Chilling Facts About The BTK Strangler AKA Prolific Serial Killer Dennis Rader

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Who Is The BTK Strangler? Scary Facts About Serial Killer Dennis Rader
Entertainment And News

It's Serial Killer Week over on Investigation Discovery, and the network is set to air a bunch of new serial killer documentaries over the course of the week. One of the documentaries, BTK: Chasing a Serial Killer, will air on Friday, September 4, and takes a look at one of the most chilling serial killers in American history: the BTK Strangler. 

Who is the BTK Strangler AKA serial killer Dennis Rader?

The BTK Strangler — an acroynym meaning bind, torture, kill — is a man whose real name is Dennis Rader. 

If you've watched Season 1 and/or Season 2 of David Fincher's Netflix original series Mindhunter, chances are you've at least heard of the BTK Strangler and know a little bit about him.

RELATED: 11 Facts About Ed Kemper — The Real Serial Killer From The Netflix Series 'Mindhunter' 

Rader, who is a former employee of home security company ADT, killed ten people over the course of the nearly two decades between 1974 and 1991.

He currently remains locked behind bars at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, serving ten consecutive life sentences (175 years) for those crime, but that doesn't mean anyone will soon forget his terrible legacy.

Where is the BTK Strangler from?

Born Dennis Lyn Rader on March 9, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Kansas, he grew up in Witchita, the eldest of four sons belonging to Dorothea Mae Rader (née Cook) and William Elvin Rader. 

What was the BTK Strangler's family life like?

Once he left the Air Force, Rader married a woman named Paula Dietz on May 22, 1971, with whom he had two children, son Brian and daughter Kerri. After completing an associate's degree in Electronics and a bachelor's degree in Administration of Justice, he went to work as an assembler for an outdoor supply company.

He then went on to install private home security systems for ADT Security Services from 1974 to 1988. In many cases the homeowners were choosing to purchase such protection due to their fear over the BTK killings.

He briefly worked as a census field operations supervisor for the Wichita area, and then as a dogcatcher and compliance officer in Park City. While in this role, "neighbors recalled him as being sometimes overzealous and extremely strict. One neighbor complained he euthanized her dog for no reason."

Not only was Rader an member of Christ Lutheran Church, but he was elected president of the church council and served as a Cub Scout leader.

When did Dennis Rader commit his first murder?

On January 15, 1974, after having spent a good amount of time stalking, obsessing, fantasizing and planning, Rader murdered his neighbors, the entire Otero family, which he later explained in detail to the court. 

Rader nervously entered the home expecting to find Julie, 33, and possibly her two young children, Joe Jr., 9, and Josephine, 11. Unexpectedly, he also found Joseph Otero, 38, also at home, along with the family dog. He suffocated all four members of the family in the master bedroom before taking Josephine to the basement where he hung her and ejaculated on her bound, dead body. Their bodies were found later that same day by the Oteros' 15-year-old son, Charlie.

Eventually, the DNA samples he left at the scene of this crime and others would be use in court. And while the murders of the Otero family did not go as smoothly as he had planned, they did establish his pattern of behavior: Binding, torturing, and killing.

Did the BTK Strangler taunt the police?

Rader's ego regarding his crimes was tremendous. He seemed to enjoy playing games with both the police and the press, and took pleasure in creating his own nicknames

In October of 1974, Rader put a letter in a public library book, confessing to the murder of the Otero family, and the letter ended up in the hands of a local newspaper.

"It's hard to control myself," he wrote. "You probably call me 'psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up. The code words for me will be bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K.'"

The initials stuck, and that's how Dennis Rader became known as the BTK Killer.

He also sent the police photographs of his bound victims, along with letters he referred to as chapters. He once even sent the police a word puzzle that contained last name hidden within the text.

Over the course of the three decades he remained at-large, his list of aliases included:

  • BTK
  • ​Ethan Truman
  • Happ Kakemann
  • ​Bill Thomas Killman
  • ​The BTK Strangler
  • The BTK Killer
  • The Wichita Strangler (self-named)
  • The Poetic Strangler (self-named)
  • The Asphyxiater (self-named)
  • The Garrote Phantom (self-named)
  • The Bondage Strangler (self-named)
  • The Wichita Hangman (self-named)

What was the BTK Strangler's "hit kit"?

Dennis Rader would bring a "hit kit" with him when he was about to commit a murder. His kit included plastic bags, rope, tape, a knife, and a gun.

What is "Factor X" and why did the BTK Strangler blame his crimes on it?

Dennis was a self-proclaimed "serial killer fan" and he claimed that Jack The Ripper to Ted Bundy to the Son of Sam had the same Factor X as he did.

He described Factor X as less of an alter ego and more of a demon who drove him to do the terrible things he did.

“I knew somewhere along the line of eighth grade or freshman in high school that I had some abnormal tendencies at that point in time," he said. "But it exploded on January 15, 1974. That’s when the ball game exploded. You know, at some point in time, someone should have picked something up from me and identified it.” 

RELATED: New Details Revealed About The 11-Year-Old Girl Who Drove A Car Into A Home Because She "Wanted To Kill People" 

What did the BTK Strangler get out of his murders?

