Profile of a Serial Killer - Part 5 - Dennis Rader The BTK Killer

Psychopath - Noun

A person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts

Born March 9th, 1945, Dennis was the eldest of four boys born to William and Dorothea Rader. His father, a US Marine at the time of his birth moved his family to Wichita Kansas when Dennis was very young.

From nearly every account, Dennis Rader seemed to have a normal childhood. joining the Boy Scouts of America, participating in the church youth group, and maintained a C average throughout his scholastic career. But Dennis Rader would later admit that he developed fantasies about the bondage, and the torture of women at a very young age. He also admitted to killing and hanging small animals as a child, but he kept this life secret and hidden from everyone else that knew him. All of those close to Rader described him as "normal", "polite", and "well mannered".

Dennis would graduate high school with mediocre grades, after a year lapse in enrollment he attended one year of Wesleyan College in Salina Kansas. At 21 he dropped out of college and enlisted in the US Air Force in 1966.

After four years of service he was discharged and returned to Wichita Kansas where he served two more years as a reservist. Rader married Paula Dietz in May of 1971 and moved to Park City, only a short drive from Rader's childhood home. There he spent the next several years bouncing from job to job, and tried to go back to college, never achieving more than a C average. In 1974 Radersaid that he was between jobs and would "troll" for women to look at while his wife was at work, fantasizing about death and torture.

Fantasy Becomes A Reality


As Dennis Rader grew into adulthood, he first joined the Air Force in 1966 at 21 years of age. he spent 4 years with the Air Force, and in a pattern of Dennis Rader's life, it was unremarkable. He "maintained", just as he had throughout school. Only attaining the rank of Sargent before retiring from the armed services. In 1970, Rader returned home to Wichita where he spent two more years as a reservist. He moved from job to job, never really finding a place to settle down. He got married within a year of his return, but it seemed that something was missing from Rader's life.

In 1974, Rader said that he was jobless, and restless. He stated that he began "trolling", which ment that he would walk around certain neighborhoods, or school campuses, and simply observe. Observe the women in particular, and fantasize about bondage and death. It wasn't long before he chose a target.

Rader began watching a Hispanic family that had moved into his neighborhood, he watched their patterns, when they left home, when they returned, work schedules, and activities. It was then that Rader moved from fantasy into the realm of reality when he began planning a break in to the home, and gathering the tools to do so.

The Killings Begin

Around eight o'clock the morning of January 15th, Rader snuck around to the back of the Otero house and cut the phone line. He broke in through the back door and found thing were not as he had planned. He found the entire family of four inside along with a rather vicious family dog. At gunpoint Rader ordered the father Joe Otero, 38 years of age, to take the dog into the back yard. He told them that he was a wanted criminal on the run and needed food, money and a vehicle. Rader directed everyone to lie down in the living room, then into a bedroom. The Otero family allowed Rader to bind them as they believed all that he wanted was money.

That was when everything changted. Rader placed a bag over the father's head, but Joe was able to tear holes in the bag. Rader then used a cord to subdue and kill Joe Otero. Rader then moved to the mother Julie Otero, age 34. He tried to strangle her with his bare hands, but it took several attemps before he was successful in murdering her.

9 year old Joey Otero was next to die, he was found face down on his bedroom floor with a bag over his head. Rader had apparently brought a chair into the bedroom to sit and watch the child die.

11 year old Josie Otero was taken to the basement and hung from a noose tied around a sewer pipe. She was left partially naked, and police discovered semen on the pipe behind the young girl. Rader then proceeded to clean up and take a few souvenirs with him. He then proceeded to take the Otero's station wagon, nearly getting into an accident backing out of the drive, and drove it to a Dillon's supermarket. A woman later testified that she saw the man get out of the vehicle "shaking like a leaf". Rader then threw the keys onto the roof of the market, but realized that he had left a knife at the Otero residence. He claims to have driven his car to their residence, and retrieved the knife from the yard.

Rader was unaware that there were three other Otero children who had left for school prior to his arrival. Charlie, 15, Daniel, 14 and Carmen, 13 found their family dead when they returned home from school.

