This Day In History: January 25

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On January 25, 2005, a Wichita, Kansas, television station receives a postcard from the BTK killer that leads police to discover a Post Toasties cereal box that had been altered to contain the letters BTK. This communication was one in a long line sent by the serial killer who terrorized Wichita for over 30 years, brutally murdering 10 people and taunting law enforcement and the local media. A month later, on February 25, Dennis Lynn Rader, a husband, father of two and compliance officer for Park City, Kansas, was taken into police custody and soon confessed to being the BTK killer.

Rader committed his first murders in 1974, when he strangled four members of one family—a husband, wife and two of their children. Six more victims, all female, followed, the last one in 1991. Throughout the 1970s, the BTK killer, or BTK strangler, as he was also known, sent letters to the media in which he claimed knowledge of the crimes. Rader nicknamed himself BTK for his method of binding, torturing and killing his victims.

Outwardly, Rader, a Cub Scout troop leader and church council president, appeared to be an ordinary, upstanding citizen. As a compliance officer, he was responsible for enforcing town ordinances. However, there were occasional complaints that he was overzealous in his work and harassed people for minor offenses.

In 2004, the attention-seeking BTK killer began contacting the media again, sending notes and poems and packages that included some of his victims’ jewelry and driver’s licenses. In February 2005, Rader sent a floppy disk containing a BTK letter to a local TV station. The disk was eventually traced back to Rader’s church computer and he was identified. DNA evidence helped conclusively link Rader to the crimes.

Rader was charged with 10 counts of murder. He initially pled not guilty and then switched his plea to guilty before his court trial began. Rader, who stalked many of his victims and referred to them as “projects,” said he strangled them as part of a sexual fantasy. In August 2005, he was sentenced to 10 consecutive life terms in prison. At his sentencing, Rader made a bizarre statement in which he listed things he had in common with his various victims, including an interest in drawing, gardening and writing poetry. Rader was ineligible for the death penalty because it didn’t exist in Kansas during the years he carried out his crimes.