Beware the Friendly Neighborhood Killer

To some of his stunned neighbors, Dennis Rader seemed too normal to be the serial killer next door.

Some said they didn't like the admitted "BTK" killer; they found him strange and called him a conservative stickler for abiding by city laws. But most agreed that Rader -- whose formal sentencing hearing for pleading guilty to killing 10 people in Wichita, Kan., between 1974 and 1991 is expected to begin Wednesday -- lived an ordinary life. He was a family man, a Cub Scout leader and pastor in his church -- all while keeping his double life as the BTK (which stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill") killer a secret, even from his wife and children.

Like some other noted murderers, Rader defies the perception that serial killers are social outsiders and loners who do not live normal lives and attract attention with obvious, disturbing behavior. Both serial killers and criminal fugitives often assimilate within society and are skilled in not bringing attention to their secret lives.

"People are confusing psychopathic behavior with psychotic behavior," said Pat Brown, criminologist and head of the Pat Brown Criminal Profiling Agency. "People who are psychotic appear to live in their own reality. Their behavior is not going to be confined to the norms of society.

"A person who's a psychopath knows what the norms of society are and has a hatred of society," Brown continued. "They're not going to be the guy who's frothing at the mouth. He wants to create his own reality, but he knows he's confined within societal norms. So, he's going to hide his illegal activity. Clearly, he knows what works within what society dictates."

Living Within the Norms of Society

That ability to work within society while hiding their other criminal life is what has enabled some killers and fugitives to appear so "normal" to their family, friends and acquaintances. It is also why families, friends and acquaintances are shocked when their loved ones' heinous crimes are revealed.

Robert Yates Jr.'s family was baffled when he admitted killing 13 people -- mostly prostitutes -- between 1996 and 1998 in Washington state. As an Army veteran and National Guard helicopter pilot, he seemed disciplined and honorable while proudly representing his country. But he confessed to the killings, at one point drawing a map for investigators to find the remains of one victim, and is serving 408 years in prison.

Gary Ridgway, the admitted Green River serial killer, seemed well integrated into his community and long held a job as a truck driver before DNA evidence linked him to the killings. Ridgway admitted to 48 killings that occurred between 1982 and 1998 and is serving the rest of his life in prison in a plea agreement that spared him the death penalty.

Norman A. Porter was serving a prison sentence for two counts of second-degree murder when he escaped a minimum-security pre-release center in Massachusetts in 1985 and spent 20 years on the lam living a new life as a political activist and poet named J.J. Jameson in Chicago. Chicagopoetry.com named him poet of the month for March 2004 and posted his photo on the Web site. Investigators came across the picture and ultimately found and arrested Porter in this past April.

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