commentary by Patrick H. Moore
Dennis Lynn Rader is one of our more famous living serial killers, in part because of his penchant for writing taunting letters to the police and local newspapers in which he would demand attention from the press while describing the details of his heinous acts. Like any writer with an ear for an audience, he came up with several “signatures” until he found one that stuck, The BDK killer, BDK standing for Bind, Torture, Kill.
The oldest of four sons, Rader was born in Pittsburgh, Kansas in 1945 and grew up in Wichita. As a child he demonstrated several of the earmarks of a typical serial killer. He reportedly tortured animals and developed a fetish for women’s underwear. Once his killing spree began, as he cut a swath through Wichita neighborhoods, he began stealing underpants from his victims which – like Colonel Russell Williams – he would then wear himself.
Between 1974 and 1991, Rader murdered ten people in the Wichita area. He then went underground for the next 13 years and very possibly would never have been apprehended had he not once again began writing “look at me” letters in 2004 which led to his arrest in 2005 and subsequent convictions.
He was sentenced to one life sentence for each murder and is currently serving 10 consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Not unlike John Wayne Gacy, Rader appeared normal in almost every way. He was a member of a local Christ Lutheran Church and at one point was elected president of the church council. He was also a Cub Scout Leader. Just a good neighbor in every way.
Not only that. According to The Wichita Eagel, Rader states in writing that “he loves his family very much”. He reports that his wife, Paula Rader, knew nothing about about the 10 murders until he got caught, 31 years after his spree began.
“The family knew nothing about my ‘Dark Deeds.’ I carried that secret until the day I was arrested.”
Ironically, from 1974 until 1988, during the period he was actively binding, torturing and killing, Rader worked installing alarms for a Wichita company at homes whose occupants had contacted the alarm company because they feared the BTK Killer. Imagine their surprise had they known that the BTK Killer himself was in their homes installing their alarms.
Like many a wannabe writer and many a serial killer, for that matter, Rader had the knack for coming up with pithy phrases. Two of his best-known are the following:
“When this monster entered my brain, I will never know, but it is here to stay. How does one cure himself? I can’t stop it, the monster goes on, and hurts me as well as society. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t.”
“I actually think I may be possessed with demons, I was dropped on my head as a kid.”
Now, nearly a decade after receiving his eight consecutive life sentences, Rader is once again back on the Serial Killer Radar (Terrible Pun) based on his plan to cooperate in the writing of a book about his ten victims in order to help out their families monetarily.
“I can never replace their loved ones, my deeds too ‘dark’ to understand, the book or movies, etc. is the only way to help them,” writes Rader.
In a four-page, handwritten letter labeled “From the Desk of: Dennis L. Rader,” the BTK Killer, who once served as a city code compliance officer, is careful to explain that he will not be profiting at all from any proceeds stemming from his crimes. The Wichita Eagle reports that he signed over his media rights to the families of his victims after he was packed off to El Dorado State Prison in 2005.
According to James Thompson, a Wichita lawyer representing most of the BTK victim families, a percentage of any profits will go to the surviving loved ones and Rader has stated that “the long work on a book is close to a deal,” which suggests it has not been easy to get this project off the ground.
And don’t think this book will be a lurid tell-all tabloid-style work. In fact, Katherine Ramsland, the author working with Rader on the project, “envisions an academic book that will help investigators and criminologists understand killers like Rader.”
“I’m trying to make this a serious effort that will have some benefit for people who study this kind of crime,” said Ramsland, who is a forensic psychology professor at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and has written 54 mostly academic nonfiction books.
Wow! Ms. Ramsland is a veritable writing machine but this may be her first crack at plumbing the depths of the mind of a serial killer.
What I personally find fascinating is the way Rader, like a surprising number of other serial killers including John Wayne Gacy and Keith Jesperson, the Canadian “Happy Face Killer”, on the one hand lived a very ordinary life while simultaneously committing his atrocities. This “doubleness” is curious and I think many true crime fans also possess it but only vicariously; i.e., we like thinking, reading and learning about serial killers and their bloody machinations, but we would never in a million years plan and execute their brutal excesses.
Over the years, Rader has “turned down many media attempts to talk with him in the past nine years because he was attempting to stay true to the court agreement with the victims’ families.”
“I mean to burn no bridges,” Rader wrote, “and hope some day to open up. People like me, need to be under stood, so the criminal professional field, can better understand the criminal mind. That would be my way (of) helping (to pay my) debt to society.”
I’m just a bit skeptical about this last claim. Of course, we all would like nothing better than to understand the criminal mind, but would an enhanced understanding of this serious social issue keep a single potential serial killer from going on his or her rampage. I suppose it could in theory, at least in some cases, if society was geared to investigating those among us who were “just a little too different” and focused on stopping them before they went off the deep end.
But it seems that society, in part due to financial necessity, has little real interest in identifying violent criminals ahead of time, before they run amuck. Not only would it would be cost prohibitive, but I wonder if it would actually work? I would bet that out of every 100 individuals who demonstrate “serial killer symptoms” in childhood such as bedwetting, torturing animals, and lack of impulse control, only a tiny percentage actually graduate into the rarified air of the bona fide serial killer. There just aren’t that many serial killers kicking around.
Now what would be a great boon to society and would cut the violent crime rate tremendously would be if we, as a society, could eliminate child abuse – physical, sexual and emotional. That would truly make a difference. The problem with such a project is that it would be singularly unexciting. It would be drab, tedious and entirely without titillation. Endless parenting classes. Licenses based on demonstrated competence prior to being allowed to have children. Endless visits from earnest social workers. Serial killers on the other hand are endlessly fascinating as most true crime fans would probably readily admit. There are far fewer of them, however, than there are abusive parents who haphazardly inspire their offspring to become criminally-minded young adults.
SITES WE LIKE
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RJ Parker True Crime Website
Serial Killer Calendar.com
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