DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Hi, everyone, I‘m Dan Abrams.
Tonight, new developments in the 30-year-old hunt for a serial killer. On February 25th of this year, Dennis Rader was arrested, accused of being the man who became known as the BTK Killer. BTK for bind, torture and kill.
Police are confident they have their man. But today, he pleaded not guilty. Rader, a former Boy Scout leader, is charged with a string of murders in Kansas that began in the ‘70s. Today, a judge entered a plea of not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder for Rader. His trial now set for June.
But first, some background. The case had been a national mystery for three decades. Those who knew Dennis Rader said he‘s a regular guy, a church-going dad, the man next door, but others had questions. We begin tonight with “DATELINE NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
EDIE MAGNUS, DATELINE NBC (voice-over): In this 1963 high school yearbook photo, senior Dennis Rader is the clean-cut boy with the awkward smile and the plaid jacket and tie.
Here, years later, he‘s the amiable colleague in his white shirt and jacket, proudly sporting the badge of the security company he works for. And here he is a man apart, an accused mass murderer confined to a Wichita jail cell. The dissonance is unnerving to many here who wonder how the man now charged as the BTK serial killer for years just blended right in.
TIM ROGERS, “WICHITA EAGLE”: A lot of people told us, “Wow, it‘s just not what we thought.”
MAGNUS: Tim Rogers is an assistant managing editor at the “Wichita Eagle.”
ROGERS: Because of the brutality of the crimes and because the way it has so traumatized so many people in the community, they really expected to see someone who would be more fearsome or more loathing, but it‘s not. It‘s the face of a guy that we run into every day.
MAGNUS: BTK, it turns out, is believed to be Dennis Rader, the guy you might have run into on the assembly line Coleman Company, the man in the stands with his wife when the Kansas State University football team played at home, the man who might have come to your home to install a security system to help keep you safe.
Dennis Rader was the guy you‘d run into if a stray dog was terrorizing your neighborhood or if your grass grew too high. He might have been your child‘s Cub Scout troop leader or the man sitting next to you at the church supper.
Paul Carlstedt has known Rader for 30 years.
PAUL CARLSTEDT, RADER‘S FRIEND: That‘s the Dennis that I know, Dennis that signed up for something and would follow through.
MAGNUS: But police know say the Dennis Rader he knows already had assumed a secret and terrible identity time by the time the two men met in 1975. Just one year earlier, Rader had allegedly tortured and then slaughtered the Otero family, the parents and two of their children. They were the first victims of the self-named BTK strangler.
As these police sketches show, the couple‘s young daughter, just 11-years-old, was murdered apart from the others, alone in a basement. Then-Police chief Richard Lamunyon says she was Rader‘s likely target.
RICHARD LAMUNYON, FORMER WICHITA POLICE CHIEF: He‘d take a young girl, in this particular case, and the younger women later on, and strangle them to the point of almost death. And then that‘s how he was, you know, getting his relief, so to speak. And he was leaving semen behind as a result of that.
MAGNUS: Through the mid-‘70s, police say Rader murdered three more women, even as and he his wife moved into this house on Independence Street, joined the local Lutheran church and had two small children.
CARLSTEDT: I watched his children grow up. I watched Dennis nurture them and show them. And I felt that he was a good father.
MAGNUS: A good father, he says, and an active church member. Rader succeeded Carlstedt as president of the congregation just this January.
CARLSTEDT: He will be an usher. He will run the sound system. He will count the money after the service. If something needs to be done, Dennis was always available to help.
MAGNUS: Carlstedt still can‘t make sense of it. How could Rader be the BTK strangler who bound, tortured and killed his victims, and the man who psychologically traumatized so many who lived here for so long?
(on-screen): If he is BTK, how did Dennis Rader hide it from those closest to him? And how did he escape detection by police who were hunting for the serial killer for more than 30 years? One theory is it was the very ordinary quality, at least on the surface, of Rader‘s small-town life.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There‘s nothing unusual that anyone‘s come forward to suggest about it.
