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

John Davis, 59, Rader’s best friend from age five, recalls enjoying a Tom Sawyer-Huck Finn childhood with his pal. “We spent a lot of time at the Little Arkansas River, fishing and swimming,” he says. “We would dig foxholes and build forts. Neither of us ever got into any sort of trouble. Our parents kept a close eye on us. Dennis’s father was a very nice person. He was fair-minded, but you just knew he didn’t put up with any nonsense.” The pair joined the Boy Scouts, regularly taking long hikes and canoe trips.

After graduation from Wichita’s Heights High School in 1963, Davis saw less of Rader, but the friends remained loyal. “He would lend me his car so I could pursue my girlfriend,” says Davis, who is a staff member at the University of Washington in Seattle. When that girlfriend became Davis’s wife in 1966, Rader was best man. The same year, Rader joined the Air Force. After an honorable discharge in 1970, he married Paula Dietz and settled down in Park City to raise a family in a small ’50s ranch house they purchased on Independence Street, a crescent-shaped lane with no sidewalks.

Until July 1973, Rader worked as an assembler at the local Coleman camping supply factory. In November 1974 he landed a position as an installer for ADT, the nationwide home security company. The job was the first in a series of positions that gave Rader access to Wichita homes in an official capacity.

Three months after the Otero murders, the killer struck again — stabbing to death 21-year-old Kathryn Bright, a worker at Coleman, and shooting her brother Kevin, who escaped with serious head injuries. It was just a few months after the Bright murder that the killer first identified himself as BTK in a grammatically challenged, typewritten letter to police. “I’m sorry this happen to society,” he wrote. “They are the ones who suffer the most. It’s hard for me to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.’ When this monster enter my brain, I will never know.”

To prove his authenticity, the killer related details of the Otero murders that had not been released to the public: “All victims had their hand s tie nehind [sic] their backs. Gags of pillow case material. Slip knotts [sic] on Joe and Joseph … Purse contents south of the table. Spilled drink in that area also, kids making lunches.”

More grim killings, and letters, were to come. On Saint Patrick’s Day of 1977, BTK entered the tidy cottage of a 24-year-old church choir singer named Shirley Vian, locked her three children in the bathroom, and then tied Vian to a bed and strangled her as the children wailed. “They were very lucky,” BTK wrote in a letter. “A phone call save them. I was going to tape the boys and put plastics bag over there [sic] head like I did Joseph [Otero] and Shirley. And then hang the girl. God-oh God what a beautiful sexual relief that would [have] been.”

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

Sending Message
how we use your e-mail