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Crime News Snapped

The BTK Killer: Then And Now

From the outside, serial killer Dennis Rader was an upstanding member of his community, but he was hiding a dark and twisted secret.

By Benjamin H. Smith

From 1974 until his capture in 2005, American serial killer Dennis Rader murdered 10 people in and around Wichita, Kansas. In a series of communications with law enforcement and local media, he taunted authorities, dubbing himself “BTK,” which stood for “Bind, Torture, Kill,” and he was also known as the BTK Killer and the BTK Strangler.

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His murder spree began with the horrific 1974 quadruple homicide of four members of the Otero family and lasted until 1992, when he broke into the home of 62-year-old  Dolores E. Davis and strangled her to death. After a 12-year hiatus, he started planning his next murders and picked up his correspondence with police. After his planned 11th murder went awry, he was arrested in February 2005.

Not unlike serial killer Ted Bundy, from the outside, Rader was an upstanding member of his community. He served in the Air Force, was married with two children and was active in his church congregation. But underneath it all was a sick and twisted mind, which used murder and terror as a way to satisfy his sexual bondage fantasies.

Early Life

Dennis Lynn Rader was born on March 9, 1945, the oldest of four brothers. He grew up in blue-collar Wichita, smack dab in the center of the state of Kansas. His family were typical buttoned-down Midwesterners; his upbringing was strict, but not abusive. He appeared to have a completely normal childhood, but would later admit to catching stray animals and strangling them to death.

In his letters to police, Rader said he began fantasizing about women in bondage and S&M scenarios as a teenager. He claimed to have been a "Peeping Tom" who stole women’s panties. After high school, he attended college for a couple semesters before dropping out and joining the Air Force in 1966. He would work as an Air Force mechanic for the next four years, including periods stationed in South Korea, Turkey, Greece and Japan.


After being discharged from the Air Force in 1970, Dennis Rader returned to Wichita. In May 1971, he married Paula Dietz, who was three years his junior. They would go on to have two children — a boy, Brian, and a girl, Kerri. Kerri would later describe Rader as a good father, but also recalled an incident when he tried to strangle her brother during a family squabble.

In the early ‘70s, Rader worked on an assembly line for the Coleman Company. Coincidentally, it was also the place of employment of 33-year-old Julie Otero. On the morning of January 15, 1974, Rader forced his way inside the Otero family home and murdered her, along with her husband Joseph, 38, and two of their children, Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9. All four were bound and then asphyxiated to death in various ways.

In a creepy twist, from November 1974 until July 1988, Rader worked for ADT Security Services, installing alarm systems in homes and businesses. According to The New York Times, he was “widely disliked” by many of his co-workers. Ironically, with a killer on the loose in 1970s Wichita, the company saw an upsurge in alarm installations.

“Let's face it — B.T.K. increased our business," co-worker Denise Mattocks told The Times. In his spare time, Rader was taking classes at Wichita State University, where in 1979 he earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Rader was an active parishioner at Wichita’s Christ Lutheran Church, at one point even being elected president of the congregation’s council. Pastor Michael Clark later described him as “a very pleasant man to be around. He was there every Sunday.” When his son became a Boy Scout, Rader volunteered as a Scout Leader.

“He took part in everything that we did in scouting and with his son,” fellow Scouting Leader Bob Monroe told NBC News. “I considered him to be a very good parent and a very good scout leader.”

In 1991, Rader began working as a compliance officer supervisor for the Wichita suburb of Park City. According to The New York Times, homeowners referred to his tenure as a “reign of terror,” due to his frequent issuing of tickets and in one case it is alleged that he shot someone’s dog.

Arrest And Incarceration

On February 25, 2005, Dennis Rader, then 60, was arrested after police gathered significant evidence against him when he began issuing new communications on the 30th anniversary of the Otero murders. On June 27, he pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder, and then recounted the chilling details of his every crime. Following his confession, Paula Rader, his wife of 34 years, was granted an immediate divorceHe was later sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms and sent to the maximum-security El Dorado Correctional Facility near Wichita.

For his own safety, Rader is being held in solitary confinement.  At the time that he entered El Dorado, NBC reported he was allowed only five one-hour periods per week out of his 80-square-foot cell. In April 2006, victims' families were outraged to learn that due to good behavior he had earned privileges to watch television, listen to the radio, read and draw in his prison cell.

In 2016, true crime writer and forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland published the book “Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer,” which she described as a "guided autobiography,” and was compiled from five years of correspondences with Rader. 

After a cancer scare in 2017, Rader wrote The Wichita Eagle, saying he was planning “a kick-the-bucket scenario” for himself.

In response, his daughter Kerri Rawson said, “He’s talking about his own death, but he’s been dead to my mom for 12 years.”

Earlier this year, Rawson, announced the upcoming publication of her memoir, “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, And Overcoming.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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