What’s it like to be pen pals with not one, but two, infamous serial killers?
Well, you get to see their custom predatory signatures and you get to learn what kind of Doritos chips they like.
Dr. Scott Bonn (pictured, left), criminologist and author of “Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World's Most Savage Murderers,” kept in touch with both Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer, and David Berkowitz (pictured, right), aka Son of Sam, from 2011 to 2013.
Those names should sound familiar: Rader murdered 10 people between 1974 and 1991 and gave himself the nickname BTK (which stands for his self-professed modus operandi — Bind, Torture, Kill), and Berkowitz killed six and wounded seven between 1976 and 1977. Both terrorized the areas they lived in and loved to toy with the media while doing so.
The letter correspondence was for his book "Why We Love Serial Killers," and later, Bonn used the letters as inspiration for a fictional book based on the two murderers as well as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, entitled "Evil Guardian."
So what was it like to talk with them regularly?
“I was fascinated by both of them. I developed a rapport with both of them,” Bonn told Oxygen.com. “I was able to develop an emotional connection, or a human connection, with David Berkowitz, but not with Dennis Rader.”
He called Rader a complete psychopath.
“He’s what’s known as a malignant narcissist and psychopath, so he is incapable, he is absolutely not wired, he does not have the ability to connect emotionally, or have any sort of empathy with another human being, which is what made him such a cold-blooded killer,” he said. “So, you can have very interesting, intellectual conversations with Dennis Rader, but there’s no humanity behind it. For him, killing was like having a stamp collection or collecting butterflies. Seriously. In fact, he referred to his killings as ‘projects.’ That’s what he referred to them as.”
A chilling part of having a relationship with Rader was the way he signed his letters: a shark drawing.
“He says, ‘I am no different than a venomous serpent or a shark,’” Bonn told Oxygen.com. “In fact, he signs his name, Dennis, in his letters, in the shape of a shark, like a logo. He’s created a prison logo for himself. That shows you, that’s how he visualizes himself... it’s a psychopathic trait. It enables him to completely separate himself from the acts themselves, and allows him to sleep like a baby at night because he is saying, ‘I am simply doing what I was created to do.’"
Not only did Rader have his own predatory signature, but he also created his own letterhead using his initials DLR (Dennis Lynn Rader).
“The D is tipped on its back, and so creates what looks like a tunnel or a cave as like a letterhead, and he calls the solitary confinement cell where he lives 23 hours a day, ‘The Cave,” Bonn explained. “So when you get a letter from him it says, ‘From The Cave of Dennis Lynn Rader.’ Then in the cave, there’s always a little picture that’s seasonally correct. So if it’s spring, there might be birds and flowers looking through the cave. In the winter there might be a snowman.”
With Rader, Bonn said he was always conscious of the fact that he was trying to manipulate him in some way.
Berkowitz, however, is completely different.
“David Berkowitz, first of all, is not a psychopath,” he said. “I think he was a very emotionally disturbed young man when he was killing.”
Bonn said that Berkowitz underwent what he called a "spiritual awakening" and became a born-again Christian in the mid-80s. At that time, he changed his name from Son of Sam (which was a dog he blamed his killings on at the time) and became the Son of Hope.
“He fully maintains that he has been born again, that Jesus has saved him, that he is completely remorseful about his killings, and that he only wants to do good now,” Bonn said.
They bonded so much, he felt inclined to visit Berkowitz in prison at Sullivan Correctional Facility, which Bonn describes as a “spooky” super-maximum security prison “sandstone fortress” way up in the Catskills of upstate New York, full of pretty much only murderers.
Bonn described Berkowitz as non-threatening.
“He’s this sort of red-cheeked little gnome character, bouncing into the room and wants to give you a hug and pray with you,” he said. “He insisted on praying with me. So we had what was actually a fascinating and delightful afternoon eating hamburgers from a machine — I had to take quarters because he’s not allowed to touch money — so they have these vending machines where you can buy hamburgers and hot dogs; his favorite snack food, by the way is Cool Ranch Dorito chips.”
Bonn said Berkowitz asked him for a second bag of the Cool Ranch snacks.
“He said, ‘Y’know, I really like these. Can I have another bag?’ And I said, ‘Of course, you can have another bag,’” Bonn said. “ He was very polite, very nice.”
They then posed for a picture which kind of made it look like they were on a romantic vacation together.
“The mural that we selected was a beach scene,” Bonn said. “So here I am, standing with the Son of Sam, in front of a mural where there’s a sunset and a palm tree painted on the wall.”
[Photo: Provided by Scott Bonn]
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxgen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.