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Dennis Rader: The BTK Killer

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Decades without being caught

The investigation went on for over 30 years but the police never really came close to Dennis Rader. Paradoxically, the closest they come to his methodology, if not the man, is during a lull in his killings in the early 80s. The killings are considered a cold case but all the information is computerised. This was still a novelty back then. It fails to identify a killer but does reveal comfort kill-zones indicating BTK planned his murders only in geographical locales familiar to him.
The key to uncovering BTK was through his need to communicate. He contacted the local media and police repeatedly, sending letters (containing anagrams and poetry), phoning (but not of voice recognition quality), and dropping packages (one had a blow up doll with a plastic bag over its head). The purpose of these communications for Rader is both to terrorise the community in which he lives and to make sure that his greatest accomplishments are credited to him. His effect is pernicious. The first thing that Wichita women check on entering their homes is that there’s a dial tone on their phones.
It’s through one of these communications that the unsolved murder of Vicki Wegerle is ascribed to him. This lifted nearly 20 years of suspicion from the husband, Bill, that he had killed his wife. Rader sends photos of Vicki and a photocopy of her driving license to the local paper. The initials of the supposed sender, ‘Bill Thomas Killman’, are ‘B.T.K’. A thorough search of recently released prison inmates is made in the belief that jail might explain the killer’s near decade absence but like other ideas, it comes to nothing.

But the police are patient. It doesn’t matter how much false information Rader feeds them, for example, he sends them a fake autobiography, the police never criticise him publicly in the hope that just once, he will slip up. They are helped in 2003 when a local lawyer announces he’s going to write a biography of BTK. This precipitates Rader to make more and more contacts to ensure his story is written properly.
And it’s when he leaves his latest communication that he’s filmed driving a black Jeep Cherokee. The quality of the film isn’t enough for face or number plate recognition but it’s a start. And then Rader asks in correspondence if a computer disc can be deleted of all previous information. The police lie. The computer disk that Rader sends next is forensically examined and reveals his church and his name. A check reveals that he owns the same type of jeep seen on the film. A DNA test obtained via Rader’s daughter ties him to the semen he left at the crime scenes and ends over 30 years of speculation over the identity of the BTK killer. It still grates some on the police that Rader had stopped killing three years before Kansas reintroduced capital punishment. This means the state will never be able to execute its most infamous killer.