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Readers still want answers on BTK

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 8:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 11:36 a.m.

Interest in Dennis Rader and the BTK case is so intense that when he pleaded guilty last week, The Eagle's Web site was inundated with visitors looking for information — even while he was still talking to the judge on live TV.

Despite intensive BTK coverage by The Eagle — archived on Kansas.com — questions continue to pour in. Since Monday, a couple hundred readers from the Wichita area and around the country have responded to our appeal for questions with phone calls and e-mails.

Of the several hundred questions we received, many will likely be answered at Rader's sentencing hearing, which is set for Aug. 17.

Other questions have already been answered in Eagle stories, but bear repeating here for those who haven't followed the case closely.

A few questions — especially those about Rader's most private motivations and decisions — may never be fully answered.

Here is a sampling of those questions, along with answers based on reporting by The Eagle:

Q: We want to know what else Rader is hiding. Anyone that will waive a jury trial and plead guilty and that can stand there the way he did in court Monday is trying to hide something. Now the question is, "what?"

A: After Monday's guilty plea, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said Rader's comments represented only a small portion of what actually happened. She wants to present testimony and additional evidence at Rader's sentencing hearing to paint a fuller picture and demonstrate why Rader deserves the harshest possible sentence.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Kim Parker said the sentencing hearing is an opportunity to ensure that the public is "getting the total story and not just part of it. We're anxious to do that at the time of the sentencing."

Q: Does Rader have a few more skeletons in the closet that he doesn't want anyone to know about? Like maybe one that would put him in line for the electric chair? Or did he abuse any members of his family?

A: Foulston and chief public defender Steve Osburn both say that they have no information to suggest that Rader is responsible for any murders other than the 10 he has admitted to. Authorities had not linked BTK to the murders of Marine Hedge and Dolores "Dee" Davis until Rader confessed to them. None of the murders he admitted to took place at a time when there was a death penalty law in Kansas, so he is not eligible for the death penalty.

Little is known about Rader's life as a husband and father because members of his immediate family have not granted interviews.

Q: What were the criteria for selecting his victims? Did they just need to be an easily accessible target, unmarried, no men in the house, leave doors unlocked or what?

A: During his statements to District Judge Greg Waller, Rader did not mention looking for women of a particular physical description. He said he simply looked for "opportunity." If one "project" didn't work out, Rader said, he moved on to another target.

At some scenes, he knocked on doors and was let in; at others he broke in. Rader said he entered the homes of mothers knowing their children were home. But he also chose single women who lived alone. His youngest victim was in grade school; his eldest was a grandmother.

In a 1978 typo-filled letter, Rader wrote as BTK: "Golly -gee, yes the M.O. is different in each, but look a pattern is developing." He seemed to be referring more to the binding and killing than to the selection of victims.

However, in that letter he noted that Shirley Vian Relford, a mother of three, and Nancy Fox, a single woman living alone, were each "Chose as random" with some "pre-planning."

Q: I would like to know if Dennis Rader attacked any women who got away.

A: He did not indicate that during Monday's hearing, and though several women have voiced suspicions that Rader has been in their homes or contacted them, no woman has reported being assaulted by Rader.

Q: I am interested in how the police obtained the DNA from Rader's daughter that helped confirm he was BTK.

A: In an effort to hide from Rader that they were zeroing in on him as a BTK suspect, investigators obtained a subpoena for his daughter's DNA from a tissue sample stored at a medical clinic in Kansas. It was processed within a week before Rader's arrest on Feb. 25. After Rader was arrested, authorities took a DNA sample from his daughter at her Michigan home to help confirm earlier test results.

Q: What kind of medical records are kept with DNA on them and what was it of his daughter's they were able to get without her knowledge?

A: Authorities did not specify what tissue sample provided the DNA used to link Dennis Rader to DNA left behind at BTK crime scenes. Federal privacy law restricts access to medical records, but there are exceptions, including when law enforcement needs medical records for investigations.

Various tissue samples are commonly taken and stored at medical clinics: everything from a skin biopsy to a Pap smear. DNA can be extracted from such samples.

Q: How were they able to get his daughter's DNA without her knowledge? Is this legal?

A: "We do not engage in illegal activity," said Deputy District Attorney Kevin O'Connor.

