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

In 1988, Dennis Rader left ADT. The following year he became the Wichita field operations supervisor for the 1990 Census. Among his jobs was verifying new residential addresses around town. In 1991 he became the uniformed code officer for Park City. He also wore the uniform of a Scout leader, working with a local pack of which his son, Brian, was a member.

In Park City, Rader gained a reputation as a stickler for the rules. “He came out and measured my grass and said it was too long,” remembers Cheryl Hooten, owner of Auntie C’s, a local restaurant. “He fined me for putting up [restaurant] signs around town. I had no inkling they weren’t allowed.”

Cindy Plant says Rader’s personal appearance reflected his attention to detail: “You never saw him in blue jeans; he wore Dockers and nice shirts. His desk was immaculate, everything hung up on a pinboard.” Plant traveled all over the state with Rader, organizing training seminars. They stayed in hotels and spent hours in the car and over meals, but Rader never talked much about his personal life. “One time he had just taken his kids on a vacation and seemed to be thrilled about it,” she says. “I could tell he really cared about his family.” Although Plant never saw him lose control, there were stories. She once heard that Rader “blew up at the Wichita animal shelter manager for changing their billing practice.”

George Martin, a fellow Cub Scout leader, says that Rader was a stickler with his young Scouts. He recalls that Rader took his outdoor skills seriously. “He taught the boys knots,” Martin says. “He was very strict that they learn; he wouldn’t let them slack off.”

In January 2004 The Wichita Eagle ran a story marking the 30th anniversary of the unsolved Otero murders. Two months later, the newspaper received a letter with a return address of Bill Thomas Killman (initials BTK). In the envelope was a photocopy of a driver’s license belonging to Vicki Wegerle, a 28-year-old Wichita mother who’d been strangled in 1986, and three photos of the death scene apparently taken by the killer. The unsolved Wegerle murder had not been linked to BTK, but based on characteristics of the letter, police were certain this was no copycat. After 25 years of silence, BTK was back.

While a new generation of Wichitans checked their phones and nervously eyed strangers, the killer fired off at least eight separate communications over the next 11 months — daring police with word puzzles, dolls, and chapters of his proposed autobiography. With his taunting letters and sick poems, “he seemed to take a special enjoyment out of proving the cops couldn’t catch him,” says Dr. Allen, the Wichita psychologist. “He was obviously a very narcissistic guy who sought a lot of attention.”

Assuming BTK was at least in his 20s when he killed the Oteros, he would have to be more than 50 by now. But if he had changed over the years, so had the tools to catch him. On February 16, 2005, a local TV station received a padded envelope from BTK containing a necklace and a copy of the cover of a novel about a killer who bound and gagged his victims. The package also contained a computer disc. Investigators were able to recover deleted files on the disc that suggested it had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church near Park City. The recently elected president of the church council at Christ Lutheran, police learned, was Dennis Rader, 59-year-old married father of two grown children — a balding, bespectacled Cub Scout leader and former Wichita State University student.