BTK: Out Of The Shadows
Oct. 1, 2005
Bill, Vicki and Stephanie Wegerle, seen here in
a family photo. (CBS)
(CBS) When Vicki Wegerle was mysteriously strangled in
Wichita, Kan., in 1986, her two young children not only
lost their mother, but nearly lost their father, Bill,
in the crime’s aftermath.
Many suspected for 18 years that Bill killed Vicki, but
the murderer was really Dennis Rader, aka the BTK
The Wegerle family shared their story for the first time
with Erin Moriarty.
Living Under Suspicion
To this day, Bill Wegerle cranks up the volume on the
song Pretty Woman when he hears it on the radio. It
reminds him of his wife, Vicki, and the way he felt
about her. They had met in high school. “It was like we
were just meant to be, we had so much in common,” he
But for 18 years—ever since Vicki’s body was found
strangled in their home—Bill Wegerle lived under a cloud
of suspicion. “There were definitely police officers
that thought that Bill Wegerle killed his wife,” says
Lt. Ken Landwehr.
Now, the truth is known. Vicki Wegerle and the grieving
husband and children she left behind were among the
victims of a serial killer who terrorized Wichita,
Kansas for three decades. He called himself “the BTK
killer” for “bind, torture, kill.”
The details of the 10 murders committed by Dennis Rader
are now a matter of public record. He described every
crime in detail. “I’ve dealt with very, very
cold-blooded killers, but none who have such a
tremendous memory over this many years. I’ve never dealt
with anyone like this before,” says District Attorney
Nola Foulston, who prosecuted Dennis Rader.
But Bill Wegerle and his children have been silent until
now about what happened to them over 18 years. “Bill
Wegerle was victimized and tortured in this whole
episode from the day his wife died,” says Foulston. “The
day that she was killed it not only killed him, it put
him under suspicion for a long period of time.”
Bill met Vicky when they were just 16, and they were
married at age 17. They were 18 when their daughter,
Stephanie, was born. “To me it seemed like she was
always happy and bubbly and easy-going,” Stephanie
remembers. “And life was good.”
Eight years later a son, Brandon, was born. “My life
revolved around her, and her life revolved around the
kids and me and her family too,” Bill recalls. “Those
were the important things for us.”
Then came a day so surreal that even 19 years later Bill
seems in shock. On Sept. 16, 1986, Bill was driving home
for lunch to see Vicki and Brandon, then a two-year-old,
when he passed the family’s car on the road, with
someone other than his wife behind the wheel. He walked
into his house, and Brandon was sitting by himself on
the floor, apparently alone in the house.
Eventually, he went into the bedroom and discovered his
wife’s body on the floor. She had been tied up and
The police suspected Bill of the murder early
on—especially after he failed two lie detector tests,
the first given by police and a second by a polygraph
expert hired by Bill himself. “The individual that I
hired to take the polygraph, he said he believed what I
was saying was true. He said it's just the stress that I
was under,” Bill says.
The police never had enough evidence to actually charge
Bill or anyone else with Vicki’s murder.
But the rumors persisted for years.
“I remember going back to school, and my friends would
tell me on the playground that ‘my mom and dad said that
your dad did it,’” says Stephanie, who is still tearful
at the memory.
Asked how she responded, she says, “I didn’t say
anything. We knew what the truth was. So it just made me
more aware of who I was friends with.”
Brandon recalls a teacher in middle school who “relayed
to her younger son that me and my dad were bad people,
and to stay away from us.”
As they got older, of course the children wondered what
had really happened to their mother. By the time he was
seven or eight, Brandon says, his grandmother told him
that she thought the BTK killer was responsible.
Those initials meant nothing to the child, but they
haunted many in Wichita, representing a phantom killer
who’d never been caught. Vicki’s death came nine years
after his last known murder, but her brutal death
carried his trademark: She was bound and strangled, just
like all the others before her.
In January 1974, four members of the Otero family were
tied up and strangled, including two children,
nine-year-old Joseph and 11-year-old Josephine, who was
hanged from a basement pipe.
In April 1974, 21-year-old Kathryn Bright was tied up,
strangled and stabbed to death.
In a note left at the Wichita Public Library in October
1974, the killer took credit for the Otero murders, and
gave himself a name: BTK for bind them, torture them,
In March 1977, there was another victim, and this time
there was a witness, six-year-old Steve Relford.
To this day, Steve Relford remembers every detail of
that terrible day. He was walking home from the store
with soup for his sick mother when a stranger confronted
him. “Shows me a picture,” he says. “Asked me did I know
who it was? I said, ‘No sir. I don’t know who this is.’”
