The Disturbing Story Of Paula Dietz And Her Marriage To Dennis Rader — The Infamous BTK Killer

Published May 28, 2022
Updated March 13, 2024

Paula Dietz knew her husband as a caring father, church council president, and Cub Scout leader, but after 34 years of marriage, she suddenly learned that he was also a serial killer.

Paula Dietz

Left: Bo Rader-Pool/Getty Images; Right: True Crime MagPaula Dietz had no idea that her husband Dennis Rader (left and right) enjoyed binding himself while masturbating, fantasized about torturing helpless women, and killed 10 innocent people.

For decades, Paula Dietz of Kansas was simply a bookkeeper, wife, and mother. She was married for 34 years — before discovering that her husband Dennis Rader was actually one of history’s most sadistic serial killers.

Everything Paula Dietz thought she had known shattered to pieces when her husband was arrested on Feb. 25, 2005. The man who was once the loving father of her children and president of their church council was suddenly exposed by authorities as the BTK Killer who bound, tortured, and killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991.

The cognitive whiplash experienced by Dennis Rader’s wife was surely indescribable. She had fallen in love with the United States Air Force veteran in 1970 and married him within months. Settling into their home in Park City, Kansas, Dietz tended to their two children while Rader worked as an electrical technician.

Paula Dietz had no idea that he used his skills with electricity to break into homes at night and murder innocent people while veiled with a mask. Despite a roster of clues left in her husband’s wake, Dietz only discovered Rader’s true identity when he was caught.

Paula Dietz And Dennis Rader’s Early Love Story

Paula Dietz was born on May 5, 1948, in Park City, Kansas. Most of what is known about her only became public in wake of her husband’s arrest, as she lived a rather quiet life with her family until the BTK Killer was exposed for his crimes.

However, Dietz was raised in a religious household by devout parents. Her father was an engineer, while her mother worked as a librarian.

After graduating from her local high school in 1966, Paula Dietz attended the National American University of Wichita and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1970. That same year, she met Rader at church, and the two quickly fell in love.

Dennis Rader With Kerri Dawson And Brian Rader

Kristy Ramirez/YouTubeDennis Rader and his children, Kerri and Brian.

On the outside, Rader was a kind U.S. Air Force veteran. But Rader had grown up killing small animals and fantasizing about torturing helpless women — and Dietz had no idea that side of him existed.

Paula Dietz became Dennis Rader’s wife on May 22, 1971, without knowing he liked to photograph himself while wearing women’s underwear or indulge in autoerotic asphyxiation.

Paula Dietz’s Married Life With The BTK Killer

Paula Dietz was overjoyed in 1973 when she found out she was pregnant, and she gave birth to her and Rader’s son Brian on Nov. 30. Just six weeks later, her husband would commit his first murders.

On Jan. 15, 1974, he broke into the home of 38-year-old Joseph Otero and his wife Julie and strangled them in front of their children.

He then dragged 11-year-old Josephine and her nine-year-old brother Joseph into the basement. He suffocated young Joseph, then hanged Josephine and masturbated as she died. Before fleeing, Rader snapped lurid photographs of the scene, which he kept in a lockbox he would fill with mementos of his victims — including Josephine’s underwear.

Over the next 17 years, Rader killed six more women while playing the part of the ideal family man by day. Dietz gave birth to another child, this time a girl named Kerri, in 1978. Rader loved to take his children fishing, and he even led his son’s Cub Scout troop.

All the while, Paula Dietz was oblivious to her husband’s secret double life. According to the Lawrence Journal-World, she once found a poem he’d written entitled “Shirley Locks.”

The poem read, “Thou shalt not screem… but lay on cushion and think of me and death.” However, Rader was attending college courses at the time, and he told his wife it was simply a draft he’d written for one of his classes. In reality, it was about the murder of his sixth victim, 26-year-old Shirley Vian.

Because of Rader’s excuse, Paula Dietz thought nothing of the poem, nor did she think twice when her husband started marking newspaper articles on the BTK Killer with cryptic notes. Even when she noticed that his spelling was just as horrid as that in the BTK Killer’s publicized letters, she merely joked, “You spell just like BTK.”

The BTK Killer’s Crimes Come To Light

Dennis Rader was finally caught in 2005, nearly 15 years after his last murder, when he sent letters to local media enclosing photographs and details of his previous crimes. He’d kept the photos in a lockbox at home along with underwear and IDs of women he’d killed, and Paula Dietz had never dreamt of opening it.

Home Of Paula Dietz And Dennis Rader

Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty ImagesThe home of Paula Dietz and Dennis Rader.

The FBI found these macabre mementos when they raided Rader’s home following his arrest on Feb. 25, 2005. Dietz was completely blindsided. According to The Independent, she told police her husband was “a good man, a great father. He would never hurt anyone.”

But after he confessed and pled guilty to the 10 murders on June 27, 2005, Dennis Rader’s wife cut all contact with him. She never wrote him another letter, nor did she visit him in prison or attend any of his court hearings.

In fact, Paula Dietz filed for an emergency divorce on July 26, 2005, citing “emotional stress.” The court granted the divorce the same day, waiving the usual 60-day waiting period. Less than a month later, Rader was sentenced to 10 life sentences, with a minimum of 175 years in prison.

Where Is Dennis Rader’s Wife Paula Dietz Today?

According to the Seattle Times, Paula Dietz sold the family home at auction for $90,000, left town, and hasn’t been seen by the general public since.

The now-adult daughter of Dennis Rader and Paula Dietz, Kerri Rawson, published a memoir in 2019 entitled A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming.

In an interview about the book, she told Slate, “[My mother]’s sort of dealt with my dad like he died on the day he was arrested… As far as I understand, she has PTSD from the events around his arrest.”

Police don’t believe Dietz had any idea she was the wife of the BTK Killer. Tim Relph, one of the detectives who helped capture Rader, explained, “Paula is a good and decent person… She’s been downplayed by some people as some sort of ignorant Christian person. But her only mistake in life was to care for Dennis Rader.”

After learning how Paula Dietz had no idea she was married to the BTK Killer, read about Carole Hoff’s marriage to John Wayne Gacy. Then, go inside Sharon Huddle’s marriage to the Golden State Killer.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Margaritoff, Marco. "The Disturbing Story Of Paula Dietz And Her Marriage To Dennis Rader — The Infamous BTK Killer.", May 28, 2022, Accessed May 22, 2024.