Feature Archive

The BTK Killer: Portrait of a Psychopath

Experts say the dispassionate confession of serial killer Dennis Rader is typical of psychopaths.

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Jack Levin, PhD, knows a lot about psychopaths and serial killers.

He's the director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of several books on serial killers, including Extreme Killings. And he was not surprised when Dennis Rader gave a cool and dispassionate detailing of his 10 murders during a court appearance in a Wichita, Kansas, earlier this week. Rader is known as BTK ("bind, torture, kill") -- a name he created himself.

"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 of the wonderful things he has done," Levin tells WebMD. "He held this close to his vest for three decades."

Rader's crime spree began in the 1970s and he was finally apprehended in early 2005. During his court appearance, Rader explained how, in most of his cases, he chose, stalked, and killed his victims.

Successful Psychopath

As many as 5% of people display psychopathic or sociopathic personality disorders. That's according to experts and the professional bible of mental illnesses -- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). These personality disorders are marked by antisocial and impulsive behavior, disregard for societal standards, and no indications of fear or guilt.