WICHITA, Kan. – The man accused of being the BTK serial killer (search) pleaded guilty Monday to 10 murders that spread fear across Wichita beginning in the 1970s, recounting with a chilling, almost professorial air how he "trolled" for victims and then shot, stabbed or strangled them.
Dennis Rader (search), a 60-year-old former code inspector and church president with a wife and children, said he killed to satisfy his sexual fantasies.
In an account utterly devoid of emotion, Rader described how he used a "hit kit" consisting of guns, rope, handcuffs and tape in a briefcase or a bowling bag. He described his killings as "projects" and his victims as "targets." He talked of his first four victims almost as animals, saying he decided to "put them down." And he said he offered one victim a glass of water to calm her down before putting a bag over her head and strangling her.
An unfailingly courteous Rader helpfully corrected the judge on some matters, clarified others, and at one point launched into an almost scholarly discourse on the mind and habits of a serial killer.
"If you've read much about serial killers, they go through what they call different phases. In the trolling stage, basically, you're looking for a victim at that time," he told the judge. "You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker."
The man who called himself BTK — for his preferred method, "Bind, Torture, Kill" — cannot get the death penalty (search) because the killings occurred before Kansas adopted capital punishment, but he almost certainly will go to prison for the rest of his life. Each count carries up to life in prison. The guilty pleas came on the day that his trial was supposed to start. Sentencing is Aug. 17.
Those who watched or listened to him in court on Monday were struck by how utterly ordinary he looked — a balding figure in a tie and jacket, with a neatly trimmed goatee and gold wire-rimmed glasses — and by the air of detachment with which he recounted his grisly crimes.
"He was so cold about it," said 19-year-old Jared Noble of Wichita, who listened on the radio. "The way he described the details — heartless — with no emotion at all."
For the families of Rader's victims, the grisly confession answered questions that had haunted them for decades.
Most of the victims' relatives in court stared silently, though one wiped away tears during Rader's nearly one hour in front of the judge. After the hearing, they were asked by prosecutors to avoid reporters.
"Today in court, for the first time, our community and the nation have now heard Dennis Rader reveal that he has committed those homicides," District Attorney Nola Foulston said. "Today we have some resolution."
The BTK killer taunted media and police with cryptic messages during a cat-and-mouse game that began after the first murder, in 1974. BTK resurfaced in 2004 after years of silence with a letter to The Wichita Eagle that included photos of a 1986 strangling victim and a photocopy of her missing driver's license.
That letter was followed by several other cryptic messages and packages. The break in the case came earlier this year after a computer diskette the killer had sent was traced to Rader's Lutheran church, where he once served as president.
When questioned by the judge about the motivation for the first four slayings, Rader said: "That was part of what you call my fantasy."
Pressed further, Rader said, "Sexual fantasy, sir."
Rader has not been charged with sexually assaulting his victims, but he admitted masturbating over some of them.
He did not reach a plea bargain with prosecutors. Defense attorney Steve Osburn said the evidence against Rader included a confession, DNA and "personal trophies" taken from his victims. Rader said those included a watch, a radio and a necklace.
For his own part, Rader said he pleaded guilty because a trial would be "just a long process. So it's just a mathematical problem. It's guilty."
Unlike the stereotype of the serial killer as a loser and a misfit, Rader lived a remarkably stable life. He spent almost his entire life in the Wichita area, earning a criminal justice degree at a local university. He has been married for 34 years and worked in suburban Park City as a code inspector, handling stray dogs and looking for violations such as overgrown grass.
He showed a similar attention to detail as a serial killer — carefully watching and selecting his victims, breaking into their homes or talking his way in, and then gathering up his kit of tools as he made his getaway.
He said he let some women smoke to put them at ease before he killed them. He told of how he locked one victim's children in a bathroom with toys and blankets to make them comfortable. And he said he was careful to make one man as comfortable as possible while tying him up, putting a pillow under his head and coat under his body, because the man had cracked a rib in a car accident.
He said he got into one victim's house by claiming he had to check the telephone line. In another case, he used a cinderblock to smash a window.
He hung an 11-year-old girl from a sewer pipe in her basement. He strangled a 62-year-old woman with pantyhose and dumped her body under a bridge in 1991.
In court, he patiently answered the judge's questions and volunteered details to fill out his story, helpfully patting the back of his jacket to show where one woman was stabbed. Another time, he made a popping sound with his lips and gazed upward as he tried to recall certain details, looking like someone trying to decide what to order in a restaurant.
Often, he recounted how his victims struggled with him or regained consciousness after he thought he had killed them.
Steve Relford, the oldest son of victim Shirley Vian, was 5 when he and his siblings were locked in a bathroom as Rader killed their mother in 1977. Relford leaned forward and listened intently as Rader recited how he attacked her.
"I proceeded to tie the kids up and they started crying and got real upset, so I said, `Oh, this is not going to work.' So we moved them to the bathroom. She helped me," he said. "And then I proceeded to tie her up. She got sick and threw up. I got her a glass of water, comforted her a little bit and then I went ahead and tied her up and put a bag over her head and strangled her."
The earliest crimes linked to BTK date to Jan. 15, 1974, when Joseph Otero, 38, and his 34-year-old wife, Julie, and their children Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9, were found dead in their home.
"The whole family just panicked on me. I worked pretty quick," Rader said. "I strangled Mrs. Otero. She passed out. I thought she was dead. I strangled Josephine. She passed out. I thought she was dead. Then I went over and put a bag on Junior's head."
He later said about Mrs. Otero: "I went back and strangled her again."
He added: "I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn't know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take."
BTK's next three known victims were young women found strangled in their homes in the 1970s; those slayings were followed by the murders of women in 1985, 1986 and 1991.
After Rader pleaded guilty, the Rev. Michael Clark, pastor of Rader's church, said: "That's what I hoped he would do."