WICHITA, Kan. — Prosecutors offered chilling details into the BTK serial killer’s reign of terror Wednesday, outlining his fascination with bondage, his desire to strengthen his hand muscles when he found it hard to choke victims, and a terrifying conversation he had with an 11-year-old girl before he killed her.
During the first day of Dennis Rader’s sentencing hearing, Detective Clint Snyder testified the serial killer told investigators he used a squeeze ball to strengthen his grip after finding his hands numbed during strangulations.
In describing one killing, Rader told Snyder: “I’m sorry. I know this is a human being, but I’m a monster.”
Rader, a 60-year-old former church congregation president and Boy Scout leader, pleaded guilty in June to 10 murders between 1974 and 1991. The slayings terrorized the Wichita area until Rader was arrested in February.
The sentencing in many ways is a formality, with the only issue before the judge whether Rader will serve his 10 life sentences consecutively or concurrently. Kansas had no death penalty at the time the killings were committed.
Rader’s long fascination with bondage was shown to the court in a photo he apparently took of himself wearing pantyhose and a bra and hanging from a pipe in the basement of his mother’s home.
Exchange with a young victim
Kansas Bureau of Investigation special agent Larry Thomas testified that after Rader killed Josephine Otero’s parents and brother, he took the 11-year-old girl to the basement. Prosecutors projected to a screen Rader’s recollection of the exchange he had with Josephine before he killed her.
“What’s going to happen to me?” she asks.
Rader: “Well, honey, you’re going to be in heaven with the rest of your family.”
Rader then hanged the girl and masturbated over her body.
“I remember problems with Josephine because her hair was in the way,” Rader told investigators.
Rader looked away briefly as crime scene photos were projected on the courtroom screen. But he otherwise appeared calm throughout the hearing, sipping water or occasionally taking notes on a legal pad.
The hearing is expected to extend into Thursday, and feature statements from victims’ relatives before Judge Gregory Waller imposes the sentence. Prosecutors want Rader to get the longest possible sentence — a minimum of 175 years without a chance of parole.
Reliving a family tragedy
Wednesday’s details were wrenching for the surviving Otero children, who found their parents dead when they came home from school in January 1974. They would learn later that their brother and sister were also dead.
Carmen Otero clutched an afghan in the courtroom and nervously tapped her foot on the floor through much of the testimony. She was just 13 when she used a fingernail clipper to try to cut the gag off her dead mother’s face.
The two brothers, Charlie and Danny, mostly crossed their arms through the testimony, occasionally wiping away a tear. But when prosecutors projected a close-up photo of Josephine on the screen, Charlie Otero became visibly flushed, buried his face on his lap and cried.
Rader looked on as KBI special agent Raymond Lundin said the killer told authorities in an interview after his Feb. 25 arrest that he targeted Josephine because he was attracted to Hispanics.
“He said that he has always been attracted to Hispanic looking people — dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin. He said Josey was the one who caught his eye and she was his target,” Lundin said.
Lawsuits seek to prevent BTK from profiting
Rader told KAKE-TV — the Wichita station with which he had often communicated as "BTK" since the 1970s — that he was working on an emotional statement for his sentencing.
In his confession, Rader — whose moniker stood for "Bind, Torture, Kill" — said sexual fantasies drove him to commit the killings, which he referred to as his "projects." Days after the confession, Rader called KAKE from prison and told them he had picked out an 11th victim before he was caught.
With the criminal case winding up, Rader now faces lawsuits from the families of his victims seeking to keep him from profiting from his crimes. Rader's ex-wife, Paula, has filed a petition to intervene in those cases, primarily to protect proceeds from the sale of their home.
NBC affiliate KSNW and The Associated Press contributed to this report.