Steve ran home but moments later, there was a knock on
the door. “Me and my brother rush to the door,” he
recalls. “I beat my brother. I let BTK in my house.”
BTK gave Steve and his two siblings a blanket and some
toys, then locked them in the bathroom. The terrified
children watched through a crack at the top of the door
as their mother, Shirley Vian, was tied to her bed and
No one could blame that little boy for his actions that
day, but the adult Steve Relford says he will feel
guilty for the rest of his life. Why? “I answered the
door,” he says.
In December 1977, BTK bound and strangled 25-year-old
Nancy Fox. In a new twist, he reported the murder to
Then the killer sent a chilling letter to a local TV
station that read in part: “How many do I have to kill
before I get a name in the paper or some national
As former Wichita Police Detective Arlyn Smith notes,
“He apparently was pretty irritated by the lack of news
Soon, the city was in a panic.
Then, in 1979, BTK seemed to disappear. So, when Vicky
Wegerle was killed seven years later, police focused on
the most logical suspect, her husband.
“I knew there was an individual out there that did
this,” Bill Wegerle says now. “But to me, it just seemed
like they weren’t looking for anybody else.”
Meanwhile, his children were suffering, too. “I just
miss her,” says Stephanie, adding, “Even at ten years
old, she was my best friend.”
But her brother says the little girl soon “was like my
second mother” as “she stepped in and kind of took
The Wegerle children not only lost their mother, they
also had to endure the whispers and rumors about their
father for 18 years. Stephanie resolutely says she never
considered that the rumors might be correct.
And then, on a March day in 2004, everything changed.
It started with a letter to reporter Hurst
Laviana. Inside the envelope was a copy of Vicki
Wegerle’s driver’s license and what appeared to
be pictures of her body, taken at the crime
"I looked at the crime scene photographs and realized
they weren’t routine crime scene photographs,” Laviana
Laviana was right. The police didn’t take those
photographs. In fact, since EMTs were the first on the
scene and had moved the body before police arrived,
there were no crime scene photos. The only person who
could have taken the photographs was the killer.
For Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, who ran the BTK task force,
the letter was a huge breakthrough. After 18 years, Bill
Wegerle was cleared and BTK was exposed as the real
But for the Wegerles and for all the families that lost
loved ones to BTK, the horror came rushing back with the
“This monster come into my home and took my wife away
from me. Took my life. Our whole lives away from us as
we knew it, and changed us as people for the rest of our
lives,” says Bill Wegerle.
“We had gone on with our lives for all these years,”
says his daughter, Stephanie, “and then to have all of
it come up again, and to have to live through it all
again was pretty hard.”
The return of BTK also shocked Wichita’s district
attorney, Nola Foulston. Like everyone else in town, her
life as well as her career had been haunted by the
faceless killer. “I was the same as everybody else,” she
says, “locking my doors, checking my phone… living in
the same fear that everyone else was living with.”
The arrival in the mail of Vicky Wegerle’s driver’s
license was only the beginning. Throughout 2004, there
was a frenzy of chilling communiqués from BTK. The
killer was scattering clues from past crimes all over
the city, teasing, puzzling and frightening its
There were horrible “doll-grams,” little Barbie dolls,
one with a noose around its neck posed to represent the
murder of 11-year-old Josephine Otero. There were cereal
boxes, a sick play on the words “serial killer,” and
ugly little pictures.
Why did BTK reappear after years of silence? Police
believe it was because of a writer named Bob Beattie,
and the publicity surrounding his new book about the
“This guy always wrote because he wanted attention,”
Beattie points out, noting the early complaining letter
to a television station saying, “how many do I have to
kill before I get some attention?”
Soon, the killer, seemingly jealous of the Beattie’s
publicity, submitted his own book to police.
And then BTK made a mistake. Inside another cereal box,
he sent a note asking whether he could send police a
computer disk and still stay anonymous. He wrote, “Look,
be honest with me. If I send you a disk will it be
traceable? Just put [the answer] in the newspaper.” BTK
even suggested a secret code number for the
It was the break that the police needed. They placed a
coded ad in the newspaper, following BTK’s instructions.
Assured of anonymity, BTK sent in a disk. And he was
It took no time for computer experts to trace the disk
to a local church, and a user named Dennis. A Google
search turned up a Dennis Rader, president of the Christ
The ghost who had terrified Wichita for 30 years finally
had a face. And what a face it was. BTK was, of all
things, a dogcatcher, a suburban family man with two
grown kids and a tidy little house.
The investigators were sure they had BTK But they wanted
an air-tight case. They wanted DNA.
They secretly obtained a DNA sample from Rader’s
daughter, then in college, and compared it to semen left
at some of BTK’s crime scenes. It was a close match.
