Before his fierce reputation as the BTK Killer went public, Dennis Rader was a dedicated Boy Scout troop leader and a respected church council president. Rader was also a devoted family man who loved his wife and spent time with his kids.
Until his capture, few could have guessed that the man had a secret, dark life that would rip his family apart in an instant.
Behind the façade of a loving husband, a devoted father, and a reliable member of society was a calculating and sadistic killer who had tortured and brutally killed ten people in his Kansas hometown.
He hid his life as a killer so well that when he was arrested in 2005 as the BTK Killer, his wife and daughter could not believe it. His daughter Kerri had this to say of the man after he was caught:
"My dad was the one who taught me my morals. He taught me right from wrong."
However, the truth is that her father had been targeting and killing girls like her for over three decades, and she couldn't have guessed he was a monster hiding in plain sight.
Dennis Rader Before He Was A Serial Killer
Rader was the first of four children, having been born in 1945 in Pittsburg, Kansas. He grew up in Wichita, a city whose residents he would also terrorize.
He was always violent, even when young. In his teens, he hung and tortured stray animals. In particular, he liked to torture local cats and dogs.
Raider also had violent sexual fantasies. He would bind his hands and ankles with a rope and cover his head with a bag.
He would make these fantasies real later in life with the women he captured and killed. In fact, as a teenager, he cut out photos of women he felt drawn to and drew gags and ropes on them as he fantasized about how he would restrain them.
Nevertheless, he led a relatively normal life and even joined college, although he dropped out and joined the U.S. Air Force.
After he left the air force, he became an electrician in Wichita. While there, he met Paula Dietz through the church, and she became his wife. Paula was a bookkeeper, and Rader proposed to her after a few dates.
The two got married in 1971.
Ironically, he had won her over with his gentlemanliness. The soft-spoken Paula fell for a chivalrous man who would open doors for her and help her with her coat.
The Murders Began
In 1973, Rader was laid off. On January 15, 1974, he had killed for the first time. He killed four family members in one go.
As his wife slept, he went to Otero's family home and killed everyone inside. Josie, an 11-year-old girl, and Joseph, a 9-year-old, had to endure the horror of watching as their parents were strangled to death before they themselves were murdered.
After killing the kids' parents, he took the girl to the basement, took off her underwear, and hung her, and then told her:
"Well, honey, you're going to be in heaven tonight with the rest of your family."
As the girl choked to death, he masturbated while looking at her. Semen was found at the scene, although none of the victims was sexually assaulted.
Rader took pictures of the dead bodies and kept the girl's underwear as a keepsake before returning home. The church council president prepared himself for church the next morning.
His wife did not know that her husband had just massacred a family. In fact, she was preparing to start one.
Rader was ready for his next attack not long after, and his target was Kathryn Bright, a young college student. He stabbed and strangled her before shooting her brother Kevin twice. Fortunately, Kevin survived and fled the scene, but he only said that the killer had "psychotic eyes."
Rader began to publicize his killings. Later that year, he wrote a letter in which he detailed his first murders and gave himself a pseudonym:
"The code words for me will be… bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K."
In the letter, he also described how he killed the Oteros and put the letter in an engineering book at the Wichita Public Library before calling Wichita Eagle, a local newspaper, to inform them of the letter's location.
The scary letter also talked of his plan to kill again. He would end up killing five women by the time he was stopped.
At this time, he was not aware that his wife was carrying his first child.
BTK Fully Embraced Fatherhood
When Paula told him that she was pregnant, he claims to have taken some time off his murderous streak. However, he was only taking a break for a few years. In 1977, he was back to killing.
His wife had also found a poem titled Shirley Locks where Rader had written: "Thou shalt not scream … but lay on a cushion and think of me and death." However, Paula did not enquire about the note.
Soon after, Rader raped and choked Shirley Vian as her son watched the ordeal through a lock. She was his seventh victim. Later, he admitted that he wanted to kill her child as well but was forced to leave before he got the chance.
Paula noticed some clues that were very telling. In addition to the poem she found, she discovered that her husband was very keen on newspaper stories about a serial killer.
Additionally, the letters the police received about the BTK Killer had the same misspellings she found on letters Rader sent to him.
At one time, she joked, "you spell just like BTK."
Paula also failed to ask him about the sealed box he kept at home. She never tried to find out what its contents were.
The box contained mementos of Rader's kills, and BTK fondly referred to it as the "mother lode." In this box were pictures of him in the clothing of his victims, women's underwear, and driver's licenses. The box also had pictures of Rader choking himself, burying himself alive, and photos of him re-enacting the way he had killed these people.
