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Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2005

Suspect in BTK serial killings earned good conduct medal in Air Force

March 17, 2005

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— The suburban Wichita man accused of being the BTK serial killer earned a good conduct medal during his stint in the U.S. Air Force, and Dennis Rader's tour of duty took him to bases throughout the United States and overseas, according to military records obtained by The Associated Press.

"His service was very much clean cut. ... He did well. He was just a regular soldier," said Ursula Soto, of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

The BTK killer, whose nickname stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill," has been linked to 10 slayings between 1974 and 1991 in the Wichita area.

Rader, 60, of Park City, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder in those killings. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on April 19.

Rader's military service information, released after a Freedom of Information request from AP, shows Rader served as an active duty airman in the Air Force from Aug. 17, 1966 to Aug. 11, 1970. His reserve service ran to June 20, 1972.

He reached the rank of sergeant and was awarded the Air Force Good Conduct Medal, the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal.

Rader's military service has been the subject of intense interest since Charlie Otero -- whose parents and two siblings were strangled by BTK in 1974 -- told the AP last December he believed his family was targeted because of something his father did while serving in the Air Force.

On Jan. 15, 1974, the three surviving children of Joseph and Julie Otero came home from school to find their parents and two other siblings, Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9, dead at the family's Wichita home.

Charlie Otero was convinced his father probably knew the killer because he had been acting strangely to protect the family in the days just before the killings. He did not immediately return a message left Wednesday seeking comment.

Joseph Otero served in the Air Force for more than 20 years, retiring as a master sergeant, and was working as a mechanic and flight instructor when he was killed. The elder Otero and Rader were never stationed at the same bases, Soto said Wednesday.

Julie Otero worked at Coleman Co., a manufacturer of camping equipment, where Rader also worked in the early 1970s. Another BTK victim, Kathryn Bright, also worked at the Coleman plant. Like the Oteros, Bright was strangled in 1974.

Rader went through basic training in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and later attended technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. It is unlikely Rader left those bases much, if at all, during training, Soto said.

In February 1967, Rader was stationed at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Ala., where he worked on antenna system installation and maintenance, his records show. In January 1968, Rader was based at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, and months later went to Tachikawa Air Base in Japan.

His last assignment was in Denver, where the headquarters of his reserve unit was located, although Rader was never actually based there, Soto said.

Meanwhile, police in Mobile -- who learned of Rader's connection to their community through the media -- are now trying to find old case files to see whether any unsolved murders match the BTK killings.

Eric Gallichant, a Mobile Police Department spokesman, said it could take weeks to find and look through files that are more than 30 years old.

"In Wichita, the BTK killer was a big deal ... but here in Mobile obviously we had no way of knowing there was a connection," Gallichant said.

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