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What Made BTK Killer Dennis Rader Different From Other Serial Killers?

Dr. Katherine Ramsland talked to CrimeCon 2022 attendees about the five years she spent writing a guided autobiography with BTK Killer Dennis Rader and how what she learned can help forensic psychology.

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Are There Fewer Serial Killers Now? Professor of Forensic Psychology Weighs In
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Are There Fewer Serial Killers Now? Professor of Forensic Psychology Weighs In

Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology and author of 69 books detailing her expertise in the field, interviewed the BTK killer Dennis Rader for years. She spoke with Oxygen.com about working on the book with Rader and answered questions about serial killers at Crime Con 2022 in Las Vegas.

"I think he thought I was his secretary," forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland told attendees at CrimeCon 2022 about her years interviewing and analyzing BTK Killer Dennis Rader.

"I thought, 'That works for me because he’ll be forthcoming.'”

Ramsland told her audience that she spent five years interviewing and analyzing Rader for the book "Confession of a Serial Killer," in part because "he lied and spin doctored and manipulated, but he also told me true things."

In fact, she said, though Rader confessed to killing 10 people and was long thought to have been dormant from 1991 until 2004, he told her that, in fact, he had an eleventh target in mind. 

"He just 'didn’t succeed,' is how he put it," she explained.

All in all, Rader — who referred to each of his victims as a "project" — presented Ramsland with 55 project dossiers, all of which included names, addresses and information gleaned from stalking them.

"They weren’t coming home on time," she said he told her of the reason he didn't kill many of his intended targets. Plus, she noted, he himself had limited time, had to call his wife, and was often busy with his children in the ensuing years.

During those dormant years, Ramsland said while showing pictures, Rader would often wrap, bind, suspend or even bury himself in elaborate auto-erotic asphyxiation scenarios, rigging a camera to take Polaroids. Or, she noted, he would take off-brand Barbie dolls — each dressed and bound like his female victims — with him on business trips, where he would engage in various play with them and take photos. 

Though he was diagnosed by a court-appointed psychiatrist as having narcissistic personality disorder, Ramsland said that Rader had few of the other characteristics generally associated with serial killers. He had a normal childhood in an intact nuclear family on a farm. There was no history of abuse and he sustained no major head injuries. The only animal cruelty he displayed was sanctioned: His grandmother didn't like cats and would have him put down the strays.

Who Is The BTK Killer Dennis Rader?

"I doubt she would’ve enjoyed him hanging them from the rafters of the barn," she said, noting that he secretly hanged rabbits that way as well.

Instead, she said she more or less agreed with Rader's initial self-assessment that serial killers all have a "Factor X" that drives their crimes. 

"His Factor X was a combination of his fantasy life, his need for dominance over women, bondage, and his need for fame," she said,

And though Rader expressed to Ramsland that, if he could've seen a therapist without a fear of being reported to police, or if there were more "S&M-type clubs" in the Wichita area, she doubts he was being honest.

Instead, she said his term for compartmentalization, "cubing," was a more accurate reflection of him as a person: He had multiple surfaces to him, and only showed certain ones as they were necessary.

People like him, she said, "can be what they need to be for any given circumstance; they do not have roots in integrity and truth."

CrimeCon 2022 is produced by Red Seat Ventures and presented by Oxygen.

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