Beware the Friendly Neighborhood Killer

ByABC News
July 28, 2005, 4:38 PM

Aug. 16, 2005 — -- 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."

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.