On January 15th, 1974, fifteen-year-old Charlie Otero returned home from school to find his dog outside, an unusual thing. Inside, two of his four younger siblings said something was wrong with their parents. Charlie found his father, Joseph Otero, and mother, Julie Otero, dead. Charlie became worried about his eleven-year-old sister, Josie, and nine-year-old brother, Joseph Jr. He didn’t want them to come home to this site. He then learned that both Joseph and Josie were dead. Four members of the Otero family had been brutally murdered. This brutal crime would be the first of several to strike fear in the souls of residents of Wichita, Kansas. This crime would mark the beginning of serial killer BTK’s three-decade reign of terror.
Dennis Lynn Rader was born March 9th, 1945. He grew up with three younger brothers in Wichita, Kansas. His parents both worked, and Rader later said he felt ignored by his busy parents. Dennis said that he harbored sadistic sexual fantasies from a very young age. He daydreamed about trapping and torturing women. He admitted to torturing and killing animals as a child. He also admitted to participating in autoerotic asphyxiation, cross-dressing, and voyeurism. He was particularly turned on by ropes and bindings, sometimes binding himself to masturbate. Dennis became an expert at hiding this side of himself, however.
Dennis Rader graduated from Wichita Heights High School and later attended Kansas Wesleyan University. He only lasted a year in college, however. He joined the United States Air Force and served from 1966-1970. During his time in the service, he traveled the world and collected several precious collectibles. He moved back to Wichita after the service, where he worked at a local IGA in the meat department. He married Paula Dietz on May 22nd, 1971. Dennis and Paula were church-going people who were described as normal, polite, and well-mannered. Dennis received his associate degree in electronics in 1973 from Butler Community College. Following his schooling, he began installing alarm system for ADT in 1974.
No one had any idea what was going on inside of Dennis Rader’s brain.
On the morning of January 15th, 1974, Dennis Rader’s twisted fantasies could no longer be contained in his head. He acted on them by entering the home of the Otero family when one of the two youngest Otero children, Joseph and Josie, opened the door to let the dog out. Dennis had seen Josie and Joseph before and chose his victims specifically. He cut the phone line before entering. He waited until the oldest children left for school and made his move. He held the family at gunpoint and tied them up. Realizing he didn’t have a mask to protect his identity, Dennis decided he had to kill.
Dennis put a plastic bag over Mr. Otero’s head and tightened it with cords in the Otero’s bedroom. Mr. Otero did not die immediately. Dennis then said he “did Mrs. Otero… I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn’t know how much pressure you have to put on a person or how long it will take” (Dennis’s Rader’s confession). He then strangled Josie, but Mrs. Otero and Mr. Otero started to fight back, not dead as Dennis had thought. He put a bag over young Joseph’s head, like he had his father. He placed another bag over Joseph Sr.’s head as well, finally killing the patriarch. He then strangled Mrs. Otero again, this time with a rope.
Dennis said he then took nine-year-old Joseph to another room and finished strangling him to death. That is when he realized eleven-year-old Josephine, Josie, was waking back up. She was not dead. He took the little girl to the basement, hanging her from the rafters. He then pleasured himself, receiving sexual gratification as he watched Josephine’s body hanging. Although Josie was not sexually assaulted, semen was found near her body. He then cleaned up a little, taking Mr. Otero’s watch and a radio.
The murders of the Otero family were terrifying and disgusting. The remaining Otero children were traumatized after this experience. The Otero family had recently moved to Wichita from Panama because Mr. Otero had found a job in Kansas. An article printed in the Wichita Beacon on January 21st, 1974, begged for tipsters to come forward, offering anonymity. Police believed the crime was committed by someone with a vengeance for the family, but they were not able to identify any suspects.
