Editor's note: This "Dateline" special aired prior to Dennis Rader's sentencing. He was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms in prison — a minimum of 175 years without a chance of parole — was the longest possible that Judge Gregory Waller could deliver.
"Dateline NBC" aired an exclusive jailhouse interview with the man who named himself BTK for his propensity to bind, torture and kill his victims.
This interview, obtained by “Dateline,” was conducted by a Harvard-trained psychologist, Robert Mendoza, who performs more than a hundred evaluations for criminal and civil cases each year. He was hired by the defense team to assess Rader’s sanity.
The conversation was taped just a couple of hours after Rader had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of murder in June. Within hours of delivering those remarks, Rader spoke about his appearance in that courtroom.
Mendoza: How you feeling?
Rader: I really feel pretty good. It’s kind of like a big burden that was lifted off my shoulders. On the other hand, I feel like I’m a star right now.
The man who taunted the media, the police, his community and the nation for more than 30 years, finally answered some of the questions of why.
How a hometown boy became BTK
Dennis Rader was a hometown boy raised in the Wichita area, one of four sons raised by church-going, Lutheran parents. His mother has been described as loving, his father as tough but decent. One brother said their home was without problems, without abuse.
But while Rader appeared a clean-cut high school senior in his 1963 yearbook, he was already having bizarre sexual fantasies. He kept them hidden as he served his country in the Air Force, then married a girl from home in 1971. But a couple years later, he could no longer keep those fantasies locked only in his mind. His obsession with sex and bondage evolved into deviant violent acts carried out on real people — and ultimately led to murder.
Rader: I started working out this fantasy in my mind. And once that potential — that person become a fantasy, I could just loop it over. I could lay in bed at night and think about this person, the events and how it’s gonna happen. And it would become a real, almost like a picture show. You know, I wanted to go ahead and produce it and direct it and go through with it. No matter what the costs were, the consequences. It was gonna happen one way or another. Maybe not that day, but it was gonna happen.
No one knows for sure why he had to kill to fulfill those fantasies, but in this interview with the psychologist, Rader says that he picked his first victims, members of the Otero family — utterly at random in late 1973.
The first murders
Rader had recently been laid off from a job and says he was feeling down and out at the time and had begun “trolling,” as he put it, in certain neighborhoods, including along Edgemoor drive where the Oteros lived.
Rader: That neighborhood, I guess, became what I call a haunt. It had special appeal to it. I’d been there. I started knowing the roads. I knew the people. You know, I’d drive by, watch cars, people pull out of their homes, and people go, wrote telephone numbers down, or wrote addresses down. This is how it really started is by haunts. That Edgemoor area was my first big haunt.
Julie Otero, her husband and their five children lived on Edgemoor then. It was just Mrs. Otero’s bad luck that she happened to catch Dennis Rader’s eye while he was driving down her street.
Rader: She came out of the house and took the kids to school, so I followed them to school. I thought, well, that’s a corner house. That’s a possibility. And I was in between work. Idle hands, what is it?
Medonza: The devil’s workshop?
Rader: Yes, and all these things seemed to happen most time when I had idle hands. I had just lost a job at Cessna. That was demoralizing to me.
Mendoza: So they were convenient?
Mendoza: How did they fuel the sexual fantasy, though? Was there something specific about them?
Rader: Mrs. Otero’s attractive. And then I saw Josephine, too.
Josephine was the Otero’s 11-year-old daughter.
Rader: So I must have had that somewhere in my mind. A younger person — that must have locked in on me.
It would be nearly two months before Rader acted on the sexual fantasy involving Mrs. Otero and her daughter.
Inside the Oteros home
On January 15, 1974, Rader broke into the home of the Oteros, the objects of his obsession. He says he entered the home that day a very anxious man, though he recounts the story with a strange lack of emotion.
Mendoza: You were nervous?
Rader: Oh extremely nervous. All of a sudden, I had already cut the phone line. And, it’s funny, because I left my knife. I left the cutter. I had to come back and get those later. But then, the door opened. So here I am. So do I just walk out the back door and they call the police? Or I go for it?
And I went for it. You know, it’s just like, now I can’t back out of it. And that’s basically what happened all the way through. "I can’t back out of this. I’ve got to go all the way now."
At that point, he says acting out his sexual fantasy was his only goal, murder was not yet part of his plan.
He says the family didn’t take him too seriously at first.
Mendoza: What happened once they saw you?
Rader: Well, they thought it was a joke. I went in, I think it was a younger Otero and they were all in the kitchen, they were making sandwiches.
Mendoza: The younger male or female?
Rader: No, it was the younger—the junior—uh, Joseph.
Rader says to keep the family calm, he made up a story about why he was there.
Rader: Mr. Otero actually stepped up and told him I was coming for some food. I was wanted in California or wanted. I needed some food and water and some money and transportation. That was my ruse to kind of calm him down. He kind of laughed a little bit. He said, “What is this, a joke? You know, who sent you over? My brother-in-law?”
Rader says the family bought his lie about being on the run from the law and not wanting to hurt them. And so, at gunpoint, they acquiesced to his tying up all four of them — mother and father, and younger son and daughter — without a struggle.
Rader: So they were cooperating with me 100 percent. And that’s probably their demise. If they probably struggled and fought with me, it would have been a different story. But they felt fairly comfortable so that’s what I was going to do.
