This episode we are going to visit Wichita, Kansas to talk about Dennis Rader, the sexual sadist serial killer known as BTK. We will start with some disclaimers:
- There is description of severe violence and murder of children
- We will speak of sexual fetishes, and there is nothing wrong with having fetishes or practicing any of these acts with consenting partners. Dennis Rader did not get consent and then subsequently murdered which is a very different topic.
On March 9, 1945, Dorothea and William Rader welcomed their oldest son, Dennis, into the world. Dorothea and William both worked long hours, and while they did not physically hurt their children, they were also very distant even when they were home.
Starting young, Dennis started to exhibit the early signs of deviant behavior with fantasies of torturing trapped and helpless women. He additionally practiced zoosadism by torturing, killing and hanging small animals.
As he aged into adolescence, he would act out his three sexual fetishes of voyeurism, autoerotic asphyxiation and cross-dressing. He started to spy on women in the neighborhood and then at home would dress in women’s clothing and underwear, bind himself on the arms and neck and to choke himself as he masturbated.
Directly after high school, he attended Kansas Wesleyan University, but due to mediocre grades dropped out after one year. At this point, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served from 1966 – 1970. After completing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, he was stationed in Okinawa and Tokyo before being honorably discharged.
In 1973, Dennis earned an Associates degree in Electronics Engineering Technology from Butler County Community College. He then attended Wichita State University, earning a Bachelor of Science with a major in Administration of Justice in 1979.
From 1974 to 1988, he worked for ADT Security Services installing security alarms. Unfortunately, this profession gave him easy access to find and stalk his potential victims.
In early 1974, the Otero family hadn’t lived in Wichita for long. Joseph and Julia Otero were a happy, loving couple with 5 children. Joseph was outgoing and happy, and Julia was a caring and loving mother.
On the morning of January 15, 1974, Charlie Otero and the other two older children left for school at the normal time, leaving their parents and two younger siblings, Joey and Josie, at home. When returning home from school that day, their lives were turned upside down. Their dog, Lucky, was outside alone, something that was very unusual for the family. Upon entering, Charlie noticed the kitchen in disarray and the contents of his mother’s purse scattered. Julia kept the home clean and tidy, so this was again odd. This is when the teenagers discovered the bodies of their parents dead in their bedroom. The three immediately left and called police from a neighbors house.
Charlie has said that he’s glad that is all he found. The rest would have been too much for him to bear. Police found the bodies of 9 year-old Joey and 11 year-old Josie within the house as well.
An anonymous tip came in that there was a letter hidden within an Engineering book in the Wichita Public Library. The two-page letter outlined the Otero murders in great detail, even including the types of knots used to bind the victims and what trophies were taken from the home. The author gave himself the moniker BTK which stood for “bind, torture, kill.”
Between the letter and his confession at trial, the details of the day are haunting. Rader targeted the family after he saw the mother, Julia leave to take the kids to school. He then proceeded to stalk the family and plan. On the morning of the 15th, he cut the phone lines and waited for an opportunity to enter the home.
Joey opened the back door to let the dog out, and Rader forced his way in. He says he went in with a plan but lost control of himself. He had a pistol which he used to intimidate the family, and used the ruse that he was a wanted man who was just going to steal their car and they would all be fine.
At first, he led them into the living room but later moved the family to the bedroom and tied them up. He placed Julia and Josie on the bed and Joseph and Joey on the floor next to it.
At this point, he placed a bag over the head of the father, Joseph and tied it around his neck to strangle him. Being the first time he ever did anything like this, he didn’t know how much pressure was needed, so after Joseph passed out, Rader thought he was dead. He then moved onto the mother Julia, and also strangled her until she lost consciousness. He then repeated this with Josie.
While he wasn’t paying attention, Joey helped to bite a hole into the bag to help his father. Discovering this, Rader placed a shirt over Joey’s head, followed by a plastic bag, and then he proceeded to strangle and kill the boy. Julia woke up during this, crying that he killed her son before Rader murdered her and her husband by strangulation.
Rader then took Josie to the basement where he used a rope to hang her from a pipe. He removed most of her clothing and masturbated before gathering up as much evidence he could and fleeing the scene. Police found semen in the basement and gathered samples, but DNA testing wouldn’t emerge for years in the forensics field.
Months later, on April 4, 1974, Rader broke into the apartment of 21 year-old Kathryn Bright after stalking her for a time. Keeping a record of her schedule, he broke into the house while she was away and waited for her return. He did not realize that when she did come home, her brother Kevin would be accompanying her.