On April 4th, 1974, Dennis struck again. He broke into the home of Kathryn Bright’s house, a college student. When Kathryn came home with her brother Kevin, Dennis was caught off guard. He approached the brother and sister, telling them he needed a car. He then tied them up before moving Kathryn to another room. He then returned to strangle Kevin to death, but Kevin managed to get himself untied and started to fight with Dennis. Dennis, armed with a gun, shot Kevin in the face. He then went back to Kathryn, whom he was attempting to strangle. Kevin was not dead, however, and jumped back up. Dennis shot him a second time in the head. Dennis attempted to shoot him again, but the gun jammed. Miraculously, Kevin was able to escape the home despite his wounds. He returned to Kathryn but was unsuccessful at strangling her. He got a knife and started to stab the young woman multiple times, until he was sure she was dead. Then he fled.
Dennis described many of his crimes, including Kathryn’s murder, as a project. He said he followed and watched Kathryn before the murder. He said he was “just driving by one day, and I saw her go in the house with somebody else, and I though that’s a possibility” (Dennis Rader’s confession).
Kevin Bright miraculously survived his attack, despite suffering serious wounds. Kevin helped police develop a sketch of the murderer, but still no one could identify a suspect. It was unclear to detectives at this point if the murders of the Otero family and Kathryn Bright were connected. In October of 1974, two men in prison allegedly confessed to the Otero murders.
Dennis did not appreciate this, someone else taking credit for his work. He typed an anonymous letter to the Wichita Eagle, telling them to look inside a specific book in the Wichita library. The letter inside the book gave specific details of the Otero family murders, things only the real killer would know. He described himself as “having a monster in his brain” and being motivated by “factor X”. He also promises to kill again, explaining he has already chosen his next victim. He asked to be called BTK, standing for Bind Torture Kill. He ended the letter with “happy hunting”.
Despite these threats, BTK went quiet for the rest of 1974, 1975, and 1976. Police were baffled- was he dead, in prison, or moved away? Dennis was living right there in Wichita with his wife and son, born in 1975. Paula expressed concern over the serial killer haunting the area, but Dennis assured her she would be safe. She had no idea she was living with the serial killer.
On March 17th, 1977, five-year-old Steve Relford went to a local store to get a can of soup for his ill mother, Shirley Vian Relford. On the way home, Dennis stopped the boy and asked him to look at a picture. When Steve said he didn’t know the person pictured, Dennis sent him on his way. Dennis was following the boy however, and soon knocked on the door. He entered the home, much to the surprise of Shirley and her three children, two boys and a girl. He ordered Shirley to put blankets and toys in the bathroom and lock the kids inside. As she was being held at gunpoint, she complied.
Steve remembers being locked in the bathroom but peeking through a small crack and watching BTK strangle his bound and naked mother face down on her bed. Steve’s brother broke the bathroom window, scaring BTK off. Steve tried to untie the rope and save his mother, but the five-year-old was not successful. The broken window likely saved the lives of the boys, but it was too late for Shirley. When police arrived, Steve tried to describe the man, but his description was too vague to be helpful. Following the tragic events of that day in 1977, Steve went on to suffer emotionally and mentally, turning to drugs and alcohol for comfort. The repercussions of BTK’s attack on Shirley stole more than just her life.
On December 8th, 1977, BTK struck again. Dennis admitted to stalking Nancy Fox, findings out her name, routine, and place of employment. He parked his car two to three blocks away on the night of December 8th, determined to put his plan into motion. He cut the phone lines, broke into her home, and waiting for her to return home. When she returned, he told her “I had a problem, a sexual problem, that I would have to tie her up and have sex with her” (Dennis Rader’s confession. He said that Nancy was upset, so he let her smoke a cigarette. He said Nancy told him, “Let’s get this over with so I can go call the police” (Dennis Rader’s confession). He agreed, telling her to get undressed before handcuffing her. Dennis admitted he tied her up, binding her legs above the knees. This was a signature he used in multiple murders. He then climbed on top of her and strangled her with a belt. After she was dead, he masturbated to the sight of her body before leaving. He then called 911 from a pay phone to report the homicide to police. His daughter would later hear a recording of this tape, horrified to hear her father’s voice.
