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The Nation

Serial Killer Coolly Admits His Guilt

With the courtroom as his stage, the man known as BTK lays out each of his 10 'projects.'

June 28, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon | Times Staff Writers

WICHITA, Kan. — His gaze direct, his voice steady, a hint of pride in his chilling words, former Boy Scout leader Dennis L. Rader pleaded guilty Monday to murdering 10 people 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 early this year, killing men, women and children of all ages and boasting about it 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 the killing spree to his victims' relatives and others in a quiet courtroom. 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 fantasy" and would need to tie her up. First, though, he tied up her children.

"They started crying, so I said, 'This isn't going to work,' " Rader said. "We took the kids to the bathroom and she helped me put some toys and blankets and other odds and ends in the bathroom. We tied the door shut and took another bed and shoved it up against the door."

With the kids trapped, he tied Vian to the bedposts. She threw up. "I got her a glass of water and tried to comfort her a bit," Rader said. Methodically describing his actions, Rader told the judge: "I put a plastic bag over her head ... and used a rope to strangle her."

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

Rader left them there as he gathered the ropes he had brought with him and slipped out of the house.

"This guy is demonstrating what a real sociopath is like," said retired Det. Arlyn 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 and has two grown children, is 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 probably 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 Monday 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.

Though his voice was flat, Rader seemed to use the jargon of his obsession with some pride, as he spoke about his "hit kit" and his "hit clothes," his code-named victims, his "death strangle."

"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 alongside Rader in the leadership of Christ Lutheran Church.

"What I felt was this: Can I kill you now?" said retired police Lt. Charles Liles.

Standing straight in a cream-colored jacket and tie -- trim thanks to a jailhouse regimen of push-ups -- Rader presented the image of a man very much in control.

But his confession revealed a serial killer who had fumbled his way through many of his murders.

Several times he left a victim for dead, only to be surprised a few moments later when she "woke up," having passed out during the strangulation. He had to double-back to one crime scene after leaving his gun in the victim's house. Another time, he planned to use the victim's pickup to make his getaway, then realized that he had stolen the wrong set of keys, so he had to flee on foot.

Several of his victims fought ferociously; one, Kevin Bright, managed to escape after Rader shot him twice and left him bleeding on the floor, apparently "down for good," Rader said.

"It was a total mess," he told the judge in a low-key, conversational tone. "I heard Kevin escape. The front door was open and he was gone."

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