'Bored,' Rader decided to resurface
08/13/2005 12:00 AM
03/27/2012 2:01 PM
BTK was retired.
He was going to "go off the face of the earth," as he put it, never to be heard from again.
But then Dennis Rader saw a story in The Wichita Eagle on Jan. 11, 2004, about the 30th anniversary of the Otero family murders looming later that week.
He was "kind of bored," now that his kids were grown and gone, Rader said, and he couldn't help himself.
"That really stirred it," Rader said in a taped interview with a psychologist hired to determine whether the man who confessed to 10 murders as the serial killer was insane. Portions of the interview were shown on a special episode of "Dateline NBC" Friday night.
"I read that in the paper, and I thought — I always thought, you know, I'd like to bring this back out again, but should I?" he said to Robert Mendoza, the psychologist.
He later learned Wichita lawyer Robert Beattie was writing a book about the case.
"Eventually I was going to tell the story in my terms and not his terms," Rader said. "They already had the killings, so that's factual. But they didn't know how I worked and moved around — the projects, the haunts, how I picked my victims. They didn't know how that worked."
And so, after remaining silent for 25 years, a serial killer most Wichitans and many law enforcement officials believed was dead resurfaced. Rader sent a letter to The Eagle postmarked March 17, the same date he had killed one of his earliest victims.
Thus began a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement officials whom he derisively labeled "the Keystone Kops."
"They had 30-some years to break it, and they couldn't do it," Rader told Mendoza. "The taxpayers who are paying the money for the Sedgwick County, they really need to have... a sharper bunch. Although they tried and they tried and they tried."
And yet, they did catch him, using modern technology and Rader's own blunders. He was arrested not far from his Park City home Feb. 25, pleaded guilty in June and will be sentenced next week.
"I think I was lucky," Rader said in the interview. "I think I was lucky quite a bit. Pretty lucky guy. Pretty lucky guy. Yeah, I think they got close a couple times. I was just lucky."
He was proud, too: so proud of how he had killed Nancy Fox on Dec. 9, 1978, that he called 911 the next morning to report the crime.
"That was kind of an impulse and really, a really stupid thing to do," he told Mendoza. "Not a... not a real smart thing to do, because — you know, I left my voice pattern and my voice on there."
Rader talked of sexual fantasies that sprouted in his childhood and grew as he grew, reaching a crescendo late in 1973. That's when he saw Josephine Otero come out of her house on Pinecrest, while he was trolling the neighborhood.
"She came out of the house and took the kids to school, so I followed them to school," Rader told Mendoza. "I thought, well, that's a corner house. That's a possibility. And I was in between work. Idle hands, what is it? Idle hands..."
"The devil's workshop?" Mendoza prodded.
"Yes, and all these things seemed to happen most time when I had idle hands," Rader said. "I had just lost a job at Cessna. That was demoralizing to me. So anyway, they became a potential target...."
He walked into their home on the morning of Jan. 15, 1974.
"They thought it was a joke," Rader said of the Otero family. Joseph Otero "kind of laughed a little bit. He said: 'What is this, a joke? You know, who sent you over? My brother-in-law?' "
But the Oteros believed his story of being on the run from the law and needing food, money and transportation.
"They were cooperating with me 100 percent," Rader said. "And that's probably... it was their demise. If they probably struggled and fought with me, it would have been a different story."
Killing the Oteros fueled his desire to kill again.
"I don't think it was actually the person that I was after, I think it was the dream," Rader said. "I know that's not really nice to say about a person, but they were basically an object. They were just an object. That's all they were.
"I had more satisfaction building up to it and afterwards than I did the actual killing of the person."
Rader said he had "torture chambers" in his dreams.
"And to relieve your sexual fantasies," he said, "you have to go to the kill."
During the interview with Mendoza, Rader admitted, "There's a lot of lucky people out there."
Either he didn't make it to their homes, or they didn't come home.
"There would have been more probably if I had succeeded," he said. "Yeah, you're almost guaranteed it."
He killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991. But then the killing stopped.
"It seemed like as I got older I started making... well, physically, I was just wasn't up to it," Rader told Mendoza. "I knew if I'd have to fight with somebody it would have to be an older person because I'd be just winded or wouldn't be able to fight physically."
The media attention he received after he resurfaced in March 2004 thrilled him.
"I had listened to the news quite a bit," he said. "And yeah, I'd get pretty excited to read the paper."
Those who thought BTK had reappeared wanting to be caught so he could take credit for his crimes are wrong, he said.
"No. No, no, no, no," Rader said. "This guy was not going to get caught."
His gamesmanship with Wichita police went on for months. In January he asked police if they could catch him if he used a computer disk to catch him. They told him "no." He thought they were being honest with him.
"I thought they wanted me to finish the story," he told Mendoza during the interview. "I really thought I had a rapport with them."
Within hours of receiving the computer disk, police had identified Rader. After confirming Rader was BTK by using his daughter's DNA, police closed in.
On the morning of Feb. 25, Rader heard on his police radio that the FBI was in Park City. Maybe, he thought, they were on to him.
"Shall I run? But where would I have ran if they were after me?" he asked. "I just took a calculated guess that that was something else and hope for it."
When he saw the long line of police cars on his way home for lunch, and one flipped on lights and sirens to pull him over, "I knew that was it."
Taken in for questioning, he felt like he was talking shop with brothers in law enforcement.
"Once the confession was out and I admitted who I was, then... then the bonding really started," Rader told Mendoza. "You know, I just really opened up and... we shared jokes and everything else. It's just like we were buddies."
But then the interview ended, and the investigators left. They didn't come back on Saturday, the day that Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams announced to the world "BTK is arrested." They did not come on Sunday, either, a day Rader "was probably the lowest day in all my life."
He knew they had him. He knew the life he had lived was over. And nobody was coming to talk to him.
Rader would not get the stage he craved until the day he pleaded guilty in June. As Sedgwick County District Court Judge Greg Waller prodded him, Rader offered details of the 10 murders he committed as BTK with chilling detachment.
Later, he told Mendoza "I really feel pretty good. It's kind of like a big burden that was lifted off my shoulders.
"On the other hand, I feel like I'm — kind of like I'm a star right now."
Editor's Choice Videos
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.