This time, Rader brought two handguns and again used the story that he was a fugitive just there to steal the car. He proceeded to tie them up, Kevin in one bedroom with his feet bound to the bed post and Kathryn tied up on the bed in another bedroom. When he returned to strangle her brother, Kevin had managed to escaped his restraints and a physical altercation began. Rader withdrew one of the guns and shot Kevin in the head. Seeing the blood and the unconscious body, Rader thought he was good as dead and returned to Kathryn.
Kathryn had also managed to remove her restraints, but Rader overpowered her and restrained her again when he heard movement in the other room. The bullet was non-lethal and Kevin was back on his feet. This time in the struggle, Kevin grabbed one of the guns from its holster but wasn’t quick enough as Rader shot him again with the other.
He once again returned to Kathryn, but she continued to fight back. Rader said he felt he lost control of the situation so he grabbed a knife and stabbed her multiple times before going to clean up evidence again. At this point, he heard the front door and saw Kevin running down the street. Rader cleaned up what he could quickly and fled the scene.
On March 17, 1977, Rader was pursuing a different victim but couldn’t find the right house. Eager for another kill, he saw a young boy and used the ruse of being a police detective to talk to him. He then stalked the child home and waited for the opportunity to strike. The boy’s mother, 25 year-old Shirley Vian was home sick that day, and Rader infiltrate the home. Once inside, he locked the boy in the bathroom with some toys and tied Shirley to the bed.
At this point, she vomited all over herself. She mentioned someone would be by to help with her son. Rader cleaned her up, got her a glass of water, and soothed her before placing a bag over her head and strangling her. The phone rang, and startled him so he cleaned up and fled the scene.
Rader’s next target was 25 year-old Nancy Jo Fox. He noticed her entering her house and then proceeded to stalk her. He checked inside her mailbox to find her name, and even found out where she worked.
On December 8, 1977, he knocked on her door during the time she was usually at work. When he got no answer, he cut the phone line and broke in. When she arrived home, he confronted her and took her to the bedroom where he handcuffed her to the bed before strangling her with a belt. He then removed the handcuffs and belt and replaced them with pantyhose before masturbating and leaving.
The evening of April 27, 1985, Rader packed up what he would call his “kit” in a bowling bag and headed to the local bowling alley. He then called a taxi, feigning being drunk by swishing beer around his mouth and getting a ride to his own neighborhood. A few blocks away lived 53 year-old Marine Hedge who he would see outside her home often. She wasn’t supposed to be home at this time, but her car was in the driveway. He snuck into the house, but no one was home.
He hid in a spare bedroom and waited. When she returned home, an unknown male visitor was with her, so Rader remained hidden as the two socialized for an hour or two. Rader laid in wait until the middle of the night.
He flipped the lights on quickly, jumped on top of Marine and strangled her with his bare hands. This was just the beginning of his plans that night. He wrapped her body in a blanket and used her car to transport the body to Christ Lutheran Church where he was president of the church council.
He tied her body in various bondage positions and took Polaroids before using plastic sheets to wrap the body. He then used her car again to dump her body into a ravine off a main road.
On September 16, 1986, Rader posed as a telephone repairman to gain entry into the home of 28 year-old Vicki Wegerle. He even took tools and testing equipment with him to look the part. He then pulled a gun on Vicki and forced her into the bedroom. He tied her to the bed and used one of her stockings to strangle her.
He then posed the body in various positioned and photographed her before fleeing. He did not realize that Vicki wasn’t dead, but she died after emergency services arrived.
Rader’s final official murder occurred January 19, 1991. He cased the home of 62 year-old Dolores Davis. He prepared his kit and waited, but still hadn’t figured out how he was going to get into the house. She was home at the time, and not having a silent entry into the house, Rader threw a concrete block through a plate glass window to get in.
He overpowered her and then handcuffed her to the bed, strangling her with a pair of pantyhose. Similarly to Marine Hedge, he wrapped up her body and dumped it in a ravine.
Investigation and Capture
Rader did not stay quiet about his crimes. As mentioned previously about the Oteros, he wrote anonymous letters taking credit. First was the Otero letter left in a book at the Wichita Public Library in 1974.
In January 1978 , Rader sent a poem to a newspaper, the Wichita Eagle. This poem was a parody of a nursery rhyme but spoke of the murder of Shirley Vian.
On February 9th, 1978, he sent a letter to KAKE-TV claiming responsibility for seven murders and threatened to kill again. This four-page document included a poem called “Oh! Death to Nancy” with drawings of how the body was arranged in the Nancy Jo Fox murder.
In April of 1979, Raider waited in the home of Anna Williams but lost patience and left when she didn’t arrive. Several weeks later he sent her a poem in the mail called “Oh Anna, why didn’t you appear.”
He remained quiet until March 19th, 2004. For 25 years, the cases were cold. This time Rader wrote to the Wichita Eagle with a copy of Vicki Wegerle’s driver’s license and crime scene photos that only the killer could have taken. In Vicki’s case, crime scene photos were not taken with her body in the room, because she was in the care of emergency services.
