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A Criminal Profile on Dennis Rader: The BTK Killer 1
Dennis Rader: The BTK Killer
Southern New Hampshire University
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock released “Psycho”. This horror film was one of the most visible forms of documentation about the potentially deviant behaviors that lurk deep within each of us. Is it possible that we could all grow into a psychopath under the right circumstances? The psychopathic personality originated in the early nineteenth century with J.C. Prichard, who determined that our “moral insanity” refers to a number of mental deficiencies that lead one to exhibit violent or undesired behaviors (Genter, 2010). In general, the psychopath has been characterized by sexually chaotic behaviors, excessive masturbation, and exhibiting morally deficient behaviors anywhere from petty theft to excessive violence. This is generally the image we have inside our heads of what a psychopath “should” look like. Unfortunately, not all psychopath serial killers are the same, and Dennis Rader stood out from the rest for many reasons.
Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, is a serial killer unlike any we had seen before. Unlike most serial killers, Dennis Rader grew up in a positive household and did not suffer any significant trauma. Unlike most serial killers, Dennis Rader did not grow into a serial killer from smaller crimes. He had his first kill at the age of 29. And unlike most serial killers, he was able to lie dormant for decades. He killed 10 people by binding them, torturing them, and then killing them, over the course of 17 years.
Dennis Rader grew up in Wichita, Kansas. He was the oldest of 4 boys to a U.S. Marine father. He had a very normal childhood. He grew up in a happy “two parent” household with his 3 brothers. His family was very active in their church and Rader was an active Boy Scout and active in church groups.
As a child Rader was withdrawn, and eventually diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder. Those who are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder are generally detached, have a grandiose opinion of them, cruel, manipulative, and aggressive. However, it is still possible that someone with ASP can be highly social as a way to keep their psychopathic tendencies separate from their day to day lives. Once Rader was captured, he confessed to hanging and killing small rodents and animals as a child, but he was able to keep that a secret his entire life. Rader also confessed that he had his first unnatural violent urges in school. Even though it’s highly unusual for such a young child, Rader had developed an acquired taste for autoeroticism. Autoeroticism is engaging is bondage and suffocation in order to achieve sexual arousal. With all this in mind, it’s safe to say that Rader had a history of mental illness as a child even though I could find no documentation of an actual diagnosis as a child.
Rader lay dormant until his late 20’s. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force, married, and even had children. However, in 1974, Dennis Rader lost his job at Cessna. This was a very difficult time for him, and it was at this time that Rader began “trolling” (as he called it) for victims. After losing his job, he began to feel like he was losing control and he needed to find a way to fix that. Instead of focusing his energy on finding new employment, he sought power and control by turning his fantasies into his reality. At this point, his fantasies had become obsessions “playing like a picture book in [Rader’s] head” until he could no longer fight his inner demons (H., 2012). Rader losing his job was simply the catalyst to release his inner fantasies.
According to Dr. Joel Morris, a psychologist who helped to found the International Committee of Neuroscientists to Study Episodic Aggression, and he has distinguished seven
phases of serial killer activity (Cook., 2011). Stage one is the aura stage where the dreams and fantasies begin to occur and the killer begins to fantasize about committing the actual crimes rather than just dreaming about them. For Rader, when he lost his job was when he began to daydream about committing the crimes themselves. The second stage is the “trolling” stage where the killer hunts to find their potential victims, and even making initial contact with the potential victims. For Rader, this would have been ideal when he was working for ADT security systems. He was able to hunt for his potential victims through ADT customers, and make his initial contact as a trusted professional. Third is known as the wooing stage. This is where the killer lures his prey in. Rader used the rouse of being a wanted criminal on the run just looking for food and supplies as a way to gain entrance without any conflict. The fourth stage is the actual capture of the victims. This is when Rader’s sly attempts to take control over the victims show to be successful. The fifth stage is the actual act of murder. When Rader placed bags over his victims’ heads and watched as life left their body. The sixth stage is called totem. This is when the killer collects souvenirs or trophies of the murder to remind them of their crime. Rader took random tokens from each crime scene. He took licenses, personal possessions, the underwear of his female victims, and photographs. The last stage is the depression post-homicidal deflation stage where they have completed the task at hand and are in need of a “cooling off” period. Rader’s kills fell in line with Dr. Joel Morris’s theory.
Dennis Rader, the soon to be self proclaimed BTK Killer (for Bind, Torture, Kill), gave in to those unruly urges on January 15, 1974 and his first victims were the Otero family. Rader had been stalking the family from a distance until he felt that the perfect time had come. He broke into their home around 7am when the family was getting ready for the day. At home were
the father Joe (38 years old), the mother Julie (34 years old), 9 year old Joey, and finally 11 year old Josie. Prior to breaking in, Rader cut the phone lines to ensure that they would not be able to call for help. He then broke in under the rouse that he was a wanted criminal on the run looking for food, money, and a vehicle. Using a gun to force the family under his control, he convinced the Otero’s to let him tie them up under the assumptions that as soon as he got everything he needed, he would leave them alone. Unfortunately, the family didn’t stand a chance once they allowed him to bind them. Starting with Joe, Rader placed a bag over his head and used a cord to subdue and to kill the father. He then moved to Julie where he attempted to strangle her with his bare hands, but it took him several attempts before he was successful. 9 year old Joey was the 3rd victim. He too was found with a bag over his head, and there was a chair in the room where Rader sat and watched the child suffocate to death. His last victim seemed to be the object of his affection. 11 year old Josie was found hanging from a noose tied around a sewer pipe in the basement of her own home. She was partially naked and there was evidence of semen found on the pipe behind the young girl. This was the beginning of a 17 year slaughter.
For Rader, his fantasies were his means of arousal. He fantasized about these scenarios. While Even before 1974, Rader has confessed to “trolling” women to feed his fantasies. Rader had a need for power and control. And he had an appetite for pain and suffering. It was the pain, suffocation, and suffering that ended in death that aroused Rader. Rader needed to feel in control and in power. Couple those with his intense fascination of autoeroticism and that’s the conception of Rader’s crimes.
While Rader was not initially diagnosed with any mental illnesses, it does appear that Dennis Rader presents as a psychopath. Traditional psychopaths are anti-social, engage in reckless behaviors, are unable to sustain a relationship, and don’t appear to learn from past mistakes. While Rader doesn’t show these characteristics outwardly in his everyday life, I believe it was always dormant hiding behind a perfected rouse to mask his inner demons that he would someday act upon. He was active in his church and his community. He had a reputable social status. He did fit in with the definition of a psychopath in the fact that he had no remorse for life and he lacked empathy for his victims. The characteristics of psychopathy that he did fit with were his ability to be charming, cunning, manipulative, sensation seeking, impulsive, arrogant, and deceitful.
Genetically, psychopaths have also shown to have a low-expression variant of MAOA in our DNA’s alleles. MAOA is the gene that encodes an enzyme that actually degrades amine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenalin, and serotonin. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that affects emotions, movements, and sensations of pleasure and pain. Noradrenalin affects energy and blood flow. Serotonin affects mood, social behaviors, and sexual desire functions. The degradation of these neurotransmitters is shown to cause aggressive behaviors (Hunter,. 2010).