The morning of April 4th of 1974 Rader broke into the home of 21 year old Kathryn Bright hiding in her bedroom until she arrived home at 2:00 PM. She was accompanied by her 19 year old brother Kevin. They were both taken by surprise when a man came out of the room with a gun. Using the same backstory as before Kathryn was bound in her bedroom. Her brother Keven was taken to another bedroom and was bound with items found in the room. Rader returned to the room with a stocking and began to strangle Kevin with it. Keven was able to get loose and grabbed Rader's gun. Kevin fought with Rader, but was shot twice in the head and face during the struggle. Apparently feeling panicked Rader did not take his time with Kathryn, delivering deep stab wounds to her abdomen and other areas before fleeing the scene. During this time, Keven had made his way out of the house searching for help as Rader fled the house on foot to his car parked a few blocks away. Kevin quickly found two men on the street, but the killer was gone by the time they returned.

Kathryn Bright died in the hospital several hours later.

Kevin Bright survived the attack, but was left with permanent damage.

In October of that year, the Wichita Eagle newspaper got a phone call. The man who took the call told police that the caller told him that there was a letter hidden in an engineering book at the Wichita Public Library. There police found a detailed description of the unsolved Otero murders. It was noted that the writer of the note used very poor grammar and spelling, but had obvious knowledge of the crime. The writer stated "I did it myself with noone's help", and "the code words for em will be. . .Bind them, toture them, kill them, B.T.K..."  

From his own testimony Rader stated that he found steady work in 1974, had his first child in 1975, and was going to school. So busy was his life that he committed no crimes for the next two years. Though he admitted that he had never stopped "trolling" for victims since before the first murders to his capture thirty years later.

In March of 1977, Rader allegedly cased two different women's homes but found both to be empty. Canvassing the neighborhood on foot Rader approached a 5 year old boy, apparently posing as a detective, Rader showed the boy a picture of his own wife and asked if he had seen her. After answering no, Rader tailed the boy back to his house. Continuing his ruse, Rader knocked on the door and was allowed entry by the three children in the home, the oldest of which was 8 years old.

Rader proceeded to draw the shades and turn off the television when mother of three, 24 year old Shirley Vain entered the room in her bathrobe. Barrackading the children into the bathroom Rader bound Shirley Vain and strangled her do death with a cord. Rader left the children alive in the bathroom. Detectives later found seminal evidence near the victim.

December of that year Rader targeted Nancy Fox, a single 25 year old jewelry store clerk. Rader gained entrance to her empty apartment via the bedroom window. Where he then severed the phone line and sat to wait for her to arrive home. When Nancy Fox entered her apartment to find an armed man inside she didn't resist when ordered to disrobe and allow herself to be bound to her bed. After she was tied up Rader explained to her that he was the man who had committed the recent murders and announced that she was his next victim. Semen was left on a nightgown next to the body.

The next morning Rader phoned the police stating; "Yes, you will find a home-acide at 843 South Pershing. Nancy Fox...That is correct". Rader then walked away from the phone leaving the receiver dangling. And although the 911 tape was played repeatedly on the news, no one recognized Dennis Rader's voice. Early the next year Rader sent a sarcastic poem on a postcard to the Wichita Eagle newspaper entitled "Shirley Locks", but no one realized the connection until days later when it was followed by a much more serious letter. The writer, apparently angered that his previous work had not been shown sent a letter claiming responsibility to the murders of the Otero family, Shirley Vian and Nancy Fox.

Wichita police publicly released the information announcing that there was a serial killer in their quiet little town. Citizens were advised to be diligent in checking doors and windows, and to check their phone for a dial tone whenever entering their homes.

Anna Williams, a recently widowed 63 year old woman was Rader's next intended target. He broke into the home April of 1979, and waited for her to come home, rummaging through her belongings Rader took a few small items and left before Anna returned home. Two months after the break in Anna would receive a package with a poem, it's title, "Oh Anna Why didn't you appear".

T' was perfect plan of deviant pleasure so bold on that Spring niteMy inner felling hot with propension of the new awakening season
Warn, wet with inner fear and rapture, my pleasure of entanglement,like new vines at night
Oh, Anna, Why Didn't You AppearDrop of fear fresh Spring rain would roll down from your nakednessto scent to lofty fever that burns within,
In that small world of longing, fear, rapture, and desparation,the game we play, fall on devil earsFantasy spring forth, mounts, to storm fury, then winter clam at the end.
Oh, Anna Why Didn't You AppearAlone, now in another time span I lay with sweet enrapture garmentsacross most private thought
Bed of Spring moist grass, clean before the sun, enslaved withcontrol, warm wind scenting the air, sun light sparkle tearsin eyes so deep and clear.
Alone again I trod in pass memory of mirrors, and ponder why fornumber eight was not.
Oh, Anna Why Didn't You Appear

A similar package arrived at the doorstep of KAKE-TV. Terrified that the serial killer had her in his sights, Anna quickly moved out of the area, and far away from Kansas.

