Investigators tell of grisly crimes, Rader's delight
08/18/2005 12:00 AM
03/27/2012 2:58 PM
Editor's Note: This story contains graphic material and may not be suitable for all readers.
Dennis Rader used just about everything good in his life as tools for evil. Rader, 60, used his wife and baby son, his position as a Scout volunteer and leader of his church, and his college education to plan and carry out 10 murders as the BTK serial killer.
Years later, after being caught, Rader would brag to police that he fancied his actions were in the mold of John Wayne and James Bond, in the way he drew his gun to shoot a teenage boy and the way he dressed during a home invasion.
In a Sedgwick County courtroom Wednesday, Rader licked his lips, pressed his hands between his thighs and intently watched the display of photos from crime scenes and autopsies. Most of the images shown to Judge Greg Waller were considered too shocking for the live television audience.
District Attorney Nola Foulston and assistants Kevin O'Connor, Kim Parker and Aaron Smith glanced at Rader from time to time as they presented horrific details of the killings that the 60-year-old former dog catcher from Park City had left out of his own story during his guilty plea back in June.
As police witnesses testified to what Rader told them during a lengthy and detailed confession following his Feb. 25 arrest, they talked of how he liked acronyms and abbreviations. Indeed, he'd given himself one in the nickname BTK, for "bind, torture and kill."
Rader had a term for his killings: projects, "PJs" for short. He had his "after-life concepts of victims," or "AFLV," where he fantasized how he would continue to torture and enslave the people he killed throughout eternity.
Rader liked the way Latina women looked, their dark hair and eyes. That's what he saw in Julie Otero and her 11-year-old daughter, Josie.
"I guess they just turn me on," Rader told Ray Lundin, senior special agent for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Rader got a surprise, however, when he entered the house at 803 N. Edgemoor in 1974. Joseph Otero was home, and so was his son Joey, 9. Rader had packed the pocket of his Air Force parka with binding material and weapons. He drew a gun and began ordering the family around.
Spurred by sexual dreams of bondage, Rader had been prepared to tie up the mother and her preteen child for a thrill. He ended up tying up the father and son, too.
But Joseph Otero, an airman himself and former boxer, tried to chew through the plastic bag meant to suffocate him. Rader would make sure the boy couldn't fight back. Rader put a T-shirt over the plastic bag to keep the boy's teeth from gnashing through the plastic.
That was the "coop de grayce," Rader told Lundin, mispronouncing "coup de grace." Rader brought in a chair for another room so he could watch Joey writhe on the floor as he suffocated.
"You killed my boy! You killed my boy!" Julie Otero yelled.
Rader had strangled her to unconsciousness once already. But she was still alive. He strangled her again.
"You know, I strangled dogs and cats, but I never strangled a person before, so they were the first," Rader said in his confession.
Josie Otero woke up, too.
"What did you do to my momma?" the little girl shrieked. "Momma! Momma! Momma!"
Lundin said that as Rader described it, he imitated the little girl's voice in mocking fashion.
The 10 victims' family members, who were seated in an overflow room outside the courtroom, mocked Rader in turn. They imitated Rader's mispronunciations and laughed at the stupidity he showed through some of his statements.
But brothers Danny and Charlie Otero and their sister, Carmen Montoya, sat in the courtroom wiping back tears as they heard police recount what had happened while they were at school.
Rader led Josie down to the basement.
"So my encore was to just take her down there and hang her," Rader told police. "If she had been dead, I would have still hung her, just to hang her."
Hanging was a major part of Rader's fantasies
Earlier in his life, Rader had dressed up in women's underwear, tied a rope around his neck and took pictures of himself, as if he were hanging, in his parents' basement. He felt that basements were a good place to hang people.
"It's symbolic, like a dungeon," Rader told police.
Rader told Josie: "Well, honey, you're going to be in heaven tonight with the rest of your family."
Rader strategically tied Josie so she would hang by her neck, with the tips of her toes touching the ground. That way, the little girl would struggle to support herself, until her strength finally gave out and the noose choked the life out of her. Rader had pulled down the girl's panties around her ankles. Watching her was "a sexual release," Rader would say.
Rader told KBI Deputy Director Larry Thomas that he knew police must have found the droplets of semen he left by the dangling corpse.
They did, and 30 years later, advances in forensic sciences would match his DNA and positively identify Rader, leaving him no choice but to plead guilty.