MAGNUS (voice-over): He lived almost all his life in Wichita, except for a stint with the U.S. Air Force, stationed everywhere from Lackland, Texas, to Japan.
Rader and his family just blended into their community. His son and daughter attended the local public schools. His wife was a bookkeeper for the Diamond Shamrock Convenience Store. And Rader went to work for ADT, installing home security systems, in 1974.
MICHAEL FITCH, FORMER CO-WORKER: We‘d sit around and have popcorn before he went home.
MAGNUS: Former co-worker Michael Fitch says he remembers Rader as a nice enough guy, although he says Rader was a stickler for perfection.
FITCH: He would go through the business or the residence, and he would make sure that everything was in its place, and make sure the customer was always happy.
MAGNUS: Fitch says Rader‘s colleagues had no hit of a sinister side to his life, just that he could be overly critical and occasionally moody.
FITCH: I definitely didn‘t want to get on his wrong side. So I was intimidated by him when I first started working.
MAGNUS: But if he sometimes found Rader a little prickly, Fitch, like so many others who were a part of Rader‘s life, just can‘t believe what he‘s hearing now, that during those 15 years Rader worked for ADT, police say he committed four of the ten murders to which he‘s been linked.
BOB MONROE, BOY SCOUTS LEADER: ... signed Dennis up as a Cub Scout leader.
MAGNUS: Fellow scouting leader Bob Monroe says Rader always set a good example for the boys in his troop and for Rader‘s own son who went on to be an Eagle Scout.
BOB MONROE: He took part in everything that we did in scouting and with his son, which is very important in cub scouting, that you do work with your boys. So I considered him to be a very good parent and a very good scout leader at that time, of course.
MAGNUS: So is it possible, he wonders, that the man he knows as a good scout leader is also the author of a series of horrific letters from BTK? The killer warned he was a monster and a sex criminal, a man compelled to commit murder by something he called “Factor X.”
Can it be the town‘s own compliance officer since 1991, the man responsible for making sure people cut their lawns and for collecting stray dogs...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we‘ve been trying to round them up and corral them as best we can...
MAGNUS: ... is the same deranged killer who placed this phone call?
VOICE OF BTK: You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing, Nancy Fox.
MAGNUS: That‘s the voice of BTK telling police where to find his seventh murder victim. If BTK is indeed Dennis Rader, if Rader did lead a double life, long-time acquaintance Dee Stuart says she got a sense of his Jekyll-and-Hyde personality close up.
DEE STUART, FRIEND OF RADER‘S: With me, he was always very friendly. He was cordial. He would smile. He seemed to be a very nice person on the surface.
MAGNUS: But she says her good friend, a woman who worked just under Rader in the compliance department, had the complete opposite experience with him.
STUART: She pulled me aside again and said, “Dennis is just making my life hell on Earth.” He was precise to a fault. He was a micromanager. There were times when he yelled at her in front off other employees. He demeaned her. He told her she would never be as smart as he was.
MAGNUS: She says her friend filed several grievances against Rader, though nothing came of it. City officials won‘t discuss the matter. According to her friend, Rader was good at hiding his explosive side.
STUART: He could be berating her. He could be screaming at her. And if the phone rang, and it was a member of his family, he turned into Ward Cleaver.
MAGNUS: Reader‘s subordinate herself is in hiding. Dee Stuart says that‘s because her friend is too hysterical about the six years spent in such close proximity to the man now believed to be a serial strangler.
STUART: I think that the women who worked for him is shocked, but I‘m not sure she‘s surprised. I think there were times that she has said to me that he could almost be BTK. And I‘ve said, “Oh, I don‘t think he‘s smart enough.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bottom line, BTK is arrested.
MAGNUS (on-screen): Was Dennis Rader desperate to be found out? It‘s possible, given the flurry of letters and packages police say he was sending in the weeks leading up to his capture. Or maybe he just thought he was smarter than everyone else and would never be caught.