As Rader tells this story — like he does so often — he paints his own conduct in the best possible light. So he says he took pains to make his victims feel even more comfortable by actually loosening some of the binds around their hands and feet.
Rader: I’m trying to comfort them as much as I could.
Mendoza: To keep them quiet, or because you actually were worried about it?
Rader: Both. But, you know, although — I’m not a bad guy, I care for people. You know, I have concerns for people. And I hadn’t really crossed that path yet where I was going kill the people yet, so I was still in concern mode.
"Dateline" asked James Alan Fox, one of the nation’s leading criminologists and a professor at Northeastern University to give his analysis of this interview. His most recent book about serial killers includes BTK.
James Alan Fox: What you’re seeing here is a very early form of a future serial killer who’s still trying to decide what it is he’s going to get out of these crimes. He wants to fulfill his fantasy, but it’s not necessary for them to feel excessive suffering. At this stage, he hadn’t yet made a decision to kill.
Fox has has studied serial killers for 25 years and has written numerous books.
Rader: I had them all controlled completely. I went in the other room and I thought, “Do I just leave or what? They already know me—my face.” So I went back and put a plastic bag over Mr. Otero’s head. I put a garnet over his neck and pulled up on it. And that’s when it all hit the fan: They could all see what I was doing.
Rader describes first strangling the mother and father while their 9-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter watched. Although he is describing acts of unspeakable cruelty, his voice is utterly devoid of emotion.
Mendoza: Kids were watching this?
Rader: Yes, they were watching it. They were screaming and hollering.
Mendoza: Did you want to move them from the scene at all?
Rader: No, no, I had to get control. It was really noisy. They were they were screaming and—
Mendoza: The noise is bothering you?
Rader: Yeah, the noise was bothering me. And the mailman would be out there, or somebody would be walking by. So I had to control it very quickly.
"He only looks at these events from his own perspective," analyzes Fox. "This is all a script designed to please him, because remember, it was almost like these people weren’t real. They were just actors. And they didn’t matter. What mattered was his enjoyment. And the kids screaming was just taking away from his enjoying all of this stuff. How can he get aroused with all these kids screaming?"
Rader: (Sighs) It was just something that I had to do. Once I started with Mr. Otero, I knew I had to do all four of ‘em. It’s like an execution— you know, once you start it, if there’s witnesses, you had to do it all the way around.
For someone who seems so callous, you might assume Rader was always a coolly efficient killer. But the way he tells it, Rader didn’t have a clue how much force it took to end a life—and so tried several times to strangle Mrs. Otero only to have her wake up again.
During the woman’s last, desperate struggle for consciousness, Rader says she was fully aware he was snuffing out the lives of her husband and two children. In what he says were her last words to him, Mrs. Otero’s humanity shines against the killer’s inhumanity.
Rader: Mrs. Otero had woke up and she actually said, “God have mercy on your soul,” is what she said. And I put her down permanently.
Mendoza: This woman who probably knows now that she might be going to die, she is generous with you. Asking God to have mercy on your soul?
Rader: Yeah. Yeah.
Mendoza: Pretty generous thing to tell a man—
Rader: Someone who’s trying to kill you.
Mendoza: That’s killed and tortured your family and is about to do the same to her.
Rader eventually took young Josephine Otero down to the basement of her home and hanged her from a pipe. The police found semen near Josephine’s body.
"Going forward, recollections of what he had done with these victims fueled his desire to do it again," analyzes Fox.
Rader says the whole experience left him quaking.
Rader: I was really on a, not a sexual high, I was just scared high. I was really nervous, sweating, I had sweat running off me all over the place. And I just, you know, I had gloves on. I had rubber gloves, and they were just full of water, sweat. It was just really... my clothes were just soaked with sweat. Very nervous. Not like a master criminal at all. This is my first time that I’d ever crossed that barrier.
Several hours later, Charlie Otero, then 15, and his sister Carmen, then 13, came home from school.
Charlie Otero: As I walked through the back door I noticed the kitchen was in disarray. Things were on the floor. It didn’t look right. And I yelled out, “Is anybody home?” That’s when I heard my sister cry out, “Charlie, come quick!” I ran through the hallway down to the bedroom and I found Carmen with my parents. My father was tied up, his eyes were bulging. His tongue was about bit off. My mother was on the bed. She didn’t even look like my mother. And I looked at my dad. I could smell the death and the fear in the room.
Charlie and Carmen had not seen what had happened to their younger brother and sister when they were taken to the police station. They say they told police to make sure Joseph Jr. and Josephine did not enter the home.
Charlie: So I was telling the police the whole time, “Go to Josie and Joey’s school and keep them from coming home. I do not want them to come home and find the house the way it is with police everywhere.”
Carmen: We were afraid of what they would see. We were at the police department for quite awhile and we kept asking them, you know, “Did you get a hold of the little ones?” And finally they finally told us, “You don’t have to worry about that. They were killed also.”
Charlie: When they told me about Josie and Joey, I just died inside. After that day, I lost my religion instantly. The minute I saw my mother, I said, “There cannot be a God. Not only can there not be a God, but I hate him if he is a God, if there is one.”
A despair not difficult to understand from a man whose mother, father, sister, and brother were slaughtered in their own home, horribly and inexplicably.
While the Oteros were the first, they would not be the last people to fall victim to Dennis Rader’s hellish world.
There would be more bodies, more suffering loved ones, more questions about who he was and why he was doing this.
