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Liked by many, loathed by some

  • Published Monday, March 12, 2007, at 7:44 a.m.

On a questionnaire he filled out at a 1984 reunion of his eighth-grade class at Riverview School, Dennis Rader offered his philosophy of life.

"Do it now -- Life is complicated and short so stay young at heart as long as possible: It was so easy in '59."

Life is indeed now complicated for Rader, who has been arrested as a suspect in the BTK serial killings and booked on suspicion of 10 counts of murder.

And the 59-year-old Park City resident is a complicated man, according to people who are his friends, neighbors and former co-workers.

He is arrogant, by-the-numbers, rude and confrontational, some said.

He is efficient, nice, friendly, a regular guy, others said.

During the '70s and '80s, Rader worked at ADT Security Services. Nobody who worked with Rader during his 15 years with the company could stand him, according to several former co-workers.

"I don't believe the gentleman was well liked at all," said Mike Tavares, a former co-worker at ADT, where Rader worked from 1974 to 1989, when most of BTK's victims were killed.

Rader was born March 9, 1945, one of four brothers. He graduated from Heights High School in Wichita in 1963 and from Wichita State University in 1979.

Except for a four-year tour of duty in the Air Force from 1965 to 1969, he spent his entire life in the Wichita area, and has lived in Park City since 1971.

He is married, has two children, is active in the Boy Scouts and is president of the church council at Christ Lutheran Church near Heights High.

Rader worked in the meat department for Leeker's IGA in Park City and was an assembler at Coleman Co. from 1971 to 1973.

When he worked for ADT, he held several positions that allowed him into customers' homes, including installation manager.

"He would've been in a prime position to get very intimate knowledge about them," said Tavares, who worked with Rader for 2 ½ years.

Officials with ADT could not be reached for comment.

Tavares and others recalled Rader as blunt, by-the-book, egotistical, arrogant, rude and demanding.

Tavares recalled a confrontation with Rader that ended when Rader cursed him.

"He told me to go pound sand... I was so dumbfounded, I just stood there. I couldn't believe that somebody would talk to me that way," Taveras said.

Another former co-worker remembered that Rader beat on the hood of a company truck during a confrontation with another employee.

Rader would also have been in a position to gain access to people's homes in 1989 when he worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. According to a story that ran in The Wichita Eagle in 1989, Rader was a census field operations supervisor for the Wichita area and part of his job was to verify home addresses.

Neighbors in Park City, where Rader was a city code compliance officer, described him as a control freak who enjoyed the power of his office. Others said he was just doing his job.

Park City resident Sarah Gordon said she and her sister, Heather Herrera, had a run-in with Rader last summer at their garage sale because they didn't have a license for it.

"He told us we had to have one, and then he told us: 'You don't want to mess with me. I'm nobody to mess with,' " Gordon said.

Gordon said Rader followed her sister to Park City Hall, where she obtained the license.

Linda Day, one of Rader's neighbors, said she saw him measure a neighbor's lawn with a ruler one day. He called the city to have the lawn mowed because he thought it was too high, Day said.

"He likes to keep stuff stirred up" in his job, she said.

Day said her oldest son was in Rader's Boy Scout troop.

"He got out of scouts because of the attitude of Dennis Rader," Day said.

Cheryl Hooten, owner of Auntie C's Restaurant in Park City, said Rader fined her for putting up signs around the city advertising her restaurant.

He pulled them out, saying they violated city rules, and fined her, she said.

Hooten, who refused to pay the fines and eventually worked out an agreement with the city not to put up any more, said Rader boasted about his education and "thought he was better than everyone else."

But others said Rader simply was doing what he had to do as compliance officer, responsible for things such as animal control and enforcing city code.

Ray Reiss, a friend of Rader's since they attended Heights High School together and a landlord in Park City, said he received letters from Rader because of weed violations and other matters.