In early 1978, BTK wrote a letter to KAKE television station claiming responsibility for the murders of Joseph Otero Sr., Julie Otero, Josephine Otero, Joseph Otero Jr., Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian Redford, and Nancy Fox. He demanded media attention, asking how many people he needed to kill to get on the national news. Following the letter, Wichita police informed the public that there was a serial killer on the loose. The police began to communicate with BTK through television broadcasts and newspapers ads, hoping to learn more about the killer.
Dennis and Paula welcomed their second child, daughter Kerri, in 1978. He spent the next several years raising his children, working, and attending church with his wife. He and Paula were very involved in the church, Dennis eventually serving as president of the church. Kerri remembers most of her childhood fondly, spending time dancing with her father and enjoying the outdoors. Her mother was an indoor person, but Dennis took his children hiking and camping. He sometimes had a temper, but nothing that his family found out of the ordinary. No one in Dennis’ family had any clue what evil was living inside of him.
In 1979, Dennis tried to commit the murder of sixty-three-year-old Anna Williams. He broke into her home, but the woman stayed out much later than he had expected. He eventually gave up and left. He told authorities later that the incident made him “absolutely livid” (Wikipedia). Dennis didn’t commit another murder until 1985, taking a significant cooling off period.
On April 27th, 1985, Kerri remembers being at home with her mother. Her father was not home that night. That was the night her neighbor, Marine Hedge, disappeared. Dennis called Marine Hedge’s murder “Project Cookie”. Dennis was camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop. He left, took his car to a bowling alley, and then took a cab to Park City, Kansas, where he was living with his family. He brought a “murder kit” with him in a bowling bag.
In his confession, Dennis said, “I was going to have sexual fantasies, so I brought my hit kit, and lo and behold, her car was there. I thought gee, she’s not supposed to be home. So I very carefully snuck into the house, she wasn’t there. So about that time the doors rattled, so I went – went back to one of the bedrooms and hid back there in one of the bedrooms. She came in with a male visitor. They were there for maybe an hour or so. Then he left. I waited till wee hours of the morning. I then proceeded to sneak into her bedroom and flip the lights on real quick like, or I think the bathroom lights. I just – I didn’t want to flip her lights on, and she screamed, and I jumped on the bed and strangled her manually” (Dennis Rader’s Confession).
After killing Marine Hedge, Dennis wrapped her in a blanket, put her in the back of a car, and took her to his church. He brought her corpse to the same church he attended with his family on Sundays. He positioned Marine in different positions, photographing her body. When he was done, he dumped her body in a ditch. Her remains were found days later on May 5th, 1985.
On December 30th, 1988, Mary Fager of Wichita returned home to find her husband and two daughters dead. Melvin Fager was shot twice in the back. Nine-year-old Sherri was found naked and strangled in the bathtub. Sixteen-year-old Kelli had been tied up with electrical cord and drowned. Police suspected BTK to be responsible for this crime, saying so in the media. Dennis soon wrote a letter, using his alias, explaining that he was not responsible for the Fager family murders, but he described the work of the killer as “admirable”. A handyman who had been working at the Fager home was suspected and found days later driving the Fager’s car. He was charged but acquitted of the murders based on lack of evidence and witnesses. The crime has never been solved, but police still believe the handyman was responsible.
On September 16th, 1986, Dennis pretended to be a telephone repairman to enter the home of twenty-eight-year-old Vicki Wegerle. He pulled a gun on Vicki and said of the crime, “I told her I was going to have to tie her up. She was very upset. And I think we, I, used some material that was in, and that’s another thing I’m not sure but I used that material that they had in their bedroom, and after I tied her hands,
she broke that and we started fighting. We fought quite a bit, back and forth” (Dennis Rader’s Confession). He then strangled her with a nylon sock, positioned her body, and then took a few pictures before fleeing the scene. Police believed that her husband had killed Vicki, but there was never enough evidence to charge her husband.