Either life got in the way of Rader's killing ways, or perhaps he felt police getting close to catching him, regardless of which, Dennis Rader dropped off the radar for the next 15 years. The only "contact" was a letter to police in 1988, but was never verified to be from the BTK killer.

How many days, weeks, moths, years did the city of Wichita live in fear of the BTK killer? His disappearance from activity, without capture, or closure, or vindication was perhaps the cruelest thing to do the citizens of Wichita.

But just because he stayed out of the public eye, doesn't mean that he had stopped killing. In April of 1985 Dennis Rader, now 40 years old, was a busy family man, with a full time job, a posistion as scout leader of is son's Boy Scout troop, and was very active in the church. But despite all this by Rader's own admissions, he had never stopped "trolling" for victims.

While attending a Boy Scout camp with his son, Rader left camp in the evening stating that he had a headache. Rader chose to visit Marine Hedge 53 year old neighbor who had lost her husband about a year prior. After stopping for a beer, and leaving his car at the bowling alley, Rader took a cab to Park city to the home of Marine Hedge. Rader severed the phone line and entered the house finding no one at home. Hiding in the bedroom closet Rader watched as Marine and a male frend entered the home.

Rader waited in the closet until after the male friend let at about one in the morning. Waiting patiently until Marine turned out the light and went to bed. Rader crept out of the closet and turned on the bathroom light. Without hesitation he jumped onto the woman and strangled her hin her bed.

He then proceeded to drag the body along with the bedding to her car placing her in the trunk. He took the body to the church he attended, and had keys to. Draging Marine's lifeless body into the basement of the church, Rader proceeded to tape black plastic over the windows, and began posing the body in various poses while he took photographs of it. When he was finished he took the body and dumped it in a shallow grave outside of Park City. He then returned to his vehicle, wiping down the car for prints before taking his vehicle back to camp.


 His next victim was Vicki Wegerle, 28 years old. In September of 1986 he arrived at her doorstep dressed as a telephone repairman. Apparently fooled by the ruse, she allowed Rader into her home. Rader then proceeded to tie her up, strangle her, and take photographs of the body.

Bill Wegerle observed his own car going to opposite direction when he returned home a short time later. There he found his wife behind the bed on the floor. Calling 911, paramedics rushed Vicki to the hospital but were unable to revive her. Bill Wigerle faced an uphill battle as police decided that this was not a BTK crime and pursued Bill as a suspect for several years. Though he was never formally charged with a crime.

At 45 years of age in 1991, his sights fell on Dolores Davis. 62 years of age, single, lived alone only a half mile from his home. Rader planned his attack for his next boy scout camp. Again making an excuse to leave camp he headed back to his neighborhood. He found Dolores reading in bed, and used a cement block to smash his way through the sliding glass door in the back of the house. He fed her a line of being a vagrant in need of money, and proceeded to tie her up in her bedroom before strangling her to death. He made a sketch documenting the end of her life. He then drug the body outside and placed it into the trunk of her car, he then drove to a lake near the interstate and left the body and other evidence under some trees.

He then returned to the scene of the crime to wipe down fingerprints he may have left. He then retrieved his own vehicle and went and picked up the body putting it into the trunk of his own car. He relocated the body at a remote area under a bridge in northern Sedgwick County. The following night he left camp again to pose and photograph the body. Rader also took a polaroid of himself wearing a mask in the hole he had dug for the body of Dolores Davis. Rader would later state that he had an encounter with a police officer that evening at the place where he went to change his clothes, but was let go after a few questions.

Four months later Rader would be hired on as a Park Ciy animal control officer and code enforcer. A position he used to gain information, and harass local residents. He issued petty citations for trivial things like grass being over 6 inches in height, having the wrong color garden hose, etc. Several residents were known to have moved out of the area due to his mistreatment, though he was never disciplined for any incidents. He also received complaints from female co-workers about his degrading and demanding behavior towards women. A lawsuit was filed in federal court stating that his ongoing disruptive and disturbing behaviors were dismissed by supervisors.

Serving on two local boards, and vice president of the church council, and a member of the local law enforcement, Dennis Rader, by all appearances was a fine and upstanding member of society.

