BTK Killer: Timeline of Murders, Reappearance, and Capture

Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK Killer (which stands for Bind, Torture, Kill), was responsible for the deaths of ten innocent people in the Wichita, Kansas, area. It would appear that he had his sick method of operation down to a “T.”

A family guy, a government worker and a church leader by day, Rader was savvy enough to blend into his society and evade notice for the serial victim stalking and kills that gratified his sexual needs. And while he took pleasure in the headlines that announced his grotesque acts and the taunting messages he relayed to the media, he also had sufficient self-control to suddenly stop the killings and vanish before the authorities could get too close to his trail. And while he relished the headlines that announced his grotesque acts and the taunting messages he relayed to the media, he also controlled his impulses enough.

But in the end, his unquenchable desire to be the centre of attention turned out to be his greatest weakness. BTK reemerged years later to remind authorities that he remained at large. However, he became too careless with his cat-and-mouse tactics, providing detectives with an opening to crack the once-unsolvable case and put the killer in jail.

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January 15, 1974: Rader kills four members of the Otero family

After disconnecting a phone line and entering the East Wichita house of Joseph and Julie Otero, the latter of whom was a former co-worker at the Coleman equipment firm, Rader, a 28-year-old married Air Force veteran, takes the plunge into infamy. Julie Otero was a former co-worker at Coleman. In addition to suffocating the two adults living in the house, Rader also kills two of the younger children belonging to the family. The three older siblings are the ones who find the remains after returning from school later that day.

April 4, 1974: Rader strikes again

When Kathryn Bright, another Coleman employee, and her brother Kevin returned home, they discovered Rader waiting for them inside with a revolver. Although Kevin manages to pull through despite being shot in the head, he cannot save his sister, who Rader killed with a knife.

October 1974: The killer introduces himself to police

An editor at The Wichita Eagle receives a peculiar phone call just after a young man is said to have confessed to killing the Oteros along with two pals. The call tells the editor to look for a book on mechanical engineering at the Wichita Public Library. The police locate the book and a note that has been partially inserted inside it. The message reads: “Those three suspects that you have in prison are merely making statements to garner publicity… The secret passwords for me are going to be… B.T.K. is up to his old tricks: bind them, torture them, and then kill them. They are going to move on to the subsequent victim.”

In addition to including information previously unknown about the Otero killings, the letter is also riddled with what the authorities identify as the killer’s particular brand of misspellings and grammatical faults, as well as a characteristic signature that makes sexual innuendos.

March 17, 1977: BTK murders a mother of three

After sneaking into a house through the front door, which a young child opened, the perpetrator, identified as Rader, locked the young boy, along with his two siblings, in the toilet before he strangled the family’s mother, Shirley Vian. The children eventually got away and gave authorities a general description of the person who had broken in.

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December 8, 1977: BTK reports his next victim

Rader ties up Nancy Fox, 25 years old, and then proceeds to strangle her before heading to a pay phone so he may direct the police to his work. He informs the person answering the 911 call plainly, “You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing.”

January 31, 1978: The killer reaches out with a poem

The Wichita Eagle receives an index card written with a poem that begins “Shirley Locks, Shirley Locks, will thou be mine?” (Shirley Locks, Shirley Locks, will you be mine?) The mail clerk passes the card to the newspaper’s classified section, thinking it is a note for Valentine’s Day even though she is unaware of the connection to Shirley Vian and the nature of the note.

February 10, 1978: The BTK threat is made public after another letter

The killer, who appears to be frustrated by the lack of response to his previous attempt, sends a message to the Wichita-based television station KAKE that is more straightforward. He writes, “How many people do I have to kill before I get my name in the news or some national attention?,” before reciting a list of possible aliases for himself, such as “The BTK Strangler,” “The Wichita Hangman,” and “The Asphyxiator.”

Following this, Wichita Police Chief Richard LaMunyon calls a news conference to announce the “BTK Strangler” presence in the surrounding area for the first time. He sternly warns, stating that “we have no reason except to assume the man has the capability to kill again.”

April 28, 1979: Another target narrowly misses becoming the next victim

Rader patiently waits for Anna Williams, but she takes too long to go back to her house, so Rader gives up and leaves. Anna Williams is 63 years old. Williams learns about her near-death experience when she receives many of her personal belongings in the mail and a poem titled “Oh, Anna, Why Didn’t You Appear.” This occurs less than two months after her near-death experience.

August 14, 1979: BTK’s phone call is broadcast

The tape of BTK’s phone call to report the death of Nancy Fox in December 1977 was made public by the authorities in the hope that they would receive assistance from the general public. Although some listeners believe they recognize the voice, they cannot provide any information that could be useful in the investigation.

1984: The ‘Ghostbusters’ are formed

The task team that Chief LaMunyon creates to investigate BTK’s misdeeds is given the moniker “Ghostbusters” about the successful Bill Murray film of the same name. The task team makes a concerted effort to collect and preserve crucial evidence meticulously, and one of its members, a young officer named Ken Landwehr, will subsequently lead subsequent efforts to seek down the perpetrator of the crime.

April 27, 1985: Rader’s neighbour is strangled

Marine Hedge, age 53, is abducted from her home in the Wichita suburb of Park City, which is only down the street from Rader’s residence. Earlier that evening, she and her boyfriend had spent the evening playing bingo and eating dinner. Eight days later, her body was discovered with signs of strangling, but the authorities could not make the connection between her death and BTK at the time.

