WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Once upon a time, a thin, plastic disk drive called a floppy disk brought down a serial killer.
In the days before iPhones and terabytes, "BTK" was one of America's most notorious killers.
BTK, who was eventually revealed to be Dennis Rader, killed 10 people in the Wichita, Kansas, area over a period of 20 years, and it took more than 30 years to catch him.
His nickname came from his preferred method of murder: "bind, torture, kill." He would bind and torture his victims, often photographing them after their deaths. He kept the photographs and, years later, used them to publicize his acts and prove he was the assailant.
What he initially gained notoriety for was his fondness of the media spotlight; he would detail his crimes in letters to police and news media.
BTK's first murder was the Otero family in January 1974. He killed a mother and father and two of their five children in their home. He typically targeted women, and the Otero family was no different; he had stalked Mrs. Otero and her 11-year-old daughter, Josephine. Mr. Otero and their young son were killed simply because they happened to also be at home at the time. Josephine was hung in the basement.
Rader, who worked for a security firm, would stalk his victims to learn the ideal times to sneak into their home. Then he would cut their phone line before breaking in and killing them.
His methods ranged from strangling to stabbing and sometimes shooting. But despite his repeated offenses, police weren't able to pin all the murders to the same source, and so media coverage remained tame.
But Rader wanted the publicity and after his seventh murder in 1977, BTK went public.
In a letter to a local TV station, Rader asked, "How many people do I have to kill before I get a name in the paper or some national attention?"
A media storm ensued.
"The floppy did me in."
Now infamous, Rader killed three more women between 1985 and 1991: Marine Hedge, Vicki Wegerle and Dolores Davis.
But then, he disappeared.
Later, it was revealed that he had stopped killing because he had other things to think about; he had a family, including two children.
During that time, the cases went cold. Many — including police and the victims' families — assumed they may never be solved.
But then, in 2004, after the Wichita Eagle newspaper speculated that BTK was dead or in prison, he came out of hiding. His children grown, BTK wanted to enter the spotlight once again.
He promptly replied to the paper, claiming responsibility for the 1986 murder of Wegerle — which to that point had not been tied to BTK. Then he began leaving packages with photos of the victims and their personal effects where people would find them. He sent one to detectives at the police station, stuffed another into a library bin, and taped another to a street sign.
But it was the floppy disk that ultimately did him in.
In a cereal box that he'd left in the back of a stranger's truck in a Home Depot parking lot, Rader left a note asking police if it would be secure for him to send them a floppy disk.
"Be honest," he asked.
The police weren't honest, telling him it would be safe. Rader sent the disk.
On that disk, police found a deleted file. The document listed Rader's church, and said it was "last edited by Dennis." Police quickly put two and two together, finding Rader was a member of the church.
Just to be sure, police did a driveby of Rader's house. There, they spotted a black Jeep in the driveway — the same type of car seen on surveillance video dropping off the cereal box in the stranger's truck at Home Depot.
The BTK Killer confessed to the murders in a long interrogation immediately after his capture. He was convicted in court and went to jail for 10 consecutive life sentences.
In his interrogation and confession in the hours after his arrest, Rader knew he had committed the ultimate technological mistake.
"The floppy did me in," he said.
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