Does “BTK” mean “Billy the Kid”?

Is there a cultural connection to Wichita KS which caused Dennis Rader to call himself “BTK”?

Henry McCarty, AKA William H. Bonny, AKA “Billy the Kid” was born in 1859 in New York City. In 1870, his family moved to Kansas, where his mother, Catherine McCarty signed the charter incorporating Wichita.

Catherine McCarty seems to have contracted tuberculosis over the next several years, and the family relocated to New Mexico territory. At age 14 or 15, Billy the Kid was orphaned after Catherine died of tuberculosis and his stepfather abandoned the family.

By age 21 in 1881, he’d be dead, but not before securing one of the most legendary reputations in the outlaw history of the American West. It seems that McCarty intentionally cultivated his own outlaw legend, claiming 21 murders: “one for every year of his life”; but experts seem to think the total was really 9.

Compare with Dennis Rader, AKA the “Bind Torture Kill”, or “BTK Killer”, who grew up in Wichita Kansas.

Although BTK has been the name which stuck, Rader also seems to have encouraged people to call him “The Wichita Hangman” and the “The Wichita Strangler”; among other names like “The Asphyxiater”, “The Garrote Phantom”, and “The Bondage Strangler”.

Like his itinerant Wichita Kansas forebear Henry McCarty-who is better remembered by his alias Billy the Kid, the names by which Dennis Rader is remembered seem to evoke an intentional outlaw or comic-book villain mystique which may have supported the psychological reign of terror he conducted over 1974 to 1991.

There seems to be an admitted conscious connection to the Wild West and outlaws in the formation of Rader’s murderous persona. Rader and forensic psychologists studying him have claimed that his fascination with sexual sadism started while being tied up in games of “cowboys and Indians” as a child.  

Notably, while Rader did not murder his victims with firearms, it does seem that he often used the threat of handguns to gain control of his victims before strangling them.

Whenever I start reading about Dennis Rader, I get the sense that he is a fantasist who engages in “game playing” (exemplified by the cryptic communications he sent to the media). I believe that Rader is a self-mythologizer as well (exemplified by all the nicknames he’s given himself) seeking attention regarding his crimes.

Despite his clear culpability in the 10 murders of which he was convicted, I feel he cannot be trusted in his hints that his body count may be astronomically higher.

In this sense, he might be a bit like Billy the Kid himself, who seems to have actively inflated perceptions of his own body count.

Ultimately, I only found out all these facts today about Billy the Kid and Wichita KS after wondering if BTK might also stand for “Billy the Kid” as well as for “Bind Torture Kill”.  Certainly,  the cachet of “Bind Torture Kill” has more utility for terrorism and spreading fear than the comparatively weak sounding “Billy the Kid”.

However, now I really do wonder if the culture of Rader’s childhood and the local celebrity of Billy the Kid also fed into a fantasy in which he personally identified with the outlaw murderer, and therefore may have played some role in the development of his identity as BTK.