After murdering four members of the Otero family, Dennis Rader spent the next several years killing again, and again, and again. His next few victims were all young women. In this interview with the psychologist, Rader dismisses each victim as a “project.” He says he’d begin by stalking.
Rader: Stalking stage is when you start learning more about your victims, potential victims. Went to the library, I looked up their names, address, cross reference, called them a couple of times, drove by there whenever I could.
And each time he struck, Rader said he was armed with what he calls his “hit kit.”
Mendoza: The hit kit contained what?
Rader: Plastic bags, rope, tape, knife, gun, all those would be in a kit they’d be where I could have them in the house and gather them up.
Tools that would come to define the work of BTK: The victims were often discovered bound with tape or rope tied in unusual knots.
Rader: You have to have the control, which is the bonding. That’s been a big thing with me. My sexual fantasy is of, if I’m going to kill a victim or do something to the victim, is having them bound and tied. In my dreams, I had what they called torture chambers. And to relive your sexual fantasies you have to go to the kill.
Three months after murdering the Oteros, in April of 1974, Dennis Rader struck again.
In April of 1974, three months after the Otero murders, Rader’s next victim was Kathy Bright, a 21-year-old college student. Once again, he’d selected her randomly, while driving down her street, as he told the court in June.
Rader: I saw her go in the house with somebody else, and I thought, “That’s a possibility.”
Rader’s plan was to lie in wait and overtake Kathy when she came home. But the plan went awry when she unexpectedly showed up with her brother Kevin. Rader said in court he was able to get brother and sister tied up, but the knots that bound Kevin were not holding.
Judge: Were you armed with a handgun at that time, also?
Rader (to judge): Yes, I had a handgun. I actually had two handguns. Well when I started to strangle him, either the rope broke or he broke his bonds and he jumped up real quick like. I pulled my gun and quickly shot and hit him in the head. He fell over. I could see the blood.
Rader said he thought Kevin was dead and turned to strangle Kathy when he heard Kevin move. The two men struggled again and Rader shot him for a second time in the head. He then continued trying to strangle Kathy, but was unsuccessful, and so he stabbed her multiple times in the chest.
Meanwhile, much to Rader’s surprise, Kevin had somehow managed to escapethough his head wounds from the gun shots left him unable to how about say clearly describe the killer.
Rader: I thought the police were coming at that time. I heard the door open up. I thought, “You know, this is it.” And I stepped out there and I could see him running down the street. So I quickly cleaned up everything that I could and left.
Six months later, in October 1974, Rader announced himself to authorities in the first of many letters he sent to newspapers and other media outlets, communiques that would come to include poems and puzzles.
It began a campaign that would reveal his other motive to kill: publicity and a twisted desire for celebrity. A sick obsession of Rader's, like some other serial killers, had to be known. And feared.
It was Rader who came up with BTK as a name for himself.
Rader: I just put it in one of the first letters. I’m always surprised I put it up there first. I think it was just — Bind, Torture, Kill. Now I had a label on me. It was like the “Green River Killer” and “Son of Sam” and a whole slew of others stuff—“The Boston Strangler.”
The police now knew the murders of the Otero family and Kathy Bright were linked and that they had a serial killer in their midst. For tactical reasons, though, it would be several years before they disclosed that information to the public.
Still, they wanted to communicate with the mysterious strangler. Police quietly placed a classified ad in the big hometown daily. “BTK- help is available.” But there was no response. And Rader did not kill again for three years.
Rader: You know it wasn’t something I could do all the time. So whenever it was convenient, it would have been easier, probably if you were like a spy or something where you could go, sit there and watch. But I didn’t have that. I had to work under camouflage.
The murders of Shirley Vian and Nancy Fox
Then in March 1977, he struck again. His victim, Shirley Vian, was 24 years old. He said in court he’d watched her young son walk into the house and spontaneously chose that family to victimize.
Rader: [I] knocked on the door and told ‘em I was a private detective, showed ‘em a picture and asked them if they could ID the picture And at that time I had the gun there. And I just kind of forced myself in. I just walked in, just opened the door and walked in then pulled a pistol.
Shirley Vian was home with her three small children, whom Rader corralled into a bathroom.
Rader: The kids were really banging on the door, hollering and screaming.
It’s horrifying to remember that Rader himself was a young father at this time: his own son was not yet 2 years old. But, with the sounds of the Vian children in the background, he said he simply worked as fast as he could.
Rader in court: And then I proceeded to tie her up. She got sick, threw up. I got her a glass of water, comforted her a little bit. And then I went ahead and tied her up and then put a bag over her head and strangled her.
In another admission that reveals Rader’s depravity, he told the psychologist the thrill had little to do with the kill— or for that matter with the victim herself.
Rader: I don’t think it was actually the person that I was after, I think it was the dream. I know that’s not really nice to say about a person, but they were basically an object. That’s all they were. I had more satisfaction building up to it and afterwards than I did the actual killing of the person.
"Many serial killers objectify their victims," explains Fox. "They dehumanize them. They’re tools. They’re instruments for their own pleasure."
Magnus: How does someone who is a married, young father objectify people and kill them?
Fox: The process is called compartmentalization. Many people are able to divide the world into those they care about and love truly and everyone else who’s expendable.
Magnus: He says that he had more satisfaction anticipating his kill and in the aftermath of killing than he did murdering someone itself?
