BTK killer confesses

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

By Ron Sylvester
The Wichita Eagle

Dennis Rader dropped his mask Monday.

With no apology or visible remorse, the former church and Boy Scout leader pleaded guilty as Wichita’s notorious BTK serial killer. Then he gave an extraordinarily detailed recollection of how he selected, stalked and strangle d 10 people.

For 75 minutes, life stood still in Wichita. People stopped their morning routines to tune in to broadcasts of the Sedgwick County District Court hearing, witnessed across the nation via satellite.

“It was very distressing. It was very difficult,” said Jeff Davis, son of the 10th victim, Dolores Davis. He followed the proceedings from Memphis.

In the courtroom, other family members of victims could only listen in silence as they heard what happened to their loved ones.

“Today we have some resolution,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston said of the mystery that taunted police and haunted the city for more than three decades.

At the direction of Sedgwick County District Judge Greg Waller, Rader launched into an account of his actions that surprised his lawyers and spectators.

“He did this all on his own this morning,” said Steve Osburn, chief public defender for Sedgwick County.

Waller said the proceeding itself wasn’t unusual. He said Rader isn’t the first defendant he’s asked to provide details about the crimes he is pleading guilty to.

“I’ve always thought you needed more than just a recitation of the basic charges,” Waller said afterward.

Rader, a 60-year-old former Park City dogcatcher, talked dispassionately about killing, as though it were his hobby.

“I called them projects,” Rader said of the 10 murders.

He divided each into steps.

“If you’ve read much about serial killers, you know they go through phases,” Rader told Waller. “Trolling is one of the phases they go through, looking for victims.”

For Rader, they were women, for whom he harbored violent sexual fantasies.

Rader said he would go through neighborhoods, “College Hill, many parts,” looking for potential victims.

But Rader didn’t say how he picked Julie Otero, his first target.

He told the judge he thought Julie Otero was with just her two youngest children the morning of Jan. 15, 1974. He didn’t know her husband was also home at 803 N. Edgemoor.

After finding the back door open, Rader remembered, he confronted Joseph Otero and pulled a gun.

“After I got in the house, I lost control,” he told the judge.

Rader trolled, stalked and planned, but in the doing he ran into obstacles.

Rader used two guns, a .357 Magnum and a .22 pistol. Julie Otero, Rader remembered, pleaded for her children’s lives before he strangled her.

“I’d never strangled anyone before, so I didn’t know how much pressure you had to apply,” Rader said.

Rader tied a plastic bag around Joseph Otero’s head and killed Joseph II in a similar way. Rader said he hanged the 11-year-old Josephine in the basement.

“I had a sexual fantasy after she was hung,” Rader said.

In a letter left at Wichita’s public library, a faceless killer took credit for the brutal slayings. He nicknamed himself BTK for “bind, torture and kill.”

Four months after the Oteros died, Rader walked into Kathryn Bright’s house at 3217 E. 13th St.

There, Rader ran into Bright’s brother, Kevin. Rader had the 19-year-old tie up his sister. After a struggle, Rader shot Kevin in the head. But Kevin escaped the home and lived.

“If I’d brought my stuff, Kevin would be dead today,” Rader said Monday. “I’m not bragging or anything. It’s just a matter of fact.”

When Rader failed in strangling 21-year-old Bright, he said, he stabbed her.

“It was a total mess,” Rader said.

Although Rader didn’t say so on Monday, the botched attempt may have been the reason letters from BTK never took direct credit for Bright’s murder. A 1978 letter took credit for other killings, including the Oteros, but did not mention Bright by name.

Wichita police, however, made the connection. They also made the connection to Wichita State University.

After killing Bright, Rader ran to his car, parked four blocks away near WSU. Police had also traced one of BTK’s letters to a campus copier. Rader, it turned out, graduated from the university in 1979 with a degree in administ ration of justice.

Rader also worked for a home-security company before becoming a compliance officer for Park City, where he worked until his arrest in February. But Rader said he didn’t use his jobs to pick victims or gain access to their houses.

“This was in my off-hours,” Rader told Waller.

As Rader described his methods, chief investigators Ken Landwehr and Kelly Otis listened intently. Landwehr, commander of the Wichita police homicide squad, sat behind Rader with his arm draped over a chair, staring at the killer. Otis leaned forward, his chin resting on his hands, his eyes closed.

Police had heard the story before. Rader gave them details shortly after his arrest in February.

