Why did Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer, choose the nickname “Bind, Torture, Kill” for himself?

Dennis Rader Now: BTK Killer Denies Role in Unsolved Disappearance

This August, an Oklahoma sheriff identified convicted murderer Dennis Rader as the prime suspect in the 1976 disappearance of 16-year-old Cynthia Kinney from Pawhuska, Oklahoma. But in a letter from prison to a Tulsa television reporter, the infamous BTK Killer who murdered 10 people writes he has nothing to do with the unsolved case. Rader vehemently denies he killed Kinney in the letter that was shared during a televised segment on October 12 and claims any details that might tie him to the case are coincidental. “Where’s the beef?” Rader sarcastically asks, suggesting there is no meat to the evidence against him. Rader also claims that pantyhose recently found buried at the site of his former Kansas home wasn’t tied to any crime but simply used in his garden.

Who Is Dennis Rader?

Dennis Rader is an American serial killer who terrorized the Wichita, Kansas, area from 1974 to 1991 and became known as the BTK Killer. Living a double life as a devoted family and company man by day, Rader brutally murdered 10 people—with his nickname representing his method of binding, torturing, and killing victims. He also taunted authorities through brazen correspondence with local news outlets. Rader’s alter ego resurfaced in 2004, and his penchant for leaving clues led to his arrest. He pleaded guilty to the murders the following year and is now serving 10 life sentences in prison.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Dennis Lynn RaderBORN: March 9, 1945BIRTHPLACE: Pittsburg, KansasSPOUSE: Paula Dietz (1971-2005)CHILDREN: Kerri and BrianASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Pisces

Childhood, Wife, and Children

Dennis Lynn Rader was born on March 9, 1945, in Pittsburg, Kansas, and grew up in Wichita. The oldest of four sons, he enjoyed a seemingly normal childhood, reportedly masking such disturbing behavior as hanging stray animals.

Rader dropped out of college and joined the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1960s. After returning to Wichita, he worked for an outdoor-supply company for about a year. In 1974, he began a lengthy stint as an employee of ADT Security Services.

In 1971, he married Paula Dietz, and the couple had two children, a son named Brian in 1975 and a daughter named Kerri in 1978. Brian has stayed out of the public eye, but Kerri wrote a 2019 book titled A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Hope, Love, and Overcoming, in which she discusses how she learned of her father’s criminal acts and overcame the horror associated with them.

First Victims

On January 15, 1974, Rader strangled four members of the Otero family—Joseph and Julie, along with two of their children Josephine and Joseph Jr.—to death in their Wichita home, before leaving with a watch and a radio. Strangulation and souvenir-taking would become part of Rader’s pattern of criminal behavior. He also left semen at the scene and later said that he derived sexual pleasure from killing. The Oteros’ 15-year-old son, Charlie, came home later that day and discovered the bodies.

Rader struck again a few months later. On April 4, he waited in the apartment of a young woman named Kathryn Bright, before stabbing and strangling her when she returned home. Rader also twice shot her brother, Kevin, though he survived. Kevin later described Rader as an “average-sized guy, bushy mustache, ‘psychotic’ eyes,” according to a TIME magazine article.

‘BTK’ Goes Public and More Murders

In October 1974, Rader placed a letter, in which he took responsibility for killing the Oteros, in a public library book. The poorly written note gave authorities some idea of who they were dealing with, and a local newspaper began covering the story. Rader wrote, “It’s hard to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.’” He warned that he would strike again, noting, “The code words for me will be bind them, torture them, kill them, B.T.K.” The initials stuck, and the murderer came to be known by variations of the BTK Killer moniker, or simply BTK.

Rader’s next known crimes occurred in 1977. That March, he tied up and strangled Shirley Vian after locking her children in the bathroom. In December, he strangled Nancy Fox in her home and then called the police to report the homicide. Shortly afterward, in January 1978, Rader sent a poem to a local newspaper about the Vian killing. Several weeks later, he sent a letter to a local television station stating that he was responsible for killing Vian, Fox, and another unknown victim. He also made allusions to several other notorious killers, including Ted Bundy and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz.

Despite his cat-and-mouse game with authorities, Rader was reportedly an attentive husband and able to keep the lid on his secret, murderous life. In 1979, Rader graduated from Wichita State University with a degree in administration of justice. Still, he continued to taunt authorities and appeared to be poised to strike again.

In April 1979, Rader waited in an elderly woman’s home but left before she returned. He sent her a letter to let her know that BTK had been there. In an effort to catch him, the authorities released the 1977 recording of his phone call to police, hoping that someone might recognize the voice.

After several years without a known crime, Rader killed his neighbor Marine Hedge on April 27, 1985. Her body was found days later on the side of the road. The following year, he killed Vicki Wegerle in her home. His final known victim, Dolores Davis, was taken from her home on January 19, 1991.

