While on assignment recently in Wichita, Kansas, I met Stephen Singular, the author of a new book, "Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer." Singular spent a year digging through the personal history and motivations of Dennis Rader, aka the BTK killer, a subject we cover in tonight's show.
So what would possess a man to do what Rader did?
Singular said that when he looked in the BTK killer's childhood he learned that Rader would get aroused when his mother spanked him. When Rader visited his grandparents' farm, he would watch with fascination as chickens were being slaughtered. One day, he killed a cat. It may have been an accident, Singular said, but it was an event that had a lasting impact on Rader.
"I think it started the feeling of liking killing," Singular said. "I also think it's about power. It's about being something where you can see and feel a sense of power, and you can see and feel having an affect on the world around you."
Rader was in essence two different people: He was married, had kids, and was active in his church. On the outside, he was the stereotypical guy next door. But on the inside, he was another person, someone who killed ten people.
"He'd gotten to know this other person so well that he'd given it a name and a face -- Factor X, or sometimes Rex - and imagined it as a demon that resembled a small, nasty-looking, demented frog. He drew pictures of the creature who kept coming round and fueling his fantasy of having a live, pretty, helpless woman at his command," Singular wrote in his book.
We all know that BTK stands for bind, torture, kill. It's what Rader liked to do to his victims, but in a way, he identified with his victims too.
Here's Singular's take: "...that image of being tied up...I think it's a two-edged sword. Not only does he want to tie somebody up, but he himself is terribly constrained in this environment that he's in. He can't talk to anybody about it. He can't get out of it -- at least he doesn't think he can."
Rader never talked about what was going on in his head until he was caught. Would these people still be alive if Rader had revealed his inner demons sooner? It's an interesting question, but not one that can ever be answered definitively.