(voice-over): Whatever investigators find out, Rader‘s arrest has freed up reporters to reveal certain items allegedly sent by Rader but kept secret until now at the request of the police. A doll with dark hair, her arms bound in the back by a pair of pantyhose, her head contained in a plastic bag. Next to the doll, a copy of the driver‘s license of one of BTK‘s victims, Nancy Fox.
A word puzzle which investigators now see contains a group of letters spelling “D. Rader” and the numbers of Rader‘s address. And BTK‘s last communique, a floppy disk filled with more tops and puzzles, which it now appears may have helped lead police to Rader‘s door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every computer I guess leaves a signature, or an imprint, or whatever you want to call it.
MAGNUS: Hidden deep within the disk‘s data was an electronic address which pointed investigators to a computer at Rader‘s church, a computer he had recently used.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That at least seems to be one of the key things that we know ties BTK investigation to Rader.
MAGNUS: Pastor Michael Clark is still incredulous that the police were coming to church to find evidence that congregation president Dennis Rader was a serial killer.
PASTOR MICHAEL CLARK: It took me about five minutes to even understand what the detective was saying to me the day he brought the search warrant in. I had to ask him three times in a matter of about 45 minutes.
MAGNUS: He has since met with Rader at the Sedgwick County jail and says he‘ll return soon to offer spiritual counseling to the parishioner he knows and quite possibly to the serial killer he doesn‘t.
ABRAMS: The suspect in the BTK case pleads not guilty. So what evidence do police have in the case? When we come back, inside the 30-year manhunt for BTK. Stay with us.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. New developments tonight in the case of a serial killer on the run for 30 years. The man accused, Dennis Rader, pleaded not guilty in court today. So after a three-decade manhunt, why did police and prosecutors conclude Rader‘s responsible for 10 murders? They say their suspect has been hiding in plain sight.
Here again is “DATELINE NBC‘s” Edie Magnus.
CARMEN MONTOYA, DAUGHTER & SISTER OF BTK‘S VICTIMS: I‘m pretty relieved, a lot of mixed emotions, as I‘m sure all the family members are going through right now. It is a good feeling, sad at the same time.
MAGNUS (voice-over): This woman‘s story is where the nightmare begins. She found her parents and her brother and sister brutally murdered in 1974. It was the first of the killings committed by the man everyone would come to know as BTK.
The parents, Joseph and Julie Otero, and their young son were found strangled in an upstairs bedroom. And as these police sketches show, their youngest daughter, just 11-years-old, was strangled away from the others alone in a basement. Police believe the little girl was BTK‘s likely target.
Carmen Otero Montoya, 13 at the time, and her other brother, Charlie Otero, who was then just 15, discovered the bodies of their loved ones when they came home from school.
CHARLIE OTERO, SON AND BROTHER OF BTK‘S VICTIMS: I ran through the hallway down to the bedroom. I found Carmen and my brother with my parents. My father was tied up. His eyes was 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. And I could smell the death and the fear in the room.
MAGNUS: Then came the murder of a college student in her 20s. BTK fatally stabbed her and shot her brother twice in the head, wounding him as he tried to save her life. Then another young woman, 24, and a mother of three strangled to death after the killer corralled her children in a bathroom. And then another young woman, 25.
By 1978, four years after it started, there were seven murder victims in all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The killer called himself BTK, bind them, torture them, kill them.
MAGNUS: The crime scenes over the years were filled with clues to the killer‘s pattern. Phone lines were cut. The victims were often bound and strangled with duct tape and ropes tied in unusual knots. He‘d steal something personal as a trophy.
BTK never left fingerprints behind. But the police almost always found traces of semen. He strangled women for sexual enjoyment, a thrill-killer who apparently savored the moment long after it was over.
RON LOEWEN, FORMER KAKE-TV EMPLOYEE: There‘s a belief that he took pictures of the scene and that he may have used a tape recorder while he was killing the people so that he could experience over and over the thrill that he had.