He later confessed that finding and keeping the victim's underwear was part of his M.O. as he would use it to relive the day that person died.
Nevertheless, even when the truth came out, Paula insisted that Rader was a "good man, a great father" and that he "would never hurt anyone."
Rader was a good guy to his family, which is why not even his children recognized they were living with a serial killer. When he was really bad, he was nothing more than a typical strict Christian.
However, his daughter recounted an occasion where he grabbed her brother by the neck. She and her mom had to step him to pull off Rader's hand.
Nevertheless, this was an isolated incident. Rader was a master at camouflaging his true intentions.
For instance, he killed Marine Hedge, a 53-year-old woman he greeted every morning while heading to church, and later showed up to comfort and reassure her family.
Marine had turned into the serial killer's eighth victim after he sneaked out of a campsite he had visited with his son to kill her. He returned to the camp before anyone was up.
In 1986, Vicki Wegerle became his ninth victim. He killed the 28-year-old as her 2-year-old kid watched.
Dennis Rader's Job As A Compliance Supervisor, Final Murder
In some ways, Rader took a break from the killings and started a new job as a compliance supervisor in Wichita in the Park City suburb in 1991. He earned the reputation of being unforgiving when dealing with his clients.
He even harassed a neighbor due to the length of her grass. However, complaints about him were ignored, and he ended up getting promoted to a supervisory role. However, some people saw him as charming and pleasant.
In that year, Rader broke into the home of 62-year-old Dolores Davis and killed her before dumping her body near a bridge. This would be his tenth and final murder.
Later, after thirty years, the local paper ran a story about the Oteros, who had been brutally murdered 30 years earlier. In an attempt to taunt the media and the police, he sent close to a dozen letters and packages to them.
Usually, he used cereal boxes in reference to the term "serial killer."
Some of the packages had items he collected from his victims, and one had a pitch for an autobiographical novel he was planning on writing called The BTK Story.
One of the packages, fortunately, gave away more information than Rader intended. The floppy disk he had sent to the police had metadata of a deleted document for the Christ Lutheran Church written by Dennis Rader, the church's council president.
It also happened that one of his victims had samples of Rader's DNA, which was matched to the pap smear of the church council president's daughter. After the authorities got a positive match, they went and arrested him in front of his family on February 25, 2005.
He had first contacted the police to ask if they could trace him using the floppy disk, and he had been assured through a classified ad that it would not be possible.
The police could also match his DNA to the semen he left at the first crime scene.
Rader had a reassuring look during the arrest and even hugged his daughter while telling her that everything would be cleared soon. He was also shocked that the police had lied about being able to trace him using the floppy disk.
When asked if he knew the reason for his arrest, he said, "I have suspicions why," and went on to confess to all the ten murders. He seemed to enjoy describing the gory details of the killings during his trial.
Because Kansas did not have the death penalty at the time of his trial, he was sentenced to 175 years in prison without the possibility of parole. At the time of his sentencing, he was 60 years old. The trial took only two months.
His Family Was Left Picking Up The Pieces
Rader could not attain sexual satisfaction without binding, torturing, and killing another human being. He also stated that although he could be mean, he was also a nice guy. Rader also claimed to have been dropped on his head as a child.
However, despite saying he was sorry for his actions, his 20-minute court statement was likened to an Oscar acceptance speech. During the speech, he thanked his supporters and compared himself to his victims. This was a man who also said that he believed that the Oteros would be his slaves in his next life.
After the truth about Rader came out, Paula, his wife, was devastated. She divorced him and would not step out of the house. The judge granted her request for divorce immediately in consideration of her unique circumstances. Her only consolation was that Rader would have killed many more people if he had not married her.
Paula was accused of knowing more about her husband and protecting him by ignoring the evidence against him.
Rader did not have a good explanation for what he did, and he argued that he thought demons might have possessed him. He also got upset when the families of the victims said he was a coward.
His daughter hated him, particularly after he wrote to a newspaper saying, "she reminds me of me."
Kerri admits that it's not easy being the child of a serial killer. Apparently, you almost feel guilty for being alive. If Rader were stopped as soon as her father killed his first victims, she would not be alive. So, in a way, her chance to live meant that some people had to die.
The saddest reality was that even though he was a killer, Dennis Rader was still her father. She went on to write an autobiography, A Serial Killer's Daughter. In the book, the internal conflict of being born by a serial killer is quite apparent:
"Should I tell you that I grew up adoring you, that you were the sunshine of my life?"
After he was sentenced, Rader was locked up at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. He will spend the rest of his days in that facility.