Fox: That’s his fantasy. The planning process, the stalking, the hunting, it’s all very enjoyable to him. And the aftermath, once he’s killed, to see what he’s done, that’s fulfilling too. That’s when he would literally climax.
The sexual fantasies and the obsession with bondage: Rader claims it’s been swirling in his head since he was a child. He remembers being aroused as a young child when his mother would spank him.
Rader has written in letters, which no one’s sure are true, that he secretly perused S&M magazines as a boy. He stole panties, peeped in windows, and writes of hanging a cat, and then a dog.
Magnus: How does sexual fantasy and even an obsession with bondage lead to murder?
Fox: It doesn’t necessarily. What makes serial killers different than other people who might fantasize about power, dominance, control is that they do not have a legitimate way to satisfy their need for power. So they grab that power in a violent way.
At the end of 1977, in December, Dennis Rader killed his seventh victim, Nancy Fox.
Rader: And then I just selected a night, which was this particular night to try it, and it worked out.
He told the judge he’d been stalking her for quite a while.
Rader in court: I went around the back of the house, cut the phone lines. I could tell that there wasn’t anybody in the north apartment, broke in and waited for her to come home in the kitchen.
This time his plans went smoothly as the single working girl, who was just 25, came home alone.
Judge: What happened?
Rader: I confronted her, told her I had a problem, a sexual problem, that I would have to tie her up and have sex with her.
Rader said he handcuffed and tied Nancy Fox, strangled her with a belt, left his tell-tale semen by the body and got out without a hitch. Then he called the police. Rader actually had the audacity to phone 911 and alert authorities to his own crime.
In the jailhouse interview, Rader said in hindsight, he thinks that call was dumb.
Rader: That was kind of an impulse and really, a really stupid thing to do. I left my voice pattern and my voice on there.
And still, Rader was not done communicating. The following month, he sent a poem written with a child’s printing set on an index card to the Wichita Eaglenewspaper. The poem, patterned after a nursery rhyme, referred to Shirley Vian’s murder.
Fox: And that’s very much textbook with a man who’s arrogant, who’s narcissistic, and thinks a lot about himself. He thinks very highly of himself. He’s important. He’s superior. He’s a big shot. He’s a national figure.
Several days later, he sent another letter— the most disturbing one yet— and the one that finally put the killer on the news and put the community in a tailspin.
BTK's bid for publicity
It was February 1978 and then TV news director Ron Loewen was readingwith disgust and revulsion a letter that arrived in his newsroom at KAKE-TV.
In a two-page, single-spaced letter, Rader — using the name BTK—again announced himself as a serial killer. He then went even further in his bid for publicity: Comparing himself to “Son of Sam” in New York, Jack the Ripper in London, and the “Hillside Strangler” in Los Angeles, claiming they were all driven to kill by what he called Factor X . “It seems senseless but we cannot help it,” he wrote. “There is no help, no cure except death or being caught and put away.”
Ron Loewen: He was making it clear that he wanted to be elevated to the serial killer hall of fame. This is the league that he said he should be in. He listed 15 to 17 additional serial killers, infamous serial killers.
Magnus: Through the ages?
Loewen: Through the ages. BTK is a student, that was the first thing that flashed through my mind.
Along with a lurid description of the Otero killings, Loewen says the killer was literally begging for ink, with lines like: "A little paragraph in the newspaper would have been enough?" and “How many people do I have to kill until I get the recognition I deserve?”
Loewen: I’ve always thought that he had the misfortune, given his aspirations, to live in a small media market. He never got the attention because he lived in Wichita. If he’d done any of this in Los Angeles, it’d been a different story.
Even more chilling, the killer threatened he was bearing down on murder victim number eight.
Loewen: He was stalking someone now, he’s picked his victim. He indicated how he was going to kill that person. And then the last sentence was, “Maybe it’s you.”
Magnus: He was trying to frighten people?
Loewen: Oh definitely. And he succeeded.
It turned out the Wichita police had been intentionally denying BTK publicity for some time: Profilers had warned them against caving in to the killer’s demands for attention, on the grounds that if he got it, he’d kill again. But that tactic clearly hadn’t worked, BTK had kept on killing anyway. Now, faced with the strangler’s written threat to take yet another life, the police abruptly changed strategy.
Richard Lamunyon: At that point we need to step up and say, "Yes we recognize you as BTK, and we do have a serial killer here."
A TV news director becomes bait
Police chief Richard Lamunyon and news director Ron Loewen appeared on TV that February 1978 side by side. It was Loewen himself who broke the story of BTK to the community — which was highly unusual. During that newscast, Loewen, who never talked publicly about these events before discussing them with “Dateline,” became in effect, live bait.
Lamunyon: The police said, I guess based again on their talk with their behavioral people, that this is a cry for help. This guy has more that he wants to say. We’d suggest that you do the story so that it has someone he might choose to communicate with again.
Magnus: How did you feel about offering yourself up as someone who would be willing to communicate with this deranged mass murderer?
Lamunyon: Well, you know, you want to help. So if he wanted to write letters and they came to my attention, why not?
It was quite a risk: BTK had already murdered seven people and Loewen could end up getting far more than just a letter in the mail. But there he sat, asking questions of Chief Lamunyon for which there were no good answers.
Loewen: It was horrific news. Everything changed for me. And everything changed for everyone in Wichita.
Loewen says the effect of the bombshell announcement on this gentle, family-oriented city was instantaneous.
