How often do you get to meet someone who’s “worked” with a serial killer for five years (no, not that kind of work) collecting enough details to actually author a biography about him and provide an insight into the workings of his mind? Hardly ever!
And this is not just any serial killer, mind you, we’re talking about one of the most infamous killers of the 1970s, the self-proclaimed Bind-Torture-Kill (BTK) killer, Dennis Rader, from Wichita, Kansas. Rader was responsible for the serial murders of 10 people over the course of several years, and evaded arrest for nearly three decades, taunting law enforcement agencies and newspapers all the while, before one small slip-up finally led the cops to him.
So when renowned author, forensic psychology professor, and proud John Jay alumnus Katherine Ramsland showed up on campus on Monday, September 26, to give a talk on her latest book, “Confessions of a serial killer: The untold story of BTK killer Dennis Rader”, the lecture hall was abuzz with excitement.
Diving right into the details of the book, Professor Ramsland started with the chronological events of how she unexpectedly came about to writing it. With five years’ worth of information already collated and handed to her by her predecessor, she then launched her own data-collection process.
She spoke about how she had to gain Dennis’ trust initially and how he had her phone number to call her, but that she established firm boundaries and “rules” about timing; and since he was housed in a maximum security prison, the two never met in person.
The two exchanged thousands of phone calls, letters, drawings, and photographs over the course of five years, in which Rader revealed to Professor Ramsland some of the most bone-chilling details of his murders.
Rader apparently had a paraphilia for being bound. As an adolescent, he would often spend time alone in the forests, binding and gagging himself to achieve orgasms. Long before the selfie stick and camera phone era, Rader found a way to rig a camera to take pictures of himself performing these acts; he often buried himself in graves or tied a noose around his neck to induce hypoxia and orgasm as a result.
Ever since he was little, Rader always said he “dreamed” of being a serial killer – his first victims were four members of the Otero family including a couple and two children in January 1974. After that, Rader began stalking and maintaining a log of potential victims in and around his town.
He supposedly picked them based on their similarities to his mother (whom he bore a deep resentment for), and since he suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), he often chose women simply based on whether they lived in a house on a street corner, or if the house number contained a 3 in it.
Rader would meticulously design torture cells down to the last detail, and draw sketches outlining what he wanted to do with each of his victims. While his IQ was not very high, it was his narcissism and love for publicity that ultimately netted him. Realizing the cops were nowhere close to finding him, he began taunting newspapers across the country by mailing them cryptic messages and packages of Kellogg’s K cereal boxes (with K for ‘Killer’) containing nude, mutilated dolls inside that were meant to be his next victims.
His luck ran out when he mailed the cops a computer disk but they traced it back to him and arrested him. Finally, after a 30-year reign of terror, the BTK Killer had been nabbed.