MAGNUS: Ron Loewen, who had worked as a journalist since he was young, was a news executive in Wichita during the ‘70s. He knew the killer had been brashly communicating with police, warning in the first of several typed letters he was a monster and a sex criminal.
But it was a communique in 1978, after those seven murders, that haunts Loewen to this day. The letter came to TV station KAKE where Loewen was running the newsroom.
LOEWEN: There was no doubt in my mind that it was from BTK. When I sat in my office and read his account of what he had done, I wasn‘t ready for that.
MAGNUS: It was filled with lurid details only the killer would have known. In this two-page, single-spaced letter, given immediately to the police, the strangler said he was forced to kill by “Factor X,” which he claimed motivated Son of Sam in New York, Jack the Ripper in London, and the Hillside Strangler in Los Angeles.
“It seems senseless, but we cannot help it,” BTK wrote. “There is no help, no cure except death or being caught and put away.”
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 (on-screen): Through the ages?
LOEWEN: Through the ages. BTK as a student was the first thing that flashed through my mind of serial murders.
MAGNUS (voice-over): A student with a score to settle. BTK was mad, says Loan (ph), because nobody was paying enough respect to his atrocities. The killer ranted in that 1978 letter to the TV station about the lack of publicity.
“A little paragraph in the newspaper would have been enough. How many people do I have to kill until I get the recognition I deserve?” Even more chillingly, BTK made it clear he was already hell-bent on murder victim number eight.
LOEWEN: It was haunting. He said that, in fact, he was stalking a victim right now. He‘d picked his next victim. He indicated how he was going to kill that person. And then the last sentence was, “Maybe it‘s you.”
MAGNUS (on-screen): He was trying to frighten people?
LOEWEN: Oh, definitely. And he succeeded.
MAGNUS: It turned out the Wichita police had been intentionally denying BTK publicity for sometime. Profilers had advised them against caving into 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 kept on killing anyway. Now, faced with the strangler‘s written threat to take yet another life, the police abruptly changed strategy.
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.”
MAGNUS (voice-over): So Police Chief Richard Lamunyon and news director Ron Loewen appeared on TV that February 1978 side-by-side.
LOEWEN: BTK claims to have strangled a total of seven people, mostly women.
MAGNUS: It was Loewen himself who broke the story of BTK to the community.
LOEWEN: ... which is very unusual.
MAGNUS (on-screen): You‘re a suit in the background.
LOEWEN: That‘s right. I‘m a suit.
MAGNUS: But during that newscast, Loewen, who had never talked about these events publicly until he spoke with “DATELINE” last year, became, in effect, live bait.
LOEWEN: 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 that he might choose to communicate with again.
MAGNUS (on-screen): How did you feel about offering yourself up as someone who would be willing to communicate with this deranged mass murderer?
LOEWEN: Well, you know, you want to help. So if he wanted to write letters and they came to my attention, why not?
MAGNUS (voice-over): It was quite a risk. BTK had already murdered seven people. And Loan could end up getting far more than just a letter in the mail. But there he sat...
LOEWEN: What kind of leads do you have?
MAGNUS: ... asking questions of Chief Lamunyon for which there were no good answers.
LAMUNYON: Very honestly, we have no solid leads at all.
LOEWEN: It was horrific news. Everything changed for me, and everything changed for everyone in Wichita.
MAGNUS: Loan says the effect on 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.
MAGNUS: No one felt that more than Ron Loan himself, who went from covering the news to being at the center of it.
LOEWEN: It was a crazy time. The police looked after me. They checked my apartment out every night when I went in. And they followed me to my car, which after awhile became so nerve-racking for me after a number of weeks, I just asked them to stop doing that.
MAGNUS: Hoping BTK would contact him, the police brought Loan inside the investigation. Loan was provided a photo of a possible suspect and a police revolver.
LOEWEN: 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. That was pretty terrifying.
MAGNUS: The BTK manhunt was unprecedented for Wichita, with police trying to draw the killer out of hiding, employing everything from old-fashioned detective work to some ideas that sounded downright nutty.
