‘A Serial Killer’s Daughter’ author Kerri Rawson with BTK killer father Dennis Rader in 1996
THE KNOCK on the door came just after noon on a cold February morning and Kerri Rawson’s world fell apart. The FBI agent in a white shirt, tie and glasses was blunt: her father had been arrested as a notorious serial killer. “I was falling into a black hole, with no idea of how I was ever going to get out,” says Kerri. “My dad invaded people’s homes, bound and tortured them, murdered them, then violated their bodies after they were dead.”
Her father, Dennis Rader, had terrorised the state of Kansas since 1974, killing 10 people: two children and their parents, a grandmother and five other women. They were strangled, stabbed, suffocated or hanged.
In taunting letters to police, Rader dubbed himself “BTK” – “Bind, Torture, Kill.”
He escaped capture for 31 years, until identified in 2005 using DNA evidence.
“The first 26 years of my life had been a lie,” says Kerri, 40 – whose father murdered three of his victims after she was born. “My father was not the man I’d known him to be. My family and I were his victims too. I’ve wrestled with shame, guilt, anger and hatred.”
Yet she has finally found it in her heart to offer her father some small measure of forgiveness, as she reveals in her gripping memoir, A Serial Killer’s Daughter.
Rader, 73, an Air Force veteran, was a security alarm installer before Kerri was born, giving him access to homes in Wichita, Kansas. He seemed a pillar of the community: church president and Boy Scout leader.
“The dad I knew was a really good guy, my buddy who took me fishing and camping, and walked the dog with me,” says Kerri. “We built a treehouse together, went to church together. He was passionate about gardening, and collected stamps. Sometimes he had a temper, but I loved him.”
Dennis L. Rader is escorted into the El Dorado Correctional Facility on August 19, 2005 in El Dorado
Wichita quaked in terror amid the BTK killing spree which started in 1974 and went on to 1991, 12 years after Kerri was born. But Rader assured his daughter: “Don’t worry, we’re safe.”
BTK toyed with his pursuers, sending them postcards, and leaving cereal boxes – a cruel pun on his serial killings – containing bound dolls.
Rader was on his way to lunch with his wife of 33 years, Paula, when his truck was pulled over by police armed with submachine guns and shotguns.
Detectives had begun to suspect him, and finally linked his DNA to the killings by matching semen found at a crime scene with blood from a medical test taken by Kerri – obtained without her knowledge.
Kerri felt bewildered that it was she who had led the police to her father: “The police had used me.”
After his arrest Rader confessed to the murders and spoke of his youth marred by violence, theft, stalking, burglary and animal torture before becoming one of America’s most feared serial killers.
“I tumbled into an abyss of despair and terror,” admits Kerri. “I was assaulted by names and faces of victims, graphic crime scene photos, horrific details of violent murders. I wanted to vomit.
“I was shaking for days, and plunged into depression, anxiety and PTSD.”
Kerri blamed herself for not seeing the clues earlier: her father had a violent temper, twice nearly strangling her brother Brian, and another time threatening her.
She had joked that her dad shared the same spelling errors that the BTK killer left in his taunting notes. And all those late nights “doing paperwork” in his office…
Many wondered how Kerri could not have known about the incriminating evidence Rader had stashed around their home.
“If my mum or I had known we were living with a murderer we’d have run screaming out the house,” she insists.
“I was ashamed to be his daughter, and suffered survivor’s guilt, knowing that I was alive while his victims weren’t.”
At first she wrote to him monthly in prison, struggling to remain a loyal daughter.
“We’re all so sorry you’ve been living with what you’ve been living with for so long,” she wrote shortly after his arrest.
“We still love you.” But months later, as horrific details of his crimes emerged, she wrote: “It’s as if you died…You lied to us, deceived us – we have been hurt more than I ever could have imagined.”
Kerri with her killer father at Christmas 1988
I’ve finally forgiven him for what he did to me and my family – but I can never forgive what he did to his victims
On June 27, 2005, Rader pleaded guilty to 10 murders. As he described the gruesome details in court, Kerri learned a string of distressing details.
Evidence had been hidden in her bedroom; a body had been transported in the car in which her father used to teach her how to drive; victims were taken to her church, and to the woods where she played. One victim was strangled with the belt her father always wore.
Rader coldly told police that his children were merely “social contacts” and “pawns in my game.”
He was sentenced to 175 years imprisonment.
Kerri, disgusted, said: “He could rot in hell.”
The family moved home, and Kerri’s mother won an emergency divorce, but Kerri, working as a primary school teacher, could not escape her past.
There were feature films, TV movies, rock songs and even Stephen King’s novella A Good Marriage inspired by BTK, all keeping her torment painfully fresh.
Kerri Rawson, aged 40, published a memoir about her killer father
She went through years of therapy, but found her greatest solace in her Christian faith.
“My earthly father had left me,” says Kerri. “But God, my father up above, had never left. Without that faith and belief in God, something to hold on to and give me meaning in life, I wouldn’t be alive today,” Yet she struggles still. “Sometimes it truly feels like I’m dying inside,” she says sadly, but encourages others to stay strong. “Whatever you’re going through, you can get through.
“Put on the full armour of God.”
KERRI AND her graphic designer husband Darian live near Detroit, Michigan, with their children Emily, 10, and Ian, seven. “They know that their grandpa has hurt people, and that he’s in prison,” says Kerri. “But they don’t know he killed people, that he was BTK. I’m trying to break it to them slowly. I’m hoping they won’t stumble on it online.”
Kerri has not seen or spoken to her father since his sentencing in 2005.
“I’ve finally forgiven him for what he did to me and my family – but I can never forgive what he did to his victims,” she says.
She continues to struggle to come to terms with BTK’s terrible legacy.
Kerri Rawson has spent the last 10 years struggling
“I can never again be the person I was before I knew my dad was BTK,” she says. “It’s an ongoing battle. I’m a trauma, crime, and abuse victim.”
But she fights on. “I am a survivor who has found resilience and resistance in faith, courage, and my sure stubbornness to never give up.
“I would never wish my life on anybody, but it’s the only life I know.
“My dad wreaked terror on our community for 31 years, so I feel like I have to make up for everything he did. I have a long way to go.
“I’d give anything not to be the daughter of a serial killer.”
A Serial Killer’s Daughter (Thomas Nelson, £17.75), published March 7, is on Kindle now (Amazon.co.uk, £9.99)