet he realised that he needed to keep in control to avoid detection and arrest. His ‘cooling-off periods’ were substantially longer than most other serial killers’, who are generally unable to resist the temptation to butcher.
There are a few methods that Dennis Rader employed to delay his compulsions. He would often fantasise, recalling past murders and imagining future ones. He frequently masturbated while creating these dark daydreams. To heighten sensation, he would indulge in autoerotic asphyxiation, crossdressing and self-bondage. He’d also incorporate trophies taken from his victims into these twisted personal sex games.
Did we mention that Dennis Rader was a church president and a Cub Scout leader yet...? No? Well, yep. He was both.
Bind ‘em, torture ‘em, kill ’em
Rader was not known as ‘The BTK Killer’ for nothing. His unusual moniker came from his preferred routine when committing his heinous murders. Firstly he would gain entry to a house that he had surveilled, then cut the phone lines and ultimately take control of his victims using a gun.
He would then restrain his victims with cord, rope, tape, gags and hoods. Then stab and/or slowly strangle or suffocate them to death, masturbate and leave.
Bind. Torture. Kill... BTK.
Seek attention and taunt authorities
Recognition was absolutely vital for Dennis Rader. He was - and remains - a seriously narcissistic individual. The murders themselves were central to the man, of course. But BTK also enjoyed preparing for and reliving his murders. One way he could enjoy the act all over again was by taunting the police and media.
He thrived on his increasing infamy and loved nothing more than sending rambling, self-aggrandising letters, puzzles and photocopies of his victim’s driver’s licences to police and local newspapers and TV stations. He would sign off as ‘Bill Thomas Killman’ (‘BTK’). Once he even enclosed a blow-up doll, tied at the hands and feet, with a hood over its head. Rader considered himself smarter than everyone else. Something that would prove not to be true in the slightest...
Accidentally incriminate yourself
Like many other serial killers - and unlike many people’s assumptions of them - Rader was an upstanding pillar of his community. At least on the surface, of course. He was a family man who aroused little or no suspicions among neighbours, friends or family members. An ability to hide in plain sight is useful for someone like Dennis Rader. Avoiding suspicion is a clever ploy, but it’s only useful if you can also avoid detection.
The BTK Killer couldn’t manage to avoid detection, however. Not in the end, anyway. He ended up incriminating himself. With a floppy disk, of all things. How ‘90s, eh?
Communication with Wichita Police Department and The Wichita Eagle was getting a little tricky and so Rader decided to embrace the technology of the time. He wasn’t overly confident in quite how anonymous floppy discs were, however. So he decided to find out. By asking none other than the Wichita Police Department themselves...
'Can I communicate with Floppy disk and not be traced to a computer. Be honest.'
The police, wisely, decided to lie to him. Rader bought their answer and sent them a floppy disc with a file on it containing information about future communications. They immediately traced the metadata contained on the disc to a computer at Wichita’s Christ Lutheran Church. The disc was last used by a user there named ‘Dennis’.
Quite incredibly, Rader couldn’t believe he’d been deceived. “I need to ask you, how come you lied to me?” Rader demanded to know of Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, the commander of the Wichita Police Department’s homicide unit who took him in...
'Simple,” Landwehr replied while arresting him. 'I was trying to catch you.'
The evidence was strong, but still only circumstantial. To seal the deal, police got a warrant to obtain DNA from Rader’s daughter Kerri’s most recent cervical screening and ran it against a sample of semen collected from the leg of Josie Otero, one of The BTK Killer’s victims. The tests proved positive. The killer was related to Kerri. It was all the police needed.
Be unrepentant when caught
In interviews with psychologists since his arrest, Rader has never once shown any level of remorse or regret for his crimes. He sees himself as an apex predator, a kind of shark. So unapologetic is he, in fact, that he’s been known to pontificate on the notion that society owes him a debt of gratitude for not having killed more people than he did. Get your head around that.
Dennis Rader is still in prison, at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, serving 10 life sentences (that’s 175 years) locked up in isolation. 15 years into his new life inside and he remains as unrepentant as he was the day he was caught.
Perverted, narcissistic, sociopathic, cruel, completely lacking in empathy and desperate for recognition and attention, The BTK Killer Dennis Rader is a sick - and sickening - human being. Yet one with a very distinctive way about him, there’s no denying.