District Attorney Foulston, who also knows the evidence well, looked straight at Rader as he told the judge how he could pick on a whim someone to kill.

“I had a lot of them,” Rader said of people he stalked. “If one didn’t work out, I’d find another.”

Shirley Vian Relford was not an original target, Rader said. He’d been watching another woman, who lived across from a grocery store at Lincoln and Hydraulic.

Rader said Relford, 24, who lived near that intersection at 1311 S. Hydraulic with her three small children, was “completely random.”

Posing as a private detective, Rader got an answer to a knock on the door at Relford’s house. He said he then pulled his .357 Magnum and forced his way inside.

“I explained I’d done this before,” Rader said.

Rader said he put the kids in the bathroom and tied the door shut.

This time, Rader brought his own equipment – a briefcase with rope, tape and cords.

A “hit kit,” he called it.

Rader talked about comforting people he was about to kill. He said earlier that he’d tried to make Joseph Otero as comfortable as a suffocating man could be.

Relford vomited, and Rader said he got her a glass of water. Then he strangled her to death.

Steve Relford, Shirley Relford’s son, whom BTK locked in the bathroom at age 5, sat expressionless during Monday’s hearing as Rader described his mother’s killing.

Rader also said he comforted Nancy Fox, who was frightened after he’d cut the phone lines and barged into her home.

“I told her I had a sexual problem. I had to tie her up and have sex with her,” Rader said.

Rader said he “did homework” on Fox, including stopping by the jewelry store where Fox worked part-time.

“The more I knew about a person, the more comfortable I was,” Rader said.

Fox smoked a cigarette, then, Rader remembered, said: “Let’s get this over, so I can call the police.”

Instead, a man, who police believe was BTK, called 911 to report Fox had been strangled to death.

During Rader’s story to the judge, he only addressed specifics of the charges against him, never mentioning BTK’s infatuation with taking credit for his crimes. He didn’t talk about the letters to the news media, the poetry or the packages of clues that would eventually lead to his arrest.

At the end of 1977, seven people were dead at Rader’s hands.

After years of silence, Wichita police reopened a BTK investigation in 1984, headed by Landwehr and nicknamed “The Ghost Busters.”

Their ghost, Rader, would strike a year later just a block from his home in Park City, where he lived for 18 years with his wife, Paula, and their son and daughter.

Marine Hedge “was chosen,” Rader said. He’d see her and give her a neighbor ly wave. Because he lived so close, the 53-year-old woman was easy for him to watch.

But to cover his tracks, Rader said he drove to Wichita, parked at a bowling alley at 21st and Woodlawn, and called a taxi to take him back to Park City.

Rader said he tied up Hedge and strangled her with his hands. He wrapped her in a blanket, took her to his church, and took pictures of her.

Some 17 months later, Rader said he drove his own car to Vickie Wegerle’s house at 2404 W. 13th St. He said he dressed up as a telephone repairman and talked Wegerle into letting him in to check the lines because of problems in the neighborhood.

Rader had cut phone lines at other houses where he killed.

Wegerle’s 2-year-old son was home. Rader said he tied Wegerle up but she broke loose. Rader said she convinced him her husband was coming home, so he hurried and left not knowing whether she was dead or alive.

“I don’t know if she died there or at the hospital,” Rader said. “I don’t recollect.”

Rader said he crashed a concrete block through a plate glass window to gain entrance to Dolores Davis’ house in January 1991. He tied her up with pantyhos e and strangled her. He said he used the same getaway plan as in the Hedge killing, putting the body in the trunk and driving away.

There was a hitch in the plan, however. Rader had to return to fetch one of his guns, which he’d dropped going through the broken window.

Rader said he sometimes took souvenirs. From the Oteros, he took a watch and a radio. From Wegerle, he took a driver’s license. He took other items from Davis’ home.

Waller ask Rader if he always took mementos of his killing.

“It was hit and miss,” Rader said. “If it was a controlled situation, I took things.”

Nancy Fox’s driver’s license was found last fall in a package left in Murdock Park.

After Rader was finished recounting his crimes, Waller set sentencing for Aug. 17. Rader faces life in prison.

Rader said he decided to plea, with no promise of sentence reduction, because he felt going to trial would be a long, ragged road toward the same result:


“I hope Mr. Rader has given some closure to the victims’ families and Wichita as a whole,” said Osburn, one of Rader’s lawyers, after the hearing. “He has left no doubt the BTK killer has been caught.”