Loewen: He absolutely terrorized the community. Everyone was a suspect. Girlfriends were concerned about their boyfriends. There were parents who turned in their children. The fear was palpable.
Hoping BTK would contact him, the police brought Loewen inside the investigation. Loewen was provided a photo of a possible suspect, and a police revolver.
Loewen: And that gun creeped me out. It was the tangible reminder that there was a killer out there and that at some level the police thought that he might be coming to see me.
In 1979, Ron Loewen received yet another package from BTK. This one, which arrived in Loewen’s TV newsroom more than a year after BTK had last been heard from, was announcing not another murder, but a failed attempt.
The intended victim, a 63-year-old woman Rader had been stalking unexpectedly spent the night out which saved her life. But Rader made sure everybody knew he was still primed to commit murder—sending the media that package containing some personal items he’d stolen from her home, and including one of his trademark poems.
Loewen: Which was a poem of death. He said that he was disappointed she didn’t come home, that he intended to kill her.
Rader now claims in this interview with the psychologist that that woman wasn’t the only one that got away.
Mendoza: Is it safe to say that there are at least a few lucky people out there?
Rader: There’s a lot of lucky people out there.
Mendoza: Who you didn’t kill?
Rader: Yeah, didn’t make it to the house, they come home or for some reason I didn’t go. There’s a lot of lucky people out there, yes. There would have been more probably if I had succeeded. Yeah, you’re almost guaranteed it.
After that failed murder attempt, Wichita’s most famous and sought-after strangler would disappear from the scene.
After five years and 7 bodies, he stopped communicating in 1979. And the police simply couldn’t find him, despite a manhunt unprecedented in scope that went on for years.
Lamunyon: We spent a lot of their money working this and no one complained. Not one bit.
Year after year went by and the once-hot BTK investigation eventually became a cold case. By the mid ‘80s, the elite police unit created to hunt down the killer closed up shop. Once the city’s public enemy #1, BTK became part of Wichita legend.
Re-emerging 30 years later
On January 2004, in Wichita Kansas, Dennis Rader was 58, still living in the house on Independence street. Rader was a compliance officer for Park City and an active member of the Christ Lutheran church. He'd been married 32 years, his son and daughter were all grown up now.
And the other Dennis Rader? The brutal strangler who'd so far gotten away with all those murders all that time —and hadn't been heard from in 25 years?
Rader says he was "retired." "He was gonna go off the face of the earth."
Or so he says.
Soon enough an excuse to grab the limelight would come again. The Wichita Eagle published an anniversary article about the mysterious serial killer known only by the name he'd given himself, BTK and who had committed his first murders 30 years earlier. Of course, it was all so long ago Rader found his exploits weren't even front page news anymore. He says it all made him feel a little itchy.
Rader: That really stirred it. I read that in the paper and I always though, you know, I'd like to bring this back out again, but should I? And I think I've reached the point in my life — the kids were gone. Not really bored, but kind of bored.
And something else: Rader knew a local lawyer was writing a book about him— or about BTK, that is. That didn't sit too well eitherwith the man who had such an enormous appetite to draw attention to himself. Rader felt only he could do justice to his story.
Rader: Eventually I was going to tell the story in my terms and not his terms. They already had the killings, so that's factual. But they didn't know how I worked and moved around the projects, the haunts, how I picked my victims. They didn't know how that worked. I could just really stir the hornet nest up with the media by just showing them pictures and puzzles and playing a game with them.
So in March 2004, Rader made contact, not just signaling that he was still around, but far more ominously sending what appeared to be proof of yet another murder another young woman whose death had never been conclusively linked to BTK.
The innocuous looking piece of mail landed on Wichita Eagle reporter Hurst Laviana's desk.
Laviana: I copied the envelope, copied the letter and took the letter straight to the police department.
Magnus: Did you read it?
Laviana:There's nothing to read. There are no words on it. I thought it was crime scene photographs that some crackpot had gotten a hold of on the Internet or something. The pictures appeared to be pictures of a dead woman.
Her body had been posed several different ways, these were clearly not police photos. And there was something else: a photocopy of a driver's license of Vicki Wegerle.
Laviana: Vicki Wegerle's driver's license. And I immediately knew this probably came from Vicki Wegerle's killer.
In September 1986, Vicki Wegerle, a young mother was found tied up and strangled in her home. And a trophy had been taken, in this case her driver's license. So police had naturally suspected BTK but there were differences, too: especially that the killer had never publicly boasted about it afterward, as was his pattern.
Now all these years later, in addition to the copies of the photos and the driver's license, there was the envelope they came in. The return address said, "Bill Thomas Killman." "BTK."
Laviana: And that's when we realized this may be the real deal.
Magnus: Tell me about that moment.
Laviana: It's just total disbelief that he was still here.
Laviana agreed to give the police two days to nail it down, and then broke the story. The ghost was back. Policecould now say that more than 17 years earlier, Vicki Wegerle had indeed been BTK’s 8th known victim.
Fox: So by resurfacing in 2004 and sending a letter along with a photograph and the driver's license of the victim he's saying, "I'm still here. You never caught me. And I've been here all along."
Former Wichita TV news director Ron Loewen made a prediction to us almost a year before Rader was caught — and sadly, when it was all over, he'd be proven right. There had been two more murders never before connected to BTK that brought the total number of his victims to 10.
Unknown victims:Marina Hedge and Delores Davis
In 2004, Rader was still hiding evidence about his murder of Marine Hedge. She lived on his block and they knew each other.
