BTK killer stuns families as he calmly pleads guilty

He gives chilling details on 10 murder victims

June 28, 2005|By P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon | P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WICHITA, Kan. - His gaze direct, his voice steady, a hint of pride in his chilling words, former Boy Scout leader Dennis Rader pleaded guilty yesterday to murdering 10 people in order to satisfy his sexual fantasies, acknowledging that he was the serial killer who called himself BTK.

Named for his technique - bind, torture, kill - BTK terrorized this city from 1974 through this spring, killing men, women and children of all ages and then boasting in a series of catch-me-if-you-can communications with police and reporters.

On what was to have been the opening day of his trial, Rader, 60, described that killing spree to his victims' relatives and others in a quiet courtroom here. The former code compliance officer for the suburb of Park City - once the respected president of his church congregation - calmly detailed each of the murders, which he called his "projects."

"There is a sense of horror. Simple and complete horror," said Cindy Duckett, a close friend of victim Nancy Fox.

In a voice so dispassionate that he might have been discussing the tulips in his garden, Rader talked of hanging an 11-year-old girl in her basement, of rearranging the clothes on a 62-year-old woman he had just strangled, of spreading a parka under a 38-year-old man to ease the pressure on his broken rib so he'd be comfortable while Rader asphyxiated him.

He broke into 24-year-old Shirley Vian's house at random, he told Judge Gregory Waller, because he was "all keyed up" after another planned assault fell through. Rader said he told Vian that he "had a problem with sexual fantasies" and would need to tie her up. First, though, he tied up her children.

"They were sort of crying and got real upset," he said, so he locked them in a bathroom. "We put some toys and blankets [to] make them as comfortable as possible."

When Vian threw up, Rader said, he "got her a glass of water, helped her a little bit." Then, he said, "I went ahead and tied her up and then put a bag over her head and strangled her."

All the while, Vian's children were banging on the bathroom door, screaming.

Rader left them there as he gathered his ropes and slipped out of the house.

"This guy is demonstrating what a real sociopath is like," said retired Detective Arlen Smith, who tracked BTK in the 1970s. "These [victims] were like furniture to him. He talked about `putting them down' as though they were dogs."

Rader - who is married with two grown children - is due to be sentenced Aug. 17. He will not face the death penalty because the crimes were committed before Kansas had a capital punishment statute. But if his sentences run consecutively, he will likely die in prison.

Rader told the judge he had no history of mental illness; his lawyers said they had considered an insanity defense, but decided they had no grounds.

"All these incidents occurred because you wanted to satisfy a sexual fantasy, is that true?" Waller asked.

Rader answered: "Yes."

The 45-minute confession - presented with no trace of remorse - was met yesterday with a mixture of relief and revulsion. Many in Wichita said they were glad to be spared the expense and uncertainty of a trial. They were relieved to know that BTK would never kill again. Yet the details of Rader's double-life left them appalled and bewildered.

"It's still beyond my comprehension that a human being is capable of something like that, and then to talk about it so coldly, so matter-of-factly, with no flinching and no emotion," said Paul Carlstedt, who served with Rader in the leadership of Christ Lutheran Church.

Rader did not talk about why he had taunted law enforcement with letters and phone calls - or why he was able to stop killing after the murder of Delores E. Davis in 1991.

Nor did Rader explain why he began sending reporters new puzzles and clues in March 2004.

Rader said he chose his victims at random, after months or years of "trolling" for likely candidates.

The details unsettled many of the victims' relatives - some of whom had not known until Rader told them exactly how their loved ones died.

In court they learned for the first time that Julie Otero, 34, had pleaded in vain for her son's life. That Marine Hedge, 53, had been stripped, brought to a church parking lot and posed in various bondage positions. That Vicki Wegerle, 28, broke free of her restraints and put up such a loud fight, the dogs in the back yard wouldn't stop barking.

"Nothing can prepare a family member to hear these facts," said Nola Foulston, Sedgwick County District Attroney.

Foulston said she was not surprised by Rader's lengthy recitation in court. "Mr. Rader," she said, "wants to be in control."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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