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Dennis Rader: The BTK Killer

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Depraved

Rader’s torture fantasies are fuelled by the final moments of his victims’ lives and it is these last seconds that excite him far more than the actual moment of death itself. Rader plans his attacks meticulously, allowing him to kill during the daytime without the cover of night. He considers each murder a ‘project’ and he has many ‘projects’ under surveillance at any one time. Why some live, and some die is arbitrary. He ‘trolls’ (his word for checking out women) through many, stalks a few, and then selects some. He researches his targets at the local library, cross referencing anything about them, and visiting their workplaces. Most of his victims are women strangled in their own homes. The exception is the first kill attributed to the BTK killer.
On a cold winter’s morning on a quiet suburban street in January 1974, BTK begins. He has with him his ‘hit kit’, a briefcase packed with lengths of cord, hoods, plastic bags, tape and wire cutters. He uses the latter to sever the phone lines. He waits by the back door and sometime after 7am, it’s opened to let the dog out. But before the dog can exit, Rader enters. Having done surveillance on the property, he expects to find a mother and her daughter. He nearly loses control of the situation when he finds the father and son there as well. But Rader pulls out a gun. First, he binds the wrists and ankles of Joseph Otero, 38 (a fellow former Air Force flight engineer). Rader does the same to the wife who he also gags. He strangles the father first, and then the mother. He takes Joseph Junior to his bedroom. Binding his wrists, he covers the boy’s head in a hood. He then sits and watches as the child slowly suffocates.
He moves onto the real target of the family, the daughter of the Hispanic family, Josephine. He takes the eleven year old down to the basement and hangs her from a pipe in the basement. He hasn’t sexually assaulted any of his victims but once Josephine is dead, he masturbates and ejaculates. Afterwards, he methodically goes through each room he’s killed in and cleans away any evidence. Before leaving he steals his first memento, the father’s watch. That afternoon, the eldest child, Charlie Otero, comes home from school and finds his loved ones lifeless.

The police investigate and find that right up to the point of death, none of the Otero family resisted as there are no defensive marks. It’s as if the killer had persuaded them that murder wasn’t his intention. How Rader might have persuaded his victims is answered by a survivor of his next attack. Four months after the Otero massacre, Rader enters the house of brother and sister, Kevin and Kathryn Bright. When they return home at around 1pm, they find a man wearing a ski mask and pointing a gun at them. He says that he’s a fugitive looking for a car and that he won’t harm them if they provide him with food and money. (This is the story he used so effectively on the Otero family.) The 21 year old sister is tied up first and then Kevin is tied and gagged in another room. He shoots Kevin twice in the head. He goes back to Kathryn, strangles her to excite himself but she struggles so much that he stabs her eleven times in the stomach to stop her. The amount of blood surprises him. It takes her five hours to bleed out. Somehow, Kevin survives.
In October, Rader writes his first BTK letter for the Wichita Eagle-Beacon newspaper. He places it in a book in a library and rings a reporter with its name and location. The letter seeks to both claim responsibility and acknowledge the evil of the murders whilst at the same time seeking to blame them on a ‘monster’ in the murderer’s mind. The letter ends, ‘Yours, truly guiltily’ and is signed off ‘The code word for me will be...Bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K’ This communication will be the first of many and it’s this need for public recognition and respect from his pursuers, the police, that will eventually lead to arrest, trial and imprisonment.
By his third kill, Rader has developed a signature, attacking during the day, cutting telephone lines, and then executing his murderous MO according to his acronym. On 17 March 1977, he tries to put into operation ‘Project Green’. But his intended target’s away. Ready to kill but frustrated, he wanders the streets and comes across a child returning home. He first shows a photo of his own wife to the child asking if he knew who she was as if he was a private detective seeking information. The boy shakes his head and continues home. Rader watches where the boy goes, follows, knocks on the door, and persuades the boy to allow him in. He enters the home of Shirley Vian, a mother of three in her mid-20s. Once in, he drops any pretence and pulls out a pistol. His story this time is that he has a sexual dysfunction and that tying her up is the only way he can achieve gratification. Shirley believes that if she complies, she will live. She helps him confine her children, aged 4, 6 and 8 in the bathroom with toys and a blanket. It’s partly sheer terror that causes her then to repeatedly vomit. Rader gives her a glass of water and tries to calm her. He then binds her wrists and ankles. She expects rape. Instead, he strangles her. The children can see what is happening through a gap in the door. Rader intends to do the same to them when the telephone rings. (He has not had time to do his usual preparations) He quickly exits.
On 8 December 1977, Rader breaks form by one, breaking a window to enter, and two, by attacking during the night. This time his target is 25 year old Nancy Fox, who he’s had under surveillance for months. He has focused in on her over the last few weeks, discovering her name, and following the jewellery store worker to her workplace. He uses the same sexual story he’d used on Shirley. Rader shares a cigarette with Nancy. She prepares herself to be restrained and raped. Rader handcuffs her and lies her face down on her bed. He then strangles her with a nylon stocking. After she’s dead, he masturbates and ejaculates. His memento from the evening is her driving license. Later, he calls the police from a phone box to tell them what he’s done. With no interruptions or mistakes, Nancy is his ‘perfect hit’.

Rader consciously echoes the Zodiac killer’s letters to the media over his next communications and specifically compares himself to others such as Jack the Ripper and the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz. He continues to both express remorse and distance himself from his crimes.
On 28 April 1979, he breaks and enters into the home of his next victim. He sits and waits. And he waits. But the woman doesn’t arrive. Rader leaves and later writes a letter for the intended victim to show how close they came. Years will pass before he kills again.
On 27 April 1985, Rader puts into action his most audacious plan yet, “Project Cookie”, the killing of a neighbour he actually knows to say hello to, someone that actually lives in his ‘own habitat’. He attacks at night and he breaks in. When his target returns, she brings back a male friend and he has to wait till the man leaves after midnight. He emerges from the shadows and strangles his 53 year old neighbour, Marine Hedge, in her home with pantyhose. The fact that she lives only a few doors from him thrills him. He takes her body to his church. Once there he excites himself further by photographing her in sexually explicit poses. It takes him five hours to clean up. He dumps her body on a dirt road hoping that a change in his MO will throw police off his trail.
On 16 September 1986, Rader dons his ‘hit clothes’. He wears the uniform of a telephone repair man, carries a company manual and fake identification, all of which helps persuade Vicki Wegerle, 28, to let him in. She’s looking after her two year old son and when she’s distracted, he pulls a pistol on her. She struggles and digs her nails into him. He ties her up with leather shoelaces. He uses one of her stockings to strangle the her. He rearranges her clothes and photographs her body. Having taken her life, he then takes her driving license but nothing else. It has been so long since he’s killed, many assume the BTK killer may be dead or imprisoned. The unintended consequence is that her husband, Bill Wegerle, not only loses his wife and mother of his children, but he becomes, and remains for years, the chief suspect in her murder.
In 1991, Dolores “Dee” Davis, 63, becomes Rader’s last known victim. His entry method is almost reckless. He waits till she’s asleep and then he throws a concrete block through her window. Once in, he reverts to his old story of being a fugitive on the run. He handcuffs her and ties her with pantyhose. He then pretends to be going through the motions, collecting food and car keys, before turning to her. He slowly chokes her to death. It takes two to three minutes for her to die. This is the time for which he lives, the last moments of others before they die.