On May 5, 2004, KAKE-TV received another letter containing a list of the chapters from the BTK story on the Crime Library’s website. This was one of the first articles on the Internet about the serial killer. However, Rader made some changes to suit himself, renaming different chapters.
On June 17, 2004, another letter was found in a mechanical engineering book left in the drop box of the Wichita Public Library. This letter focused on the 1974 Otero murders again.
On the 30th anniversary of Rader’s first contact with authorities, a suspicious letter was found in a UPS Dropbox. The contents of this letter have not been released.
On November 30th 2004, police held a press conference revealing personal details that BTK revealed in one of his letters.
In December of 2004, a plastic bag wrapped in rubber bands was found in a local park. Inside were Nancy Fox’s driver’s license and another letter like the May 5th one, but the chapters were once again changed and in different order.
On January 25, 2005, a suspicious package was found . Inside was a cereal box of Post brand Toasties containing pieces of jewelry from victims. Around this time, Rader also sent multiple postcards to KAKE-TV.
In one of the letters to police, Rader asked if information placed on a floppy disk could be traced. As instructed, they replied to him with a newspaper ad in the Wichita Eagle saying “Rex, it will be ok.”
On February 16, 2005, a disk was sent to Fox News’ KSAS-TV affiliate along with a necklace from one of the victims. On the disk was another letter from BTK. Police took this disk and analyzed the metadata on deleted files. This data gave two key pieces of information: Christ Lutheran Church and the name Dennis.
When police arrived at the church, Pastor Michael Clark was in disbelief. Publicly, Dennis was a nice, normal member of the congregation. He cooperated with police and told them that in January, Dennis asked to use the church computer to print off copies of the agenda for the church council meeting and used a disk to print the file.
With a name and the DNA evidence collected through the various crime scenes, police were able to apprehend Rader. During the 32 hour interrogation, Rader started with distance. He would refer to BTK in the third person and talked only in hypotheticals. Once he realized the evidence stacked against him, he started to talk.
And once he didn’t they couldn’t get him to stop. He started angry, repeatedly asking police Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, “how come you lied to me?”
Landwehr told him, “Because I was trying to catch you.”
As a true psychopath, once Rader started to talk about himself and his crimes, he went into great detail. He believed that the cops were his friends, and they fed into his ego to keep him talking. At one point, he even asked an officer to label the lid of his drink as BTK instead of Dennis.
Rader revealed many details, including all the trophies he kept from the crimes. He would go through his female victim’s belongings to find underwear to take from each woman. He would then later wear them himself, recreate the bindings he used on their bodies and photograph himself to relive the crimes.
Unlike many of the cases we cover, Rader did not go to trial. He originally pled not guilty, but as the trial loomed, he changed the plea to guilty and made a full confession on the stand. The 10 counts of first degree murder were sentenced as 10 consecutive life sentences. He will be eligible for parole after serving 175 years in prison.
There are three victims often overlooked in this case. In 1971, Rader married Paul Dietz and the couple had two children, Kerri and Brian. As a psychopath, he compartmentalized everything, and his family had no idea what type of monster he was. When the letters hit the news, Paula made a joke that he was as bad of a speller as BTK, but she never connected the dots.
His daughter, Kerri, has spoken publicly of her experiences and even published a book called “A Serial Killer’s Daughter.” She says she will always remember her dad as he was growing up, but she does say she can never forgive him.
After his confession in 2005, Paul was granted an emergency divorce that allowed her to end the marriage immediately instead of waiting the standard times.
In the News Again
On August 24, 2023, details were made public that Rader is the prime suspect in two cold cases in Oklahoma. The Osage Country Sheriff’s office dug up one of Rader’s previous properties and found new items of interest.
In 1976, 16 year-old Cynthia Kinney vanished from the family laundromat. Investigators have revealed a BTK journal entry called “Bad Wash Day” which holds some similar details to the case.
As of yesterday, Osage Country District Attorney has stated that the information and evidence they have so far is insufficient to press criminal charges but the investigation is on-going.
One of Rader’s sketches depicted a blond woman in a short green dress, bound inside of a barn. There is a Kansas cold case of Carol Sullens, an exotic dancer who was last seen wearing a green shirt dress.
The possibility of more victims is not surprising. The FBI Academy’s Behavioral Analysis Unit has studied Rader over the years. Retired agent Ray Hazelwood has said that Rader may be one of the most fascinating serial killers he has studied.
Robert Ressler, also a retired FBI profiler, believes that Rader had more than 10 victims. Psychopathic killers do not stop killing for years on end the way he did, leading many to suspect there are still secrets in the case of BTK.