In court, Rader described how, after bowling one evening in 1985, he broke into her house and waited for her to come home. Rather than leaving her body in her own home, Rader changed his m.o., confusing police at the time.
Lamunyon: Killed her in her house, put her in the trunk of her car, took her to his church, put her on a blanket, tied her up in different bonding situations, took pictures of her and put her back in the trunk and took her out and dumped her. It was the middle of the night. He had a key because he was one of the leaders of the church.
Marine Hedge's body was later found buried under some leaves and branches in this ditch, several miles from her home.
And even as his persona BTK re-emerged in 2004, Rader was also hiding evidence about his last victim: Delores Davis, whom he killed in 1991.
Her son Jeff talked to us recently after viewing Rader's interview with the psychologist.
Davis: She was a kind, considerate, empathetic, gentle person given the circumstances of her death she kept her class and her dignity and her poise right up to the end.
In court Rader said he used a concrete block as a battering ram to crash through Delores Davis' sliding glass door and enter her home. Rader then took her body from the house. But authorities only knew that she was missing.
Davis: Probably kidnapped at best or dead at worst. So that kind of started the clock on a seemingly 13-century time frame, where we didn't know what happened to her and that is a trip to hell.
13 days later, his mother's body was found under a bridge. Of course police didn't know then who'd done it. Jeff Davis says he slipped into despair and depression that destroyed his marriage and worse.
Davis: I would go to bed every night for the better of five years and I prayed to God that he'd let me die.
Delores Davis driver's license and social security card had gone missing — taking trophies was certainly the kind of thing BTK did to his murder victims. But there were many other aspects of this crime that strayed from his usual m.o.
So until Rader was caught and the police announced Delores Davis as the tenth victim, her son was left to wonder.
Davis: I guess there was the remote possibility that there was some phantom serial out there but honestly I never connected it with BTK.
Fear in Wichita
Would he kill again? That was the question consuming much of Wichita Kansas in the weeks after serial killer BTK announced himself in 2004 following years of silence.
Here, in the heartland fear of the unknown monster among them penetrated yet a new generation.
People were learning karate, buying guns, beefing up security systems, and looking at strangers with a suspicion not felt in years.
In his jailhouse interview, Rader claims he didn’t know he was having this effect.
Rader: I didn’t realize that the city really lived in fear of that bad. I only heard spurts of it on the news. Women would come home and look under their doors and under their beds and just really lived in fear. I didn’t realize that I had that potential.
To that, Loewen dropped his jaw and made a note on a piece of paper. "And I just scrawled 'liar.' Once again, even with the learned psychologist there, he’s playing a game."
At the very least, says criminologist James Fox, Rader is being completely disingenuous. He says for the serial killer, the fear is all part of the twisted fun.
Fox: Part of the enjoyment that serial killers have is not just manipulating the victims, tying them up. But manipulating a community, and tying them up in a grip of terror.
The killer still lusted for notoriety, however. So after first revealing himself in that letter to the Wichita Eagle, he sent a slew of letters and packages throughout 2004 and into early 2005 — to local TV stations, the police, even leaving clues in a public park.
The clue was a doll with dark hair, her face colored with makeup. Her arms were bound behind her by a pair of pantyhose. Her head contained in a plastic bag. Next to the doll, was a copy of the driver’s license of one of BTK’s victims, Nancy Fox. There was also a handmade word puzzle—which investigators now see contains a group of letters spelling D. Rader and the numbers of his address.
It all put Wichita’s serial strangler front and center again. Just how he liked it.
Mendoza: Was that exciting to you? Was that sexually exciting to you?
Rader: Probably the media. Not in any sexual but the media attention. I had listened to the news quite a bit. And yeah, I’d get pretty excited to read the paper.
Mendoza: Did you ever think you were going to get caught?
Rader: No. This guy was not going to get caught— Absolutely not. No I didn’t want to get caught.
Rader: I wanted to put everything on floppies, they would go from a floppy to a CD. The CD would either go in a safe deposit or a very hiding hole. And I could always bring it back out.
Many have speculated that Rader’s repeated messages were indeed a cry to be captured, but James Fox says it’s just the opposite.
Fox: He felt invincible. Unstoppable. And that’s why many serial killers do communicate with the police. Not because they’re looking for capture. Because they feel that the police are no match for their skill, their cunning, their stardom, their brilliance. So what often happens among most serial killers is they get to feel so cocky and they make a mistake.
And that’s just what happened. It was Rader himself who helped bring police to his door.
How Rader got caught: 'What nailed him was his hubris'
It started in January 2005, when Rader placed a letter in a pick-up truck at this Home Depot which eventually made its way to police. In it, Rader, identifying himself only as BTK, asked the police whether they could catch him if he used a computer disc to communicate. He asked the police to respond in a classified ad and he asked them to “be honest.”
Mendoza: And you actually asked the police if they could catch you.
Rader: And they said no.
Mendoza: They said no. Did you really think they were gonna tell you the truth?
Rader: No. I thought they would. I thought they wanted me to finish the story. I really thought I had a rapport with them—you know. And I really did.
So naturally the police lied, and told the killer they couldn’t trace a disk to him. They waited to see if he would fall for it.
Magnus: Doesn’t that seem kind of dumb?
Lamunyon: (Laughs) Well, yeah it does.
Magnus: To believe the police would tell you the truth about something like that?
