Terrorizing central Kansas for almost three decades, Dennis Rader was finally caught in 2005. The sexual sadist, who called himself “BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill), was arrested while driving near his home in Park City, Kansas on February 25, 2005. After a 14-year break in his crimes, Rader was eventually caught after taunting the police and the media with letters about his past crimes spurred on by the coverage of the 30th anniversary of BTK’s first kill.
On February 28, 2005, Rader was charged with 10 counts of first degree murder. The murders ranged from 1974 to 1991.
On March 1, 2005, Rader’s bail was set at US $10 million, and a public defender was appointed to represent him. On May 3, Rader did not speak at his arraignment but the judge entered a plea of not guilty. His trial was to begin on June 27, however, that day Rader, a former church elder and boy scout leader, changed his plea to guilty. The father of two then methodically recounted his violent crimes.
He began by describing the murder of a family of four, Joseph and Julie Otero, and their son and daughter. Without remorse, Rader explained, “First of all Mr Otero was strangled, a bag put over his head and strangled. And I thought he was going down and I went over and strangled Mrs Otero, I thought she was down, then I strangled Josephine, once she was down, and then I went over to junior and put the bag on his head.
He continued, “After that Mrs Otero woke back up and, you know, she was pretty upset, what’s going on, so I came back and at that point in time strangled her for the death strangle at that time. Before that she asked me to save her son, so I actually had taken the bag off. When Mr Otero was down, Mrs Otero was down, I went ahead and took junior up and put another bag over his head and took him to the other bedroom. And then when I went back Josephine had woke back up. [Then] I took her to the basement and eventually hung her.”
He made no apologies for the murders.
Reporter Leigh Sales wrote at the time, “It was a truly sickening look into the mind of a serial killer. It was as if Rader couldn’t stop talking about his crimes. He went on for more than an hour in graphic detail, never changing his dispassionate tone.”
There was a lengthy two-day sentencing hearing in August 2005, which went into even more graphic detail, which was believed to possibly sexually satisfy Rader. Then-District Attorney Nola Fouston, the lead prosecutor, said outside court, “Sometimes you have to feed the dragon before you can put its fire out.”
During the sentencing hearing, one detective brought out three toys, a plastic airplane, fire truck and van that Rader gave to Shirley Vian Relford’s three small children to occupy them while he murdered their mother in the next room with the door open. Another detective explained that Rader worked out with a squeeze ball to strengthen his hands to strangle his victims. The photos of victims’ badly bruised and beaten faces (with black bars over their eyes) were shown, reported the New York Times at the time.
One of the prosecutors, Aaron Smith, told Judge Greg Waller of Sedgwick County Court that “there is nothing to excuse the crimes.”
Arguing for the maximum possible sentence, Smith said, “You will find, as the state has found, that in this case there are no mitigating circumstances. We will be able to close the chapter on him and move our attention to those that the attention should be focused upon — the victims, and their memories and the families that love them.”
Rader was not facing the death penalty as Kansas did not reinstate the death penalty until after Rader had committed his last crime.
Rader choose to speak at his sentencing hearing, reportedly apologizing in a rambling thirty-minute monologue that one prosecutor compared to an Academy Awards acceptance speech.
Rader was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years. The day following the sentencing, he was moved to the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
On July 26, 2005, Rader’s wife Paula was granted an “emergency divorce.”
Rader is a character in the Netflix series Mindhunter. Stephen King has also said his film A Good Marriage is based on Rader and his wife.
In January 2019, Rader’s daughter Kerri Rawson released the memoir, “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming.” Rawson was 26 years old when her father was arrested.