Was The Killer Next Door?


    NEIGHBORS Dennis and Paula Rader's house on Independence Street

    (2 of 3)

    BTK forced Bright to tie Kathryn to a chair in a back bedroom, then took him to the front and tied him up too. After forcing him to the floor, BTK tried to strangle Bright. "I just fought and fought," Bright, now 50, says. "He wasn't expecting me to get loose." BTK shot Bright three times in the head. Bright played dead, then stumbled the 15 feet to the front door and fled.

    The description Bright later gave police—average-size guy, bushy mustache, "psychotic" eyes—led to nothing at first. And BTK was cocky enough to think he could get away with it. Run-of-the-mill criminals don't become pen pals with the press and the police. But BTK became a murderer-correspondent in the mold of Jack the Ripper and California's Zodiac Killer, who was still at large when BTK started his spree. In 1978, apparently frustrated by a lack of media attention, BTK wrote to a local TV station, asking, "How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or get some national attention?"

    In January 1991, BTK allegedly strangled Dolores Davis—at 62, his oldest victim—and dumped her under a bridge. Then he apparently went into hibernation until January 2004, after the Wichita Eagle ran a 30th-anniversary story about the unsolved Otero murder mystery. Two months later, the Eagle received a letter that contained, among other things, the driver's license of Vicki Wegerle, a young mom killed in 1986. The return address read Bill Thomas Killman. His ominous initials: BTK. Since then, BTK has communicated in some form about once a month, and it was his last missive, sent to a Wichita TV station in February, that might have produced his his downfall—and the cops' break. Inside the envelope was a floppy disc. The disc had an electronic imprint linking it to a computer at Christ Lutheran Church that Dennis Rader, the church-council president, used in late January, reportedly to print a meeting agenda. The disc, along with a DNA sample reportedly taken from Rader's daughter's medical records and forensic evidence collected in the 1970s, helped convince the cops that Rader was their man.

    When Rader was arrested two weeks ago, his church family was stunned.

    "If you listed 500 people who were going to be arrested for this, he wouldn't be on the list," says Bob Smyser, who sometimes ushered with Rader at Christ Lutheran. Rader was known as an attentive father who used to take his kids, now both adults, camping and fishing. An Air Force veteran, he had been a scout leader for his son Brian's troop, with a particular skill for tying knots.

    Smyser's three young sons knew Rader, who often collected the church offering, as "the man with the money plate." He helped kids gather their crayons before worship started and chatted with them about school. Convivial, if not very gregarious, he liked to hear other members' fishing stories. In almost every way, Rader seemed to live by the book. He was persnickety, but this had its upside. As an installation manager at the ADT alarm company in the 1980s, Rader drew incredibly intricate, accurate layouts of security systems and homes—not unlike the crime-scene diagrams sketched by BTK and sent to the media. "His attention to detail was flawless," says ADT co-worker Mike Tavares. "Anyone who didn't know a thing about it could have installed the entire thing." But his strict adherence to the thick binder of company rules known as the "blue pages"—and his expectation that everyone would do the same—rankled some colleagues.

    Rader left ADT in 1989 after clashing with a manager who had a more flexible philosophy.

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3