Return, Arrest, and Imprisonment

Over the next several years, BTK dropped off the map as Rader focused on work and family life. He had left ADT in the late 1980s and started working for the Wichita suburb of Park City as a compliance supervisor in 1991. In his new position, Rader was known to be a stickler for the rules. He measured the height of people’s lawns and chased stray animals while toting a tranquilizer gun. According to reports, Rader took pleasure in exerting his limited authority over his neighbors and other members of the community. He was also a Boy Scout troop leader and president of his church council.

With many news stories marking the 30th anniversary of the Otero murders, BTK resurfaced in 2004. Rader sent local media outlets and authorities several letters filled with items related to his crimes, including pictures, a word puzzle, and an outline for the “BTK Story.” He also left packages with clues, including a computer disk that ultimately led authorities to Rader’s church. Investigators also noticed his Jeep on security tapes of some of the package drop-off areas and cemented their case by obtaining a DNA sample from Rader’s daughter.

btk killer dennis rader tugs at his waistband while standing in a wood paneled room, he wears a gray suit with a collared shirt and patterned yellow and brown tie, he has a mustache and large glasses

BTK Killer Dennis Rader in court in August 2005

Getty Images

Rader was arrested on February 25, 2005, and later charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder. His neighbors and fellow church members were stunned by the news, unable to believe that the man they knew was the serial killer that had haunted the area for so long.

Rader pleaded guilty to all of the charges on June 27, 2005. As part of his plea, he gave the horrifying details of his crimes in court. Many observers noted that he described the gruesome events without any sign of remorse or emotion. Because he committed his crimes before the state’s 1994 reinstatement of the death penalty, Rader was sent to El Dorado Correctional Facility to serve his 10 life sentences.

Gilgo Beach Comparison

A series of murders in the Gilgo Beach area of New York’s Long Island drew the attention of an imprisoned Rader. Following the arrest of Rex Heuermann—who was charged with killing three women in July 2023—Rader wrote a letter to Fox News Digital calling the suspected killer a “clone of myself.” Citing details of the case, Rader described how technology and DNA evidence aided police in determining a suspect, similar to his own arrest in 2005.

New Suspected Murders

Weeks later in August 2023, police in Osage County, Oklahoma, announced that Rader is considered the prime suspect in two unsolved cases.

In 1976, Cynthia Kinney, a 16-year-old who worked at a laundromat, went missing in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and her body was never found. Using prior evidence, police found that Rader’s employment with ADT coincided with the construction of a bank across the street from the laundromat where Kinney worked. Rader also wrote a journal entry around the time of her disappearance called “Bad Wash Day,” in which he described kidnapping a girl from a laundromat.

But in a prison letter written to a Tulsa, Oklahoma, television reporter and shared publicly in October 2023, Rader claimed he doesn’t remember writing the journal entry and that any evidence that might link him to the case is coincidental. “Hell no!” he wrote in response to a question asking if he committed any murders in Oklahoma.

Additionally, police used photographs from Rader’s journals to link him to 22-year-old Shawna Beth Garber, whose body was found in Lanagan, Missouri, in 1990. In one picture, they found a red blanket matching one reported missing with Garber. A spokesperson said the sheriff’s office plans to ask if the FBI is still in possession of the blanket, which could contain DNA evidence pivotal to the case.

Police then revealed in September they have potentially identified a woman in a disturbing color drawing, taken from Rader following his 2005 arrest. The victim wears a green dress and is bound and gagged inside a barn. Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden told CNN the woman is believed to have gone missing in 1991 and was from southeast Kansas. Additional sketches show other women in similar circumstances and environments.

Virden said the department received “very, very good tips” from the public and his team believes the drawings might reveal Rader committed additional crimes in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. Earlier, his team also uncovered what Rader called a “hidey-hole” on the lot where his home once stood. Bondage materials were among the items found inside.

Depictions in Pop Culture

Rader’s story inspired the Stephen King novella A Good Marriage, which was published as part of the 2010 collection Full Dark, No Stars and later became a feature film. In 2016, forensic psychology professor Katherine Ramsland published Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, which revealed that the notorious murderer had planned to claim another victim (then believed to be his 11th) before he was arrested.

In October 2017, Netflix’s crime drama Mindhunter was released to critical acclaim. One of the serial killer characters—known as ADT Man on the show—is based on Rader.

In 2018, the Oxygen Network aired an episode of its Snapped documentary series titled “Notorious: The BTK Serial Killer” about Rader. In an unaired interview shown during the episode, Rader described his urge to kill as “a demon that’s within me. It kind of controls me.” He added that he has feelings for his victims.

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