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17 chilling facts about Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer

Dennis Rader in handcuffs
Image: Sipa US / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Dennis Rader escorted by deputies into the correctional facility in Kansas, United States, on Friday 19th August, 2005

From 1974 to 1991, a serial killer operated in Kansas. He was known as BTK (an acronym he gave himself that stood for ‘Bind, Torture, Kill’, the method he used to kill his victims). He murdered 10 people, sending letters to the police and newspapers that outlined his crimes. One included a victim’s driver's licence and photos of her body.

And then, nothing. The murders stopped and so did the letters. For 10 years, BTK was silent.

But in 2004, another 11 letters were sent.

They contained details of who BTK was, including the year he was born and information on his upbringing. A year later, Dennis Rader was arrested for the murders. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 life sentences.

These are some of the most chilling facts about his life.

1. He killed animals as a child

Unlike a lot of serial killers, Rader’s childhood was, by most accounts, unremarkable. However, he also admitted to having fantasies about torture and bondage from childhood. As a boy scout, he knew how to tie knots and nooses. His first victims were animals, which he hanged.

2. His pre-murder behaviour

Before he killed his first victim, Rader stalked women, attempted a (failed) kidnapping, and broke into people’s homes. He claimed that it gave him a sense of power after losing his job and being forced to live off his wife’s salary.

3. He was obsessed with women

Rader often stalked women just for the sake of it and fantasised about how he would kill them.

4. His scrapbooking

Rader’s obsession extended to him cutting out pictures of women from adverts in magazines. He drew ties and gags onto the pictures and then stuck them onto cards that he carried around with him.

5. He prepped for his crimes

Rader had a ‘kit’, which included breaking and entering tools, cords, tape, hoods, knives, plastic bags, and a gun.

6. The Otero family

His first victims were a family: Joseph and Julie Otero and two of their children, Josephine and Joseph Junior, who were only 11 and nine. Rader had been stalking Julie and Josephine and was surprised to find Joseph at home when he broke into their house.

However, he managed to subdue them all by pretending to be an escaped criminal and using a gun. The bodies were discovered by the couple’s three teenage children, Charlie, Danny, and Carmen.

7. He dressed as his victims

Torturing and murdering women wasn’t enough for Rader. He also liked to re-enact his crimes on himself. He would put on a ‘lady mask’, dress up as the women he murdered, put on their underwear, and then tie himself up and take photos. He once came close to getting caught after he tied himself up during a scout outing and found himself unable to get free.

8. He took souvenirs

Trophies stolen from his victims, including underwear, were kept and then hidden in various locations. They were buried in the ground, concealed in his house, and even, hidden in his church.

9. The ‘motel parties’

Rader used the term ‘motel parties’ for masturbation. He would go to a motel, binding himself, and covering his head with a plastic bag—just like he did with his victims.

10. He murdered a woman with her children there

Shirley Vian was a 24-year-old woman and married mother of three when Rader entered her home in 1977, posing as a detective. Her children were also at home. This didn’t stop Rader.

He locked them in the bathroom and then strangled Shirley, while her children screamed from the other room. Only a ringing telephone saved them from also being killed. The noise spooked Rader and he left early. She was his sixth victim.

11. Shirley was a random choice

Shirley wasn’t even his intended victim. Rader had been stalking another woman, but when he discovered she wasn’t home, he spontaneously changed his plan.

12. He mailed a near-victim her belongings

63-year-old Anna Williams was another BTK target. In 1979, Rader entered her house and waited for her to arrive. However, she didn’t return home at her normal time and he gave up.

Williams later found out how close she came to death, though, when Rader sent the belongings he had stolen back to her, as well as a poem entitled ‘Oh, Anna, Why Didn't You Appear’.

13. He was spotted by a victim’s husband

On 16th September 1986, Bill Wegerle was driving home. On his way back, he spotted his family car being driven by another man - Rader. When he arrived home, he found his two-year-old child sitting alone. His wife, Vicki, was dead in their bedroom. For 18 years, police suspected Wegerle of the murder, before it was finally connected to BTK.

14. He left semen

Rader never raped his victims, but his semen was found at the crime scenes which helped lead to his eventual conviction.

15. His daughter recognised BTK’s voice

In the 1970s, BTK’s voice was caught on tape when he rang the police to report one of his murders. The FBI later released this tape to the public. In 2005, Rader’s daughter, Kerri Rawson, heard the tape. She told Slate she knew instantly that it was her father.

16. He planned to kill again in 2004

In 2004, the Wichita Eagle published an article on BTK’s crimes. Rader later admitted that though he had ‘retired’, the article incited him to revive BTK and he has started to plan another murder. He began contacting authorities again, sending clues, pictures of victims, and dolls he had tied up. It was only when he sent police a floppy disk, with metadata that revealed his identity, that he was caught.

17. He was a family man

On the surface of things, Rader was an ordinary man: a family man, a boy scout leader, and a figure in his church community. He installed security systems for a living - systems designed to protect people from him. For decades, no one knew who he really was.

Read more:

Dennis Rader: The BTK Killer: Crime File