The Killer Next Door | Reader's Digest

The Killer Next Door

No one ever suspected this ordinary man could be the killer next door.

By Max Alexander from Reader's Digest | July 2005

Months earlier, the reemergence of BTK, who had not been heard from in 25 years, had sent shock waves through Wichita. Police believed he was responsible for some ten deaths, his reign of terror beginning on January 15, 1974, when he murdered Joseph Otero and his family.

After serving 20 years in the Air Force, Otero, 38, had moved with his wife, Julie, 34, and their five children to Wichita, a center of aircraft manufacturing. The killer apparently interrupted a sandwich-making operation when he entered the modest Otero home on that cold winter morning: In the kitchen, a knife coated in peanut butter was found in mid-smear on a slice of bread. The telephone line had been cut. BTK tied up Joseph, Julie and two of their children — Joey, 9, and Josie, 11 — then, according to police reports, slowly strangled them to death with venetian blind cords. Although he did not sexually assault any of the victims, semen was found on young Josie’s inner thigh, indicating the killer was a sociopath who took sexual pleasure in the killing.

He also took souvenirs — a watch and a key chain — leaving the bodies to be discovered by the couple’s other three children, all teenagers, when hours later they returned home from school.

Determined to solve the Otero crime quickly, police mobilized across town, interviewing anyone who had even a remote acquaintance with the victims. They set up a roadblock near the house and quizzed passing drivers. Wichita Police Chief Floyd Hannon even traveled to the Oteros’ native Puerto Rico as well as Panama, where the family had once been stationed, looking for clues. In the ensuing months several arrests were made, but the suspects all had good alibis and were released. Because DNA matching had yet to be developed, the killer’s semen sample was of little help in the investigation.

The Otero family was killed when Dennis Rader was 28 and between jobs. His father, William, who died in 1996, was a former Marine who worked at a Wichita power plant; mother Dorothea was a grocery store bookkeeper and still lives in the Park City bungalow where Dennis and his three younger brothers grew up — on North Seneca Street, a couple of miles south of where the Post Toasties box was found.