But they were desperate. There was almost nothing they wouldn‘t try to catch the strangler, including a high-stakes mind game.
ABRAMS: When we come back, the break that police say they needed to finally make an arrest in the case of the BTK serial killer. MSNBC reports will be right back.
ABRAMS: Welcome back.
News today that a suspected serial killer pled not guilty to 10 counts of murder. So, what do we know about Dennis Rader, the man accused of a string of murders, who allegedly terrorized a town in the Midwest, who seemed to relish being known as the bind, torture and kill murderer?
Once again, Edie Magnus from “Dateline NBC.”
LAMUNYON: We were trying to get this guy to communicate.
MAGNUS: Did you feel at the time like I don‘t care how wacky it sounds; let‘s try it?
LAMUNYON: I wasn‘t into psychics. I wasn‘t into psychics.
MAGNUS (voice-over): A serial killer was on the loose in Wichita, Kansas. And the police were trying everything they could think of to draw him out.
In 1974, the year the first murders occurred, they placed an ad in the big hometown daily. “BTK. Help is available.” There was no response. Then, in 1978, four years later, they tried a stunt that as far as we know has never been attempted by law enforcement before or since. They arranged to have a subliminal message, devised by profilers, inserted into an evening newscast at KAKE-TV.
To viewers, the subliminal message looked like this, just a flash of light. But slow it down and there it was. “Now call the chief.” The horn-rimmed glasses were thought have particular significance to BTK.
(on camera): And you were hoping that perhaps your killer might see it.
LAMUNYON: Yes. So...
MAGNUS: Did you get any phone calls? Did anyone subconscious get tapped at all?
LAMUNYON: No. No. We didn‘t get anything out of it.
MAGNUS: The strangler was still in control.
As former news director Ron Loewen when we spoke to him last year, BTK could not or would not be reached.
LOEWEN: I think this guy is probably a lot more normal than anybody thinks. He told us that it was easy. After he killed someone, he just assumed his rightful place in the world. He‘s really the stranger beside you. He‘s a person who has been walking in that community.
MAGNUS: There were police sketches of BTK drawn from the memories of a handful of eyewitnesses who had actually seen him in his victims‘ homes or driving away. But the drawings didn‘t help much. Nobody could quite agree on what the killer looked like.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MAGNUS: The police also had BTK On tape, his voice recorded when he brazenly placed a pay phone telephone call telling authorities where to find his seventh murder victim.
But even with the sound enhanced and the killer‘s message played over and over on TV and radio, nobody recognized it, yet another dead end.
LOEWEN: You just got to thinking everyone you knew was BTK.
MAGNUS: Meanwhile, Ron Loewen, who you will remember offered to present himself as someone the strangler could contact, spent years wondering if it might actually work.
(on camera): To your knowledge, did BTK ever reach out to make contact with you?
LOEWEN: There‘s no tangible evidence that he ever did. I was a creature of habit. And it wouldn‘t surprise me, just because of the way BTK is, that he would have been at the looking glass where we all hung out after work having a beer.
MAGNUS: Did you ever look around?
LOEWEN: Oh, always, always.
MAGNUS (voice-over): BTK‘s next letter to Ron Loewen‘s newsroom came in 1979, five years after the first murders. This one announced not another dead body, but a failed attempt.
LOEWEN: BTK was waiting, waiting, waiting. He broke in the glass.
He was in the basement waiting.
MAGNUS: His intended victim unexpectedly spent the night out, which saved her life.
After that, BTK just disappeared, though, for years, police continued to search for him, even collecting DNA samples from more than 200 men who fit the killer‘s profile and lived near the victims at the time.
LAMUNYON: I think the community was probably as frustrated as I was. And I don‘t think they were mad. I think they had kind of the same feeling I did. Hey, they‘re doing everything that they can possibly do to catch this guy. I mean, we spent a lot of their money working on this case. And no one complained, not one bit.
