I spent the best part of the Bank Holiday weekend reading about creepy real life encounters, when I came across a post on a serial killer who called himself BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill). Although I’ve read rather a lot of true crime books, I hadn’t really come across BTK before and so headed to the kindle store to rectify that. And although this did give me all of the facts, I kind of wish I’d had someone else relay them to me.
BTK – or Dennis Rader – first struck in 1974, killing four members of the Otero family – father Joe, mother Julie, and children Joey and Josephine, invading their home and then carrying out his twisted fantasies as the family were bound and then strangled. This hadn’t quite gone to plan – from his prior reconnaissance he hadn’t expected the father to be at home – and over his next killings he would hone his methods – first cutting the phone lines and then either forcing or talking his way in under the guise of a tradesman, before murdering his victims. Before long, people in Wichita – where his crimes were carried out – began taking their home security far more seriously as the killer struck repeatedly and with no sign of being caught, while reporters scrambled for scoops and the cops basically scratched their heads. Not initially sure that his crimes were linked – his MO could change depending on circumstance and whether or not he was expecting interruptions, it seemed that Rader would go uncaught, especially given his unusual ability to remain dormant for long periods of time. It wouldn’t be until after an article commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the Otero’s deaths, that he was goaded into raising his head once more, ramping up his communications to the press and the police, which would finally prove his undoing after believing them when told that any floppy discs he sent them would be untraceable. Revealed to be married father-of-two, Dennis Rader, supposed pillar of the community – Boy Scout leader, church group leader and city compliance officer (which would give him plenty of other opportunities to stalk and harass women even when not killing), he confessed easily and with little emotion, eventually earning himself a lifetime behind bars.
As for the book itself, compiled by the reporters from the Wichita Eagle, I can’t say that the style really suited me. Whilst good at reporting facts clearly, I felt that they struggled to make a narrative of the activities around and lives touching the case – whether that be when presenting Rader’s inner life or those of the cops pursuing him. Managing to make themselves and their compatriots look rather mercenary – more concerned with a great scoop than whether their meddling could cause any case brought to fall apart – and the police unusually lucky in finally capturing Rader, it was almost a surprise that they did manage to catch him (and I doubt that they would ever have if it hadn’t been for his massive ego and need for recognition, alongside his ignorance when it came to computers). Their justifications as to why it was understandable that reporters would rifle through (and therefore contaminate) evidence before handing it over to the police rankled, and I felt that making no examination whatsoever of Rader’s homelife – both in his childhood and adulthood, meant the book felt lacking in more ways than one. Having successfully deceived his family for so many years, it would have been interesting to have at least touched on what that family was like, how he could have so successfully compartmentalised his life and how the revelations of his true character affected them.
So, in all, this was a case of a terrifying killer – all the more so for his ability to get away with his crimes for so long – that would have been best as a long newspaper feature than a book.