Three decades after the BTK murders began, it all ended.
One of the most notorious murderers in American history
was arrested as he headed home for lunch.
Wichita Police Lieutenant Ken Landwehr spent his entire
career preparing for this one moment, confronting the
man he believed to be the serial killer BTK. His first
reaction: “I thought he was a geek,” Landwehr says. “I
know that sounds terrible. But he was just so full of
Landwehr sat down to interrogate Dennis Rader, as
District Attorney Nola Foulston watched from the next
For the first few hours, Rader admitted nothing. Then
Landwehr told Rader there was DNA evidence connecting
him to six of the murders, including Vicky Wegerle’s.
Traces of Rader’s skin were found under her fingernails.
Suddenly, Rader started to talk. “The dam had broken,”
Landwehr says. “You could not shut this guy up.”
The most astonishing part of the confession, Landwehr
says, was Rader’s indignation that the police had lied
to him about that floppy disk. “And when I told him, ‘I
was trying to catch you,’" Landwehr recalls, Rader
responded, "’But we had such a good thing going. You and
I had that rapport.’"
“Can you believe that? They could have sold him the
Brooklyn Bridge,” Foulston says.
Rader eagerly spent the next 30 hours reviewing the last
30 years of his life, proudly confessing to murder after
murder and revealing a darker nature than anyone could
have imagined. “It was just nauseating,” says Foulston.
“He’d start going on and on and on about each and every
one of his conquests.”
While Rader was confessing, investigators were turning
up physical evidence against him. In his City Hall
office they discovered in plain sight a cabinet full of
souvenirs from the killings, all neatly filed. There
were all the original communications; all the trinkets
and driver's licenses.
Inside Rader’s tiny, 900-square-foot house, there was
another stash: a container in his closet full of what
Rader called “slick ads”—sexual fantasy cards he made
using magazine photos of women and young girls.
The police theorize that his fantasies allowed him to go
years without killing. “His mind was totally
fantasy-driven,” Landwehr says.
They built up a picture of an elaborate double life led
by a very busy man. For instance, he told police he used
a former job installing burglar alarms to enter homes
and troll for victims. At the time he killed Vicky
Wegerle, he was working at the home security firm. When
he strangled his neighbor Marine Hedge in 1985, he took
the body to his church, where he was president, and
posed and photographed it. A Boy Scout leader, Rader
slipped away from a scout camping trip in 1991 to
strangle 62-year-old Dolores Davis. It was his last
Finally, in a Wichita courtroom, Rader pleaded guilty to
all 10 murders, using a casual, cooperative tone
strangely at odds with the brutal murders he described.
Stephanie Wegerle was watching. “I was still kind of in
a fog, I think. It just didn’t seem real that this
person could do these things,” she says. “And then for
me it really hit home when he said he walked up to the
door and heard the piano.” Her mother had been playing
the piano on the day she was killed.
But even as he was admitting what he did, Rader failed
to answer the biggest question of all—what made him do
it? We were allowed to speak to Rader over the phone,
and to meet with him in jail twice. Cameras were not
BTK Takes Credit
Rader says he grew up like any other child in a loving
family, and insists he was never abused. In fact,
Rader’s court-appointed attorney, Steve Osburn, admits
he tried to find anything from Dennis Rader’s past that
could somehow explain BTK. Osburn found no trace of a
trauma or event or family dysfunction that might help
explain Rader’s actions.
Yet, Rader told us and investigators that as young as
age seven or eight he became fascinated with inflicting
pain on living things. He started with animals.
Nola Foulston recalls him saying that as a young boy he
first became aroused when chickens were killed at his
grandparent’s farm. “He became very fixated on the death
of those animals,” she says.
While other boys of his generation looked up to baseball
players, Rader’s hero was Harvey Glatman, a serial
killer who targeted young single women in Hollywood. He
was executed in 1959 when Rader was just 14, but Glatman
became an inspiration for the boy.
The Disney Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, Rader told
detectives, was his “favorite fantasy hit target.” Rader
imagined how he would kidnap the star Mouseketeer and
“do sexual things to her in California.”
As he got older, he collected detective pulp magazines
depicting women in bondage. The act of tying up a human
body became a secret obsession.
All of these obsessions, of course, remained a secret
unknown to those who lived and worked with Rader from
day to day.
“They were looking for crazy Charles Manson, somebody
with a history of crimes, sex crimes, mental disorders,”
says author Beattie. “You get on the elevator with
Charles Manson, you’re going to move to the other side
of the elevator. You get on the elevator with BTK,
you’re going to smile and nod and have a conversation.
You’re never going to suspect this guy.”