In 1991, Dennis killed again after a five-year cooling off period. On January 19th, 1991, Dennis once again left a Boy Scout event to kill. He snuck into the home of Delores Davis. He strangled her to death with pantyhose. He then dumped her body. Her body was found February 1st, 1991. After killing Delores Davis, he wrote letters anonymously to her family claiming the same man probably killed Marine Hedge, Vicki Wegerle, and Delores Davis.
BTK communicated several times with the media, the Wichita Eagle and KAKE television station in particular. He would include sketches, detailed descriptions of his crimes, and promises to kill again. He even wrote a poem about the murder of Shirley, that he entitled Shirley Locks. He took sick pleasure in terrifying the community. He talked about the enormous amount of sexual pleasure he took in killing his victims, both children and adults.
When the television stations would describe the communications from BTK, Dennis Rader would watch the news at his home. His wife and children had no clue that he was the serial killer terrorizing the Wichita area. He reveled in the attention and fame, asking to be compared to other serial killers like Son-of-Sam, The Hillside Strangler, and Jack the Ripper. However, after 1991, BTK suddenly stopped.
Police were no closer to solving the crimes and had not even connected all ten murders to BTK. After more than a decade of no more murders, many believed BTK had died, been imprisoned for another crime, or moved out of the area. The case was never closed, but it did go cold. During this time, Dennis raised his children, hiked the Grand Canyon, and served as a leader in his church. His daughter married in 2003, with her father proudly walking her down the aisle.
In her book, A Serial Killer’s Daughter, Kerri describes growing up with a father who was loving to her. He did have some oddities, times when her family knew to listen to him and not challenge him. He never considered herself a victim of abuse before 2005, but she did recall times when her father was not empathetic and lost his temper over seemingly minor situations. On two occasions, he choked her older brother during altercations. It was something the family never talked about, but Kerri never feared her father.
In 2004, the media covered the thirtieth anniversary of the Otero family murders. The crime had grown cold, but the coverage reignited Dennis Rader’s need for attention and notoriety. He began to send communications once again to KAKE television and the Wichita Eagle newspaper. In March 2004, the Wichita Eagle received a letter from a man calling himself Bill Thomas Killman, signed with the BTK initials. He included photographs from Vicki Wegerle’s crime scene and her driver’s license in the letter. BTK was back.
Following this letter in 2004, the community was refilled with fear. They believed BTK was living in the Wichita community and would soon kill again. In May 2004, KAKE television received a letter with chapter headings for “The BTK Story”, fake IDs, and word puzzle that includes names of BTK’s victims. Police were determined to catch BTK once and for all, more than thirty years after his crimes began. They tested the DNA from Vicki Wegerle in comparison to the semen found at the Otero murders and murder of Nancy Fox. They had BTK’s DNA.
In October 2004, a manilla envelope was dropped into a UPS box in Wichita. Inside, were images of bondage, terror, and torture of children. A poem inside threatened the lives of the investigators in the case. In December 2004, a package was left for police in a park. Inside was Nancy Fox’s driver’s license and a doll that was bound with a plastic bag over her head. The doll was almost identical to the way Nancy had been found.
In January 2005, Dennis attempted to leave a cereal box in the bed of a pickup truck at a local Home Depot. The owner of the truck discarded the box in his trash, so the message didn’t get to the police right away. Dennis was enjoying his game of cat and mouse with the police, but he was aggravated when this message was not received. He wrote more post cards to KAKE television, telling them where he left the package. The owner of the truck eventually found the box in his garbage, which he had forgotten to take out on trash day. The surveillance tape at the Home Depot showed a Jeep Cherokee, but the image of the man dumping the box was too grainy to be useful. Inside the cereal box, and an additional cereal box left in February, were two more bound dolls.
