At the start of each episode in season 2, Dennis Rader (Sonny Valicenti) walks around Wichita, KS in the aftermath of his quadruple homicide. Rader is a symbol of the FBI's limits.
Since Mindhunter takes place in the late '70s and early '80s, the self-named BTK Killer (short for “bind, torture, kill”) is still decades away from being caught. A bespectacled family man, Rader blended in perfectly with his Wichita community. He was a father, a husband, a Boy Scout troop leader, president of his church congregation, and a home security installer.
He was also a killer. Between 1974 to 1991, Dennis Rader killed a known 10 people, beginning with the slaying of four Otero family members in broad daylight. Rader bragged about his crime in a letter to the Wichita Eagle, beginning a decades-long taunting correspondence with media and authorities. Ultimately, this need for attention led to his downfall.
In 2004, Rader sent a letter to the Wichita Eagle in response to the paper's speculating about his whereabouts. He complained about lack of attention. Rader had expressed similar feelings before. In 1978, after the 1977 murders of Shirley Vian and Nancy Fox, Rader wrote, “How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?"
From there, Rader significantly ratcheted up his correspondence with the newspapers and police. Rader sent crossword puzzles, dolls styled in the manner of his crime scenes, and his autobiography-in-progress.
Then, 10 letters later, Rader sent a package asking to chat with the police. "Can I communicate with Floppy [disk] and not be traced to a computer. Be honest,” Rader wrote. If the answer was yes, the police were to place an ad in the Wichita Eagle with the code, “Rex, it will be OK.” Rader got the message and subsequently sent a floppy disk to KSAS-TV.
What Rader didn’t know, however, was that the floppy disk contained traceable metadata. He could be tracked down. Rader had brought the disk to his church computer, since his home computer was broken. The police knew the disk had been used at Christ Lutheran Church by someone named Dennis.
Through a quick internet search, police learned Dennis Rader was the president of his church’s congregation. From security footage, police knew the BTK Killer had dropped off the latest batch of packages in a black Jeep Cherokee. Lo and behold, that exact car sat in Rader’s driveway. The police had finally caught the killer who had eluded them for decades, and it was all thanks to a floppy disk.
Rader was genuinely shocked that he was arrested. “I need to ask you, how come you lied to me? How come you lied to me?” Rader asked police Lt. Ken Landwehr at the start of his interrogation. Landwehr replied, “Because I was trying to catch you.”
“He couldn’t get over the fact that I would lie to him,” Landwehr told the ABA Journal. “He could not believe that I did not want this to go on forever.”
Once he was caught, Rader gave a 30-hour-long confession and revealed the location of his mother lode of evidence. On August 18, 2005, Rader was sentenced to a minimum of 175 years without parole. Now 74 years old, Rader is serving his sentence at Kansas’ El Dorado Correctional Facility in almost complete isolation.
John Douglas, the real-life profiler who inspired the character Holden Ford, was involved in catching Rader. In 2012, Douglas interviewed Rader in prison. He had lingering questions: Why had Rader gone so long between killing? Why did he reemerge at the age of 59? How could Rader inform Douglas' understanding of the serial killer mind?
“Rader...knew exactly what he was doing when he committed his savage murders. It had nothing to do with any split personality, evil twin, or monster living within him,” Douglas wrote in Inside the Mind of BTK, calling him one of the most cold-blooded killers he’d ever met — and considering he’s sat across from Ted Bundy, that’s saying something.