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Who speaks for victims?

MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt weighs in the legal proceedings for so-called BTK killer Dennis Rader.

After decades in some cases, the ten known victims of the infamous BTK serial killer, now known to be 60-year-old Wichita, Kansas dog control officer and local church president Dennis Rader, will have the opportunity to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves, Rader's victims.  We all know that Rader assigned himself the assumed name or handle of "BTK," standing for "Bind Them, Torture Them, Kill Them," and that his murderous activities began in 1974, allowing him to terrify an entire community for thirty years.  By some accounts Rader ended his murderous activities in 1994, while 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 enacting the death penalty, therefore the relatives of the various victims can only seek to insure that Rader never sees the light of day as a free man again by sentencing him to a minimum of 175 years, little consolation for those who have lost so much.

During his prior appearance in court where he confessed to his known crimes, Rader appeared almost like a college professor lecturing the judge and the public on the "M.O." of serial killers.  Rader looked as though he was in control; the floor was his to speak from and he appeared to enjoy that position.  How he reacts to statements by investigators and the family members of his victims may change his composure however, at this time he will be forced 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 caused his victims.  In this regard BTK says he was led to commit his horrific crimes by two potential masters, the demon he called the "X-factor" that he said was inside of him making him do what he did, and the sexual fantasies he lived out through his unspeakable crimes, these against men, women and children ranging from a woman in her 60's to a child less than 10.  Rader was married with adult children.  When his wife once expressed her fear of the BTK killer, Rader told her to lock her doors and not to worry.  His secret identity was unknown to even those closest to him and, and, as it turned out, his desire for publicity and "credit" for the activities of his alter ego, the monster BTK, led to his ultimate identification and arrest.

We know that Rader has compared himself to both John Wayne and James Bond, further evidence of the fantasy-like world that BTK lived in.  Rader was an every day person with an every day 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 him wearing pantyhose and a bra while hanging from a pipe in his basement serves to show that his sexual fantasies are still alive and "well," and that the X-factor was 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, a connection between this and the murder of the female child that will be left for the prison psychiatrist to discern.  Rader, who has characterized himself as a "Monster," has not, however, shied away from this self-characterization, and even appears to embrace this self description in his icy cold telling of his crimes and the bizarre psycho-sexual aspect to them.  The only change in expression that Rader appears to have is when he needs to lecture those who know less about serial killers than he does, which apparently includes most of society.

Rader will probably not give the relatives of his victims the answers and the satisfaction that they seek.  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, will likely only 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 closure, especially when you have carried the pain of your loss for years and now we have Rader in court to provide in great, unemotional detail, how and why he chose his victims, how he related to them in the last minutes of their collective lives (stating that one female victim "fought like a hellcat"), and 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 hate to see Rader provided with this public exposure to further torture the family members of his victims, to sear the word images of his crimes in their minds while reliving his crimes before them.  That he sits and takes notes may simply be a way to allow himself not to pay full attention in court, or it may be "Professor BTK" correcting the records of his reign of terror, making sure he is remembered the way he wants to be remembered long after his day in court is concluded.  And don't forget the other victims in this matter though, the entire Wichita community that lived in fear of BTK's shadow for decades and Rader's own family, people who lived with a monster as a husband or father and never even knew the name of the demon that possessed him.  Although granted an almost instant divorce from her husband, the ex-Mrs. Rader now fights to keep her home from being taken via civil proceedings that have been filed against her former husband.  More insult to injury on more victims.


Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , 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."