The BTK Killer Was… Surprisingly Dumb

Thanks to original streaming channels like Netflix, serial killers have been all the rage lately. Shows such as MindHunterThe Ted Bundy Tapes and the most recent drop Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez have really been putting violent criminals in the forefront of public interest. And it’s understandable, right? Human kind has always been drawn to the things it doesn’t understand. We want to know how these people tick; why they choose to do the things that most people wouldn’t even consider. We constantly hear them described as masterminds – as geniuses who play people like a pack of cards, manipulating them into their lairs before tearing them to pieces. Because how could a killer possibly get away with their gruesome crimes for so long unless they knew exactly what they were doing, right? Unless they really were undetected geniuses?

Well, apparently not so much. In fact, some prove to be pretty much the opposite. With ridiculously witless moves and an over-the-top ego to boot, the BTK Killer proved to be hilariously dumb.

Dennis Rader – AKA The BTK Killer


Born 1974 in Wichita, Kansas, Dennis Rader – alias BTK Killer (standing for Bind, Torture, Kill) – seemed like your every day family man. He earnt his wages installing security systems in local homes for a company called ADT Security Systems, and lived with his wife and two children, a son and a daughter. As president of the Christ Lutheran Church Committee and the leader of a Cub Scouts group Rader was the epitome of your average do-gooder Dad. Only, much to the horror of his friends, family and the surrounding public alike, Rader had a hidden alter ego with a disturbing pattern of torture and murder.


Rader started his crimes on January the 15th, 1974 with the murder of 33-year-old mother Julie Otero, her husband, 38-year-old Joseph Otero, and their two children, 9-year-old Joseph Junior and 11-year-old Josephine. It wasn’t until the young Charlie Otero, the 15-year-old son of the slain couple, arrived home alongside his two other siblings that the bodies were found. Later, that year, Kathrine Bright was stabbed to death in her home, Rader having broken in and waited in her apartment for her to return home.
Three years later, in 1977, Rader knocked on the house of Shirley Vian. Pretending to be a police officer, he entered her home, switching off the television and closing the blinds before holding a gun to the young mother and asking her to lock her three children in the family bathroom. He then proceeded to strange her while her own children listened on. Later that same year, Nancy fox also fell victim to the BTK, strangled in her own home.

ABOVE: A photograph of the Otero family, four of whom were tragically slain in their home. 

After a surprisingly long down period of 8 years, a neighbour of Rader, 53-year-old Marine Hedge, was found deceased on the side of the road not far from her home. Vicki Wegerle suffered a similar fate in 1986. Five years later, the final victim of the BTK, 62-year-old Dolores Davis, was similarly strangled in her own home, her body taken and dumped under a Sedgwick County bridge. He later went back to the scene to photograph her body, much as he did with his other victims.

ABOVE: A photograph of Rader’s last victim, Dolores Davis

So with a good 31 years, you’d think the man dubbed the BTK Killer would be an expert at evading capture, right? Not so much.
The BTK was infamous for toying with detectives and the general public alike, sending a range of letters gloating over his crimes, sending photographs taken at his crime scenes, poems about his victims, and leaving cryptic messages for the police to solve (similar to the Zodiac Killer and Jack the Ripper years before).
However, in 2005, Rader left a message that was just a little bit too cryptic for the public. The police received a post card, indicating there was a parcel left for them on the side of the road, but when police arrived, they were puzzled to find there was no parcel left behind at all. It wasn’t like the brilliant BTK not to go through with one of his tricks, was it?

ABOVE: Wichita Police Department evidence photograph of the cereal box left in the back of a ute.

It wasn’t. Rader had gone through with his promise. He’d left a cereal box with the word ‘Bomb’ written on the front and the cereal’s brand – Special K – rearranged to spell BTK. Only, he’d placed the box in the back of a random ute. The ute’s owner did end up seeing the box, but it didn’t quite cause the amount of chaos Rader intended it to. Instead, the Ute’s owner simply saw the box, read the terrifying notes on the front… and threw the box in the trash. Turns out Rader’s 14 year break had made him far less of a celebrity in the public eye than Rader had thought. A little bit humiliating, right?

ABOVE: The floppy disk Rader sent to Wichita police, containing details of its previous use

But it wasn’t the end of Rader’s humiliation. After using CCTV footage to track down the ute’s owner, they were able to find the discarded box with all of the documents inside still in tact. Within these documents, Rader posed a simple question: he asked if it were possible for a floppy disk to be tracked. If it wasn’t, he asked for the detectives to place an advertisement in his local newspaper with the words ‘Rex, it will be okay’.
It was possible to trace a floppy disk. Of course, not being complete idiots and all that, the police posted the message in the local newspaper. Rader, in return, sent a floppy disk to the investigators with nothing but ‘This is a Test’ on it; at least, that was all Rader thought the floppy had on it. By going into the disk’s ‘properties’ section, the police not only found out that the floppy had been used in the Christ Lutheran Church – the very same church Rader happened to be council president of – but also found the file was saved under the name ‘Dennis’. It was so easy, in fact, that lieutenant Ken Landwehr, head of the task force in charge of the BTK’s capture, stated: “It’s pretty basic stuff. Anybody who knows anything about computers could figure it out”. Yeah…. not so smart.

ABOVE: Dennis Rader at his inevitable court date where he plead guilty to ten counts of first-degree murder.

Dennis Rader was apprehended on February of 2005, a mere month after he’d sent his last message to investigators, which really isn’t surprising. He was charged with ten counts of murder and sentenced to serve ten life-sentences in prison.
In the end, the moral of Rader’s story is one that all people should probably already know: when you’re on the run from police, you probably shouldn’t ask their advice on how to evade police capture. You’re probably not going to get an honest answer on that one.

Related Videos

Watch: Dennis Rader’s full confession to the BTK crimes.

Watch: Dennis Rader’s daughter discusses horror of finding out her father was the BTK Killer on NightLine

A&E Video about the BTK Killings



Watch BTK: A Killer Among Us on Amazon at:

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