A Monster’s Descent
By the early 2000s, BTK’s bloody crime spree in Wichita during the 1970s was now the stuff of legend, and an entire generation had grown up hearing of his crimes.
The police had never been able to pin down a suspect, despite evidence that included his typewritten letters, DNA left at crime scenes and a recording of his voice from his 1977 phone call.
Then, in March 2004 – BTK resurfaced.
BTK sent a letter to The Wichita Eagle, admitting to the murder of a woman named Vicki Wegerle, and included her driver’s license, and three Polaroid photos of her dead, partially exposed body.
Back in September 1986, 28-year-old Vicki’s body had been found in her home by her husband Bill. She had been tied up and strangled with a nylon stocking. Police had never made the connection to the BTK murders, and now realised belatedly that there were more victims.
Catch Me If You Can
Over the next several months, BTK sent 10 further messages, and left packages all over the city containing items taken from previous victims, such as jewellery, photographs and drawings of his crimes, including Barbie dolls bound in his signature style.
It was his last communication which sealed his fate. In February 2005, BTK asked police messages sent via floppy disk could be traced. The police decided to set a trap, and sent a coded reply telling him that it was safe to do so.
He eventually did send a disk, and police managed to locate a deleted Microsoft Word document on the device. The metadata showed it had been composed at the “Christ Lutheran Church”, and edited by “Dennis”.
Police determined that “Dennis” was most likely Dennis Rader, the 59-year-old president of the church council and Cub Scout leader, as well as a husband and father of two.
They also found out that between 1974 to 1988, Rader installed home security alarms, which brought him into contact with many of his victims.
Investigators discovered that Rader’s daughter had recently taken a PAP smear as part of her medical check-up. They managed to obtain a swab of her DNA, and tested it against samples left by BTK.
Rader’s daughter’s DNA indicated a 50% familial match. The police now had undeniable proof that he was their killer.
Rader was arrested on Feb 28, 2005. During his marathon 32-hour interrogation, he revealed that he broke his silence after reading a newspaper article revisiting his past exploits.
He also admitted to a further two murders.
In May 1985, the body of 53-year-old Marine Hedge was found half-buried in a ditch. She had been manually strangled, bound and wrapped in plastic. She was also Rader’s neighbour, living just six doors away from his house.
Rader revealed that after killing her in her home, he had driven to his church, where he photographed her semi-nude body in various positions, before dumping her in a ditch. It was a complex and risky plan which he referred to as “Operation Cookie”.
Rader also confessed to the January 1991 murder of 62-year-old Dolores Davis, whom he had killed while on a Cub Scout trip. He had left the Scouts for several hours to break into her house, tie her up, and strangle her with her pantyhose. He then dumped her body under a bridge.
A Monster Among Us
Citizens of Wichita were shocked by the fact that this mild-mannered man was really the monster who had been terrorising their town for decades. Most stunned were the members of his church and his family, who had no idea of Rader’s dark side.
Police combed his house for evidence, eventually discovering journals containing drawings of women being bound and tortured. They also discovered more items and clothing taken from victim’s homes, and photos of Rader himself bound and tied up, wearing a mask and dressed in women’s clothing.
Investigators believed that over the years, Rader had staged those photos as a twisted way of reliving his crimes.
Reign Of Terror Ended
In July 2005, Rader pleaded guilty to 10 charges of murder, matter-of-factly describing all his crimes, which he referred to as “projects”, in gruesome detail to the judge. He also explained that the long gaps in between his kills was due to him having to take care of his children, otherwise, he said he “would have killed more frequently”.
Rader was eventually sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences, and ordered to serve a minimum of 175 years. He is currently in solitary confinement at the El Dorado Correctional Facility.
To this day, BTK remains one of the most researched and analysed serial killers in the US, due to the decades that he was active, his unique methodology and his sadistic-narcissist nature. What makes his case all the more terrifying is that had he not decided to break his silence, he would have remained free to this day.