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Killer's Confession Brings Small Comfort

Residents of the Kansas town where the man known as BTK lived are relieved the case is solved but are outraged that he won't be put to death.

June 29, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

PARK CITY, Kan. — The cars drove past Dennis L. Rader's house like a funeral procession Tuesday, slowing to a near stop in front of the single-story, white-sided residence on Independence Street.

Some people, like Jim Gerlins, came to see where the BTK serial killer had hidden for more than 30 years. They came to stand where Rader had spied on a neighbor who became one of his victims, and where the man who stalked the Wichita area from 1974 through early this year had slept.

Gerlins brought a camera to snap a souvenir. But as he sat in his car in front of the overgrown garden and shade-drawn windows, all he could do was struggle to find reason behind Rader's cruelty.

"How can anyone have so little respect for life?" asked Gerlins, 65. "How can any one human be so evil?"

As Rader, 60, matter-of-factly described the murders in court Monday, the questions this town had lived with for more than three decades were answered.

Now there is a sense of relief -- and rage that the man who killed 10 people will not receive the death penalty.

"If he walked outside today, he'd be lynched. And I'd be pulling the rope," said lawyer Steve Joseph. In 1977, Joseph was the assistant district attorney assigned to Shirley Vian's murder case. She was the fifth victim of BTK, self-named for his technique: bind, torture, kill.

On Tuesday, many said they had not been prepared for the gruesome details or Rader's complete lack of remorse.

The proceedings even shocked Rader's defense team.

"Pretty much everything that came from Dennis we did not help him prepare for," lawyer Steve Osburn said at a news conference. "We didn't expect this."

For Steve Relford, Vian's son, the details of her death brought no relief. Instead, it brought back feelings of guilt.

"I let him inside," said Relford, 34, who lives in Oklahoma City. "I opened the door and let him in."

He said he remembered pleading for someone, anyone, to help. He recalled tugging against the restraints Rader had used to tie him up and inching his way to the locked bathroom door. He had peered through a crack in the door frame and looked into the bedroom. He begged Rader to stop as the killer tied Vian up, slid a plastic bag over her head and strangled her.

He was 5 years old.

"There won't be relief until he's dead," Relford said. "He won't get the death penalty. Hopefully, the men in prison will do something about that."

Many in Wichita say the same thing: Rader needs to die.

The former church and Boy Scout leader, who is married and has two grown children, is to be sentenced Aug. 17; he will not face the death penalty because his crimes were committed before Kansas reinstituted capital punishment.

When Rader was charged with the BTK murders this year, legislators considered whether the laws could be changed.

If Rader's murder sentences run consecutively, he could face 175 years in prison.

But that's not enough punishment for some residents.

Cindy Duckett, a close friend of victim Nancy Fox, said she considered herself to be a good evangelical Christian. She is against abortion and the death penalty. "I want him dead," Duckett said. "I feel horrible about that. But that's how I feel, even with my faith."

Family friends said Tuesday that the Rader family was trying to move on.

Paula, Rader's wife of 34 years, reportedly has consulted with lawyers about a divorce. Their adult children, Brian and Kerri, are in grief counseling.

The family's three-bedroom home stands abandoned. A sign on the front lawn says it will be auctioned off July 11; McCurdy Auctions has put up photos for potential buyers on its website.

There is a snapshot of a tan-and-white garden shed in the backyard, where police found underwear, ropes, cord, duct tape and pantyhose.

"It'll be a nice home for someone else," auction house executive Lonny McCurdy said.

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