Prayers greet arrest in BTK killings

In Wichita, bowed heads for victims

source says suspect has confessed

February 28, 2005|By Jon Yates | Jon Yates,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WICHITA, Kan. - They prayed, heads bowed, for the families of the victims and for the relatives of the suspect. They prayed, too, for law enforcement and the entire Wichita community.

But for many at Christ Lutheran Church yesterday, their prayers could not answer one soul-shattering question: How could one of their own be the monster who police say killed as many as 13 people in the Wichita area over three decades?

The man suspected in the slayings that terrorized Wichita residents for more than three decades has confessed to at least six of those killings, according to a source with direct knowledge of the investigation.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption on Page 3A of yesterday's editions of The Sun misidentified the Rev. Dr. Gerald Mansholt as an Episcopal bishop. He is the bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Investigators now suspect Dennis L. Rader, 59, might have been responsible for as many 13 killings - including at least one that occurred after the death penalty was enacted in Kansas, a source with direct knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press yesterday on condition of anonymity.

Rader was being held in the Sedgwick County jail yesterday, with bail set at $10 million.

One day after police identified the so-called BTK Strangler as Rader, members of his church struggled to match the frowning mug shot they saw in the news media with the God-fearing church leader they know.

"Two days ago, I would have described him as a regular guy," said Paul Carlstedt, who has known Rader for decades. "Now I don't know what to think."

Church officials said Rader has attended Christ Lutheran for 30 years, starting about the time he is accused of killing the first victim. Last fall, Rader was elected president of the church council, a post he assumed Jan. 1. Congregation members said he was a Scout leader.

"I can't imagine the fact that he's BTK," said church member Kevin Smith, 52, who says he has wondered since the arrest whether Rader might have used his activity at the church to cover a darker side. "If it was a cover, he was extremely good at what he was doing. It's like he had a double personality."

Investigators say Rader, a code enforcement officer from nearby Park City, is the man who strangled area beginning in 1974. The killer gave himself the name "BTK" in the 1970s, in a series of letters sent to Wichita news media. He said the acronym stood for "Bind, Torture and Kill," his method for the murders.

The killings and letters traumatized many here. The letters halted abruptly 25 years ago. The BTK killer was not linked to the last three victims, from 1985 to 1991, until after the letters began again in March.

At Rader's church, parishioners described him as a loving husband and father who spoke often about his two grown children. The Rev. Michael Clark said Rader's family is in a state of "bewilderment."

In suburban Park City, neighbors referred to Rader as the dogcatcher, and described him as a sometimes gruff enforcement officer who took his duties a little too seriously at times.

Danny Saville, a Wichita attorney, said he represented a woman in 1998 who had been ticketed four times by Rader for letting her dog run free. Rader arrived in court with about 30 exhibits and a tabulated file full of paperwork, Saville said.

"When he fixated on something, he didn't give up," Saville said. "He didn't like to lose."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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