MAGNUS (on camera): You had DNA evidence.
MAGNUS: In a couple of cases, you had witnesses.
MAGNUS: You had his voice on tape.
MAGNUS: And you just couldn‘t get him.
LAMUNYON: Couldn‘t get him.
MAGNUS: You had the best behavioral science minds in the country helping you develop a profile of who he was and what he might do. And you couldn‘t ever anticipate him.
LAMUNYON: Could never anticipate him.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Former Police Chief Richard Lamunyon, who went onto be a small-town city manager, says authorities were ready with loads of evidence from every crime scene should BTK resurface.
But with no word and no more dead bodies linked to the killer, few believed that would ever happen. Years went by. Wichita moved on, although Charlie Otero didn‘t. He says he never got over his rage at finding his parents and younger siblings slaughtered by BTK.
OTERO: Before this happened, I had been a 4.0 student, straight A‘s, head altar boy, Boy Scout troop leader.
And after the day—well, the first thing, 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.
MAGNUS: Ron Loewen says he had a hard time leaving the serial killer case behind as well.
LOEWEN: For some time, I would periodically read the letters again.
I stopped doing that sometime ago. I don‘t want to read them again.
MAGNUS: He finally moved away from Wichita and the days of BTK in late 1986.
LOEWEN: I thought he died, because I believed that, if he was alive, he‘d keep killing. And, if he wasn‘t, he‘d left town or was dead.
MAGNUS: But, apparently, none of that was true, as Loewen and the victims‘ families and everyone else would soon find out.
ABRAMS: When we come back, behind the scenes of the big break, as the cold case suddenly gets red hot, with new communication from the killer finally leading police to the man they say is BTK.
MSNBC REPORTS is coming right back.
ABRAMS: A former Boy Scout leader who police say is a serial killer pleads not guilty. So, why are police so convinced they have their man?
Stay with us.
ABRAMS: Welcome back.
The former Boy Scout leader accused of being the BTK Killer pled not guilty today to 10 counts of murder. The case against Dennis Rader has been building for 30 years. So, what‘s leading police to believe they‘ve finally broken the case?
Here again, “Dateline NBC‘s Edie Magnus.
MAGNUS (voice-over): At the start of 2004, Wichita took a trip down memory lane. The big hometown daily, “The Wichita Eagle,” ran an anniversary article about the notorious serial killer known only by the name he‘d given himself, BTK, for bind, torture and kill.
HURST LAVIANA, REPORTER: The case has always been open. They get tips regularly.
MAGNUS: Still, it was 30 years since his first murders, 25 since he had been heard from. The strangler wasn‘t even front-page news anymore.
But reporter Hurst Laviana told “Dateline” last year this cold case was about to heat up. Just weeks after his story about BTK appeared, he got a very strange piece of mail.
LAVIANA: Copied the envelope, copied the letter, took the letter straight to the police department.
MAGNUS (on camera): Did you read it?
LAVIANA: There was nothing to read. There are no words on it. I thought it was crime scene photographs that some crackpot had gotten ahold of on the Internet or something. The pictures appeared to be pictures of a dead woman.
MAGNUS (voice-over): 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.
LAVIANA: Vicki Wegerle‘s driver‘s license. And I immediately knew this probably came from Vicki Wegerle‘s killer.
MAGNUS: Vicki Wegerle, a young mother found dead in her home in September 1986. Police had suspected BTK. She was tied up and strangled. And a trophy was taken, in this case, her driver‘s license.
But there were also differences, especially that the killer had never publicly boasted about it afterward, as was his pattern. But, in addition to the copies of the photos and the driver‘s license, there was the envelope they came in.
LAVIANA: The return address said Bill Thomas Killman, BTK. And that‘s when we realized this may be the real deal.
MAGNUS (on camera): Tell me about that moment.
LAVIANA: It was just total disbelief that he was still here.
