In Katherine Ramsland’s book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, Rader reveals that an early influence on his sexual development and fantasy life, which would eventually lead to his “bind, torture, and kill” crimes, were the photographs of a 1950s photographer and murderer named Harvey Glatman.
Rader talks about the day he discovered a detective magazine in his father’s car when he was about 13. It was the February 1959 issue of Front Page Detective, and the article was called “The Sex-Crazed Photographer and His Graveyard of Models.” He read the article while masturbating. Rader reminisced:
“This was exactly the pictures and theme that I dreamed about…. The women in the photos knew they were going to die. Glatman liked to bind their bare legs over the knees and their hands behind them. He even placed a gag twisted into a rope over their mouths. One woman, wearing just a slinky, white slip, lay on a blanket, bound at the ankles, knees, and hands, with a rope going across her midriff.”
Rader put his father’s magazine back in the car, but the photographs resonated with him and inspired him. “The image of the woman staring, terrified, knowing death was coming, was frozen for me. It was part of my [sexual fantasies] the rest of my life.” He even would attempt to photograph his bound victims, like Glatman did, although he didn’t usually get the opportunity.
Just like BTK, Harvey Glatman’s activities began in private, at a young age, using ropes in his own fetish fantasies, and he also practiced autoerotic asphyxiation. He escalated to breaking into homes, just as Rader did, sometimes to molest women and sometimes to take things.
In July 1945, he was busted for kidnapping a woman overnight, tying her up, and watching her attempt to struggle out of her bonds, after which he sent her home in a cab. She of course told police, and he was arrested. He learned then never to let them go. He was also charged with assaulting two other women, which the police report called “girl trouble,” and served eight months in jail.
Almost immediately upon his release, Glatman started trolling for models to photograph. He would say he was looking for women to model for detective magazines, which usually meant bondage poses. This enabled him to have women allow him to tie them up without a struggle, as they were under the impression it was just a modeling gig. He would do the photoshoot with them, so he was also able to use his snaps as souvenirs later. He would photograph them before and after he’d raped them, and before and after they knew they were going to die.
It was important to Glatman to photograph the women looking pretty and innocent first, before they were aware of their impending doom. He would then shoot them after they knew the danger they were in, and were terrified for their lives. His “damsel in distress” pictures were the real deal.
He found two of his victims using the modeling ruse: Judy Ann Dull and Ruth Mercado. His third known victim, Shirley Bridgeford, he met through a Lonely Hearts ad.
Glatman was caught in on October 7, 1958, in the process of attempting to abduct Lorraine Vigil at the side of a road. She managed to wrestle his gun away from, and held him at gunpoint until a state trooper happened to drive by. He owned up to the three murders and told the cops where to find his photograph collection.
It was full of his pictures of both clothed and naked women, tied up and gagged. He told police that he had strangled three of the models, and where he’d left their bodies. Murderpedia has several of the photos Glatman took of Dull, Mercado, and Bridgeford — at least one of which is NSFW.
Ramsland points out the irony that Glatman’s photographs did finally end up in a detective magazine — the one Rader devoured about his criminal case.
On September 18, 1959, at age 31, Glatman was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin. Just before his execution, Glatman stated, “It’s better this way. I knew this is the way it would be.”
In 2008, authorities in Colorado came to the conclusion that an old cold case, a Jane Doe from 1954, could be attributed to Glatman. Identified through DNA as Dorothy Gay Howard, she is suspected to have fallen victim to Glatman, run over by his car while attempting to flee him.
A made for TV Jack Webb movie referred to as Dragnet 1966 is a fictionalized account based on Harvey Glatman’s crimes. An LAPD captain who worked the real case was a technical advisor for the film. You can watch it here.
Main photo: Harvey Glatman’s mug shot [Colorado State Penitentiary]