BTK. Those three letters struck fear into the hearts of the residents of Wichita, Kansas for three decades. The letters stand for Bind, Torture, and Kill – the method used by the madman who claimed the lives of 10 men, women, and children starting in 1974. BTK remained one of the most elusive serial killers in American history until his arrest in 2005. When he was finally captured, the identity of the killer shocked the entire city.
BTK first struck in 1974 with the brutal slaying of four members of the Otero family. The mother and father and their two children, aged 11 and 9, were all found dead in their home. The children and father Joseph had been suffocated with plastic bags over their heads, and mother Josephine was found hanging from a drainpipe in the house. Horribly, it was the Otero’s third, teenaged son, Charlie, who discovered the carnage when he came home from school on January 15, 1974.
BTK claimed his next victim a few months later, on April 4, 1974. Kathryn Bright, 21, was found stabbed in her home, and she later died at the hospital. BTK then went to ground for nearly three years before he appeared again in March 1977. He entered the home of 24-year-old Shirley Vian, locked her children in a bathroom, and strangled the woman to death. Later that year he strangled another young woman to death. Wichita was on edge, and every man and woman in the city feared for their and their children’s safety.
BTK sent taunting letters to police and newspapers, claiming responsibility for his heinous crimes. After his December 1977 murder, the killer even called the police to report the crime himself. BTK clearly relished the media attention he received, and he enjoyed toying with investigators who were on the case.
After 1977, almost eight long years passed before BTK killed again. Rumors percolated – had he died? Or been imprisoned on other charges? Those rumors were put to rest on April 27, 1985, when 53-year-old Marine Hedge was found strangled in her home in Park City, a suburb of Wichita. BTK killed twice more in the coming years, strangling women in 1986 and 1991. Then the killings ceased, permanently. Detectives found themselves immersed in a cold case that seemed to have no solid leads.
During this entire time, there was a man who lived an outwardly normal existence in the Wichita area. His name was Dennis Rader, and he was married with two children. He was the president of the congregation at his church and worked as a compliance officer for the town of Park City, where he lived.
Beneath the surface, however, Dennis Rader lived a secretive life of depravity and violence. After his capture, Rader left nothing out when he admitted to his darkest fantasies and the many cruel acts he had committed during his life. Rader first began to fantasize about women in bondage when he was still a teenager. At around the same time, he also started killing animals. He alter served in the Air Force and moved to the Wichita area after his discharge in 1970.
Rader’s fantasies became more and more violent over the years, until he finally decided to act on them in 1974, when he committed the vicious murders of the Otero family. Over the next three decades, Rader continued living his double life as a Park City employee, respected church member, and loving father and husband in public, and a murderous, sexual sadist in private.
In early 2005, Rader made a mistake that finally did him in. Rader left a cereal box in the back of a stranger’s pickup truck at a local Home Depot. The owner of the truck, thinking it was trash, had thrown the box away. Rader, always starving for attention, contacted a local news station asking about the box he had left in the truck.
Police were able to track down the discarded box, which was filled with documents detailing murders that Rader planned to commit. One document asked the police a specific question: Would the killer be able to communicate with police via a floppy disk? The note asked the police to “be honest.” If the police agreed, they were to run a specific message in the local classified ads. The police realized this might be their best shot at apprehending the elusive BTK, and they placed the ad telling BTK they would be unable to track him. A lie, of course.
On February 16, 2005, a floppy disk was mailed to a local TV news station. By examining the disk, police were able to ascertain that a file on it had been saved by someone named Dennis, and that it had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church and at the Park City library. Police discovered that Dennis Rader was the president of the congregation at Christ Lutheran Church and that he lived in Park City.
Police zeroed in on Dennis Rader as their suspect, and swiftly compared his DNA to evidence left at the various crime scenes throughout the years. When the results came back, there was no longer any doubt as to who BTK was. Dennis Rader was arrested on February 25, 2005. In interviews with police, Rader was reportedly stunned and dismayed that detectives would lie to him about being able to track the floppy. Rader wanted the chase to go on forever, and it seems he thought the police would want the same.
During his trial, on June 27, 2005, Rader gave a lengthy, extremely graphic confession detailing the 10 murders he committed between 1974 and 1991.
Dennis Rader was given 10 life sentences, one for each of his victims, in August 2005. Today, the 72-year-old man known as BTK sits in solitary confinement, waiting to die in prison.
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