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

At some point, police had secretly obtained a sample of 26-year-old Kerri Rader’s DNA, probably through medical lab records. It was reported that the sample closely matched DNA from one or more of the original crime scenes.

Rader was arrested on February 25, 2005, as he drove near his home. He is said to have confessed to a total of 10 murders, including the 1985 killing of Marine Hedge, a 53-year-old widow who lived on Rader’s block. The last known murder was in 1991, when BTK abducted 62-year-old grandmother Delores Davis from her home, just up the road from Christ Lutheran Church.

Carmen Montoya was in her Albuquerque office when a Wichita detective called with the news. Montoya is a 45-year-old mother who works for a nonprofit group that mentors school kids. Her maiden name is Otero. On a winter day in Wichita in 1974, 13-year-old Carmen skipped home from school to discover her strangled parents in their bedroom. She was raised by family friends.

When the detective called, “I was speechless,” Montoya says in a soft, clear voice. “I felt relieved, angry and sad. I thought [the killer] would be a really big, mean-looking man. It blows me away that this was a man who was so active in his church.”

She wasn’t alone. Cindy Plant has a hard time forming complete sentences when she talks about Rader now. Standing outside the animal shelter in Valley Center, on a late winter afternoon, she ignores a chorus of yelping dogs and scans the sky, as if the right words might flash like falling stars. “We stayed in hotels, had dinner together. And to find out that the person I’ve lived in fear of all these years was … My God, I haven’t just known a killer. I think I could deal with that. But I’ve known someone who was a serial killer. You wonder what makes these types of people tick.”

Like many who knew Rader, childhood friend John Davis speculates that he had more than one personality, each unaware of the others. But Dr. James Alan Fox, co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, says that assumption, while comforting to those who knew the “good” Dennis, is probably off the mark. “Lots of people have multiple sides of the same personality,” he says. “It’s not schizophrenic, but they are able to compartmentalize. Serial killers can be good husbands and fathers and neighbors, but strangers mean nothing to them.”

Davis wants to visit Rader in the Sedgwick County jail, where he is being held on $10 million bond. “If I sat down with him I would say, ‘I’m here to see the Dennis that I know and care about, but there’s another part of you that I don’t understand.’ ” He fumbles and fights back tears. “And I would just ask him, ‘What the hell were you thinking?’ ”

Fox says a killer like BTK is typically obsessed with power and control. “It’s probably not a coincidence that the killings stopped when Rader got the position as compliance officer,” he explains, adding that the motivation for serial killers is fairly straightforward. “Lots of people take pleasure in other people’s pain. At lower levels we see it in people who are sarcastic.” Serial killers take that to the extreme, of course, and understanding why is not so easy. Fox speculates that such killers have particularly vivid sexual fantasies that they feel compelled to pursue. Once they kill, says Fox, “the fantasies become crystallized and more demanding.”

It’s all academic to those who know Rader. “I try not to understand him,” says Christ Lutheran Pastor Michael Clark, “because then I might judge him.”

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