In his letters to police, Dennis asked if he could send a floppy disk without it being traced back to him. He asked the police to “be honest”. The police responded via an ad in the paper that everything would be alright. On February 16th, 2005, police received a floppy disk sent to a media outlet from BTK. Police found metadata on the floppy disk containing the words “Christ Lutheran Church” and the name “Dennis”. Police completed an internet search, finding that the president of the church counsel was a man named Dennis Rader. Police started surveillance on Dennis, a man who seemed like an upstanding member of the community but needed more evidence to make an arrest.
Police determined that DNA would be needed to positively tie Dennis Rader to the BTK murders. In a surprising move, police received a court order to obtain slides from a pap smear that Dennis’ daughter had done on campus at her college. The DNA comparison between Dennis’s daughter’s DNA and the DNA from the crimes was a familial match. Dennis Rader was positively identified at BTK thirty-two years after he started killing.
On the morning of February 25th, 2005, police arrested Dennis Rader as he was driving to meet his wife for lunch. Upon apprehending him, police asked if he knew why they were arresting him. He said, “Oh, I have suspicions why” (Wikipedia). To the horror of the family that loved Dennis Rader, Dennis soon confessed to his crimes in horrific detail. Dennis was charged with ten counts of first-degree murder. At the encouragement of his family, Dennis plead guilty to all charges. His wife was granted an emergency divorce and cut off communication with Dennis.
Police learned Dennis Rader had been working as a compliance officer for the city of Park City, his office just down the hallway from the police station. He was also a Boy Scout leader and president of his church’s congregation. Dennis told police where they could find trophies from his crimes. Some were in his file cabinet at his office while others were under the floorboards in his family home. There were also pictures of Dennis himself in various states of bondage and cross-dressing. He provided both a confession and a plethora of evidence proving he was the notorious BTK. Further DNA testing proved Dennis Rader was conclusively the serial killer known as BTK.
In August of 2005, Dennis Rader was sentenced to ten consecutive life sentences, with a minimum of one-hundred-seventy-five years in prison. At his sentencing hearing, Dennis provided great detail about each of his crimes with no expression of remorse. He gave a long speech that the judge compared to an “Academy Awards” speech. He described his victims, comparing them to members of his family. He demonstrated extreme narcissism, explaining “I am just a good man who did bad things”.
In letters to his daughter, Dennis described his brothers and other family as “un-Christian” for cutting off communications with him and not being able to forgive him. He continued to demonstrate extreme narcissistic behavior, finally showing his family the other side of his personality- the sick sadistic side. His family was devastated and mourned the loss of Dennis as if he had basically died. The father they knew was gone. The complicated emotions took their toll on his children, who are also victims of his horrific crimes.
Dennis is currently housed at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. He is under solitary confinement for his own protection. He is allowed out his cell for one hour per day. As of 2006, he is allowed a television, radio, and access to magazines. The families of Rader’s victims continue to suffer the unimaginable pain associated with the traumatic loss of their loved ones. His family also suffers as they come to grips with the realization that the man they loved and trusted had betrayed them in the worse way.
In February 2023, Dennis Rader told the media that he felt sorry for suspected killer Bryan Kohberger, who is awaiting trial on four murders in Idaho. He expressed sympathy for Bryan as he awaits trial in solitary confinement, which Rader says is extremely lonely. Bryan was a student of Dr Katherine Ramsland, a criminology professor at Washington State University and the leading academic authority on the BTK crimes. Dennis Rader also emailed TMZ, explaining that he sees similarities in Bryan Kohberger and himself. He states they both have dark minds who are drawn to kill.
Age at time of Crime
Date of Death
Joseph Otero Jr.
Survived (attacked 4/4/74)
Shirley Vian Relford
Wenzl, R. (2014). Killer confronted police more than once over years. The Wichita Eagle. 21 Sep 2014
The Wichita Beacon. (1974). Name of tipster of slayings clue isn’t required. 21 Jan 1974
Rawson, Kerri. (2019) A Serial Killer’s Daughter. Available here: A Serial Killer's Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming - Kindle edition by Rawson, Kerri. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
BTK: Chasing a Serial Killer- Available on Discovery +