Wichita, Kan., is reeling over news that Dennis L. Rader has been arrested as a suspect in the killings of at least 10 people between 1974 and 1991. In one of his many grotesquely playful letters and poems over the years, the killer named himself BTK for the way he liked to operate: bind, torture, kill. The tone of his communications, as much as the slayings themselves, had the area in the flexing grip of paranoia for three decades.
Wichita is the 50th-largest city in the United States, a wholesome place where 82 percent of county voters wanted President Bush reelected. “Wichita still has all the qualities that make a smaller city appealing,” boosters say on a local Web site. “What better place to raise a family!” Somewhere among its 344,284 people was the killer, and everywhere else were his potential victims.
So where was the killer hiding? If it’s Rader, BTK could be found in suburban Park City, where he raised a son and daughter with his longtime wife, Paula, held a job with city government enforcing local statutes — height of grass, barking dogs and such — with humorless zeal, worked for a security company, ran a Cub Scout pack and served as president of the council at Christ Lutheran Church. Last Wednesday he brought food to a church event even though he couldn’t stay; he was off to the hospital to see his mother.
Family man. Devoted son. Law enforcer. Hard worker. Civic volunteer. Churchgoer.
Members of Rader’s church are as shaken as anyone, of course, but their responses differ slightly from the usual ponderings of “what if.” His peers at Christ Lutheran are also facing the possibility that Rader, whom pastor Michael Clark calls “devout ... a very active member of the congregation, both in leadership and participation,” was essentially, unavoidably evil.
It’s there in Christ Lutheran Church, in Wichita, in President Bush, in the Cub Scouts. In this red state’s “Blue Velvet” road show, it is worth noting that the computers tending the official city Web site have something slightly off-kilter to say about this great place to raise a family: Its most popular links are for docket searches; warrant searches; attorney tracking; bondsman tracking; and drug court.
As Clark urges his flock to “show compassion and love towards our brother, Dennis Rader,” listen hard for the sound of 399 congregants praying for an adequate rationalization to arrive.
Undoubtedly it would be listening in vain for rationality itself, that which demands the pious to look beneath a wholesome surface and act — and vote — accordingly.