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Rader left out torture, some notice

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 8:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 11:26 a.m.

Editor's note: This story contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.

He wanted to be known as BTK, short for "Bind, Torture, Kill."

But when Dennis Rader stood up in Sedgwick County District Court on Monday and admitted to being the notorious serial killer, he never used the word "torture" in describing how he killed 10 people.

Not once.

"It's like he skipped over that part," said Arlyn Smith, a former Wichita homicide detective who worked on the BTK case in 1978 and 1979.

In fact, during the hearing Rader repeatedly claimed he calmed and comforted his victims.

And yet it was the torture that Dennis Rader enjoyed the most, a local psychologist told The Eagle on Friday. No one will ever come close to understanding what drove Rader, he said, without recognizing that.

"The torture was the essence," said Tony Ruark, a Wichita psychologist who consulted with police on the BTK case years ago. "That was the whole purpose of it."

Ruark said he still remembers a particular passage in a 1978 letter, in which BTK described how he killed the Oteros, Shirley Vian Relford and Nancy Fox. In that passage, Rader wrote about what a sexual turn-on it was for him see and hear 11-year-old Josephine Otero suffer.

Of all the communications from BTK that he saw, Ruark said, "that is the one that affected me the most."

That passage reflects "the real picture of him, with that sadistic part coming out," Ruark said.

During his description of the Otero murders, Rader on Monday said Joseph and Julie Otero revived after he thought they were dead because he had never strangled anyone before and didn't know what it took to kill.

"I'm not buying that part of his testimony at all," Smith said.

Smith said extensive bruising found on Nancy Fox suggested she had endured "multiple stranglings and revivings" when Rader killed her Dec. 8, 1977.

The bruising and swelling was so extensive that friends and family members could hardly recognize her.

Smith said he is convinced the Oteros were tortured in much the same way before they died.

"He's the one who put 'torture' in his name," Smith said of Rader.

Ruark said he expects prosecutors to shed light on "the cruelty, the torture part that was so much enjoyable for him" when Rader's sentencing hearing is held Aug. 17.

They have said they will present evidence and testimony to ensure Rader receives "proper" punishment.

In his 1978 letter, Rader wrote that he had planned to bind Shirley Vian Relford's two young sons with tape and put plastic bags over their heads, as he had some of his other victims. And he had planned to do to their 4-year-old sister what he had done to Josephine Otero.

"They were very lucky," Rader wrote in the letter. "A phone call saved them."

In remarks after Monday's hearing, Sedgwick County Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker said the sentencing hearing will be an opportunity to ensure the public is "getting the total story, and not just part of it."

Ruark isn't sure why Rader did not go into the torture during the hearing. It may have been the setting, Ruark said: a courtroom where Judge Greg Waller pressed him for information.

"Rather than getting into the thrill that he was experiencing, he just gave the facts," Ruark said.

But a more revealing clue, he said, may have come from a telephone interview Rader gave to a local television station before he pleaded guilty. He asked not to be painted in a completely negative way.

"He wants to come across more positively, I guess," Ruark said. "I don't know how you do that and be a mass murderer."

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