Denise Maddox recalls that she was sharing an office
with Rader at the security firm when BTK’s 14-second
phone call reporting Nancy Fox’s homicide was re-played
repeatedly on television.
She didn’t recognize his voice. And she never connected
the killer’s behavior with Dennis Rader. She remembers
him as being polite and even protective of women he
“I was working with all these guys sharing a rest room
with them,” she says. “I was the only woman. And he
always wanted to make sure that they put the lid down
and no dirty jokes.”
We know from Rader’s own letters to police that he
admired famous murderers like ‘The Boston Strangler’ and
‘Son of Sam’ but what isn’t widely known is how much he
borrowed from his hero serial killer, Harvey Glatman.
Back in the 1950s, Glatman’s victims were beautiful
young models lured with the promise of a photo shoot.
Glatman bound, gagged, and then photographed them in the
moments before they were strangled.
Rader told us that’s where he got the idea. He even
sketched his last victim, showing the horror on her
Rader is proud to take credit for all of this. But what
he didn’t want the public to know was just how far he
took his obsession with bondage. In reality, he took
photographs, including one in an open grave he dug for a
“He did not want people to see him in a negative light,”
says District Attorney Foulston. “He wanted people to
see him as some gentleman serial killer.”
Somehow, Rader managed to hide it all, even from the
woman who thought she knew him best. It seems impossible
that his wife could have had no idea of her husband’s
But Landwehr is convinced that she knew nothing: “I’ve
talked to that woman. That woman, just being honest, is
a very, very nice woman. A saint. She is totally
devastated,” he insists. “I’ve talked to his daughter, a
wonderful, wonderful young woman. Totally devastated by
the actions of this man. They had no idea.”
In talking it over with other people, he says, “I’ve
kind of mentioned to people, you know, in a 30-year
period, he disappeared for 10 nights… Probably less than
a lot of men in America.”
We even asked Rader why he didn’t target his wife? He
looked shocked at the question. He said he didn’t kill
anyone he knew. His victims were just “objects.”
But he did admit that his wife was terrified of BTK. He
says he once reassured her by telling her to keep all
the windows and doors locked. “I wasn’t really worried,”
he told us, “since I knew I was the one doing the
Rader’s court-appointed attorney, Steve Osburn, believes
that Dennis Rader, dog catcher, scout leader, church
president, was planning to one day take credit for
“I think this was his life’s work and he wanted
basically to take a bow for it,” he says. “I mean this
is who he was, this is what he did. I don’t think he was
going to go to the grave without taking a bow for this.”
The Last Hurdle
But the families who lost loved ones aren’t about to let
Dennis Rader take a bow for anything: Jeff Davis notes
that BTK has been the center of attention in Wichita for
30 years. Now, Davis says, “He’s going to be reduced to
a little, pathetic, impotent, little wanna-be human in a
little 80-square-foot cell. He’ll torment himself
forever knowing that the last victims were his own
For the families of BTK’s victims, the last hurdle was
the sentencing of Dennis Rader.
Relford and the other families arrived at the sentencing
to finally confront the man who caused them all so much
Vicki’s daughter Stephanie came because, she says,
“That’s the least I could do for her.”
First, they had to hear a day and a half of mind-numbing
testimony by Dennis Rader.
Then, the families got their chance to speak.
“We have never met. You have seen my face before. It is
the same face you murdered over 30 years ago, the face
of my mother,” said Julie Otero’s daughter, Carmen.
“For the last 5,326 days, I have wondered what it would
be like to confront the walking cesspool that took my
mother’s life,” said Jeff Davis. “If I had your devil
nature, I would delight in the fact that your
congregation has turned its back on you. That your
friends deserted you; that your wife has divorced you;
that your own children have disowned you. You have now
lost everything, and you will forever remain nothing.”
Bill Wegerle was overwhelmed as he heard his daughter
speak from her broken heart: “It’s been almost 19 years
now but my brother and I had the most important woman in
our lives taken from us. It’s not fair that we had so
little time with her. It’s not fair that she never gets
to see me with her grandchildren. My mother begged for
her life, yet he showed no remorse.”
If the families hoped to see that remorse from Dennis
Rader that day, they didn’t get it. Some of them weren’t
even willing to sit and hear him speak. They simply
When he finally apologized, his closing words rang
hollow. “There’s no way that I can ever repay them,” he
At the time of the murders, Kansas had no death penalty,
so the judge gave Rader the maximum sentence, 175 years.
If the families get their way, Dennis Rader and BTK will
just fade into the past.
“I hope that people will not correspond with him,” says
Bill Wegerle. “That would probably be a greater
suffering for him than if he was put to death, tortured,
or whatever else.”