BTK is silenced; now life goes on

Students are going back to school. Families are finalizing Labor Day plans. Coming up are the Kansas State Fair, the Winfield Bluegrass Festival and Thanksgiving feasts — life as it should be.

After 31 years, the community has said so long to BTK.

Dennis Rader has been sentenced for killing 10 people. Now he's been shackled, put in a red jumpsuit and dumped at the El Dorado Correctional Facility. Now he will spend his life in prison without blockbuster movies, Christmas presents or lakeside barbecues.

Now his voice has been silenced.

"I think things have changed, definitely," said Patty Savely, a medical transcriptionist in Wichita. "It's changed us in ways that will make us look to each other in society, to be cautious of others, but also to rely more on each other.

"I would like for us to go on down our merry way," said Savely, who was looking for dance videos Saturday at the Wichita Public Library. "Hopefully, it will be in a way that makes us aware, not more afraid, and more protective of our children."

Susie Holtzclaw, a Wichitan who works for a preschool program, said she followed the case "more than I want to admit. I was into it. I think everybody I know is about done listening to it."

Tina Doering, who had an armload of books from the children's room at the library, said that "people are tired." She didn't hone in on the coverage because "it was kind of negative stuff... and I just didn't want to think about it."

Now that Rader's been sentenced, "everything's pretty much back to normal," she said.

Others didn't see much change in the way they will lead their lives in the post-BTK era.

"I try not to make it more than it is," said Aaron Baird of Wichita, an abstract artist who works for Engenio. "I hate the whole fact that he's obviously a killer and wanted to be a celebrity."

The obsession with Rader has been fueled by newspaper stories, Internet arguments, transfixing television coverage and our own fears.

The victims' families, authorities and many Wichita-area folks generally agree it's past time to pull the plug on Rader's spotlight. Some quit caring about him when he was caught. Many others saw the trial and sentencing through to the bitter end.

Tana Gile of Wichita said that "the only reason we watched was because of the victims' families. It's affected Brandon (Wegerle), who we know."

Savely said she would like to hear more from the victims' families. Rader "doesn't have anything of importance to say to me. I think he has something to say to them."

Cindy Duckett, a friend and co-worker of victim Nancy Fox, said the experience has been an emotional drain for many.

"I think it's just a relief for the community and a relief for the families," she said. "I know what it's done to me, and I just can't imagine what it's done to the families."

Peggy Davis, who works at a Derby nursing facility, said she still locks her doors at night, but has tried not to let it change her life. It's others she's concerned with.

"I feel the families of the victims can get on with their lives now," Davis said. "I'm sure they're relieved it's over."

Those families vented their wrath at Rader on Thursday at the sentencing hearing, then left the courtroom, symbolically turning their backs on him.

"There's no punishment that you can exact upon him that will satisfy our needs," said Bill Wegerle, whose wife, Vicki, was killed in 1986. "We can just ask the court to bestow upon him the most that you can, and hopefully we will not have to deal with him or see him or hear from him ever again."

At the close of the family news conference on Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Kevin O'Connor said: "These are the people I want to hear about now, not Dennis Rader. They are my heroes. That's why I do what I do."

He drew applause when he said, "Let's stop talking about Dennis Rader."

Tony Ruark, a Wichita psychologist who consulted with police on the BTK case years ago, agrees but waits for the chance to get inside Rader's head.

"I want to evaluate him in prison," Ruark said. "I've written to him and told him I want to interview him. I want to know what happened to this guy."

Since getting involved in the case in 1979, Ruark has dwelled on it, poring over notes, meeting with retired police officers, looking for what might have been missed or new angles to investigate.

"I gave up a lot of my life and my activities to this case — so many people did," Ruark said. Rader "has no idea of the toll he took on others in those small ways.

"We can breathe a common sigh of relief," the psychologist said. "This man is gone forever. This is the passing of an era."

After ferrying Rader from the Sedgwick County Jail to prison Friday morning, Sheriff Gary Steed chuckled at the suggestion that life would return to normal now that Rader is in prison for good.

"When you say 'back to normal' — normal for us is managing difficult inmates," he said. "We have several more interesting cases in the facility."

Brian Withrow, associate professor of criminal justice at Wichita State University, said he's amazed by the number of people he's met in the past year who have created their own three-ring binders on the case — from housewives to retirees to amateur fiction writers. "They have literally made a study of the BTK case."

But he expects most people will move on with their lives.

"We're absolutely going to heal from this," Withrow said. "He will fade away. Nobody ever thinks about those Carr brothers anymore. We are a fickle society. And people move on."

The morning after the sentencing hearing, workers packed up the last of the TV reporters' tents outside the courthouse. District Judge Greg Waller, who presided over Rader's case, was back in his sixth-floor courtroom calling the daily dockets.

Some aspects of the BTK story remain to be wrapped up.

A hearing is set for Friday for a judge to consider requests by victims' families that they be granted control of Rader's possessions, including evidence that was seized from his home and office at Park City Hall. And several wrongful death lawsuits are pending.

Next month there will be a hearing to determine what recommendations a judge will make for the conditions of Rader's incarceration. The district attorney's office has asked that Rader not be allowed access to newspapers, writing instruments and other materials.

But this story is not really about where Rader goes from here. It's where we go from here.

"I watched every minute of the hearing, and until it was over I didn't realize how tense I was. I just turned loose of all that tension," Duckett said. "It was a freeing feeling.

"This is a culmination, not a closure.... We will never be over it. I just hope we can move on from here as a community."

Ruark agreed. "I don't think closure is necessarily appropriate — not from the misery and destruction this man caused in the community. But we can say the final chapter is written, and we can close the book."