Plea brings no relief to eyewitness

06/29/2005 12:00 AM

03/27/2012 11:17 AM

As he sat in the shade Tuesday, sipping a beer, drawing on a cigarette, Steve Relford wore the same grim expression he has shown since he first spoke publicly about his mother's killing at the hands of BTK.

In a Wichita courtroom Monday, Relford and other relatives of the serial killer's victims heard 60-year-old Dennis Rader plead guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder for crimes dating to 1974.

But the plea hasn't lifted Relford's spirits.

The 34-year-old seems just as angry, just as frustrated.

"I don't know how to handle it," said Relford, visiting Wichita from Oklahoma City. He said he could never live here because of the bad memories.

As Relford explains it, he's had to relive his mother's murder since he was 6. He let the killer in the door that day in 1977 and still feels guilty. He said he saw the brutal attack.

As he sat behind Rader on Monday and heard him tell a judge details of the crimes, Relford felt the trauma one more time.

"That was the worst I've had to relive."

He noticed how Rader coldly described his killings. "Seeing no emotion out of him whatsoever — that just blows my mind, Relford said. "He should have showed at least some remorse."

Relford learned from the killer that his mother was not the initial target that day. Rader said he picked another "project" — his term for targeted victims — across from the Dillons store at Lincoln and Hydraulic, near Relford's home. When Rader found no one home there, he eventually picked Relford's house because he had seen Relford on a sidewalk.

"I got a couple of answers, but not what I wanted," he said of Rader's confession. Relford still wants to know who the intended victim was. He still doesn't fully understand why Rader picked his house. He wants to know if police found fingerprints.

The killer put Relford and his two siblings in a bathroom, where he said he could see some of the attack on his mother.

If the killer hadn't felt hurried, Relford said, "he would have killed us just like the Oteros," referring to the killer's first victims: Joseph and Julie Otero and their two youngest children.

Charlie Otero, now 47, is the oldest son of Joseph and Julie and was at school when the killer came in 1974. Charlie Otero and Relford have become friends because of their shared losses.

Relford had given several interviews by Tuesday afternoon. Sometimes, it helps to talk about it. Sometimes, it only makes him angrier, he said.

Relford paused as he spoke Tuesday, picked up his cell phone and called Otero. He told Otero he would send him a tape and a newspaper about Rader's confession. "All right, Bro," Relford said, signing off.

Relford said his eyes met Rader's for a moment in court Monday. They were "the same eyes that killed my momma."

He can't escape the past.

There's a smell that triggers his memory of the murder. He thinks it comes from the cologne or deodorant Rader wore that terrible day.

It upsets Relford every time he gets near someone with that odor.

"When I smell it, I smell fear. It causes me to get angry."

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service