Rader, the former president of Christ Lutheran Church in Park City, then described his own version of heaven. Thomas said Rader imagined the people he killed would serve him after he died in some strange sado-sexual palace of the afterlife.
Joseph, Rader said, would be his bodyguard. Julie would bathe him. Joey would become a young sex valet. And Josie would be his "star young maiden."
Pastor Michael Clark of Christ Lutheran Church, who has visited Rader in jail several times and was sitting in the court gallery, grimaced when he heard this testimony.
"Sweet kid," Rader said of Kathryn Bright to Wichita police Detective Clint Snyder.
Except Rader couldn't remember her name. He kept calling her "Kathleen."
When police arrived at the Bright house in April 1974, the 21-year-old was still alive. Her brother, Kevin, had been shot twice in the head and escaped to call for help. Kathryn was struggling to survive nearly a dozen stab wounds, a battle she would ultimately lose.
Kathryn Bright wasn't about to surrender to the sex whims of someone like Dennis Rader.
Rader told police he'd "troll" for victims and pick out cute young women who seemed vulnerable and alone. Despite taking copious notes and stalking his victims, he really didn't know them at all.
And he was wrong about Kathryn Bright.
"I didn't have any idea she had a brother," Rader told Snyder.
But there was Kevin Bright when Rader punched through the screen and broke into the house at 3217 E. 13th St.
Rader knew he'd have to get the 19-year-old man out of the way if he wanted to tie up the woman and have sexual fantasies about her. He tied Kathryn to a chair, but Kevin kept escaping.
"I just did one of those John Wayne things," Rader told police, saying he drew his gun and shot Kevin.
But 5-foot-6, 115-pound Kevin kept coming. Rader, although a good four inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, was losing the fight with both Kevin and Kathryn.
"She fought like a hellcat," Rader told police.
Kevin ran out the door, wounded in the lip and forehead, and Rader began stabbing Kathryn.
Then Rader ran scared.
Kathryn, bleeding profusely, crawled from her bedroom to the living room and reached for the phone. She was holding the receiver when police found her. With her last breath, Bright said she didn't know the man who did this to her.
Three decades later, police would find the knife Rader used to kill Kathryn Bright — a Boy Scout knife he kept in his kitchen pantry.
Still, Rader dreamed on — in his version of paradise, she'd be a "sex bondage girl."
Shirley Vian Relford
Rader posed as a private detective looking for someone, showing a picture of his own wife and toddler son to gain entrance into Shirley Vian Relford's house in March 1977.
It was a "russ," Rader said.
A what? Detective Dana Gouge and others couldn't tell what Rader was talking about sometimes.
"A russ," Rader kept insisting.
After a while, they figured out he meant "ruse."
Rader thought he looked like James Bond in a tweed jacket, dressed like a private eye.
"He said he looked 'spiffy,' " said Gouge, a veteran of the Wichita police homicide squad.
Once inside Relford's house, however, her young children gave him problems. Rader locked them in the bathroom, and the oldest, age 8, threatened to escape.
"I'll shoot you, blow your head off," Rader said. The 8-year-old eventually escaped out the window anyway and went for help.
Rader didn't have time to carry out his sex play there. But he had time to put Vian on her bed, tape her feet and ankles, and tie her up with her arms crossed under the small of her back.
"In the bondage world, that's really high stuff," Rader would tell Gouge.
Rader put a plastic bag over Relford's head and tied it with a pink nightgown.
On his way out, Rader stole panties. He did that at several killings, telling police he would bring them out years later and put them on himself.
"I'm a nice guy. I'm a nice guy," Rader insisted to Gouge.
In Rader's version of paradise, Vian would clean his house.
Back in 1977, young Steven Relford had such a good memory, he gave a description of the attacker. At the time, police were unsure whether a 6-year-old was a reliable witness.
After Rader's arrest, Gouge went back and looked at the old police report.
"What Steven reported to police in 1977 was very accurate," Gouge said, as a grown-up Relford sat in the courtroom. "He has a good memory."
Rader wrote poetry about Shirley Vian Relford, titled "Shirley Locks." He also wrote two poems about Nancy Fox.
Rader was most proud of the Nancy Fox murder.
"Fox went the way I wanted it," Rader told Detective Tim Relph.
Rader didn't have interruptions from nosy kids or men at Fox's house. He tied her up. He strangled her to unconsciousness. He let her regain consciousness and he strangled her again.