Lamunyon: I mean, he’s been playing games with us for 30 years. And you think we’re going shoot straight with you. I don’t think so.
Rader fell for it. His last communication was a computer disc filled with more taunts and puzzles. He sent it to a local TV station. The police were able to trace it to a “Dennis” and a computer at Rader’schurch. By googling the church name and “Dennis,” police quickly zeroed in on Dennis Rader.
Magnus: What nailed him ultimately was the last floppy disk he sent.
Loewen: What nailed him was his hubris. He went too far.
Police also used a surveillance tape from that Home Depot to figure out that the person who’d dropped off the BTK letter was driving a car registered to Dennis Rader’s son.
But to make certain they had their man, they needed a DNA match. So authorities got a warrant for a tissue sample from Rader’s daughter, on file at a Kansas medical clinic. Tests showed it was a close match to the evidence drawn from the crime scenes.
It was now early in the week of February 21st, 2005.
And former police chief Richard Lamunyon remembers quite well when he got the news he’d waited more than 30 years to hear:
Lamunyon: Simply said we’ve got him. He said it’s just a matter of time, we got him.
Dennis Rader spent the morning of February 25, 2005 on the job in ParkCity, where as the town’s compliance officer Rader was responsible for things like corralling mad dogs, or chewing people out if their grass grew too high.
Rader: [It was a] normal work day. I didn’t have any suspicions. Although I’d been really careful about watching people and actions and stuff. I was usually pretty good about that.
He says he noticed nothing unusual, except maybe a moment when he overheard on his police radio the FBI was up to something in his town.
Rader: And I thought, well you know, maybe something’s coming down. Shall I run? But where would I have ran if they were after me? I just took a calculated guess that that was something else and hope for it.
Then at midday, the killer went home for lunch.
Rader: Drove home and just as soon as I got started turn down, it was Frontage Road, I saw this whole line of police cars up. That’s not good. And —they were right on me. Just that quick. I thought maybe it was a traffic stop or something. But as soon as one of ‘em’s behind me with the red lights and sirens, I knew that was it.
With that, Dennis Lynn Rader, the man believed to be BTK, was finally in custody after 31 years.
Rader: They arrested me, yep. They got out of the car. They pulled guns on me. Told me to lay down. And I sprawled out and they grabbed me real quick like in handcuffs and stuck me in a car. "Mr. Rader, do you know why you’re going downtown?" And I said, “Oh, I have suspicions why.”
At first it was kind of—kind of a cat and mouse game. That they had a suspect. But it, but it, but it did kind of hurt, you know. Like you said, I had the power, you know, I was a law enforcement officer technically and here I am—these law enforcement officer were trying to do my duties. That kind of hurt a little bit.
Rader confesses to the police, and enjoys it
But before long, Rader, in his self-obsessed was talking up a storm — and says in this interview with the psychologist he actually was having a good time connecting to the police officers.
Mendoza: During the interrogation it seemed as though you were enjoying being one of them at times. And it’s almost like colleagues—
Mendoza: —talking shop?
Rader: Camaraderie? Camaraderie, yeah. Yeah, we talked shop. I know a lot of the police terminology. I know how they do things. So it yeah, it’s kinda a bonding type thing, you know.
Mendoza: Did you enjoy that on any level?
Rader: Yes I did. All I knew was sunk or it soon would be but yeah, I enjoyed it. And once the confession was out and I admitted who I was, then, then the bonding really started You know, I just really opened up and you know we shared jokes and everything else. It’s just like we were buddies.
"He’s proud of what he’d done," says Loewen. "He was having in a perverse way fun talking with his colleagues, the police."
Magnus: What do you make of the camaraderie he says he enjoyed with all of the police officers who were interrogating him when he was arrested?
Fox: Well it implies a certain degree of control here of the situation. “I’m a good guy. They’re a good guy. We’re all in the same profession here. I worked in law enforcement technically.” He was a wannabe cop. It makes him feel better to think of them as peers.
But however much Rader may have imagined he was still in control, the reality was just the opposite. Richard Lamunyon, who once headed up the police department, says the script was going their way now.
Magnus: Were they, in fact, playing him?
Lamunyon: Absolutely. These officers that were interviewing him were hand-picked. They have studied him. They knew the characteristics. They were playing to his ego, to his strength... they were bringing him up — making him think, “Hey we’re buddy buddies.”
Then, just as quickly, they shut him down. The interview ended, the attention stopped, and the officers went home. It was only then, Rader tells the psychologist, that the reality of his past and the impact on his future finally started to sink in.
Rader: Was there any way of getting out of this? You know, is there any possible way and I thought, “No, there isn’t any way. They’ve just got too much on me.” And then most of my thoughts went back to my family. You know, how my family was holding up? How were they taking this?
And, and it was main thing just you know, you’re caught. Incarcerated and all those things that you enjoyed are gone. You know, you just have to be in that position to realize that. I don’t think normal people who are outside in the world can visualize that. Just like right now, you just — you touch people and call them and, you know, your kids. It’s tough. Sorry. It’s gone.
This was one of the few moments in the interview where Rader revealed any emotion. When he was talking about himself and his family.
Mendoza: Actually in our regular sort of ritual...
Rader: Well anyway, people don’t realize that once you’re gone and you can’t go out and out in the fresh air, walk your dog, hug your wife, kiss your wife. You know, go to movie, have a pizza, hamburger. It’s all gone.
