Surviving the BTK Killer

After a serial killer brutally murdered his family, Charlie Otero went from the honour roll to life as a paranoid outlaw. It took 31 years to catch the killer - and for Charlie to heal himself.

By Kenneth Miller (Reader's Digest US, August 2008)

(Photo: Dan Winters)

Charlie Otero walked home from school under a crisp winter sky, almost giddy about the future. He'd aced his biology exam, and he was beginning to make friends in his new town. Charlie had always been a straight-A student and star athlete, outgoing and popular. But his family had moved from Panama to Wichita, Kansas, a few months earlier, and he'd been feeling off-kilter ever since. Now things were looking up.

Charlie, 15, planned to go to Wichita State University after high school; then he would follow his father, a recently retired master sergeant, into the Air Force. He yearned to distinguish himself as an officer, flying jets and earning a chestful of medals. "My father expected a lot from me," Charlie says. "I wanted to show him I could do it."

On that January day in 1974, he crossed the suburban street to his family's neat white bungalow and saw that the garage door was open and his mother's car was missing. She was usually home to greet him after school. He walked around back, and the family dog bounded toward him across the snow. No one ever let Lucky — a German shepherd mix with a habit of biting strangers — outside alone. Charlie stepped into the kitchen and noticed a half-made peanut butter sandwich sitting on the table beside an empty lunch box. Then he saw his father's wallet tossed onto the stove, its contents strewn across the top.

His brother Danny, 14, and sister Carmen, 13, had returned home just minutes before. Suddenly Charlie heard Carmen shout, "Come quick! Mom and Dad are playing a bad joke on us!"

From the doorway of his parents' bedroom, Charlie saw Joseph Sr., 38, on the carpet by the bed. He had been strangled with a belt, and his handsome features were grotesquely swollen. Charlie's mother, Julie, 34, lay on the mattress; a length of clothesline was cinched around her neck. Both of them had been bound with thin cord at the wrists and ankles.

"What have you done?" Charlie wailed.

The phone was dead, so Danny ran to a neighbor, who called the police. When the patrol car pulled up, three of the five Otero kids were sobbing on their front lawn. Charlie relayed what he'd seen inside to the police officers, adding that two other siblings — Josephine, 11, and Joseph Jr., 9 — were still at school. A search of the house turned up the missing children, however. Joey had been asphyxiated with a plastic bag in his bedroom. Josie's partially clad body was hanging from a pipe in the basement.

"I hated God for allowing this to happen to my family," says Charlie, a former altar boy. "I lost my religion the minute I saw my mother lying there."

Next: Obsessed with the murders and convinced
he's next, Charlie goes rogue.

Published in : Magazine » True Stories
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