The process of hunting and stalking his potential victims was a huge part of what made these crimes so exciting for Rader. He would dedicate significant time to learning the movements and routines of the women he targeted. If something seemed off or something seemed like it would make the murder too challenging to carry out, he would simply move on to his next potential victim. After his arrest in 2005, many women came forward with stories about nights on which they believe he may have intended to kill them, but luck took them out of their routine, and therefore out of his planned attack.

Part of the reason he enjoyed staying in contact with the press was the thrill he got from the sense of terror he knew he was inflicting on the people around him in Wichita. He titled his attack on 25-year-old Nancy Jo Fox "Project Fix Hunt."

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When he broke into her home on December 8, 1977, he bound her and told her he was "just" going to rape her. He then killed her shortly after.

Did any victimes escape the BTK Strangler?

After what he believed was the perfect murder of Fox, he set his sights on a young widow named Anna Williams. He followed his usual pattern of stalking her and getting to know her routine, and one night in April of 1978, when he expected her to be home, he broke into her house, cut the phone lines, and waited for her to return from square dancing class as was her habit. Luckily for Anna, her life was saved when she decided visit her daughter after the class instead. Rader waited for her until 10 pm before finally leaving.

When Anna did return home, she found the phone lines had been cut, rushed to her neighbor's and called the police, who found a noose made from wire next to her bed. She never spent another night in the home, but a few months later her daughter went to collect her mail and found a letter addressed to her deceased husband, "c/o Anna." Inside the envelope was pair of her pantyhose, a drawing of what he had intended to do, and a poem, which included the line, “Oh Anna Why Didn’t You Appear?”

How did police catch on to the BTK Strangler?

Although Rader thought quite highly of himself, he was not as intelligent as he believed himself to be. His first letter to the press was so riddled with errors that the police initially believed that he must have written it that way on purpose to throw them.

“I write this letter to you for the sake of the tax payer as well as your time," the letter read. "Those three dude you have in custody are just talking to get publicity for the Otero murders. They know nothing at all. I did it by myself and with no ones help. There has been no talk either. Let’s put this straight.”

Once when his own wife came across a letter he was writing to someone she remarked, "You spell just like BTK," but she never made the actual connection.

After he killed Dolores Davis in 1991, Rader went on a murder hiatus of sorts, and his case grew cold. But when the Witchita Eagle reported that BTK must either be in jail or dead due to the lack of "activity," Rader, desperate to regain attention, sent the newspaper a letter claiming responsibility for an unsolved murder in 1986. This was the start of chain of coded messages exchanged over the course of the next year with police and press.

At one point, Rader included the following note along with a packet of documents detailing plans for future murders.

"Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer. Be honest. Under Miscellaneous Section, 494, (Rex, it will be OK), run it for a few days in case I'm out of town-etc," he wrote. "I will try a floppy for a test run some time in the near future-February or March."

This was Rader's coded way of asking the police to run an ad in the newspaper stating, "Rex, it will be OK," if he would be able to send them a floppy disk without it being traced back to him. They did as he asked and two weeks later he sent them a disk that led them to Rader via a computer at his church.

Rader was astounded that the police lied to him.

When Rader asked why the police lied to him, Witchita Kansas Police Lt. Ken Landwehr simply stated, "Because I was trying to catch you."

Later in the interrogation, the BTK Strangler said, "I really thought Ken was honest when he gave me — when he gave me the signal it can’t be traced. The floppy did me in.'"

What did Dennis Rader's daughter send to the press?

Rader's family knew absolutely nothing about his hideous double life until they learned of it along with the rest of the public. His wife was granted an emergency divorce after his arrest, and has remained understandably silent.

His daughter, Kerri Rawson, broke the family's 9 years of silence in 2014, when she found out that Stephen King's short story based on her father, "A Good Marriage," was being made into a film, by sending a letter of her own to the press, which read:

"A letter to Stephen King, the media from Dennis Rader’s daughter.

To The Eagle, The Wichita TV Media & Mr. Stephen King.

My family is done, we are tired. We are not news, we are not a story to be exploited & profited on, to be twisted & retold to your liking whenever you want. Leave us, the families & the community out of it.

My dad is not a monster, that’s elevating him. He’s just a man, who choose to do some of the most horrible things a person can do. Not a monster, a man. A man who took 10 precious lives & tried to destroy countless others. He’s not worth the attention.

My mom is the strongest & bravest woman I know. She doesn’t need her life re-spun in a story or on the big screen. Her life is a true testament of all that is good & right in this world.

My family has tried hard to fight the good fight, to stand on our faith & live out a peaceful life. So let us live that life & please, leave us out of it. Out of the noise & chaos & the ugly & the awful.

Kerri (Rader) Rawson"

What is the BTK Strangler's book called?

Over the course of approximately two years, Rader collaborated with forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland on her book, Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, via letters and phone calls from his prison cell.

She calls the book a "guided autobiography," in which he details the part of his personality he referred to as "'The Minotaur,' his personification of the sexual impulses and violent tendencies that made a serial killer."

Once again, daughter Kerri was understandably NOT pleased.

RELATED: 9 Chilling Facts About Jerry Brudos — The Real Serial Killer From The Netflix Series 'Mindhunter' 

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a sex, humor and lifestyle writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the sex, love, and dating advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.