On this day in 1974, Dennis Rader (known as the BTK killer — “BTK” standing for “bind, torture, kill”) started his string of murders with the Otero family. He tortured them and then killed them. He’s a classic psychopath. In total, he killed ten people. The authorities in Kansas searched desperately for any other murders he might have been guilty of, hoping that one of them might have been after Kansas had enacted the death penalty, so they could kill him.
I understand this. It would be hard to feel too bad for this guy if he were killed. Just the same, he’s a classic example of what I think of as a grizzly bear murderer. It’s just what he does. What was done to him seems appropriate: put him in jail for the rest of his life so that he couldn’t hurt anyone else. I still don’t quite understand a society that thinks that sinking to the level of its worst individuals is a good idea.
One interesting thing about the BTK killer is that from 1974 through 1988 — the time during which he committed 9 of his 10 murders — he worked as an installer for ADT Security Services in Wichita. A lot of the people getting ADT installed were doing so because of their fear of the BTK killer. I don’t know if he ever killed anyone who had an ADT system installed. I do know that they are mostly useless.
He had a wife and two kids. He had been elected president of the council of his local Christ Lutheran Church. He was a Cub Scott leader. And he didn’t seem to have a problem getting or keeping jobs. None of this surprises me. I think that psychopaths are really in a much better position in this regard than normal people. I’ve often noticed in business how total idiots — incompetent in their work — are rewarded because they are so confident.
It seems natural that the United States would have far more than its fair share of serial killers. We are that kind of country. In a fundamental way, we love psychopaths. Sure, we would prefer that they didn’t kill and torture people. But other than that, the BTK killer was kind of the perfect American. It’s no wonder they are so hard to find. In fact, the BTK killer would never have been caught if he hadn’t decided he wanted to get attention long after he had stopped killing. He should have focused his efforts on teaching Sunday School instead.