On paper, “The BTK Killer” is one of the less intimidating or less outwardly frightening monikers given to a mass murderer until, that is, you learn what it stands for. “Bind, torture, kill”— these were the three steps to Dennis Rader’s particular brand of horror, a nightmare experienced by at least 10 victims in his native Wichita, Kansas over the course of three decades. Leading an intricate double life the entire time, Rader’s family and friends had no idea he was systematically kidnapping and murdering nearly a dozen innocent victims whenever his sick urges became too powerful to suppress.
Ultimately, most of the world will never understand what drives men to senselessly murder, let alone bind or torture them as Rader did to his victims before delivering the death blow. All anyone can say for certain in the BTK Killer’s case is that his crimes were heavily inspired by dark sexual desires developed from a very young age. However, unlike most serial killers, Rader’s past seems shockingly demure, with no real explanation for why his need for gratification was so powerful, nor why the only way it could be achieved was downright evil.
It’s also known that the BTK Killer committed his crimes in part because he wanted to be famous, which, in a way, he did indeed accomplish. Make no mistake about it, however: Rader was an absolutely abhorrent individual whom neither this web site nor any other reporters covering his story are at all trying to glorify. If you want a detailed account of what made him so awful, though, we once again have you covered. Keep reading for 15 frightening details about “The BTK Killer,” Dennis Rader.
15 He Was A Church President And Boy Scout Leader
In contrast to many future serial killers, there’s very little about Dennis Rader’s childhood to suggest the horrific person he would later become. Everything about Rader’s upbringing was markedly normal, free of the abuse or mistreatment usually seen in men and women of his ilk. This apparent normalcy continued into his adulthood, when he lived a double-life with shockingly vast dichotomies. When not committing murder, Rader spent most of his time volunteering to his church, where he was elected his community’s president. Rader also donated a large amount of time and effort to local Boy Scout troops, serving as a Scout Leader. Obviously, no one in Rader’s family, church, or circle of friends had any idea the sort of atrocities he was committing during dalliances away from the religious life, and they all pretty much cut him out of their lives immediately after his crimes came to light.
14 He Was Fascinated By Murder From A Young Age
Although nothing in his life implied Dennis Rader would become a killer, he was heavily fascinated with the idea from his early childhood. Pretty much as soon as he was able to read, his favorite books were those about killers. Presumably looking to emulate his dark idols, Rader was known to torture and murder small animals, behavior that also began the moment he was old enough to do so. From the very beginning, these disturbing inclinations were also inherently sexual, as Rader once confessed to pleasuring himself to a book about a Lonely Hearts Killer. This moniker was shared by a number of mass murderers over the years, and truth be told, it isn’t clear which one Rader was sexually obsessed with, yet the specifics in this fact aren’t entirely important. All that matters is that Rader took intense and terrifying satisfaction in reading about murder, the first true warning sign about what he would later do.
13 He Started Committing Minor Crimes After Losing His Job
Ultimately, no one will ever understand how Dennis Rader did the things he did, yet some people may relate to the feelings that slowly drove him to madness. Like most men in the 1970s, Rader viewed himself as the head of his household, feeling emasculated and worthless when he lost his job and his wife was forced to become the primary breadwinner for the family. In the modern era, this sort of situation is totally acceptable, but back then, it was indeed a rarity and could've left men feeling like Rader felt. Of course, only a madman would react to these feelings by breaking into houses and committing petty thefts simply because it gave him a sense of power that losing his job took away from him. In due time, Rader decided mere B&E’s weren’t a significant enough crime for him to leave his mark and feel that power, leading to an escalation that soon took the lives of innocent victims.
12 He Was Inspired To Murder By The Attention Other Serial Killers Received
Quite frankly, knowing one of Dennis Rader’s motives for committing mass murder, we almost hesitated in writing this list. By his own admission, Rader killed at least in part for the fame it provided him with, notoriety we’re unfortunately increasing by devoting all this time and attention to his crimes. Of course, it got a little easier after remembering he’ll be behind bars for life and thus probably won’t ever know about the attention we’re giving him. In any event, Rader admitted this motive after his capture, saying he was inspired by the media storm surrounding Ted Bundy and Jack the Ripper, in particular. The Bundy comparison is interesting, as though it comes from Rader himself, the two committed their crimes during the same general time frame, suggesting it may have been somewhat of a lie. Either way, Rader also claimed he obsessively read true crime magazines written in the 1950s and ‘60s, a more plausible story that could indeed have given him inspiration to kill himself one day.
