The True Story Of The BTK Killer Is More Disturbing Than What You'll See On 'Mindhunter'

Alyssa Girdwain
Photo credit: POOL - Getty Images

From Women's Health

Remember that mysterious man in the opening scenes of Mindhunter season one and, now, season two? Sometimes he walked (creeped) through a house on the job with ADT Security Services; other times he practiced tying intricate knots on the couch (you know, as one does). And still other times, he suspiciously mailed letters.

Though his identity wasn’t revealed in the hit true crime show's first season, this time around, Holden Ford and Bill Tench make it crystal clear that this nightmarish dude was none other than Dennis Rader, the infamous serial killer better known as BTK.

Wait, who is Dennis Rader, a.k.a. BTK, exactly?

Not anyone you'd want near your house, for starters. From 1974 to 1991, Rader murdered 10 people in Wichita, Kansas. For 31 years, he roamed totally undetected—no one expected the family man next door to be a literal serial killer. (**Side-eyes my neighbors...**)

Mindhunter fans can expect to see more of BTK this season, with Holden and Bill analyzing evidence from the case to try to figure out his identity. But, spoiler alert: The FBI agents won’t be chatting with Rader anytime soon, since he wasn’t arrested until 2005—a full 25 years after season two takes place.

From being a complete murderous narcissist to his gross mustache, here’s everything you need to know about BTK:

Dennis Rader was born on March 9, 1945 in Pittsburg, Kansas.

At first glance, Dennis Rader had a normal childhood, according to Oxygen. He grew up in a religious household as the oldest of four brothers. Not so normal? He told police he killed dogs and cats as a child, per the Wichita Eagle, and started having violent sexual fantasies in grade school, according to a 20/20 interview with Rader's daughter, Kerri Rawson.

Watch Rawson recall the shattering moment she learned her father was BTK:

Rader married his wife in May 1971.

Back home after serving in the U.S. Air Force, Rader’s mom set him up with a woman from church, Paula Dietz. They got married, although she (obviously) had no idea what festered inside Rader. And so, his double life began.

BTK's decades-long murder spree started in 1974.

On January 15, 1974, Rader cut the phone lines and went into the home of the Otero family. He tied up and killed husband and wife Joseph and Julie Otero, as well as two of their children, 9-year-old Joseph Jr. and 11-year-old Josephine.

According to a 20/20 interview, he first saw Julie and Josephine while driving one day. Because he was attracted to them, the mother and daughter were his primary targets. "I guess they just turn me on," Rader told Ray Lundin, a senior special agent for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Eagle reported.

BTK chose all of his victims based on accessibility, stalking them until his day of attack. His first murder, however, didn't go as planned. He wasn't expecting Joseph or Joseph Jr. to be home, so Rader pulled out a gun and started ordering the family around.

He eventually tied up the four family members and put a plastic bag over Joseph's head to suffocate him. When Joseph bit through the bag, he put a T-shirt over his head that he couldn't chew through. He did the same to Joseph Jr.

Rader had already strangled Julie to unconsciousness once, but she woke up and he strangled her again—this time killing her. "You know, I strangled dogs and cats, but I never strangled a person before, so they were the first," Rader said in his confession, per the Eagle.

Finally, Rader took Josie down to the basement. "So my encore was to just take her down there and hang her," Rader told police. "If she had been dead, I would have still hung her, just to hang her."

He strategically tied the noose around the preteen girl's neck so the tips of her toes just touched the ground. That way, Josie would have to fight to support herself until her strength gave out, and she choked to death.

According to the Eagle, Rader pulled Josie's panties down around her ankles and said that watching her was "a sexual release." In fact, it was Rader's semen at the crime scene that eventually helped police secure Rader's arrest 30 years later.

Rader had a lifelong fascination with hanging.

Long before he murdered Josie, Rader wore women's underwear, tied a rope around his neck, and took pictures of himself—as if he were, yes, hanging—in his parents' basement. Apparently, he thought basements were a good place to hang people, later telling police, "It's symbolic, like a dungeon," per the Eagle.

BTK enjoyed sending letters about the crimes.

Rader got off on attention. First, he stashed a letter in a library book with details about the Otero murders that only the killer would know. Then, after killing Kathryn Bright in 1974, and later Shirley Vian Relford and Nancy Fox in 1977, he penned another letter claiming responsibility for their deaths.

In them, he gave himself the moniker BTK for his modus operandi: "Bind, Torture, Kill."

Love Mindhunter? Then you need to watch these true-crime documentaries ASAP:

But to the local community, he was a church-going family man.

Here’s one of the creepiest parts of all this: Rader hid his dark self with ease. Married with two children, he was a Cub Scout leader and the president of the Christ Lutheran Church board.

As one news anchor said in the 20/20 special, Rader was "literally the guy next door." This at least partially explains why he was able to get away with his crimes for so long.

Rader really did work for ADT.

Just like his fictional counterpart on Mindhunter, Rader installed security alarms in people's homes for ADT Security Services from 1974 to 1988. It was the perfect job for a serial killer stalker, giving him ample opportunity to scope out houses (and potential victims).

After murdering Fox, BTK didn’t strike for eight years.

It’s easy to get caught up in life’s distractions, even if you’re a serial killer, I guess. After strangling Nancy Fox in 1977, BTK waited until 1985 to attack again. This time, it was his 53-year-old neighbor Marine Hedge.

After choking her with his bare hands, he took her corpse to his church and photographed her posed in gruesome ways, the Eagle said. In the following five years, he killed his final two victims: Vicki Wegerle in 1986 and Dolores Davis in 1991.

All the while, he kept a collection of murder memorabilia.

BTK was nothing if not sentimental (in the worst possible way). Over the years, he kept a self-described "mother lode"—a drawer filled with souvenirs he collected from every murder and stories he'd written about his disturbing deeds.

The evidence was right under authorities' noses, too. Rader's memorabilia drawer was actually in his office at Park City's City Hall, where he worked as a compliance officer for more than 10 years.

BTK reappeared in 2004.

Thirty years after the Otero murders, Rader came out from the shadows for more attention. He sent letters, photos of murder victims, and cereal boxes (get it?) to the police and press.

While planning his eleventh murder, he slipped up by sending police a floppy disk with metadata tracing back to him. The jig was up.

Dennis Rader was arrested on February 25, 2005.

Police used DNA from Rader’s daughter and matched it to evidence (namely, the aforementioned semen) from the Otero crime scene. Lab experts also linked his DNA to the Wegerle and Fox murders, per the Eagle.

Finally, after decades of unsolved murders and paranoia, BTK was arrested. Believe it or not, you can still watch the footage from his trial, in which he spills all the gruesome details of his murders as if he's telling you how to change a tire. (Ugh.)

BTK’s still in prison to this day.

Rader is currently serving 10 life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional facility in Kansas. He’s 74 years old.

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