September 16, 1986: A husband takes the blame for the work of BTK

When Bill Wegerle gets home for lunch, he discovers that his wife, Vicki, and their two-year-old kid are dead in their bedroom. The boy is sitting by himself. Because there is no other evidence that might be considered trustworthy, the husband is now the major suspect in Vicki’s murder.

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January 19, 1991: BTK kills for the final time

Dolores Davis, a retired woman, is murdered by BTK, who first breaks a sliding door in her house with a cinderblock, then strangles her to death and dumps her body beside a bridge. Rader stops killing, and BTK disappears from the scene because he is consumed with being a Park City compliance officer and a father of two.

January 2004: ‘The Wichita Eagle’ runs a 30th-anniversary piece on BTK

Three decades after the killer first killed the Oteros, an article in The Wichita Eagle recalls the terror BTK wielded in the 1970s and suggests that he has faded from memory after so many years. The article was published after BTK was suspected of killing the Oteros for the first time. In a later chapter, Rader acknowledges that he was inspired to bring back his murderous alter ego by reading this essay.

March 19, 2004: BTK announces his return

The Wichita Eagle receives an envelope from a “Bill Thomas Killman” that contains a copy of Vicki Wegerle’s missing driver’s license, photos of her body, and BTK’s distinctive signature. This chilling message links Vicki’s unsolved murder to BTK and declares the Wichita terror alive.

May 5, 2004: BTK teases with a puzzle

BTK’s third outreach was sent to KAKE-TV, including a fake ID, chapter titles for a biography of BTK, and a find-the-word letter grid that spelt out clues such as “prowl” and “fantasies.” However, investigators noticed that his signature was missing from the letter grid this time. Later on, those who worked on the puzzle figured out that the letters R-A-D-E-R are clustered around the numerals 6220, the author’s street address.

December 13, 2005: BTK leaves another disturbing package

A man wandering through Wichita’s Murdock Park after BTK had left more messages in various public spots comes upon a waste bag with Nancy Fox’s driver’s license and a Barbie doll with a hood over its head and arms tied behind its back.

January 25, 2005: A postcard points to more clues

In response to instructions from a postcard that was received from KAKE-TV, the police discover a cereal box on the side of a road outside of Wichita that has a detailed depiction of BTK’s first killings as well as another doll that has been fashioned into a pose similar to that of a corpse. However, it is a different postcard piece that proves to be more fascinating to the authorities. In this area, the sender asks whether or not his package was located at the local Home Depot.

After digging around the business, the investigators found out that one of the employees had discovered a cereal box in the bed of his pickup vehicle. A search of his trash uncovered the box and a message inquiring whether BTK could communicate via a computer floppy disk without being traced. If the answer was yes, the message instructed the authorities to place an advertisement in the newspaper with the words “Rex, it will be OK.”

January 28, 2005: Police signal BTK through the newspaper

Following the completion of the undercover detective’s negotiations with The Wichita Eagle, the latter publishes a classified ad with the following text: “Rex, it will be ok; contact me PO Box 1st four ref. digits at 67202.” Six days later, BTK provided additional evidence that he has received the letter by sending a second postcard to KAKE.

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February 16, 2005: A computer disk breaks the case open

Randy Stone, a cyber cop, receives a computer disk in the mail. He deciphers the disk’s hidden metadata, which reveals that the disk was used by a person named “Dennis” at “Christ Lutheran Church” and “Park City Library,” and he discovers a message from BTK that instructs him to check an index card for additional information. BTK’s message suggests that the index card contains additional clues. A search of the internet for Christ Lutheran Church returns the results “Dennis Rader” as the name of the organization’s president in a matter of seconds.

Already in possession of DNA evidence meticulously maintained by the Ghostbusters, Lieutenant Landwehr and the rest of his team discover that Rader’s daughter, Kerri, had recently undergone a pap smear at the hospital. The hospital shortly provides a DNA sample of her, determined to be identical to BTK.

February 25, 2005: Rader is arrested

A line of police cars is following Rader, and while he is driving home from the workplace to have lunch with his wife, he is pulled over by the police and brought into custody. After being shown the DNA evidence, he admits his guilt and enjoys what he thinks is a bonding session with the law enforcement personnel, even though he is clearly furious that Landwehr lied to him about the confidentiality of communications through a computer disk. The following day, at Wichita City Hall, the announcement of BTK’s arrest is made, which is met with enthusiasm from the assembled throng.

April 19, 2005: Rader waives his right to a preliminary hearing

The defence concedes that the state has sufficient evidence to proceed to trial, which results in the scheduled hearing being cut short after only a few minutes worth of time has passed. Two weeks later, Rader remains silent during the proceeding and requests that the court issues a not-guilty plea on his behalf.

June 27, 2005: Rader pleads guilty to the BTK killings

Rader provides the court with specific details on how he targeted, stalked, and ultimately killed each of his victims, which catches the prosecution off guard. He then pleads guilty to 10 charges of first-degree murder, which also catches them off guard. Later on, his attorney clarifies that they decided to submit a guilty plea since there was overwhelming evidence against their client and there was no solid legal footing to make a plea of insanity.

August 18, 2005: Rader is sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms in prison

The two-day sentencing hearing includes testimony from investigators who explain Rader’s documentation of his torture-fueled sexual fantasies, heartbreaking appeals from the victims’ families, and an apology from the convicted killer, who expresses hope that the families would one day forgive him.

Since the BTK Killer carried out his crimes before Kansas reinstated the use of the capital penalty in 1994, he was given a sentence of ten consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. This will put him behind bars for a minimum of 175 years.

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