RobertBeattie, a Wichita lawyer was concerned that the BTK case had gone cold, andhad been all but forgotten by local residents. So he began to write a book about the crimes as well as the ongoing investigation. He would later be accredited to the renewed interest of the case in early 2003. On the 30thanniversary of theOteromurders, andWichita's first exposure to the BTK killer, the Wichita Eagle ran an article about the crime, it came at the same time as the announcement of RoberBeattie's book on the killer.

Rader, apparently bothered by the renewed interestin his killings sent an envelope to the Wichita Eagle. Inside were photocopies of pictures taken of VickiWegerleas she was being killed. He also included a copy of her missing drivers license. The FBI verified it's authenticity andwere able to at least solve the mystery of who VickiWegerie's killer was.

Asecondletter came to the KAKE TV in May of 2004 consisting of a lengthy word puzzle. The FBI was again able to validate that it came from BTK, but were unable to make any sense of the puzzle.

The next month a package was left taped to a stop sign in the middle of town containing a collection of evidence from multiple homicides. It also included a letter from the killer detailing the killings.

In July a package marked BTK was found in a book return at the public library containing a message from the killer.

"I have spotted a female that I think lives alone and/or is a spotted latchkey kid. Just got to work out the details. I'm much older (not feeble) now and have to conditions myself carefully. Also my thinking process is not as sharp as it uses to be ... I think fall or winter would be just about right for the HIT. Got to do it this year or next! ... time is running out for me."

Thefifthpackage didn't come until October 22nd, a manilaenvelopefoundby a UPS workerfoundto contain acollage of pictures of children with bindings drawn across their bodies and faces. The killer also included a "autobiography" listing a number of details about his life. Most was found to be untrue.

BTK is Back

An arrest was made on the 1st of December 2004, but the suspect was cleared after DNA testing. The police would take approximately 1,300 DNA samples from men in the Wichita area, trying to connect someone to the crime, but were so far unsuccessful. Later that month a man in a park found yet another BTK drop. He took the package home and opened it to find a "PJ" (PJ stood for project or a person that the BTK killer had his sights on) doll with it's head wrapped in plastic, it's hands tied behind it's back. It's feet bound together, and tied to the feet was the real drivers licenseof Nancy Fox, killed in December of 1977.

The next month, Dennis Raderwas named president of the church council.

January 8th,Raderleft a package in the back of a man's pickup truck in a Home Depot parking lot. It was several days before the man realized that BTK was written on the box. Because of that drop, the police were above to review the security tape of the parking lot and get their first real look at their killer. Unfortunately the camera was too far away andblurry to make any kind of identification. However they were able to ascertain that the killer had been driving a black Jeep Cherokee. Inside the box was information about alleged future targets as well as more misleading information about the killer. He made comment of living in a three story apartment building, and had the elevator rigged with explosives should the police try to attempt to capture him.

Rader continued communication with police, serial boxes, dolls, and nonsensical letters. Drop number eleven arrived at KSAS-TV February 16th. It contained a letter, a piece of jewelry, anda floppy disk.

On the disk detectives found software from Christ Lutheran Church, and the name Dennis. A quick search on the Internet showed Dennis Rader as the president of the church council.Surveilance was quickly started on Rader, and a DNA sample was taken from his daughter's medical records. Detectives were able to get a familial match to the BTK crime scenes.

February 25th, 2005,Rader left the office to head home for lunch.Upon arriving home he noticed that his home was surrounded by police. Dennis Rader surrendered without incident.

Interrogation and Trial

As soon as Dennis Rader was confronted with the computer disk with his name on it and the DNA match to multiple crime scenes, he proceeded to take detectives on a grueling 30 hour confession. It seemed to detectives that he was almost bragging about his exploits, the state's summary of evidenceis public evidence, the 92 page document list some exerts from Rader's initial confession, along with the charge of 10 counts of first degree murder.

Rader's family, church community and neighbors were all in complete shock of the charges. Not one of them believed that Dennis Rader could possibly be a serial killer.

Rader first stood in front of a judge April 19th 2005, having waved his right to a preliminary hearing. His lawyer entered a plea of not guilty. District Attorney Nola Foulston notified the defense that he was being charged under Kansas' "hard 40" law which stated that that any crime considered cruel or heinous would earn a mandatory minimum of 40 years. Unfortunately this law only having been created in 1991 only covered one of the 10 counts. All the others held a minimum sentence of 15 years.

At the onset of the trial June 27th, 2005, Rader stood and plead guilty to all charges before millions of viewers watching around the world.