Q: What did investigators find at his house and in the shed?

A: After Rader was arrested, BTK investigators removed dozens of items from the shed, including pantyhose, underwear, ropes, cord and duct tape. At the time of a March 31 court hearing, during which contents of the shed were first made public, none of the evidence removed from the shed had been tied to the 10 murders Rader admitted committing.

Q: I was wondering what his parents' names were and if he had any siblings, and if so their names as well? Just trying to see if there is connection between him and the Raders my dad grew up with.

A: He was the son of William Rader of Park City. William's obituary in the Dec. 29,1996, Eagle lists his wife, Dorothea, and four sons: Dennis, Jeff, Paul and Bill. Dennis Rader's extended family were members of Zion Lutheran Church in Pittsburg in the 1940s, the Rev. Theodore Cook told the Pittsburg Sun. Although Dennis grew up in the Wichita area, he was baptized in the Pittsburg church.

Q: Kevin Bright, the brother of victim Kathryn Bright, evidently fought face to face with the unmasked BTK killer. Was he able to help police construct a composite drawing that looked like Dennis Rader?

A:Bright told police the assailant was a 5-foot-10 white man with a mustache and dark brown or black hair and a black stocking cap. An artist's rendering was crafted, but police discounted it because they did not consider Kevin Bright a reliable witness. He had been shot twice in the head by Rader.

Q: Why wasn't Rader charged with other crimes besides murder? He broke into homes, stole items, and so on.

A: District Attorney Nola Foulston said Rader was not charged with other crimes because the statute of limitations had run out for all but the murders. There is no limit on how much time can pass between a murder and charges being filed against a suspect.

Q: I would like to know why he changed his pattern and moved the bodies of two victims out of their homes.

A: Rader has not explained that publicly.

Q: Was Rader ever afraid of being caught?

A: During his statements on Monday, Rader said he thought the police were coming into Kathryn Bright's house while he was still inside. On several other occasions, he said, he hesitated before finding the courage to go into a home. In a 1978 letter, he wrote that "I about blew it" by calling authorities on the phone and that he feared his typed letters could be traced.

Q: Is any information available as to what kind of childhood Dennis Rader had? Did something traumatic happen to him during his pre-adolescence or adolescence that would cause his behavior?

A: Rader's comments on a 1984 reunion questionnaire paint a pleasant picture of his early years: He listed recess, story time, art class and lunch hour as among the most memorable things about grade school. He enjoyed "walks down Seneca with school friends in the spring" and going to a nearby candy store. He advised former classmates that "Life is complicated and short so stay young at heart as long as possible: It was so easy in '59."

Rader's younger brother, Jeff, said shortly after the arrest that the family never saw any sign that his brother could be a killer. The oldest of four brothers, Dennis grew up with a loving mother and a tough but decent father, Jeff Rader said. He described their father, William Rader, as a former Marine, a God-fearing man, strict but not unreasonable. He died in 1996.

All four boys became Boy Scouts and liked being outdoors. They loved to hunt, fish and go on hikes. There was no trouble in the family, no abuse, Jeff Rader has said.

The International Association of Forensic Sciences and Harold Schechter, author of "The Serial Killer," have compiled a list of common serial killer characteristics. Because Dennis Rader has not publicly discussed his personal life, it is unclear how many of these apply to him:

  • More than 90 percent of serial killers are male.
  • They tend to be intelligent, with IQ's in the "bright normal" range.
  • They do poorly in school, have trouble holding down jobs, and often work as unskilled laborers.
  • They tend to come from markedly unstable families.
  • As children, they are abandoned by their fathers and raised by domineering mothers.
  • Their families often have criminal, psychiatric and alcoholic histories.
  • They hate their fathers and mothers.
  • They are commonly abused as children — psychologically, physically and sexually. Often the abuse is by a family member.
  • Many serial killers spend time in institutions as children and have records of early psychiatric problems.
  • They have high rates of suicide attempts.
  • From an early age, many are intensely interested in voyeurism, fetishism, and sadomasochistic pornography.
  • More than 60 percent of serial killers wet their beds beyond the age of 12.
  • Many serial killers are fascinated with fire starting.
  • They are involved with sadistic activity or tormenting small creatures.

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