A devoted husband, a loving father of two, a compliance officer, a Boy Scout Troup leader, and an active member in the Christ Lutheran Church, where he served as president of the church council, are some of the words that can be used to describe Dennis Rader. While the aforementioned description might make someone unfamiliar with Rader think he sounds like a decent person, he was anything but. The infamous moniker, BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill), is what made up the true essence of the man, a part of himself that he masterfully hid from his family, friends, co-workers, the public, and the members of Wichita, Kansas law enforcement for more than three decades.
When Rader was finally arrested in February of 2005, he was charged with ten counts of murder. His first known murders occurred on January 15, 1974, when he killed four members of the Otero family: husband and wife Joseph and Julie, and Josephine, and Joseph Jr., two of their five children. The last confirmed BTK victim was Dolores Davis, who was killed on January 19, 1991. After Rader was convicted, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Butler County, Kansas. If Rader had committed any of his crimes after 1994, when Kansas reinstated the death penalty, he would assuredly be on death row now, until his appeals were exhausted, or have already been executed. (As an aside: The DNA of Rader’s daughter Kerri Rawson, is what led to his capture. While she was a student at Kansas State University, Kerri had a procedure done at the health clinic. The FBI was able to match her DNA, with DNA that was taken and preserved from the Otero crime scene).
Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at De Sales University, and the author of sixty books, and numerous articles, spent considerable time interviewing Rader. He is segregated from the other prisoners, but has a phone in his cell, which made it easier for the two of them to talk. Ramsland was fascinated with Rader from a psychological standpoint, because unlike most of his depraved ilk, Rader was the ultimate outlier. Throughout their talks, Ramsland attempts to get Rader to reveal not only how he was able to compartmentalize the two lives he led, but to explain what led him to such heinous behavior.
Rader explained to Ramsland, that one of the ways he was able to live two separate lives was by using a process he calls ‘cubing.’ In brief, any of the roles, for example: that of a compliance officer or husband, that Rader needed to be at any given moment, he would shift all of his thoughts to concentrating on just what the person he was interacting with needed from him. When he did this, Rader was able to keep thoughts about his past crimes, or ideas of what he might like to do to someone in the future, out of his mind, so as not to interfere with normal, everyday life. One of the interesting aspects of the series were drawings that Rader made when he was an adolescent. Even then, he had devised, styled after serial killer, H.H. Holmes, his own murder house, although, because he grew up around farms, his various rooms of torture where contained within a barn silo. The drawings had never before been shown to the public.
BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer premiered on A&E (Arts and Entertainment), on January 8, 2022. The documentary was directed by Cynthia Childs (Invisible Monsters: Serial Killers in America). Throughout the four episodes archival footage is used. There are interviews with those in law enforcement that were determined to capture BTK and bring him to justice; also speaking throughout are friends and family members of Rader’s victims.
Recommended to viewers who have an interest in true crime, I would also say that it is worth the time of viewers who are interested in psychology. Rader, as vile as his actions were, makes for quite the subject to be studied, in an attempt to gain insight into how people like him think, feel, or, for that matter, don’t feel. The series also states that while most serial killers have certain characteristics in their background, many of which stem from childhood trauma, not all of them do. Rader is the perfect example of that. The documentary also leaves viewers with a haunting question based on a dream that Rader shared with Ramsland. Was what he imparted to her merely a dream, or is there something more sinister Rader wants the world to know?