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Known as the "BTK Killer"—which stands for "bind, torture, and kill"—Dennis Rader terrorized the Witchita, Kansas, area from the 1970s to the '90s.
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Born in 1945 in Pittsburg, Kansas, Dennis Rader committed his first murders in 1974, strangling four members of the Otero family in their home. Later that year he began seeking fame for his killings, writing letters and reporting his crimes. His final crime was in 1991, but he resurfaced in 2004 and again sought media attention. This eventually led to his arrest. He pled guilty and was ordered to serve 10 life sentences in prison.
Dennis Lynn Rader was born on March 9, 1945, in Pittsburg, Kansas. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the "BTK Killer"—which stands for "bind, torture, and kill"—terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area. In 2005, he was finally caught and revealed to be Dennis Rader, a seemingly average married father of two.
The oldest of four sons, Rader grew up in Wichita, Kansas. There may have been signs of trouble early on as a Los Angeles Times report stated that he used to hang stray cats as a child. Rader served in the U.S. Air Force from the mid to late 1960s. He married his wife Paula in 1971 and worked for a camping gear company for a few years. He went to work for ADT Security Services in 1974.
That same year, Rader committed his first crime. On January 15, 1974, Rader killed four members of the Otero family in their home—Joseph and Julie Otero and two of their children, Josephine and Joseph Jr. They died by strangulation, and Rader took a watch and a radio from the home. Strangulation and taking souvenirs would become part of his modus operandi, or pattern of behavior. He also left semen at the scene and later said that he derived sexual pleasure from killing. The Oteros' 15-year-old son, Charlie, came home later that day and discovered the bodies.
The BTK Killer struck again a few months later. Waiting in their apartment on April 4, 1974, Rader killed Kathryn Bright by stabbing and strangling, and attempted to kill her brother, Kevin. Kevin was shot twice, but survived. He described Rader as "an average-sized guy, bushy mustache, 'psychotic' eyes," according to a TIME magazine article.
In October 1974, Rader sought fame and attention for his crimes, placing a letter in a public library book in which he took responsibility for killing the Oteros. The letter ended up with a local newspaper, and the poorly written note gave authorities some idea of who they were dealing with. Rader wrote, "It's hard to control myself. You probably call me 'psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.'" He went on to describe the urge to kill as a monster inside him, but he clearly wanted to control his image: He requested to be called the "BTK Strangler," explaining that BTK stands for "bind them, torture them, kill them."
Rader's next known crimes occurred in 1977. In March of that year, he tied up and strangled Shirley Vian after locking her children in the bathroom. Rader's desire for attention led him to report his next crime himself. On December 8, 1977, he strangled Nancy Fox in her home and then called the police to tell them about the homicide.
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Many of the most horrifying acts of violence are committed by serial killers. Always looking for next victim, these murderers kill again and again, never fully satisfied by their bloody deeds. Their twisted motivations—and even more twisted techniques—land the people in this group among the most frightening criminals in history.
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