|“||How many do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?||”|
— Rader in a letter to KAKE-TV
Rader was born on March 9, 1945, as the eldest of four sons to William Elvin Rader, a Kansas Gas & Electricity employee, and Dorothea Mae Cook, a bookkeeper. His brothers were named Jeff, Paul, and Bill. Though he was born in Pittsburgh, Kansas, he was raised in Wichita, Kansas, where he attended Riverview School and graduated from the Wichita Heights High School. In 1957, he was confirmed into the Zion Lutheran Church. By his own account and several reports, he engaged in animal torture during his early years, hanging cats and dogs in barns, and harbored a sexual fetish for women's underwear. After attending the Kansas Wesleyan University between 1965 and 1966, he was in the U.S. Air Force until 1970, stationed in Texas, Alabama, Okinawa, South Korea, Greece, and Turkey. He would peep at women undressing and burglarize houses to steal women's underwear during this time. Sometime during the 1970s, he married, and he and his wife, Paula, had two children, a boy and a girl.
When Rader returned to the U.S., he moved to Park City, a Wichita suburb, and attended the Butler County Community College of El Dorado, earning an associate degree in Electronics in 1973, and then enrolled with the Wichita State University the same fall, graduating in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in Administration of Justice. Throughout his life, he held down several different jobs, including working at a supermarket, as an assembler for a camping gear firm, briefly for Cessna and, between November 1974 to July 1988, held various positions at ADT Security, which at the time sold and installed commercial-grade alarms. In the early 1980s, he became a Cub Scout troop leader. During his time in that position, he would teach the boy scouts some of the knots he used in his murders. Also, in 1989, he worked as a census field operations supervisor of Wichita and was, in 1991, hired by the Compliance Department in Park City as a dogcatcher and compliance officer. He was later described as being extremely strict in his position and even overzealous. One neighbor claimed he euthanized her dog for no reason. He was still working there at the time of his arrest and was also the congregation president of the Christ Lutheran Church.
Letters, Arrest, and Conviction
Rader's killings occurred between 1974 and 1991, during which time he killed a total of 10 people (the first four of whom were killed in one night). Occasionally, he took breaks from killing. Some such periods were around the time that his children were born and he didn't have enough free time to stalk potential victims. During these periods, he would engage in auto-erotic behaviour to keep his urges satisfied. He enjoyed performing self-bondage, sometimes wearing a mask he used during some murders or even female underwear he had taken from his victims. Throughout his serial killing career, Rader sent several taunting letters to the police and media in which he graphically described his murders. The first, written in October 1974, was stashed inside an engineering book in the Wichita Public Library. In 1978, he sent another to Wichita-based TV station KAKE in which he also suggested a number of names for himself, such as "The Wichita Strangler", "The Wichita Hangman", "The Asphyxiater" and, the name the public came to know him by, "The BTK Killer", signifying his M.O.: "Bind, Torture, Kill". The next letters did not come until later. In 2004, the newspaper The Wichita Eagle received a letter from someone using the return address "Bill Thomas Killman". The writer of the letter claimed responsibility for the September 16, 1986 murder of Vicki Wegerle through a series of crime scene photos, details about the murder, and a photocopy of her driver's license. Prior to this, the murder had not definitely been tied to BTK.
KAKE also received a word puzzle containing words like "FANTASIES", "REALTOR", "SERVICEMAN" and "TELEPHONE" in May 2004. On December 8 of 2004, Rader made calls to a number of companies, including KAKE TV, to tell them the location of a package he had left for the authorities. It took him a while to get responders' attention because when he introduced himself as BTK, they all thought it was a prank call and hung up on him. One postcard sent to KAKE used the alias "Happ Kakemann" and the station's own address as return address. On February 16, 2005, Fox TV station KSAS in Wichita were sent a floppy disk. A forensic analysis revealed that it had been used by the Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita and contained a reference to the name "Dennis". An Internet search revealed that Dennis Rader was the president of the church council. On February 25, 2005, he was arrested and formally charged on February 28. As a result of his arrest, Rader's wife filed for divorce the same year and was allowed to forgo the legal 60-day waiting period. As Kansas did not have capital punishment at the time of Rader's murders, he was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences.