11 Getting Away With His Sloppy First Murder Surprised Even Him
When trying to catch a serial killer, police officers often feel like every subsequent murder after the first one they’re aware of is almost their fault. Simply put, had the authorities caught Rader after his initial killing, the next ones wouldn’t have happened. That said, sometimes the cops fail to catch a serial killer because the human monster is terrifyingly good at what he does, never leaving behind any evidence or giving indications to his true identity. This was the case in most of Rader’s killings, yet the murderer himself claims he should've been caught after the first one. According to Rader, he left behind plenty of evidence and even revisited the crime scene after the investigation began, two things he was sure would lead to his capture. This isn’t to say the police were incompetent, as their side of the story is unknown, yet the fact remains that getting away with murder so easily definitely emboldened Rader to do it again and again.
10 He Murdered 10 Victims Across 40 Years
Sloppy execution notwithstanding, Dennis Rader’s first crime was nonetheless his largest undertaking and thus most horrific action on this planet. In the span of a single day, January 15, 1974, Rader invaded the home of the Otero family and murdered all four residents, including two pre-teen children. The cause of death was always taking away their ability to breathe in some way, strangling the Otero mother with a rope, suffocating the males with plastic bags, and hanging the 11-year-old daughter from a drainage pipe. Rader would claim six additional victims from there, all but one of them strangled to death by his hands, sometimes with nearby weapons. In most cases, Rader simply left the bodies in their homes and left without a trace, taking pride in the fact police couldn’t capture him despite the fact he, in some respects, was making it easier for them.
9 Bind, Torture, Kill
At this point in the list, we should probably take a second and dissect the horrifying nickname given to Dennis Rader, another piece of his notoriety the man takes sick pleasure in having “earned.” Standing for "bind, torture, kill," Rader’s sobriquet boasted about his modus operandi, only leaving out the part where he first stalked and then broke into his victims' homes. The moniker also does little to express the perverted sexual nature of his crimes, leaving out the fact he pleasured himself at the scene of most crimes, though he never actually had sex with them pre- or post-mortem. What Rader did to his victims was just as horrific, of course, tying them to chairs, bound at the ankles and wrists, then slowly choking the life out of them with various household objects. The extent to how he “tortured” them isn’t exactly clear, yet, to be honest, this is probably a good thing for people who don’t want any nightmares tonight.
8 He Taunted Police And Newspapers With Letters The Entire Time
In addition to all the evidence he left at his crime scenes, Dennis Rader was surprisingly eager to incense police into finding him. Of course, the fact it took them decades to do so no doubt gave the man great satisfaction, which is why he taunted the very authorities seeking him out every time he added another body to his list. In fact, police might never have made the connection there was a true serial killer on the loose had Rader not written them anonymous letters taking credit for the crimes, linking together investigations that were otherwise unrelated.
Most of Rader’s letters were sent in the 1970s, when 7 or his 10 murders were committed. Later, he wrote to officers telling them he had nothing to do with a different crime they believed the BTK Killer could've been responsible for, a fact that surprisingly checked out as true. These letters were often in the form of poems, parodies of popular songs, and other darkly creative codes, all of which infuriated police for decades. Finally, Rader made a mistake in leaving a return address with a fake name in his final letter sent in 2004, warning he was ready to kill again. Fake name or not, cops soon tracked him down, and the BTK Killer was captured at long last.
7 He Found Sadistic Enjoyment In Severe Self-Harm
For most people, reading or hearing about serial killers is terrifying because we can picture ourselves falling victim to their terror. In direct contrast to this, people prone to mass murder themselves find perverse pleasure in just about every step of the process. In the case of Dennis Rader, simply reading doctors' accounts of what his victims must've felt wasn’t enough, and the man wanted to experience the feeling first hand. After his apprehension, Rader would admit to having often rented motel rooms for himself where he would somehow bind his own ankles and wrists to a chair and place a bag around his head in the exact same fashion he did to his victims. The goal wasn’t to commit suicide, though, rather serving an elaborate self-pleasuring ritual Rader called one of the greatest joys in his life in extremely disturbing fashion.