"I told her I was BTK," Rader told Relph. He whispered it in her ear as she died.
Fox, 25, didn't go quietly. She called his sexual bondage fantasies "ridiculous" and clawed at his testicles, trying to hurt him.
It only aroused him.
"I was on a high," Rader told Relph.
After Wednesday's hearing, Foulston told reporters she was certain Rader was getting "sexually charged" by the court testimony.
"This guy eats, lives, breathes sexual gratification," Foulston said.
Rader told Relph that in the afterlife Nancy Fox would be his primary mistress.
Said prosecutor O'Connor: "This guy is no Christian."
Marine Hedge, 53, lived six houses away from where Rader lived all of his 33 years of marriage and where he raised two children.
Rader would give a neighborly wave to the woman he mistakenly called "Marie." But Rader thought killing someone so close would be a triumph.
"Oh, this will be big if I can pull it off," Rader told Sedgwick County sheriff's Sgt. Thomas E. Lee.
Rader helped with Cub Scouts and liked camp-outs, for the alibi it gave him in April 1985.
"It's a good cover for a guy like me to go camp out and slip away," Rader told Lee.
Rader broke into Hedge's house and hid in the closet. Hedge came home with a man, and Rader waited until he left and she went to sleep.
Unlike the others, Rader decided to choke Hedge with his bare hands — "throttle her," he called it.
Rader wanted to take her dead body to a barn. He liked barns. As a child, he told police, he'd kill stray cats and dogs and bind them with baling wire and hang them in a barn.
But he didn't take Hedge's body to a barn. Rader took her to Christ Lutheran Church. He planned it out. He hid plastic there so he could tape it over the windows, then he laid Hedge on the altar and took pictures of her corpse, tied up and in sexually graphic positions.
"Alive or dead, she was going to that church," Rader told Lee.
Rader then dumped Hedge's body in a culvert by the side of a road, a place he said was a dumping site for dog carcasses.
Vicki Wegerle loved to play the piano, and Rader heard the music when he would stalk her. Rader heard her playing the day he put on a hard hat with a Southwestern Bell insignia, posed as a telephone repairman and talked Wegerle into letting him into her house.
"I still have the emblem in my lair," Rader told Detective Kelly Otis.
The BTK lair, or the "mother lode," as he called it, was a drawer filled with memorabilia of death, souvenirs collected from all of his killings and stories he'd written of the gruesome deeds.
Rader kept it all in his office in Park City's City Hall, where he worked as a compliance officer for more than 10 years.
Wegerle's 2-year-old son was home when Rader pulled his gun.
"How about my kid?" Wegerle said.
"I don't know about your kid," Rader remembered responding.
Otis remembered Rader talked calmly about this killing.
"It was as if he was telling a fishing story, talking over coffee," Otis testified.
Wegerle also fought back. Rader told Otis that Wegerle fought more fiercely than Bright had. Wegerle scratched him. Rader still thinks he carries a scar, but Otis didn't see anything.
Wegerle clenched Rader's DNA under her fingernails. In 1986, DNA tests weren't perfected. But in 2004, lab experts would link Rader's DNA to the Wegerle, Fox and Otero slayings.
Wegerle had begged Rader to stop. He told investigators she said a prayer as he killed her.
Husband Bill Wegerle came home to find his wife brutally killed.
Rader said he'd see Vicki Wegerle after he dies "as one of the bondage slave women."
Dolores 'Dee' Davis
Capt. Sam Houston of the Sedgwick County sheriff's office said Rader once again used Scouting to cover his murder of Dolores "Dee" Davis, 63, in 1991.
Rader was going to help set up a January camp at Harvey County Park West.
Afterward, he parked his car at the Baptist church at 61st Street North near his Park City home.
"I had a key to that, because that's where the Scouts hung out," Rader confessed to Lee.
Inside the Baptist church, Rader dressed in a dark outfit and put together his "hit kit" — the bag of tape and cords.
Rader walked nearly two miles across a field and a cemetery to get to Davis' house. She lived in a secluded place, so he heaved a brick through the window of her door after she went to bed.
"I've got kids," Rader remembered Davis pleading. "Don't hurt me. Don't hurt me."
Testimony continues this morning with the Davis case.
Jeff Davis, her son, said Wednesday that he is looking forward to addressing Rader, whom he called "a human covering" of a "black, cancerous hole."
"I've waited 14 years," Jeff Davis said. "I want him to hear what I have to say."
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.