BTK serial killer is in the news again. Here’s why and some background about his case

Aug 24, 2023, 2:37 PM

Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer whose self-given nickname stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill,” played a cat and mouse game with investigators and reporters for decades before he was caught.

But Rader gradually faded from view after his 2005 arrest, as he served one life term for each of the 10 people he was convicted of killing.

He made headlines again this week, though, because he was named the prime suspect in an Oklahoma teen’s 1976 disappearance and a Missouri woman’s 1990 killing.

Here’s a look at how Rader spread fear and was eventually caught and convicted:


The investigation into whether Rader, 78, was responsible for additional crimes started with the reexamination of the disappearance of Cynthia Kinney, a 16-year-old cheerleader who was last seen at a laundromat in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Rader worked for ADT Security Systems at the time, and the bank across the street was getting a new security system. Law enforcement has been unable to determine, though, whether Rader was the one who installed it.

Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden told KAKE-TV that he decided to investigate a possible link between Rader and Kinney’s disappearance when he learned that Rader had included the phrase “bad laundry day” in his writings.

Undersheriff Gary Upton said the investigation “spiraled out from there” into other unsolved murders and missing persons cases.” They include the the death of 22-year-old Shawna Beth Garber, whose body was discovered in December 1990 in McDonald County, Missouri. An autopsy revealed she had been raped, strangled and restrained with different bindings about two months before her body was found.

As part of the investigation, authorities conducted a dig this week near Rader’s former Kansas property in Park City.

Rader’s attorney, Rob Ridenour, said he had no comment.


BTK first struck in 1974 and stoked fears throughout the 1970s in the Wichita area.

The earliest known crimes linked to the BTK strangler date to Jan. 15, 1974, when Joseph Otero, 38, his 34-year-old wife, Julie, and their 11- and 9-year-old children were found dead in their home.

After strangling three other women that decade, he began seeking attention.

“How about some name for me, its time: 7 down and many more to go,″ he wrote in a letter to a TV station.

BTK killed again in 1985, 1986 and 1991, although some of the crimes weren’t linked to him initially. And then suddenly, with no explanation, he fell off the radar and the killings stopped.


BTK resurfaced in March 2014 — the 30th anniversary of the first crimes — with a letter to The Wichita Eagle that included photos of the 1986 strangulation of Vicki Wegerle and a photocopy of her missing driver’s license.

Her case had not been linked to BTK until then.

Among the materials the BTK killer sent to the media were a cryptic word puzzle mailed to KAKE-TV that included dozens of hidden words, including a grouping of letters spelling “D. Rader,″ the street number of his address, 6220, and the types of jobs that could be used to gain entry into homes.

The break in the case came after a computer disk the killer had sent was traced to Rader’s church.


At the time of Rader’s arrest, he was a married father of two, a Boy Scouts leader and active member of a Lutheran church.

The former Air Force sergeant had lived in the Wichita area almost his entire life, earning a criminal justice degree at a local university.

Rader never became a police officer, though, instead going into code enforcement. His job allowed him to issue citations for minor infractions such as unkempt lawns.


When he pleaded guilty, Rader admitted in court that he would “troll” for victims on his off-time, then stalk and kill them.

He said he referred to them as “projects,” telling the court that sexual fantasies drove him to kill. He has not been accused of sexually assaulting his victims, but he admitted that he had masturbated over some of them.

Rader later told KAKE-TV that a “demon” got inside of him at a young age.

“I have a lot of remorse. I’m very sorry for them. It is something I wouldn’t want to happen to my family,” he said.

Kansas didn’t have the death penalty at the time of the killings, so the 10 life terms was the harshest sentence possible.

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BTK serial killer is in the news again. Here’s why and some background about his case