6 He Stole Trophies From Victims And Kept Them In “Hidey Holes”
Whenever newspapers report on serial killers still at large, minor details are left out of the stories to prevent copycat killers from mimicking what the initial murderer did, causing later police confusion in apprehending them both. For this reason, mass murderers like keeping trophies from their victims so they can remember every last detail each time they look at the physical memory of their crime. Dennis Rader was like all the others in this sense, only different in that he stored some of his trophies in the least likely places imaginable. In his words, Rader left trinkets stolen from his murder victims in “hidey holes,” various community locations where he had access that police wouldn’t necessarily link to him. Amongst these hidey-holes was the church where Rader was community president, indeed one of the last places most police would think to look for evidence in a murder.
5 He Later Admitted To Having A Huge Hit List
After police finally apprehended Dennis Rader, they were understandably reticent in letting the BTK Killer give any interviews with media or the press about what he had done. One of his motives being fame, giving the man too much attention would've been tantamount to him achieving his goal, something authorities naturally wanted to avoid. Eventually, however, a forensics psychology teacher turned biographer named Katherine Ramsland was allowed to exchange a series of letters with Rader, leading to a book called “Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer.” During their correspondence, Rader once sent to Ramsland a list containing some 55 names, some of which he killed and others of which he was confessing to having wanted to kill. Already chilling simply for existing, this list also proved how premeditated Rader’s actions were, as making a list this large would've taken hours of malicious aforethought.
4 He Was Legitimately Proud Of What He Had Done
No matter what it is they’re being arrested for, most people feel nothing but shame when their hands are in cuffs as they get led to a prison cell they now have to call home. The few exceptions are criminals who are proud of what they accomplished, which is rarely a sign of an upstanding citizen. When a man like Dennis Rader exhibits this sort of behavior, he can only be described as a monster, beaming with joy as he intricately explained to police how he murdered each of his victims. After his trial, the prosecuting attorney described Rader’s confession as sounding more like “an Academy Awards acceptance speech” rather than the remorseful story of a killer, also noting it lasted a full 30 minutes. Hearing his statement, there was really only one thing the jury could do, and it took them very little time to do it.
3 He Was Sentenced To Life In Prison For His Crimes
Depending on how one feels about the death penalty, the BTK Killer Dennis Rader may seem like the perfect candidate for such a punishment. Throughout his crime spree, the one thing Rader wanted was fame, and unfortunately, there’s really no way to report on his actions without giving him some of it… unless, of course, he were executed and thus unable to take sick joy in anything at all. Regardless of one’s personal opinions about capital punishment, the state of Kansas has long been on the fence with the idea, banning and reinstating the practice numerous times throughout their history. Rader got lucky in that his trial happened to take place during the few months between 2004 and 2005 when the state ruled it cruel and unusual, meaning it was never on the table despite the severity of his crimes. Instead, all juries could debate was exactly how long he should be in prison, settling on 10 consecutive life sentences, one for each victim. Rader could only even be released on parole in 175 years, easily guaranteeing he’ll die in prison.
2 He Intricately Planned An 11th Attack Before Getting Caught
According to the letters Dennis Rader sent to his biographer, Katherine Ramsland, he could've had as many as 55 potential victims. On the other hand, almost every serial killer out there has claimed a murder or two he had no connection with, and the point of that list was that Rader wanted to kill those people, not that he actually did. How far he got into the planning stages of any of his intended crimes is questionable, and most of the names were probably horrific fantasies and nothing more. However, in at least one case, Rader came remarkably close to taking one more life, only to be foiled when a construction show suddenly arrived on the scene and caused him to flee, worried about identification. Police didn’t believe this story at first until Rader gave them a name, date, location, and time, and they were able to confirm an unexpected construction project indeed began at the exact moment Rader claimed.
1 The Dark Name He Gave Himself
Viewing himself as a criminal mastermind, Dennis Rader took pleasure in messing with police officers through his letters as this list earlier described. One thing we left out is how often the man liked speaking in code, a practice that continued during his correspondence with biographer Katherine Ramsland. This time around, the code was somewhat necessary to prevent guards from intercepting their letters and confiscating them, though the terms Rader used nonetheless speak volumes about his mindset. The most important code name was his own, as Rader apparently felt “The BTK Killer” wasn’t a menacing enough sobriquet. Instead, Rader said the monster within him was “The Minotaur,” a beast that arose at random and compelled him to commit his darkest acts. Other codes Rader used included “Sparkly Big Time,” a term used for sexual thoughts, and “the Big G,” his phrase for orgasms. No matter what you call it, having code words for these subjects, in particular, is quite disturbing, as words can hardly begin to describe the evil madness of the BTK Killer.
Sources: New York Daily News, USA Today, Rolling Stone, NBC