A psychologist who has studied one of America’s most famous serial killers warns that stereotyping serial killers will not help catch them.
Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology, has spent years studying Dennis Rader, who as the BTK killer took the lives of 10 people between 1974 and 1991, according to Fox News. The initials stand for “bind, torture, kill.”
“Dennis Rader challenges the idea we have about serial killers,” Ramsland said.
“He was a family man. He was a churchgoer, even a president of his church congregation. He had a full-time job. He was part of his community. So we have to be careful about some of the stereotypes we form about these kinds of offenders,” she explained.
“Otherwise, we’ll start thinking we know them when we don’t. And in Dennis’ case, there wasn’t any particular reason in his background. No trauma. He was an all-American boy, the oldest of four boys in his family. He had an intact family and played on his farm. So where did it all come from? That intrigued me.”
Ramsland began writing Rader in 2010 and has talked with him by phone and had face-to-face meetings since then.
She published a book, “Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer,” in 2016 and is now participating in an A&E two-part series called “BTK: Confession of a Serial Killer.”
Rader’s killings around Wichita, Kansas, were interspersed with years of life as a husband, father and church-goer. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to 10 killings and was sentenced to 10 life terms in prison.
Ramsland said Rader saw his courtroom appearance as a time “to teach people about who he was.”
“In a way, he also thought of himself as a victim. He thought he had some things in common with the victims … Rader is a narcissist, so he just thought this was a way to present himself,” she said.
Ramsland claims Rader has a multi-faceted view of himself and his crimes.
“Dennis Rader does think of himself as a monster, but he also thinks of himself as a good person who did some bad things,” she stated.
“He will talk about a monster in his brain. It’s his ‘Factor X,’ which is a way to distance himself from criminal responsibility. He thinks, for the most part, he’s not a monster. He certainly was in those instances when he selected a victim and carried through with his crimes. But overall, he doesn’t think of himself that way.”
Ramsland said Rader feels regret more than remorse.
“He certainly regrets a lot because he doesn’t want to be in prison,” she explained. “He didn’t want to lose his family. There’s a lot of regret there with that. But that’s not the same as remorse.”
“It depends on his mood. It’s a concept he calls ‘cubing,’ where he has various faces of a cube he can turn on and off. So sometimes he’s a good family man. Sometimes he’s a serial killer, a thief or a liar. Sometimes he’s the churchgoer who studies the Bible. So it depends on what day you get him as to whether you’ll hear him talk about remorse,” she continued.
Ramsland said issues in Rader’s past may have molded him into the killer he became.
Rader was “humiliated by his mother,” she said.
“That really played on him,” Ramsland said. “It’s something he still thinks about, even to this day. And we haven’t studied humiliation as a factor in the development of extreme offenders much. And I think maybe we need to rethink that. And he certainly got an early exposure to using ropes for an erotic activity.”
“And then he began to read these true detective magazines that his father would hide in the car. So that made him clandestine … He wanted to feel significant. And he wanted to have power over women because females made him feel off balance.”
She said family dynamics impacted Rader.
“He didn’t like that as the oldest boy, he was expected to be strong and masculine, and yet they seem to kneecap him right and left without even trying, just by being female,” Ramsland said. “And his fantasy life certainly propelled him.”