WICHITA, KAN. — WICHITA, Kan. - In a series of chilling revelations, investigators described confessed serial killer Dennis Rader yesterday as a bondage-obsessed sadist who started out strangling cats and dogs, and who later exercised his hands with a squeeze ball after realizing how much harder it is to strangle people.
"It's rough. They don't go down like in the movies," Rader, 60, told police after his arrest in February for the 10 BTK - short for Bind, Torture and Kill - murders.
Rader, who had haunted Wichita since 1974, sat calmly as police who interrogated him related his comments and outlined his crimes in painstaking detail at the start of a three-day sentencing hearing. His only sign of discomfort came when photographs of victims - bound, gagged and sometimes posed by Rader to satisfy his sexual fantasies - were displayed on a screen.
Then, the Cub Scout and church leader, who lived with his wife and two children in a Wichita suburb, lowered his eyes, his professorial appearance belying the brutality of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty in June.
On the other side of the courtroom sat victims' relatives, who are to make statements today. They included Charlie Otero, who cried out and lowered his head when a picture of his 11-year-old sister, Josephine, dead with a noose around her neck, was shown.
"It broke my heart," Otero said later.
His sister, parents and 9-year-old brother were Rader's first victims, in January 1974. Like all Rader's victims, they had been stalked for weeks and were given nicknames by Rader.
The Oteros were Project Little-Mex, because of their ethnicity. A victim who played piano was Project Piano. One who lived near an animal kennel was Project Dogside.
Investigators said Rader had hundreds of potential victims whom he stalked simultaneously. He compiled volumes of notes on them, which he kept in a green box at work that he called his "mother lode." The box also contained Polaroid pictures of many of his victims, along with bits of their underwear, jewelry, driver's licenses and sketches of torture chambers he fantasized. It also contained pictures Rader took of himself in the basement of his parents' Wichita home, dressed in women's clothing and wrapped in ropes.
Perhaps no murder was as bizarre as that of Marine Hedge, 53, known as "Project Cookie." Hedge lived six doors down from Rader when she was killed in April 1985.
To get to her, Rader feigned illness to get away from a Cub Scout camping trip. He then changed from his Scout uniform into a dark "hit outfit," broke into Hedge's home and pounced on her in bed.
After strangling Hedge, Rader said, he drove her to his church, which had given him a set of keys because of his leadership role there. After plastering black tape on the windows to avoid detection, he took a series of pictures of Hedge in different bondage poses. As dawn approached, Rader said, he changed back into his Scout uniform and headed back to the Scout camp, pretending he had been in his tent all night.
On the way, he said, "I found a nice place and dumped her."
Police made it clear that Rader would have killed far more people if he thought he could have gotten away with it. When the phone rang in the house of Shirley Vian after he had strangled her in 1977, for instance, he fled, leaving her little girl and two boys alive.
"Lucky for the kids," he told Detective Dana Gouge. "I probably would have hit the little girl."
In that same interview, Rader admitted that he could be "pretty mean."
"But on the other hand," he said, "I'm a nice guy."
Because no death penalty existed in Kansas during Rader's murders, the most he can get is life in prison. Prosecutors hope that if they showcase his brutality, he will get the maximum term of 10 consecutive life terms with no chance of parole.
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