Aftermath and Sentencing

Lawsuits were filed against Rader by most of the victims families. It is said that their goal was not to collect monetary damages, but to prevent Rader from ever profiting on the killings. His wife also quickly filed for divorce after the confession.

The sentencing of Dennis Rader was held on August 17 and 18, 2005, and the prosecution was for thie first time able to lay down their case against Rader. The courtroom listened intently for two full days as the prosecution displayed all the evidence, crime scene photos, autopsy evidence, as well as letting the families of the Oteros, Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian, Nancy Fox, Marine Hedge, Vicki Wegerle and Dolores Davis be heard.

Nearing the end of the second day, the courtroom listened to a rambling 20 minute apology by Rader, afterwards Judge Waller sentenced the BTK killer to the maximum that Kansas state law allowed. Rader was sentenced to 175 years in prison. Eligible for parole in 2180, Rader would turn 135 years old that year.

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Comments 13 comments

Reynold Jay profile image

Reynold Jay 5 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

Wow! This is quite a story and it had to be a lot of work to put this all together. I enjoyed this very much. You have this laid out beautifully and it is easy to understand. Keep up the great HUBS. I must give this an “Up ONE and Useful.” I'm now your fan! RJ

mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 5 years ago from Greeley, Colorado Author

Thank you RJ - Yes, it was a load of informaion, just short of two months between part 4 and part 5. Not to mention the fact of how RARE it is to have a serial killer on the loose for over 30 YEARS. It was a lot to put together, thank you for taking the time to read it.

kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 5 years ago from the Ether

Oh my gosh. Having people like this in the world is truly a frightening thought. I don't want to ever have to feel uncomfortable walking into my own home, but god knows these things happen to innocent people! Absolutely horrible. How didn't his wife know? That's what you call non-intuitive. I'm pretty sure I would recognize if my husband was even a little bit deranged. Anyway, I'm glad he's locked up for life. But the problem is, there are probably more people out there just like him...waiting to start a killing spree.

mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 5 years ago from Greeley, Colorado Author

Kitty - Unfortunately what I've found in my research is that almost all serial killers have a very high level of intelligence. Most are very calculating, and good at hiding what they're really up to.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the other serial killer articles. I know I've enjoyed writing them.

amymarie_5 profile image

amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

Wow, what a story. This is very well written and very interesting. I don't recall ever hearing about Dennis Rader before. Which is surprising because this certainly seems like it was a very high profile case that gained a lot of attention. I rated this up.

Erin 5 years ago

I've read about the B.T.K. killer several times and I was always wondering how he was able to kill the Otero family without much of a struggle. I mean, that's a lot of people to control at one time and one might think that at least one of the family members would be able to escape if he was busy with another member while his back was turned. I know the story says that the family allowed Dennis to tie them up when he claimed he wasn't going to hurt them, but come on now. I just don't understand I guess. He used a gun as "muscle", but he had to have put it down and focus on tying one person up at some point. I feel like I'm going in circles, sorry, lol. I'm just baffled at how you can overpower more than one person alone?

TJ 4 years ago

Brilliant how someone gave him a job as an animal control officer. Those poor sickens me. I'm not making light of the people he killed but you know he tortured those poor defenseless animals.

onetouchnewlife profile image

onetouchnewlife 4 years ago from Cemetary


mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 3 years ago from Greeley, Colorado Author

I wondered the same thing when I was doing the research. But unfortunately I don't think we'll ever get more details. Of the few accounts there were some comflicting statements as well, so I tried to just stick with as many facts as I could put together.

tastiger04 profile image

tastiger04 3 years ago

I just recently watched a documentary on BTK....what a creepster. I do find crime reads like this very interesting though, I will be reading your other hubs in the near future. voted up and useful :)

Guest 3 years ago

The Management that looked the other way when people complained on him or filed restraining orders share the blame for letting this devil get away with his bullying behavior. At least if they had taken action he might have been a suspect long before he slipped up.

As for the church he served in as a Church leader that place had zero discernment.

JT 3 years ago

It never cease to amaze me how people that think they live in a good neighborhoods so they do not have to take the simplest precautions like lock their doors, cut shrubbery around their windows where burglars can hide and they fail to teach their little kids to not run and open the door to a strangers knock, nor do they pay attention to someone creepy stalking them. Half of these crimes could have been avoided and this is so very tragic!

mcrawford76 profile image

mcrawford76 3 years ago from Greeley, Colorado Author

Zero discernment or was he simply that good at covering his double life? How well do you really know your neighbors?

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