He is currently serving this time in the El Dorado Correctional Facility and is not eligible for release before February 26, 2180. He is held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, only being released one hour a day for yard exercise and is allowed three showers a week. Through good behavior, he has been allowed a few privileges such as access to television, radio, and magazines. He is currently 76 years of age.
Rader usually targeted women, though he did kill or attempt to kill men and children on a few occasions. He would wander through Wichita until he found a potential victim and enter their homes through home invasions. The kills were highly premeditated, as he would stalk them beforehand to know when they would come home and who lived with them, bring various items with him to use for the kill and the break-in, like duct tape, rope, and a screwdriver (which he would put in a briefcase or a bowling bag), cut off the phone lines to prevent the victims calling for help, etc. He did not, however, make a habit of bringing a "hit kit" until after his first few murders, initially using objects from the house. He also wore what he referred to as "hit clothes" to the murders and later dispose of them.
Rader would use a .22-caliber Colt Woodsman handgun (with which he shot Kevin Bright by incident), a .357 Magnum, and a knife to threaten his victims and gain control of them. On two occasions, he also masturbated on the victims' bodies. The victims were typically tied up, sometimes using items from their houses, and killed by strangulation, either manual or with a ligature, or suffocation with a plastic bag. When he strangled his victims, he would do it repeatedly as a form of torture and become sexually aroused from watching them struggle. In the case of his fifth victim, Kathryn Bright, he tried to strangle her but stabbed her with a knife instead when she struggled too much. He also took souvenirs, such as underwear from his female victims, driver's licenses, and personal possessions. He had a habit of nicknaming his home invasion plans in a manner similar to the way military operations are codenamed; the Kathryn Bright home invasion was called "Project Lights Out" and Vicki Wegerle's murder "Project Piano" because he liked listening to her playing.
After the murder of Dolores Davis, FBI profiler John Douglas assumed that BTK had either been arrested or had died. It could be assumed, though erroneously, that the pictures, drawings, and memories would be sufficient enough to complete his fantasy. When the BTK killer began communicating again, the BAU developed a strategy to keep him communicating by issuing press releases. BTK took the bait.
- Unspecified dates: Numerous victimless burglaries
- January 15: The Otero family
- Joseph Otero, 38 (father; suffocated with a plastic bag over his head and strangled with a clothesline rope)
- Julie Otero, 33 (mother; strangled with rope twice)
- Joseph Otero II, 9 (son; suffocated with a plastic bag)
- Josephine Otero, 11 (daughter; was hanged with rope and her body masturbated on)
- April 4: Kathryn Bright and her brother Kevin:
- Kathryn Doreen Bright, 21 (intended to strangle, but was stabbed three times in the back and lower abdomen with a knife as she struggled too much)
- Kevin Bright, 19 (incidental; shot twice in the head with a .22; survived)
- January 15: The Otero family
- March 17: The Relford family
- Shirley Vian Relford, 24 (mother; strangled with rope and suffocated with a plastic bag over her head)
- Bud Relford, 8 (eldest son; forced into a bathroom, tied up, and intended to kill along with the two below)
- Steven Relford, 5 (youngest son)
- Stephanie Relford (daughter)
- December 8: Nancy Fox, 25 (was tied up and strangled repeatedly with a belt and her body masturbated on)
- March 17: The Relford family
- April 28, 1979: Anna Williams, 53 (intended; Rader gave up as she came home much later than he expected)
- April 27, 1985: Marine Hedge (was manually strangled)
- September 16, 1986: Vicki Lynn Wegerle, 28 (was tied up, strangled to the point of fatal injury with a nylon stocking and left for dead)
- January 19, 1991: Dolores E. Davis, 62 (strangled with pantyhose)
- Note: Rader also stalked two women in the 1980s and another in the 1990s. He also admitted during interrogation that he had planned to kill again and had even set October 2004 as the date, though he never carried it out.
