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The dangers lurking next door

A former FBI profiler goes inside the mind of BTK suspect Dennis Rader.
Two Bodies Discovered At Home Federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow
Investigators examine the scene of a double homicide, the home of Federal Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, March 1, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Law enforcement agencies believe that a package, one of the 12 or so communications left by BTK, resurfaced 11 months ago after a lengthy hiatus. The package was found in a local park and contained identification linked to one of BTK’s victims, as well as a doll with a bag over its head, its hands bound by woman’s hose, these representing the trademark, the MO, and perhaps the signature aspect of BTK’s crimes. 

A local media outlet reported receiving a word game in May 2004 that was believed to have come from BTK.  Dozens of words were hidden in the game, and are reported to include the spelling of suspect BTK Dennis Rader’s name and the number of his street address.  Another local media outlet receive a suspected BTK package with an item of jewelry linked to another one of BTK’s victims, as well as a computer disk that was successfully traced to a computer in Rader’s church (which he had access to). 

BTK was a neighbor
As authorities continue to pull the facts and evidence in this case together, Wichita and Park City residents must now consider that their most notorious citizen— the serial killer known by his own code name as BTK, believed by the authorities to be 59-year old town code enforcement officer Dennis Rader— was a neighbor and someone they may have worshiped next to.  These same citizens must also consider and rethink their past contact with him and his suspected alter ego, the killer BTK, over the last 10, 20, or even 31 years. 

We note that Rader’s prior known occupations include that of a home alarm installer, a census taker— and, until the time of his arrest, a dog catcher and local civil code enforcement officer. All of these occupations provided him a position of authority to be in one’s neighborhood, yard, and the ability to enter one’s home. 

With such free access to his community and the homes of his potential victims, we will probably find numerous connections between BTK and those he so brutally murdered.  These contacts could be through Rader’s employment with a local camping gear factory, this where two of BTK’s victims allegedly worked; and even in his neighborhood, noting that one and possibly two victims of BTK resided on the same street at Rader.

The emotional chill felt by local residents will undoubtedly far exceed the penetrating cold of a Kansas winter. Local residents must now consider the possibility that the man behind the psychological mask of BTK may have been in their homes, may studied their yards, neighborhoods, and their families— all the while perhaps considering who would be his next random, or not-so-random victim.

No home is truly safe
The man suspected to be BTK is in custody, but as the recent brutal, execution-style slaying of the husband and elderly mother of a Chicago federal judge has shown, no city, no neighborhood, and no person is truly safe, not even in their own homes. 

In the case of crimes against persons, profilers look at victimology and neighborhood.  By this, what was going on in the victim’s life, i.e., what factors may have made her or him a higher risk victim, and what was going on in the neighborhood of the crime?

As citizens, parents, spouses, roommates and caretakers, what can we do to protect ourselves from the BTKs, the home invasions, the burglars, and kidnappers, and other criminal elements that would do us and our loved ones harm?

Make your home safe
Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, every home in every neighborhood is a potential target for burglary. 

One of my former neighbors home was burglarized in the middle of the night and the resident’s purse stolen. The burglar made it to the second floor of the residence and was confronted by the neighbor’s teenage daughter before he ran from their home. They had neglected to lock their front door that night, so even the least experienced criminal could have gained entry that evening.

We note that most homes contain valuables that attract burglars. You or a family member could also be a primary or a secondary target of a burglar or other assailant. Justice Department statistics say that an average family has a 1-in-4 chance of being the victim of a serious crime each year. 

  • If the exterior doors of your home are hollow-core, replace them with solid wood, fiberglass or steel.
  • Make sure exterior door hinges are on the inside rather than the outside, where an intruder can remove the pins and pull the door out of the frame.
  • If you have double-hung windows, bolt the upper and lower sashes together or insert a metal bar in the track to prevent opening.
  • To secure sliding glass doors, add a bolt lock or use a “charley bar” to block the door closed.
  • Use bars to secure basement or garage doors and add bars to basement windows.
  • Most home burglaries occur between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., so get in the habit of locking all doors and windows whenever you go out.
  • Invest in high-quality, name-brand deadbolt locks for all exterior doors.
  • If you have a double-cylinder deadbolt that is operated by a key both from inside and out, keep the key near the door inside the home so every family member can find it and exit quickly in case of fire.
  • Alarm systems are an effective deterrent. Most convicted burglars agree they’d avoid a house protected by an alarm system.
  • Security system decals and signs are also an effective deterrent.
  • According to the FBI, more burglaries occur in July and August than in any other months.
  • Make sure your security system includes a loud inside alarm, detectors at all exterior doors, and motion sensors in the master bedroom and main living areas.
  • Never leave an answering machine message indicating you’re not at home. Instead, just say you “can’t come to the phone.”
  • Use timers to turn lights, televisions, and sound systems on and off at different times to give your home a “lived-in look” when you are away.
  • Install motion-detecting outdoor floodlights around your home. Remember to mount them high enough to prevent intruders from disabling them.
  • If there’s a Neighborhood Watch Program in your community, join it. If there’s not, start one.
  • Report any suspicious persons or vehicles to your local police.

Lastly, be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.  If you feel insecure or unsafe, you just might be.  Political and social correctness goes so far, but you are ultimately responsible for your own safety and security, and that of your loved ones.  Don’t be paranoid, but do be prepared. 

The number of known burglars is in the tens of thousands. In the case of serial killers, the FBI has indicated that dozens are operating across the United States at any one time.  While your home may be your castle, remember to keep water in your moat and keep your alligators lightly fed.

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Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of