Bound, Tortured, Killed: How the notorious BTK serial killer escaped capture for three decades

The serial killer, whose identity was not known at the time, suffocated father Joseph Otero with a plastic bag, strangled mother Julie with a rope, suffocated 9-year-old Joseph Jr. with a plastic bag, and finally hanged 11-year-old Josephine from a drainage pipe in the basement of their Kansas home


                            Bound, Tortured, Killed: How the notorious BTK serial killer escaped capture for three decades

For three decades following the murders of four family members of the Otero family on January 15, 1974, Dennis Rader taunted the police and the media alike until he was finally caught. The infamous serial killer, whose identity was not known at the time, suffocated father Joseph Otero with a plastic bag, strangled mother Julie with a rope, suffocated 9-year-old Joseph Jr. with a plastic bag, and finally hanged 11-year-old Josephine from a drainage pipe in the basement of their family home in Wichita, Kansas. The only surviving member of the family, Charlie Otero, was in the 10th grade at the time and returned to the family home one day after school to find the rest of his family dead.

Rader went on to kill one more person in April that year, 21-year-old Kathryn Bright, who was stabbed three times in the abdomen. After this, the killer disappeared until 1977 when he claimed the lives of two more victims. Then, in early 1978, the killer decided that he wanted his crimes to be known the world over and sent the first letter to TV station KAKE in Wichita saying he was the one who killed the Oteros, Bright, Shirley Van, and Nancy Fox.

BTK killer Dennis Rader stands for a mug shot released February 27, 2005, in Sedgwick County, Kansas (Source: Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images)

 

The killer was likened to the Zodiac killer for communicating with the press and the police but not getting caught. In the letter he sent to KAKE, he suggested possible serial killer names for himself and the one that really stood out was BTK. In the second letter that he sent, he demanded that he get media attention and that's when it was announced that Wichita had a serial killer prowling the streets. The serial killer even enclosed a poem in the letter titled "Oh! Death to Nancy", which is a parody of the lyrics to an American folk song called "O Death".

BTK took his eighth victim on April 27, 1985, after a very long hiatus and then went dark again almost immediately. The body of Marine Hedge, however, was only found in May that year. In 1988, the murders of three members of the Fager family took place in Wichita and a letter was promptly sent to the media claiming to be from BTK. The author of the letter vehemently denied having anything to do with the Fager family murders. BTK's final victim was Dolores Davis, who was killed on January 19, 1991, but was only found on February 1 that same year. The killer then went radio silent.



 

By 2004, the infamous investigation of BTK was classified as a cold case. Rader, however, was still very much alive and decided that he wanted media attention again. In March of that year, he started by telling The Wichita Eagle that he killed Vicki Wegerle on September 16, 1989. The letter, which had a return address made out to Bill Thomas Killman even had pictures of the crime scene and a photocopy of Wegerle's driver's license as proof. He sent a series of communications to the local media over the year and, by February 2005, he was finally arrested.

The DNA which had been previously collected from Wegerle's fingernails would be the one to prove Dennis Rader was the BTK killer but the thrill he got from making the cops run in circles to find him is what seems to have driven the man. That, and the fact that he wanted to be in the media and stay relevant.

In May 2004, KAKE received a letter with chapter headings for a book called "The BTK Story", fake IDs, and a word puzzle. Rader taped a package to a stop sign on June 9 that year which had graphic descriptions of the Otero murders. There was also a sketch labeled "The Sexual Thrill Is My Bill". A month later, a package was dropped into the return slot of a downtown public library that had more strange material. In October that year, a manila envelope was dropped into a UPS box which had many cards with images of terror and bondage of children, a poem that threatened the life of lead investigator Lt. Ken Landwehr, and a false autobiography allegedly about Rader's life.

The police in Wichita got a package from BTK in December 2004 which was found in Murdock Park. It contained Nancy Fox's driver's license and a doll that was bound at the hands and feet with a plastic bag tied over its head. Rader sent more of these dolls in January 2005 through cereal boxes and one of them symbolized how 11-year-old Josephine Otero was hanged from the drainage pipe. 

The authorities finally got the lead they were desperate for on February 16, 2005, when a purple 1.44-Megabyte Memorex floppy disk was sent to Fox TV affiliate KSAS-TV in Wichita. BTK had previously asked the cops in one of the letters if they would be able to trace a floppy disk and they had answered his question in a newspaper ad that was posted in the Wichita Eagle. Along with the floppy disk, BTK sent a letter, a gold-colored necklace with a large medallion, and a photocopy of the cover of a 1989 novel about a serial killer: Rules of Prey.

Dennis Rader in court on the first day of his sentencing at the Sedgwick County Courthouse August 17, 2005, in Wichita, Kansas. Rader, of Park City, Kansas, pleaded guilty to 10 killings dating back to 1974 (Getty Images)

Rader didn't know at the time but the cops were able to find metadata embedded in a Microsoft Word document that was deleted but still stored in the disk. The metadata gave the police the words "Christ Lutheran Church" and the document had been modified by "Dennis". A quick search on the internet showed that "Dennis Rader" was the president of the church council.

The authorities, however, only had mountains of circumstantial evidence and needed the final nail in the coffin to catch Rader and prove he was the BTK Killer. They got a warrant to test the DNA of a pap smear that his daughter had taken at the Kansas State University clinic when she studied there. The familial match was confirmed against the DNA taken from Wegerle's fingernails and the police finally had their man. Dennis Rader is currently serving out his 10 consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years, at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas that began on August 19, 2005. 

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