Tuesday, May 29, 2007

BTK: Unholy Messenger, by Stephen Singular

The story of "BTK", a serial killer who operated without detection for many years, comes alive in a peculiar way in this book.

Dennis Rader, who named himself BTK - Bind, Torture, Kill - wrote and recorded his thoughts and plans and goals voluminously. Thus it was possible for Singular to get as much into Rader's mind as possible, a rare opportunity when dealing with a serial killer.

What emerges is a rather ordinary, average man, a man with a wife and children, active in his church and respected by many. What he hides is his essential lack of conscience.

Strangely, he wasn't really good at what he did. He was clumsy and often careless. It appears that it was his very ordinariness, his attachment to his community, that shielded him from discovery for so long. In many ways he does not fit the classic serial killer profile. He is driven as much by a compulsion to copy other killers he admires as by his own deep-seated fantasies. In the end, a boring, dull man who unfortunately ends the lives of many.

I felt the story was left unfinished. Singular frequently suggests that many of his crimes were never discovered. The author believes there were many other murders. I am not sure.

A far more interesting character who deserves another look is Rader's pastor, Michael Clark. Clark came to the priesthood by an unusual path and indulged his sense of humor and a delight in donning clown outfits, which may have seemed a little unseemly to some of the congregation. But it is his commitment to Rader that tells the story. His congregation believes in redemption and even though they felt betrayed by Rader they did not desert him. Clark in particular stayed by him, continuing to visit him in his cell to help him in his spiritual journey toward forgiveness. Certainly this is not what we see so often today in religious institutions, although we might wish it were so.

Not a typical true-crime book, which is in its favor.

4 out of 5 stars

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