Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The BTK Story

The Psychopathic Mind

When Dennis Rader made his unexpected confession in court, he unintentionally revealed to the world his true psychopathic nature. While the nature and delivery of his testimony would not surprise most medical and law enforcement professionals, the rest of the world was shocked.

Psychopaths do not feel emotions the way normal people do. Consequently, when their guard is down, they may say or do things that reveal their lack of concern for others and their absence of conscience. This was the case when Rader described his victims as "projects" and calmly explained how he selected a victim, gave the "project" a code name and then researched and stalked her until he found the right opportunity to attack.

Rader is a very accomplished psychopath: his ability to carry on two very different lives attests to it. "I was pretty cold. I shot from the hip very quickly," he told Larry Hatteberg of KAKE-TV. "Very compartmentalized. I can wear many hats; I can switch gears very rapidly. I can become emotionally involved. Be cold at it." This sounds a bit like a resume.

Some psychopaths, because they are narcissists and self-centered, become very successful in business, government and academia. A much smaller group — for lack of intelligence and/or self-control — become criminals. Of those criminal psychopaths, some become serial killers.

When professor of criminal justice at Seattle University Jacqueline Helfgott was asked how one could tell if a psychopath lived next door, Fox News reported Helfgott's response: "You wouldn't. You would have to know every segment of their life and be able to tie it all together.

Dr. Jack Levin, an expert on serial killers, told WebMD: The most essential characteristic is an excessive need for power and control, and we see this in most sexually-oriented serial killers....For a person with a conscience, Rader's crimes seem hideous, but from his point of view, these are his greatest accomplishments and he is anxious to share all the wonderful things he has done."

Dr. Michael Welner
Dr. Michael Welner

Dr. Michael Welner, creator of the depravity scale, a tool for jurors and judges that helps develop appropriate sentencing for criminals, considers Dennis Rader to be the "worst of the worst."

"In cases like BTK, based on what he said, it's clear that he intended to emotionally traumatize victims and cause gross suffering. It was clear in the way he communicated with the media that he intended to terrorize the community and clear that he got a thrill."


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