Unsettling Facts We Learned About The BTK Killer, Dennis Rader

For over 30 years, serial killer Dennis Rader struck fear in the hearts of citizens of Wichita, KS, by committing 10 horrific murders. Rader, who called himself the BTK Killer because he bound, tortured, and killed his victims, lived a double life, hiding in plain sight with his wife and two children, who were completely unaware of his crimes. He is considered one of the most prolific American serial killers of all time.

Though Rader evaded capture for decades, police eventually apprehended him, partially thanks to his own ego. He regularly sent the media letters and graphic photos in order to brag about his crimes and taunt law enforcement. In 2004, police finally traced one of these letters directly to Rader, leading to his arrest in 2005.

Photo: Kansas Department of Corrections / Fair Use

  • Rader Was Church Council President And A Cub Scout Leader

    Dennis Rader lived a double life as a devoted family man and a sadistic killer. Rader regularly attended church services with his family at the Christ Lutheran Church, where his wife sang in the choir and he served as president of the congregation.

    Rader's son was a member of the Cub Scouts, and Rader soon became a troop leader. In this role, Rader, who by that time had already killed two children, taught young boys how to tie knots similar to the ones he used to bind his victims. In one instance, Rader even left a Cub Scout camping trip in the middle of the night to break into the home of Marine Hedge and fatally strangle her.

  • Rader Murdered An Entire Family In 1974

    Rader's first four victims were the Oteros, a Wichita family that included 38-year-old Joseph, 33-year-old Julie, 11-year-old Josephine, and 9-year-old Joseph Jr. On January 15, 1974, Rader, then 29, cut the phone lines to the family's home and forced his way inside, using a gun to subdue the Oteros. After tying the family up, Rader attempted to systematically suffocate the Oteros by placing a plastic bag over each of their heads.

    While this method killed Joseph Sr. and Joseph Jr., Mrs. Otero survived, leading Rader to fatally strangle her. When he failed to suffocate Josephine with a plastic bag, he took the 11-year-old to the basement, where he hanged her from a drain pipe.

    The only surviving member of the family was 15-year-old Charlie Otero, who discovered his parents' and siblings' remains when he arrived home from school that afternoon.

  • Rader Named Himself The BTK Killer

    In his early communications with the media, Rader suggested a number of different monikers with which the press could refer to him and his crimes. One of these suggestions included the "BTK Strangler," in which BTK stood for “Bind, Torture, Kill.”

    Initially, the media referred to the unidentified killer as the BTK Strangler, but this eventually became the "BTK Killer" or simply "BTK." After a series of letters in the 1970s, Rader didn't communicate with the press again until 1988, when he praised another unidentified perpetrator who had murdered three people.

    In 2004, Rader resumed communication with the media when he sent a letter to a local newspaper using the name Bill Thomas Killman in the return address. In the note, he claimed responsibility for murdering 28-year-old Vicki Wegerle in her Wichita home on  September 16, 1986. To prove the killing was his work (as many people suspected Wegerle's husband), Rader included photos of the crime scene and a copy of the young woman's drivers license, which was missing from the scene.

  • One Of Rader's Victims Survived

    A few months after Rader killed the Otero family, 21-year-old Kathryn Bright and her 19-year-old brother entered her Wichita home on April 4, 1974, only to discover Rader already inside. Rader, who was armed with two handguns, forced Kevin to tie up his sister, then used rope to bind the 19-year-old to the bed. When Kevin tried to escape, Rader strangled the teenager and shot him twice in the head.

    After shooting Kevin, Rader tried to strangle Kathryn; however, the young woman fought so hard, Rader ultimately stabbed her multiple times before fleeing the scene.

    Incredibly, Kathryn managed to reach a phone and call the police, but the 21-year-old ultimately died from her injuries. Her brother, however, survived Rader's attack, despite being shot in the head twice.

  • Rader Installed Security Systems For A Living - Some Of Which He Installed Because People Were Afraid Of The BTK Killer

    Beginning in 1974, the same year he killed the Oteros and Kathryn Bright, Rader worked for the home security company ADT. During his 14 years of employment, Rader installed alarm systems in houses all over Wichita, often speaking with worried families seeking increased protection from the BTK Killer.

    Eventually, Rader was promoted to a supervisory position that still required him to go into the field to check on systems installed by his subordinates. Eventually, Rader left ADT to work as a compliance officer in Park City, KS, a job that mainly consisted of issuing warnings and citations to people about overgrown grass and unleashed dogs.

  • Rader Locked A Woman's Children In The Bathroom Before Killing Her

    Approximately three years after he murdered Kathryn Bright, Rader entered the Wichita home of Shirley Vian Relford on March 17, 1977, by pretending to be a private detective.

    Rader then locked Vian Relford's three children (ages 4, 5, and 8) in the bathroom with blankets and toys before tying the 26-year-old mother to the bed in a complicated bondage position.

    Rader killed Vian Relford by placing a plastic bag over her head and tying a ligature around her neck, all while her young children tried to escape the bathroom to help their mother. By the time one of them managed to force the bathroom door open, Vian Relford was dead and Rader had fled the scene.