On Criminal Minds
- Season One
- "Unfinished Business" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Rader appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Walter Kern - Both are serial killers and stalkers who were in the U.S. Air Force for some time, had jobs as alarm installers until 1988, primarily targeted women (though Rader also killed a man and a boy), stalked them beforehand, held them at gunpoint to control them, bound them before strangling or suffocating them to death (both manually or with a plastic bag), took their driver's licenses as trophies, sent taunting puzzles to the police, stopped killing in the 80's only to return years later, and were given nicknames for their crimes.
- Season Three
- "Limelight" - Rader was referenced in the episode when one of the nicknames Jill Morris came up with for Jeremy Andrus was ETK - Electrocute, Torture, Kill, undoubtedly a reference to Rader's nickname of BTK.
- "Tabula Rasa" - Rader was mentioned during the trial of Brian Matloff, when his attorney names him as an example of times when profiling failed, referring to when a profile stating that Rader would be divorced and impotent was made while he in actuality was married and had children.
- Season Four
- "Soul Mates" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Rader appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, William Harris - Both were sexually-motivated, psychopathic serial killers who were successful family men well-known in their communities, targeted women and killed their victims by strangulation (though this was only one of Rader's methods).
- "Zoe's Reprise" - Rader was referenced when copycat serial killer Eric Olson copied his M.O. for one of his murders, though he raped that victim while Rader did not do that to any of his victims.
- "Omnivore" - Hotch compares the Reaper to Rader and the Zodiac Killer, describing them as "highly intelligent, disciplined, sadistic killers who name themselves in the press". Rader may have also been an inspiration for Foyet - Both were narcissistic serial killers and stalkers who were described as "disciplined, sadistic killers who name themselves for the press", primarily targeted women out of hatred but also killed other male victims, killed them by stabbing (once in Rader's case), and taunted law enforcement. Also, a book was written about Foyet suggesting that he had been arrested on an unrelated charge or died in some way, an attribute that (according to Reid) would later lead to the captures of the respective killers after they made some sort of contact with the press to correct it.
- Season Five
- "Outfoxed" - Rader was referenced again.
- Season Six
- "Remembrance of Things Past" - Hotch names Rader along with Lonnie David Franklin as an example of serial killers who suddenly stop killing and return several years later, referring to how Rader committed his last known murder in 1991 and started communicating with the police in 2004 after over a decade of silence.
- "What Happens at Home" - Rader was mentioned alongside Kenneth Bianchi as an example of serial killers who have some kind of law enforcement job, referring to when he worked as a compliance officer in Park City, Kansas.
- Season Eight
- "Pay It Forward" - Rader was mentioned as an example of serial killers who go dormant for long periods of time or completely quit.
- Season Nine
- Season Ten
- "Breath Play" - though not mentioned in the episode, Rader may have been an inspiration for Patrick Jon Murphy, the episode's unsub - both are sexually-motivated serial killers who developed dangerous sexual urges as a result of a childhood incident, had long periods of dormancy and killed four of their victims in quick succession, primarily targeted women (though Rader also killed men), killed their victims by strangling them (though this was only one of Rader's methods), and were well-known family men who were married and had daughters.
- Season Thirteen
- "Neon Terror" - Rader was referenced again.
- Season Fifteen
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
- Wikipedia's article on Rader
- Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, The Serial Killer Next Door (2008)
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Rader
- Blogspot page about Rader
- Serial Killers Podcast article about Rader
- Murderpedia's article about Rader
- Find A Grave article about Rader's victims
- Prezi presentation about Rader by Tripp Robinson
- True Crime and Justice article about Shirley Vian Relford
- Altered Dimensions article about Rader
- Biography.com's page on Rader
- The profile doesn't explicitly state that he was impotent, though it states that he would have been sexually immature. Nor does it state that he was divorced; in fact, it says that he would never have been married.