MAGNUS (voice-over): Laviana agreed to give the police two days to nail it down and then broke the story in March 2004. Thirty years after committing the first murders, the ghost was back. And police were saying that Vicki Wegerle had indeed been BTK‘s eighth victim, murdered more than 17 years earlier.
LAMUNYON: Why didn‘t he tell us? Were we close to him? Had we talked to him? Did we know him? Was he flaunting himself at us? These are questions that run through your mind. These are real questions.
LOEWEN: His need for attention is apparently unquenched. I absolutely thought that this was the tip of the iceberg. I thought maybe there were a string of other murders.
MAGNUS: Little did Ron Loewen know then how prophetic his fears would be. By that time, he was a media business executive living hundreds of miles away.
LOEWEN: The fact that he‘s alive took me back to that day and those days afterwards when it was cold and people were afraid and nobody knew what would happen next.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just before noon on Wednesday when a letter arrived at our studios.
MAGNUS: Last may, yet another letter arrived from the strangler sent to Loewen‘s former newsroom at KAKE-TV. Once again, there was a name containing a variation of the initials BTK. And, again, the return address was a fake.
In June, police themselves received a letter from the serial killer and announced that the FBI determined all the letters had been authenticated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We truly feel that he‘s trying to communicate with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AMERICA‘S MOST WANTED”)
JIM WALSH, HOST: Our next story is about a serial killer you may not have heard about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MAGNUS: The investigation was featured on “America‘s Most Wanted.” Loewen says for the wanna-be member of the serial killer hall of fame, that exposure must have felt good.
LOEWEN: I 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 had done any of this in Los Angeles, it would have been a different story.
MAGNUS: In all, there were 11 communications over the past year purportedly from BTK to either the police or local media. The last one went to a FOX affiliate. The strangler said he didn‘t want to appear to be playing favorites with just one station.
He craved attention and he got it. Here in the heartland, fear of the unknown monster among them had people learning karate, buying guns and beefing up security systems.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m just real nervous about it now. And you‘re going to really—I‘m going to be watching every move I make now, because that just scares me half to death.
MAGNUS: And the police were asking everyone to look more closely at their neighbors, advice that former Chief Lamunyon told us last year he believed would eventually break the case wide open.
LAMUNYON: I really think that someone has seen something. Someone knows this individual. Someone suspects this person and will simply come forward and say, hey, I really think you ought to look at so and so because of this. That‘s where I think the break is going to come in. It‘s going to be some simple thing.
MAGNUS (on camera): In the end, it wasn‘t just one simple thing that may have led to a break in the case. Police reportedly used surveillance of various mail drops, analyzed old college poetry and even got help from someone very close to the suspect himself, the daughter of Dennis Rader, the man now under arrest for the notorious BTK serial killings.
(voice-over): This was not the first time law enforcement had come across Rader‘s name. He‘d reportedly popped up on a list of possible suspects in the late 1970s. Authorities then were looking at all the white male students from Wichita State University as part of an attempt to cast a broad net for the BTK killer. And Rader had gone to school there.
But he apparently didn‘t draw any additional scrutiny. Since then, he had eluded suspicion. He worked as a compliance officer in his town and was confident enough to give an interview to “The Wichita Eagle” in 1989 and even to give a television interview to NBC affiliate KSN about stray dogs that were attacking local livestock in 1991.
DENNIS RADER, DEFENDANT: The dogs are somewhat territorial, as well as vicious. And we‘ve been trying to round them up and corral them as best we can.
MAGNUS: Rader had been living in Wichita all this time. But could this married father of two, a devout churchgoer, one-time Cub Scout leader and dogcatcher, really be the BTK strangler?
After an embarrassing incident a couple of months ago, where police focused on the wrong man, this time, they weren‘t taking any chances. Police reportedly obtained a blood sample from Kerri Rawson, Dennis Rader‘s 26-year-old daughter. And it came back as a 90 percent DNA match to the BTK Killer.