"It's all about him," comments Lamunyon.
Magnus: When you watch him, do you feel anything?
Lamunyon: You feel pain. Cause every time I see him, I see all of his victims and the tortured looks on their faces from all the crime scenes, and what he actually did. He left that part out. He never mentioned them.
Instead, all Rader could do was complain to the psychologist about how he missed all the attention he’d been receiving from his police interrogators.
Rader: They did not come Saturday. They did not come Sunday. Sunday was probably the lowest day in all my life.
Mendoza: What happened?
Rader: I was really depressed.
"Can you imagine? This is a man who’s already been arrested, he’s ripped from his family probably forever. They despise him. Oh, by the way, he’s killed ten people. And the lowest day of his life is when the interrogation doesn’t continue?" points out Loewen. " Doesn’t this tell us a lot about Dennis Rader?"
While Dennis Rader sat in his cell with no one to satisfy his desire to keep talking about himself— the police and a cast of dozens proudly announced his capture to the citizens of Wichita and the world.
But it wasn’t until late June, when Rader appeared in court for what was supposed to be the first day of his trial that people got a good look at — and earful from — the man who had killed so many people over so many years. Instead of maintaining the “not guilty” plea he had entered earlier, there was a surprise.
People in and out of court listened aghast to rader as he detailed each murder in his cold, chilling, emotionless manner.
Ron Loewen watched rader’s court appearance on TV.
Loewen: People make a lot of the point that he didn’t show any emotion. He was showing incredible emotion. The detail that he used, he paused, and his search for words. The graphic, graphic description he gave. This wasn’t someone who was stumbling, who was nervous. This was show time for him. He couldn’t have asked for a better stage.
The killer was clearly puffed up by his court appearance, bragging about it afterward when he spoke with the psychologist.
As you might expect, a certain former police chief would love to lower the curtain on Dennis Rader.
Lamunyon: I’d like to be the one to be able to put him in his cell and turn his lights out. That’s what I’d like to do.
What will become of Dennis Rader? His wife of 34 years divorced him two weeks ago . And a hearing to determine his sentence begins next Wednesday, August 17, in which prosecutors will lay out their evidence against him and his victims’ families can speak up against their tormenter for the first time.
Rader will get a chance to ask the court for mercy— and any expression of remorse he might make then can be weighed against the remarks he has made in this interview.
Magnus: So, how does someone like Dennis Rader get to be this way?
Fox: Well, that’s the $64,000 question that we don’t completely know. Part of it is the propensities that you’re born with and part of it too is what kind of environment you’re growing into. These are all the intangibles that we can’t predict and don’t fully understand.
The murders were committed before Kansas reinstated the death penalty. But it’s almost certain that Rader, who is 60 years old, will never see freedom again. He faces 175 years in prison.
Rader says he's making his peace with God
He told the psychologist he’ll make amends in his way to his God.
Mendoza: I know it’s personal, but could you tell me what you pray for?
Rader: Actually, like the other day, I prayed for the family would accept me on appearing in court.
Rader: That they would accept that as forgiveness.
Mendoza: Your family? Whose family?
Rader: My family. And also I mentioned earlier, the victim families, that they would, you know, not that they could forgive me, but maybe someday they can realize, you know, I’ve got some problems.
We asked Jeff Davis, the son of Rader’s last victim, what he thought about that.
Davis: Oh yeah, there’s the classic understatement of the world. He does have problems, all of which are his own making. He did not come from any abused family. He can’t blame any environmental factors. He can’t blame anybody or any sickness or being dropped on his head. Wished they’d dropped him a little harder.
Davis, who like so many other family members is also a victim of BTK, wrote a book to help him and others cope with the trauma of loss— and to make sure people knew how special his mother, Delores Davis, was.
Davis: I would be damned if her legacy ended with her being murdered. A beautiful, loving, kind, gentle person and her legacy is being murdered and dumped out in a ditch like a bag of dirty laundry for the dogs to go through. And I was not going to let that happen.
Just after Davis’ book was published in 1996, he received a letter from “a taxpayer,” who Davis now firmly believes was Dennis Rader. It has never before been made public.
The letter said: “We’ll call the serial killer, the phantom of northern Sedgwick County,” which is where Rader lived. It also said, “I’m sure that he probably blends in with a crowd.”
Davis has prepared remarks for Rader’s sentencing, but has no illusions that day will bring him any more solace than when he finally learned Dennis Rader was his mother’s killer.
Davis: People used the word closure. There is no such thing. Closure happens when you go back to that moment in time and it doesn’t happen and the person’s still there.
Charlie Otero, who also faced a hard life after the murder of his parents, sister and brother, knows what Davis means. He spoke to “Dateline” right after Rader was arrested.
Charlie Otero: I wonder about what they were thinking and the feelings that they had while this was happening to them. My family’s murder is with me daily. It never leaves me from the memories of my family come back to me. Whenever I see a husband hug his wife or a father and a son play, I think of my family and what I had lost.
For so long, Charlie Otero, Jeff Davis and so many others have wanted to know why their loved ones were victims. And now they know. It was one man’s inability to control his sexual fantasies, one man’s depraved indifference to human life... and a terrible coincidence for ten 10 people who were caught in Dennis Rader’s murderous web.
Lawsuits have been filed against Dennis Rader by families of all ten of the victims.
In the event he’s able to sell his story, the families want to ensure that he never profits in any way from the vicious murders he committed.
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