I've talked to my share of killers. It's an occupational hazard of working as a correspondent for 48 Hours Mystery. Still, nothing quite prepares you for meeting Dennis Rader. Most people kill for a reason: anger or jealousy. Some kill during the commission of a crime. Dennis Rader murdered 10 people in Wichita, Kansas for the pure pleasure of it. He would have killed more if he had not been caught earlier this year.
I met the 60-year old killer where he is being held in the Sedgwick County Jail. Rader is so ordinary and docile that you have to constantly remind yourself that he is BTK, a nickname he gave himself that stands for "Bind them. Torture them. Kill them." He speaks in a monotone, using the same matter-of-fact tone whether he is talking about his work as a local dog catcher or his method for killing people. He told me that he has "remorse with" (sic) the families of his victims, but the only time I saw any show of emotion was when he admitted his wife and two children have abandoned him and have never come to see him in prison.
What is most unnerving about Rader is his ability to hide his dark side from people he knows. Over a 31-year span, he wrote anonymously to the police and press, describing in detail his horrendous crimes, yet, in all that time, he never gave anything away to his wife of 34 years. In fact, he told me that his wife often spoke of her fear of the BTK killer. He comforted her by suggesting that she "just keep the doors locked. I wasn't really worried," he told me, "since I knew I was the one doing the killing."
On Wednesday morning, a hearing to determine Rader's sentence begins in a Wichita courtroom. Rader can't be executed: there was no death penalty statute in Kansas when he committed his murders. Instead, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston hopes to convince the judge to give Rader the maximum jail sentence: 175 years. The hearings won't be easy to watch. Prosecutors plan to spend two days detailing Rader's terrible crimes. There will be crime scene photos and stories that describe Rader's cruelty. And one by one, family members of Rader's victims will come before the judge to try to explain the incalculable damage that one man has done to so many lives.