American serial killer Dennis Rader, also known as BTK–which stands for “bind, torture, kill”–murdered ten people between 1974 and 1991, in the Wichita, Kansas, metro area. He often left behind clues for authorities to find, Biography.com wrote, as if he were teasing the police department. He resurfaced in 2004, but the evidence he left behind is what ultimately led to his capture and imprisonment the following year.
Rader pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder during his trial in 2005 and was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences.
Rader was motivated to kill to fulfill his “sexual fantasies.” He would stalk multiple potential victims at a time. “If one didn’t work out, I just moved to another one,” Rader said at his trial, according to CNN. Rader would also take Polaroid pictures of some of his victims.
If you’ve read much about serial killers, they go through what they call different phases. In the trolling stage, basically, you’re looking for a victim at that time. You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker. There might be several of them, but you really hone in on one person. They basically become the … victim. Or, at least that’s what you want it to be.
On the first day of his trial in 2005, the killer explained how he conducted each one of his murders. When talking about the Otero family murders, the first people he killed, Rader got into their house by saying he needed a car and some food.
The Otero Children Were the Only Kids He Killed
Rader made the decision to kill them because they could go to the police. “I realized that, you know, I was already–I didn’t have a mask on or anything–they already could I.D. me,” Rader said, according to CNN. “I made a decision to go ahead and put ’em down, I guess, or strangle them.”
In January of 1974, Rader killed four members of the Otero family–Joseph, Julie, 11-year-old Josephine and 9-year-old Joseph Jr.–saying it took time for them to die. “I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn’t know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take,” he said. Rader left semen at the crime scene and took souvenirs, which became part of his modus operandi.
Charlie Otero, 15, found his parents dead. At the time, he didn’t know that his two youngest siblings were also killed. “It was just like if you ripped my chest open and tore my heart out,” Otero told ABC News’ 20/20 in January 2019.
“When I looked at my mother, she was tied up. It didn’t even look like my mother. My dad, he had a belt wrapped around his neck,” he told 20/20. “I thank God every day for the fact that I didn’t find Joey and Josie, because I don’t know how I would have handled it.”
Kathryn Bright was Rader’s fifth victim when he struck again in April. He waited in her apartment and then stabbed and strangled her once she got home. “The strangulation wasn’t working on her and I used a knife on her,” Rader said in court.
Rader Introduced Himself as the BTK Killer in October 1974
BTK publicly addressed authorities in October 1974, sending a letter where he said he would bind, torture and kill his victims. “It’s hard to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up,'” he wrote, as noted by Biography.com. “The code words for me will be bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K.”
Rader said 26-year-old Shirley Vian was a random choice. He had to force his way into her apartment on March 17, 1977, with a .357-caliber Magnum handgun. Rader locked her children in a bathroom after they got “upset” and then covered her head with a bag and strangled her. Unlike the two Otero children, Vian’s kids were not harmed, according to CBS News.
“I told Mrs. Vian that I had a problem with sexual fantasies and I was going to tie her up and that I might have to tie the kids up, and if she would cooperate,” Rader said in court, as noted by CBS News.
His next known victim was 25-year-old Nancy Fox, who he strangled to death in her home in December 1977. He called police to report Fox’s homicide.
“When I was trolling through the area, I noticed her go in the house one night. … I put her down as a potential victim. … I did a little homework,” Rader said, as reported by CBS News. “I dropped by once to check the mailbox to see what her name was. I found out where she worked.”
“She was very outgoing, very friendly,” Nancy Fox’s sister, Beverly Fox, told 20/20. “She was one to speak her mind. She didn’t keep quiet.”
Beverly Fox found some comfort in knowing that her sister wasn’t murdered by someone they knew. “In some respects, knowing that it wasn’t somebody we knew was a relief, but at the same time, now you’ve got this crazy person out there that’s doing these atrocious things to other people,” she told 20/20. “What did she do to him to make him want to do this to her?”
When Rader killed his neighbor, Marine Hedge in April 1985, he took her body to a different location and took pictures of her in “different forms of bondage,” CNN wrote. He then hid her body in a ditch, where she was found eight days later.
Rader’s ninth victim, Vicki Wegerle, was killed in her home in 1986. Though her 2-year-old son was home at the time he was not hurt.
Dolores Davis, abducted from her home on January 19, 1991, was BTK’s last-known victim. He threw her body off a bridge and she was found nearly two weeks later with her hands, feet and knees tied with pantyhose. She had been strangled to death.
“My mother had been a beautiful person inside and out, and she’s disregarded like a bag of garbage,” her son, Jeff Davis, told 20/20.
“My mother was a very caring, giving type of person,” he said. “She was just a very kind and considerate and loving person.”
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