O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
~ William Blake, (1757-1827), “The Sick Rose”
The Invisible Worm.
Certain protestant denominations refer to the formation of a new church in a given neighborhood as church “planting”. Though I am one of the more sinful of God’s children, a congenital skeptic and doubter, I’ve always liked the suggestion that word brings to mind – an image of each new church as a bloom, a blossoming flower in a garden.
If Christ Lutheran Church of Wichita, Kansas was a flower, then like William Blake’s rose, it was sick. Among the faithful there lurked a worm…for the last 30 years. He was a leader there – a past president of the congregation, responsible on many Sundays for the proper functioning of the church’s sound system.
Wichitans, and now the rest of us, once knew that worm only by it’s self-applied name, the malevolent acronym, BTK – short for Bind, Torture, Kill.
Now Wichita and the world knows his real name. They know his face, the clenched expression you see in the mugshot at the top of this entry. Dennis Lynn Rader.
(Some of the following info was found in an article published today, February 27th, 2005 in The Wichita Eagle, titled “Liked by many, loathed by some“.)
Dennis Lynn Rader was born March 9, 1945, in Wichita, Kansas. After graduation from Wichita Heights High School in 1963 he did a 4-year stint in the Air Force, 1965-1969. Two years later he settled in Park City Kansas, married to the former Paula Dietz.
Dennis Rader and his wife proceeded, like nearly everyone else, to lead a very normal life. The surface details of the life of the man who is now known to the world at large to be the BTK Strangler are notably unremarkable. He worked. First at an IGA Grocery Store, then Coleman Manufacturing. Coleman was one of the main links between a number of BTK victims – likely the place where he quietly targeted one or more of the women he eventually killed.
His stint at Coleman was over in 1973. In January of 1974, the BTK committed his first known murders, four members of the Joseph Otero family. He killed the Oteros in the middle of the day, spending a number of hours at the house, but leaving little usable evidence behind (at the time) as to who he was.
Dennis Rader and his wife had two children. Rader worked for ADT Security, a plum job for an active serial killer, where at least one news source today reported he was thoroughly disliked:
“…’I don’t believe the gentleman was well liked at all,’ said Mike Tavares, a former co-worker at ADT, where Rader worked from 1974 to 1989, when most of BTK’s victims were killed…”
– from the Eagle article linked above.
He left ADT in 1989 and worked for the government of Wichita’s satellite city, Park City, in one capacity or another, until yesterday.
An online journey already can take one through bits and pieces of Rader’s life on the web – much of it at this point incidental – his daughter Kerri Rawson, whose DNA provided the initial confirmation that Rader was the killer, had a blog and an online photo album at one point, and from there some message board posters at one of the many forums devoted to the subject of BTK were able to find a few photos of Rader at Kerri’s wedding. There were initially many photos on Christ Lutheran’s site, but they were quickly removed. They showed a smiling, benign-looking man, a man much like any number of middle-aged men attending churches where I’ve sung through the years, the polite nodders, the Sunday morning hand-shakers. On Park City’s Government pages you could find photos of Rader smiling blandly, wearing a faux-military style uniform in his exalted position as Dog Catcher and Codes Enforcer for the city.
He was a man most of us would not notice. I observed that in every photo of Rader I was able to find, he never quite looked the same. As if there was some subtle, invisible psychic shifting that threw the camera lense off, distorted the film or the digital card holding the image.
He was like Mike Brady or Ozzie Nelson, if you just added in multiple murder by strangulation, stabbing, and gunshot, compulsive masturbation over the corpses of his kills and gleeful taunting of the Press and Public at large.
And he sat in his church’s sanctuary and prayed. He attended City council meetings – one online document, minutes from a Park City Council meeting, details his appointment to a position, another, two years later, details his resignation.
And he sat through services at Christ Lutheran, singing the hymns.
A Kind of Mid-Life Crisis?
In this entry in my ‘true crime’ blog, www.planethuff.com/darkside about Rader/BTK, where I detail the beginning of the news of his capture flooding the news, I found a link to a video at ksn.com of an interview Rader gave back in 1999 in his capacity as “animal control officer” – read dog catcher – for Park City. It’s the kind of thing I would not have noticed at all, had I been a local there in Wichita, watching the news that night.
That voice that prayed at Christ Lutheran, that joined in singing hymns, that probably spoke the words and issued the verbal prayers that opened and closed congregation meetings in his capacity as President, that voice that it turns out was not disguised in the least when it said “Yes. You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing. Nancy Fox…” – it was right there, spouting blandly useless info about dogs in Park City attacking cows. No one noticed.
Why would they? Dennis Rader’s gift of camouflage so buried the worm that until March of last year most people familiar with the BTK case thought the killer dead.
March, 2004 – just a few days after Dennis Rader turned 59 – he decided it was time to let Wichita know that the worm was still somewhere in the city. He sent copies of photos of one of his secrets, Vicki Wegerle, to Wichita Eagle Reporter Hurst Laviana. Photos of Wegerle dead, before police and EMS arrived.
He probably came home from a busy Sunday at Christ Lutheran and avidly picked up the paper, knowing his poison was now seeping afresh to the surface of the city’s collective consciousness.
Did Rader suddenly see 60 closing in, and something unravelled inside? A discipline he’d honed for years, keeping his giant vault of darkness locked inside, smiling, saying prayers, compulsively lining up pens in notebooks, dusting, sorting, arranging? Had Denny the Deadly Dog Catcher suddenly had enough of just fantasizing, carefully tending to his hidden trophies, his memories, lovingly wrapped in heavy plastic freezer bags?
Or was it some perverse need for atonement?
From his messages in the 70’s it was well known that BTK liked wordplay, poetry, puzzles.
The words that head the second part of this blog entry, “Dennis Sinned”, form one of the simplest palindromes you can find – sentences or even phrases that spell exactly the same thing in reverse.
I wonder if in Rader’s compulsive mind – for I think it’s no stretch to conclude that the man was, among other things, an obsessive, compulsive personality – if that particular palindrome ever occurred to him. Over, and over. And this welter of needs surged beneath his placid, nebbishy dog-catcher façade…the need for that old burst of power, the pleasure of being the puppet master, holding a city in thrall, and maybe, deep down, some grain of need to end things – and he started divesting himself of his props, his totems, his memories.
He saw 60 a year away, and for once the psychopath tasted the actual possibility of his own demise. He needed his old shot of power.
Just as Dennis Rader’s very presence in the house of God, praying and singing as if he cared, while blood turned his daydreams crimson – BTK’s presence – was much like the presence of that worm that flies in the night in the heart of Blake’s rose, so the presence of mortality in the obsidian heart of the killer gnawed.
And brought, finally, a reckoning.
Links of interest:
- My First “BTK Captured” entry.
- Link to my BTK-only archive.
- Plain Google Search on Dennis Rader’s name. (Not Google news, that is.)
- Link to an eerily astute post from January of this year by an interesting guy at The Wichita Eagle Forum (might have been me, posting under an assumed name…who knows?).
- Link to a Google search for Kerri Rader, Dennis’s daughter – her DNA helped finger him.