Police then placed Rader under surveillance and arrested him while he was driving close to his home north of Wichita. They quickly sealed off the street where he lives and searched his office, house and shed behind his home, emerging with boxes of evidence, including computer equipment and what appeared to be women‘s undergarments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Agents from the KBI, agents from the FBI and members of the Wichita Police Department arrested Dennis Rader, 59, a white male.
MAGNUS: Hundreds of miles away, Charlie Otero and his sister Carmen, whose four family members, you‘ll recall, were BTK‘s first murder victims, watched the big press conference and let the news wash over them.
OTERO: Catching him is a bittersweet victory, in that I‘ve only got half of the answers that I‘ve always had. One is who and the second is why.
MONTOYA: I always thought, I can‘t wait to face this guy. I have so many things to say to him, so many things that I would like to do to him. But I don‘t know if I feel that anymore.
MAGNUS: Rader is a U.S. Army veteran who has a degree in criminal justice from Wichita State and worked for years installing security systems. That may explain the suspicions that former Police Chief Richard Lamunyon told us about last year, that the BTK Killer must somehow have acquired the experience to use extraordinary stealth and that he had a knowledge of law enforcement that helped him to elude capture for so long.
LAMUNYON: The fact that he wasn‘t caught during my tenure is frustrating from a law enforcement standpoint. But it‘s also gratifying to know that we did everything that we could possibly do during our task force days in the 1980s.
And then to have them comment on that today, the fact that what we did in those days, they were able to take that, just pick it up literally and build from that based on the evidence they had today, so, that‘s very gratifying and reassuring.
MAGNUS: Authorities say Rader is now a suspect in two additional murders, Delores Davis, 62, in 1991 and, before that, Marine Hedge, 53, in 1985. Police say she lived on Rader‘s block.
Reporter Laviana says, like the eight others, these new and equally horrific cases fit BTK‘s M.O..
LAVIANA: In both cases, the phone lines were cut. The windows were broken. The killer enters the home and sexually assaults them or at least removes their clothing. The only difference between the BTK crimes and these crimes is that these two victims were—their bodies were dumped out in the country away from their homes.
MAGNUS: That police have declared BTK is behind bars is a relief for many in this city, who‘ve been on edge for so long. But it‘s baffling to Dennis Rader‘s former neighbor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was shocked until I—and then I started seeing more about it, you know, because, like I said, he wasn‘t a pleasant person, but we would have never thought a killer.
MAGNUS: As for the pastor at the Lutheran Church where Rader was president of the congregation:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m bewildered, confused, trying to make sense of it all, and also trying to find the Gospel in all of this craziness.
LOEWEN: You know, for me, it‘s the end of one story and it‘s the beginning of a new one.
MAGNUS: For the man who lived, breathed and reported on the BTK investigation all those years, the news brought a sense of peace and expectation.
LOEWEN: And there will be another parade of horribles as we learn about this guy.
MAGNUS: Ron Loewen believes it was that insatiable thirst for publicity, the perverse need he exuded all through the years for the world to know him as a serial killer hall of famer, which ultimately did BTK in, that and the inexplicable double life he‘s apparently been leading for so long.
LOEWEN: He‘s a staunch member of the church, and he‘s done these horrific things. He has a family that is undoubtedly completely unaware of what he‘s done, and he‘s done these things to children and to women.
How does he live with himself? He may have at one point wanted to purge himself of that, but he wasn‘t going to do it the old-fashioned way and walk in and say, here I am. The police had to find him. The ultimate game had to be played out. And it was.
ABRAMS: That was “Dateline‘s NBC”‘s Edie Magnus.
We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: Late tonight, prosecutors said there will be no plea bargain in the BTK serial killer case and have listed 247 potential witnesses—
Rader‘s defense team, meanwhile, said to be considering a change-of-venue request—the trial set to begin in June.
That‘s MSNBC REPORTS: “The BTK Case.”
I‘m Dan Abrams. Thanks for watching. Be sure to join me weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern for the program about justice, “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”
Coming up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” Pat Buchanan filling in for Joe.
Have a good night.
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