WICHITA, Kan. – A former ordinance enforcement officer's matter-of-fact confession that he is the serial killer who haunted this city for decades may have brought closure to some — but not to Charlie Otero.
Otero, whose two siblings and parents were Dennis Rader's (search) first victims in 1974, said the guilty plea can do nothing to repair the lives of survivors of the 10 people Rader so chillingly acknowledged Monday that he killed.
"It's a release that he's admitted it, but as far as closure goes, it's far from it," said Otero, now 47 and living in Albuquerque, N.M. "It turned my life around 180 degrees and left me no hope for a future I had seen before the murders. My life went from idyllic and wonderful to dark and dank."
Rader — husband, father of two, scout leader and churchgoer — will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars for crimes that gained him the moniker "BTK" for his preferred killing method, "Bind, Torture, Kill."
In pleading guilty, Rader was unfailingly emotionless and courteous, answering questions with "Yes, sir" and "Yes, your honor," and at one point launching into an almost scholarly discourse on 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 said. "You can be trolling for months or years, but once you lock in on a certain person, you become a stalker."
The judge pressed Rader for details on his crimes, and the killer obliged.
He talked about how he hung Otero's 11-year-old sister from a sewer pipe after murdering her parents and brother. He described strangling a 62-year-old woman with pantyhose and dumping her body under a bridge. He told of comforting another victim and giving her a glass of water before putting a bag over her head and strangling her.
Those who watched Rader, 60, walk into the courtroom saw a man who looked eerily normal for the crimes he was about to confess — a balding man with a jacket and tie and close-cropped hair and beard. Once he began to speak, though, observers heard the killer calmly describe murders he said were fulfillments of the sexual fantasies he harbored.
"He was so cold about it," said 19-year-old Jared Noble of Wichita, who listened to the court proceedings in his car. "The way he described the details — heartless — with no emotion at all."
It was Rader's demeanor that haunted residents here. How he described his killings as "projects" and his victims as "targets," and the screening process as typically "trolling" followed by "stalking." How he carried supplies like rope and tape in a "hit kit," as he described a briefcase or bowling bag. How he talked of his first four victims almost as animals, saying he decided to "put them down."
For some in a community that has watched this case unfold for decades, the news brought relief that an end was finally in sight. For others, Rader's words were almost too much to handle.
"I felt sick," said Pat Morriss, 54, an administrator at Wichita State University (search), where Rader earned a degree in criminal justice and where he said he parked his car during several of the killings.
Richard LaMunyon, a former Wichita police chief who ran the department during most of the BTK killings, said Rader's confession brought back the horror of his crimes.
"He just referred to these people like rag dolls, like they didn't exist," he said. "Each and every one of those people comes to your mind and you can see them and the agony and the pure terror that they went through. All this comes rushing back."
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 (search) 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 church, where he once served as president.
Those transfixed by the case must wait until Aug. 17 to hear Rader's fate, though he almost certainly will never leave prison because each count carries a possible life sentence.
The state had no death penalty when the crimes were committed.