Video: 'I've humbled myself'

By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 8/22/2005 10:24:23 AM ET 2005-08-22T14:24:23
COMMENTARY UPDATE

It's been said that justice delayed is justice denied. But, for the victims of the BTK killer, justice was finally served.

While his victims can no longer speak for themselves, the infamous BTK serial killer -- 60-year-old Park City (Wichita), Kansas, code enforcement officer and local church president Dennis Rader -- finally faced his last day in court. Rader, of course, has confessed to only ten crimes -- those that took place before Kansas reinstated its death penalty in 1994. Now, the only thing left to relatives of his various victims was to insure that Rader never sees the light of day as a free man. But sentencing him to multiple life sentences plus a "hard 40," thereby guaranteeing he'll be in prison at least to age 100, is still little consolation for those who have lost so much.

Rader assigned himself the code name or moniker of "BTK," standing for "Bind Them, Torture Them, Kill Them." His murderous activities began in 1974, and he terrified an entire community for thirty years. By some accounts Rader ended his murderous activities in January 1991. But others suggest that serial killers do not stop their crimes, and in Rader's case the authorities may not yet have identified all of the killer's victims. Rader, of course, has confessed only to crimes that took place prior to Kansas reinstating its death penalty.

Video: Graphic testimony Police indicate that he stalked and identified at least one other potential victim after his last murder. I think his employment as a code enforcement officer, a job he got less than four months after his last known murder in 1991, provided him with a badge, a gun and the power and control over others that he once derived as a serial killer. Should this be the case, that job likely saved others from becoming his victims.

During his previous court appearance, one in which he confessed to his known crimes, Rader looked like a college professor as he lectured the judge and the public on the "M.O." of serial killers. Rader looked in control. The floor was his podium to speak from, and he appeared to enjoy that position. His demeanor changed, however, as he reacted to statements by investigators and the family members of his victims, this as he had to sit and listen.

Some psychologists have suggested that Rader is a sociopath, someone without a real conscience, a killer without the ability to identify with the pain and suffering that he causes his victims. Regarding this, BTK says he was led to commit his horrific crimes by two potential masters. The first, a demon he calls the "X-factor," he says is inside him, making him do what he did. His second master was the sexual fantasies he said he lived out through his unspeakable crimes. These crimes were against men, women, and children, ranging from a woman in her 60's to a child less than 10. Rader was married with two now adult children.

When his wife once expressed her fear of the BTK killer, Rader told her to lock the doors and not to worry. Although the behavioral and personality clues to his alter ego were there, his secret identity appears to have been unknown to even those closest to him. Should his wife have had suspicions when she caught him wearing one of her dresses? Yes. But do some spouses disregard unusual behavior on their partner's part to save their marriage and their family? Yes again. It turned out that his desire for publicity and "credit" for the activities of his hidden personality, the monster BTK, led to his ultimate identification and arrest. Rader didn't turn himself in though. I think after 30 years he simply didn't believe he could be caught.

Dennis Rader compared himself to John Wayne and James Bond, further evidence of the fantasy world that BTK lived in. Rader was an everyday person with an everyday life. BTK, however, was a persona that allowed Rader to carry out fantasies that for others would qualify as our worst nightmares. A recent self-taken photograph of Rader wearing pantyhose and a bra while hanging from a pipe in his basement serves to show that his sexual fantasies are still very much alive and "well," and that the X-factor is still a resident in his mind. We know that one of BTK's victims, an 11-year-old girl, was murdered and hung from a basement pipe. The connection between this young girl's murder and Rader's photo of himself will be left for the prison psychiatrist to discern.

Rader has not shied away from characterizing himself as a "Monster." He even appears to embrace this self description in his icy cold telling of his crimes and his recounting of their bizarre psycho-sexual aspect. Rader changes his expression only when he deems it necessary to lecture those he perceives as knowing less than he does about serial killers--which include most of society. I don't believe his tears in court for one minute. He's a manipulator and a control freak, and that has not changed with his arrest and conviction.

Rader's final court appearance did not give the relatives of his victims all of the answers and the satisfaction that they sought. His cold, emotionless lack of response, his inability to express true remorse for his actions, and his probable delight in re-offending his victims by hearing the police and the family members relate the aftermath of his BTK handiwork only served to deepen the devastation and hurt he has already caused. His appearance in court, shown on TV around the world, probably only swerved to fuel his mental picture of himself as a dark superhero with the combined traits of John Wayne and Jack the Ripper. I just don't know if anyone can ever get real closure. This is especially true when you have carried the pain of your loss for years. And now we have Rader in court. He has provided us with great, unemotional detail as to how and why he chose his victims. He's told us how he related to them in the last minutes of their collectives lives. (He's stated that one female victim "fought like a hellcat.") He's already related how he brutally murdered them -- unbelievably suggesting that he needed to work on strengthening his grip as his hands grew numb after strangling his victims!

I hated to see Rader provided with this public format to further torture the family members of his victims, searing the word images of his crimes in their minds while reliving his crimes before them and his television audience. That he sat and took notes may be the way he allowed himself not to pay full attention in court, or it may be "Professor BTK" correcting the record of his reign of terror. By this, he wants to insure that he is remembered the way he wants to be remembered long after his final public appearance. And don't forget the other victims in this matter. The entire Wichita community lived in fear of BTK's shadow for decades. And Rader's own family lived with a monster as a husband and father and say they never knew demon that possessed him. Although granted an almost instant divorce from her husband, the ex-Mrs. Rader now fights to keep the money from the sale of their home from being taken in civil proceedings that have been filed against her former husband. More insult to injury on yet more victims.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."

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