Between 1974 and 1991, the “intensely ordinary” Dennis Lynn Rader murdered ten victims throughout Sedgwick County, Kansas in a uniquely horrific crime spree that proved to be anything but ordinary.
Even “BTK,” the nickname Rader assigned to himself, is especially unnerving. It stands for “Bind Torture Kill” — a direct reference to his preferred techniques when it came to torture and murder.
BTK’s reign of terror began with the murder of four members of the Otero family, including two children aged 9 and 11, on January 15, 1974. From there, he killed victims one at a time, spacing the attacks out by years. Rader murdered once more in ’74, twice in 1977, one time in each in 1985 and ’86, and a final time in 1991.
Throughout the first five years of his run, Rader sent taunting letters and packages to the police and the press loaded with puzzles and cryptography, challenging them to catch him. Then he stopped and the case went cold — until Rader heated it up again.
In 2004, BTK caught wind of a book being written about the case and sent a sudden series of messages to the police, to The Witchita Eagle, and to local TV station KAKE. Among them were packages that included evidence from crime scenes.
Rader eventually botched the delivery of one such package by depositing it in the back of a parked pickup truck. The driver simply tossed it in the trash. When Rader later asked, by postcard, what police had thought of the box in the truck, investigators reviewed surveillance video of the parking lot — which led them, at last, to clues about their perpetrator.
All this in shocking contrast with the image Rader presented to the public. He was a married Cub Scout leader, a father, and an active member of Christ Lutheran Church, even having served as president of the church council.
Dennis Rader is presently serving ten consecutive life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. He has been the subject of a multitude of true-crime books, TV documentaries, and even a handful of movies. None of the details are pretty.
THE HUNT FOR THE BTK KILLER (2005)
The Hunt for the BTK Killer is a straightforward and mostly unremarkable CBS drama told from the point of view of Robert Forster as Detective Jason Magida. Told in a series of flashbacks while Magida testifies in court, Hunt details the cat-and-mouse chase through they years between the police and Dennis Rader. The killer himself is played to icy perfection by cult-film actor Gregg Henry (Just Before Dawn, Body Double).
B.T.K. KILLER (2005)
B.T.K. Killer is a direct-to-DVD cheapie that launched shlock filmmaker Uli Lommel’s rampage of similarly themed follow-ups that include Green River Killer (2005), Black Dahlia (2005), Curse of the Zodiac (2007), Son of Sam (2008), D.C. Sniper (2010), and Manson Family Cult (2012). Each of Lommel’s movies is poorly made dreck that looks like it was shot on a camcorder, but B.T.K.’s sloppy approximation of its subject’s deranged mind sinks especially low by repeatedly showing actual cows being slaughtered, perhaps in an effort to … oh, who cares?!
B.T.K. may be just another low-rent serial killer cash-in flick, but it does boast a novel gimmick: Dennis Rader is portrayed by Kane Hodder, the most popular actor to ever don the hockey mask of mad slasher Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th horror franchise. From there, B.T.K. is a watchably run-of-the-mill low-budget drama-thriller mashup sporadically spiked with blistering violence. Hodder acquits himself admirably as an actor with actual dialogue this time.
I SURVIVED BTK (2010)
Also known as Feast of the Assumption: BTK and the Otero Family Murders, I Survived BTK is an intriguing documentary-horror hybrid. The film recounts the tragic saga of Charlie Otero who, at 15, discovered the bodies of his parents and two younger siblings after they had fallen prey to BTK’s first strike. The movie also interviews other family members of BTK victims, as well as police and reporters who worked the case, assembling a pastiche of pain and, from that, a remarkable will to still move forward. Be warned: Uncensored crime-scene photos abound.
Watch Investigation Discovery’s original scripted mini-series, SERIAL THRILLER with ID GO. Each installment of the SERIAL THRILLER trilogy propels viewers into a chilling true crime story of a real-life serial killer.
Main image: I Survived BTK promotional image