"It was not a hostile thing. He was doing his job. He was telling me to tell the renters to clean their act up," Reiss said.

"He's just a very low-key, nice person -- just a regular person," Reiss said.

Reiss' wife, Jane, has been close friends with Rader's wife, Paula, since they were in grade school.

"After I was married I went into his office in Park City to introduce him to Jane," Reiss said. "He touched her. He shook hands. And I have to think, 'What if?' It makes you shake. All those scenarios go through my head.... If it is him, I'd just like to say: 'What were you thinking? How do you get to that point that you do this?'... He deserves his day in court, but wow, this is just shocking. It's trite to say that he's such a nice guy. Well... he is nice."

Dee Stuart, a candidate for mayor in Park City, said Rader came to her home Monday to tell her that two of her campaign signs had been placed improperly in the right of way.

"I said that I'd just move them, and he told me he had them in the back of his truck," Stuart said. "I walked to the end of the block with them, and he drove along beside me and we chit-chatted, and I put up my signs again."

Stuart, a City Council member in Park City from 1997 to 2001, said she has known Rader for eight or nine years.

"He always treated me with respect, was never abrasive with me, which I think he was sometimes with other people," Stuart said. "I know he was a compliance officer... and as far as I know we didn't have a lot of dogs running loose in Park City."

A former Park City resident, Cecile Cox Ladwig, a past president of the city's PRIDE committee, has known Rader since 1993.

"He was a friendly person, and he just seemed to be liked by everyone," she said.

City officials in Park City declined to comment about Rader, referring all questions to police.

Officials at Wichita State University, where Rader graduated in 1979, confirmed only that Rader was a student in the 1970s and earned a bachelor's degree in administration of justice.

Arthur Crowns Jr., an emeritus professor in the administration of justice program, said he didn't remember Rader.

Crowns said that, during the time Rader attended WSU, the program had six faculty members, and several police officers were guest lecturers. Ron Iacovetta, another professor who still teaches in WSU's criminal justice program, said he didn't remember Rader either.

Rader was appointed by the Sedgwick County Commission to the Sedgwick County Animal Control Advisory Board in 1996. Valley Center Compliance Officer Cindy Plant helped train Rader for Sedgwick County Animal Control and had asked for him to placed on the board. She also helped get him placed on the Kansas Animal Control Association board, she said.

As members of the state board, Plant and Rader frequently worked together on state conferences. They met early at the conference sites, working on speaker schedules and handouts.

Plant said she saw nothing in Rader's appearance or manner that would lead her to believe he was capable of murder.

"I can say he was never out of line or inappropriate with me... nothing, ever," she said.

Plant also said Rader was "very meticulous and neat."

"I don't have time to have every pen in place. Not Dennis.... With him, everything was just perfect: his office, his truck, everything....

"I've never seen that man in a pair of blue jeans, always Dockers and polo shirts, and always just attention to detail... nice shoes. He carried a nice leather day planner with the pens lined up perfectly in it."

Richard Crusinberry was a classmate of Rader's at Riverview School, 53rd North and Seneca. "It's just overwhelming to me," Crusinberry said. "I can't believe it. In a room of 15 people, you just wouldn't notice the guy.... He was very bright, good in school, nice to everybody, nice smile, a great person. I just can't believe it."

He reluctantly attended the 1984 reunion that Rader attended, a 25th anniversary.

"I was afraid they'd give me some kind of award for losing the most hair," Crusinberry said. "I was pretty bald then, but I think Dennis Rader got voted the guy that had lost the most hair. He was balder than I was."

On his reunion questionnaire, Rader wrote that he attended Kansas Wesleyan and Butler County Community College before WSU. He also recalled his four years in the Air Force, including tours in Korea, Turkey, Greece and Okinawa.

Among his activities over the previous 25 years, Rader listed "raising kids, scouting, family outings -- garden, a lot."

Contributing: Josh Funk and Deb Gruver of The Eagle

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