Dennis Rader began serving a life sentence Friday for the BTK sex-murders that terrorized Wichita for 17 years. He was led into a maximum security prison a day after relatives of his 10 victims finally got a chance to vent their anger on what one called “this social sewage.”
Rader, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and with his arms and legs shackled, entered the prison doors at 7:28 a.m., after arriving in a three-vehicle caravan with seven state troopers. He was to be fingerprinted and photographed and then undergo an initial screening to determine whether he’ll serve his entire sentence in El Dorado or be transferred.
“Public safety is our primary mission,” said Ray Roberts, warden of the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
Prison Capt. Dale Call said it is likely Rader will serve his entire sentence in El Dorado, unless it is determined that his life would be at risk or he is a threat to others.
There was little drama upon his arrival, save for the hordes of media gathered outside the gates. A lone helicopter hovered overhead.
Rader, at least initially, will be allowed five one-hour periods per week out of the cell and brief showers. During that limited free time, he’ll be escorted to a 10-by-10-foot enclosed outdoor area and will be kept in restraints the entire time.
In his 80-square-foot cell, Rader will have no television and likely will have limited access to reading materials, except for legal documents. His meals will be delivered to him through his cell door.
No death penalty at time
District Judge Gregory Waller handed Rader a sentence Thursday that was the stiffest possible; Kansas had no death penalty at the times of the murders. He is to serve 10 consecutive life terms with no chance of parole for 175 years.
The two-day sentencing hearing featured testimony from detectives who graphically detailed the 10 killings and tearful relatives of the victims who likened Rader to a “monster.” It culminated with rambling testimony from Rader, who said he had been dishonest to his family and victims and at times wiped his eyes.
Rader offered Biblical quotes, thanks to police and an apology to victims’ relatives before Waller sentenced him.
“A dark side is there, but now I think light is beginning to shine,” Rader said. “Hopefully someday God will accept me.”
Rader, 60, a former church congregation president and Boy Scout leader, led a double life, calling himself BTK for “bind, torture and kill.” He was arrested in February and pleaded guilty in June to the 10 murders from 1974 to 1991.
Deep, abiding pain
Earlier in Thursday’s hearing, relatives of the victims testified about the indescribable pain the killings cause them.
“Nancy’s death is a like a deep wound that will never, ever heal,” Beverly Plapp, sister of victim Nancy Fox, testified. “As far as I’m concerned, Dennis Rader does not deserve to live. I want him to suffer as much as he made his victims suffer.”
“This man needs to be thrown in a deep, dark hole and left to rot,” she said. “He should never, ever see the light of day.”
"No remorse, no compassion -- he had no mercy," said Kevin Bright, the brother of victim Kathryn Bright, who himself was shot but managed to flee. "I think that's what he ought to receive."
Rader's voice choked as he made his half-hour address to the courtroom, saying he had been dishonest to his family and victims and selfish.
"I know the victim's families will never be able to forgive me. I hope somewhere deep down, eventually that will happen," he said. He also admitted he tracked his victims "like a predator."
Investigators testified that Rader kept hundreds of pictures from magazines and circulars mounted on index cards, with details of the warped sexual fantasies he dreamed of carrying out.
Lt. Ken Landwehr, who coordinated the Wichita police department’s investigation into BTK, said the index cards were some of the evidence of Rader’s long history of terror that was found at the defendant’s office, camper and small suburban home.
Call for restrictions in prison
Landwehr said the cutouts ranged from a little girl posing in a swimsuit to actress Meg Ryan.
Even up to Thursday, prosecutors remained concerned about Rader’s fantasies, urging the judge to issue an order denying Rader access to crayons and markers that might be used to draw human or animal forms and further Rader’s sexual fantasies.
“We believe that these sentences ought to be box-carred one after the other until there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The reason is that individuals who are predators, pedophiles, anti-social, who are individuals who have detachment disorder, psychological problems, who lead lives built around sexual perversions, just are not built like the rest of us,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston told the judge.
Rader’s files also included copies of nearly all his messages to police and the media, documents Landwehr said the killer had planned to eventually scan and digitally store, Landwehr said.
Containers kept in a closet and elsewhere at his home also held what Rader called “hit kits”—bags with rubber gloves, rope, tape, handcuffs and bandanas.
Rader, sitting through his second day of a sentencing hearing, appeared angry and mumbled at one point during Landwehr’s testimony, although Rader’s words couldn’t be heard.
Earlier Thursday morning, Capt. Sam Houston of the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office testified about Rader’s last known killing -- the strangulation of 63-year-old Dolores Davis in 1991. Rader, who handcuffed Davis and tied her with pantyhose, told police it took two or three minutes for her to die and that fueled his torturous fantasies for years.
“It was this moment that victim was tied and bound,” Rader wrote in a journal, according to testimony Thursday morning by Houston. “He could live in that moment for years.”
After Davis was dead, Rader tossed her body under a bridge where it decomposed and apparently was fed on by animals. The defendant returned later to take Polaroid photographs of her wearing a feminine mask Rader himself had worn for his own bondage fantasies.
Prosecutors showed various photographs of Rader that he took of himself — hanging from a tree; lying in a grave; tied to a chair while wearing the mask and a woman’s blond wig; bound and wearing a dress he had taken from Davis’ house.
A double life
Earlier testimony outlined Rader’s 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.
Detective Clint Snyder testified that Rader 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.”
According to testimony, Rader, a former church congregation president and Boy Scout leader, at times used his connections to scouting and local churches to facilitate his crimes and provide him an alibi.
For the killing of Davis on Jan. 13, 1991, Rader left a Scout camp under the guise of going home for something he forgot, Houston testified Wednesday. Instead, Rader went to his parents’ home to change out of his scouting uniform and into his dark “hit clothes.”
He took the body of another of his victims, Marine Hedge, to the church he attended in Wichita, where he put black plastic over the windows to give him privacy while he took bondage pictures for his sexual satisfaction.
Rader, referring to the last two murders near the Park City home where he lived, told police: “This is not really good serial killer business, this is right at my back door. I started getting lazy, the last few years.”