Dennis L. Rader, the killer who tormented Wichita with his crimes and his catch-me-if-you-can taunts, pleaded guilty yesterday to 10 murders, describing in dispassionate detail the attacks that scared a community and stymied police for 31 years.
In a tone as tidy as the cut of his goatee and the knot in his tie, Rader told of trolling for targets and studying their habits. He occasionally comforted his distraught victims, but he never spared their lives.
Rader -- who named himself BTK, for "bind, torture, kill" -- described tying up Shirley Vian's three children as he prepared to kill her in March 1977. They began to cry, "so I said, 'Oh, this is not going to work.' " He put them in a bathroom, gave them toys and blankets, and barricaded the door.
Vian became sick to her stomach.
"I got her a glass of water and comforted her a little bit and then went ahead and tied her up and then put a bag over her head and strangled her," Rader, 60, told Sedgwick County, Kan., District Judge Gregory Waller.
When the judge asked why he did what he did, Rader, who was a code enforcement officer in suburban Park City and council president at Christ Lutheran Church, said he was fulfilling sexual fantasies. He did not say he was sorry.
Rader is likely to face life behind bars when he is sentenced Aug. 17. Kansas did not have a death penalty at the time of the crimes. With police possessing a DNA link and countless pieces of evidence supplied by Rader himself, he said a trial would have been "a long process to guilty."
Defense attorney Steve Osburn put it another way: "From a legal standpoint, we had nothing to work with."
The guilty pleas in Wichita provided the most intimate view yet of a very public series of crimes. BTK's habit of snipping phone cords before entering victims' homes conditioned countless women to pick up their telephones the moment they arrived home. His letters to the media turned the decades-long investigation into a parlor game.
Over time, Rader grew so audacious that he once called police to report the murder of one of his victims. He strangled Marine Hedge, who lived only six doors away from the home he shared with his wife and two children. He hauled Hedge's nude body to the Christ Lutheran parking lot and took Polaroids of her in bondage.
Rader -- who demanded in an anonymous 1978 letter, "How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?" -- spoke clinically about his attacks, calling them "projects."
"If you've read about serial killers," he instructed the judge, "they go through different phases. One of the phases is the trolling stage. You're basically looking for a victim. It could be for months or years."
"If one didn't work out," Rader said, "I just moved to another one."
Yet when Rader killed for the first time, in January 1974, he felt unsure. He cut the telephone lines at the house and nearly fled, but "the door opened, and I was in." His victims, whom he held at gunpoint, were Joseph Otero, a former boxer; Otero's wife, Julie; and their two youngest children.
"I had never strangled anyone before, so I really didn't know how much pressure you had to put on a person or how long it would take," Rader told Waller. He thought he had asphyxiated Julie Otero.
"After that, Mrs. Otero woke back up. She was pretty upset, 'What's going on?' After that, I strangled her with a death strangle" and then did the same to Joseph Otero and Josephine, 11, Rader said. "I took her to the basement and eventually hung her."
Waller asked, "Did you do anything else?"
"I had some sexual fantasies," Rader replied, "but that was after she was hung."
Among the case's most mystifying aspects is how Rader nearly got away with it. Most people had figured him for dead since the last of seven killings attributed to him in the 1970s. Police pretty much stopped looking.
But BTK surfaced in early 2004 with evidence of another killing, sending photographs and other evidence to media outlets. The missives and packages continued until, at last, police identified and arrested him in February. They connected him with two more killings, including Hedge's.
Rader thought he had been caught in April 1974 when he heard someone at the door during an attack that he described yesterday as one in which he had lost control. He was waiting in the house when Kathryn Bright, 21, and her brother arrived. He had not expected the brother.
Kevin Bright escaped his bonds, and the two men fought. Rader shot him and turned to Kathryn, who was tied to a bed in another room. She, too, put up a fight. Hearing a sound, he found that Kevin was not dead. He shot him again with a .22-caliber pistol.
"I went back to finish the job on Kathryn," Rader said. "I was basically losing control. The strangulation wasn't working on her. I used a knife on her." He heard the front door and assumed it was the police. It was Kevin, escaping. Brain-damaged by the shooting, he was never able to identify his attacker.
Rader tried to steal one of the Brights' cars but had taken the wrong key. He thought to himself, "I'm in trouble." His response: "I took off and ran."
Staff writer Kari Lydersen contributed to this report.