‘I Knew Right Away It Was My Dad': How the Daughter of the BTK Killer Faces Her Trauma

Late one February evening in 2005, Kerri Rawson went online and listened to a recording of the BTK killer from 1977. It was a 911 call in which the caller casually reported a homicide he had just committed. Rawson realized she recognized the voice. "I knew right away it was my dad," she says.Earlier that day, when an FBI agent had knocked on her door and informed her that her father had been identified as the BTK killer and arrested for murder, Rawson insisted it was all a mistake. She knew her father, Dennis Rader, as normal, law-abiding, kind: a 59-year-old compliance officer in Park City, Kan. He had even risen to become president of his church council.It was not a mistake. In his secret life as "BTK" — short for "bind, torture, kill," the sick nickname summarizing his methods — Rader had murdered 10 people in the Wichita area between 1974 and 1991. By the time Rawson was born in 1978, her father had already committed seven murders, including a family of four. (The Otero family, with two young children, became his first victims in 1974.) Between attacks, Rader courted infamy by mailing rambling letters to local media and police. It was his habit of taunting the police that led to his capture in 2005, 14 years after his last murder. (He is now serving 10 life sentences in prison.)For Rawson, there is life before Feb. 25, 2005, and life after. Her harrowing new memoir, A Serial Killer's Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming, chronicles her struggle to reconcile the father she knew with the murderer who indulged in sadistic sexual fantasies. Rawson, now 40, has battled post-traumatic stress disorder and found solace in Christian faith since her father's arrest.Has writing this memoir helped you heal from the trauma of learning who your father was?Yeah. I've said it's like pulling out shards of glass. I would come up to these things and not want to write them, and I would have to force myself to do it. It felt like I was pulling something out inside of me. I did that probably a thousand times.I sort of equate it to, like, hell. Like going to Mordor, if you've seen Lord of the Rings.My understanding is that you haven't been in touch with your father while writing the book.I haven't talked to him in a year. The last time I talked to him was October 2017. We were writing pretty regularly after I forgave him in '12. Personally, I was falling apart last fall with PTSD, and then my son got ill. I just shut down.When you say you talked to him, you mean through letters?I have only ever written him. He could potentially talk to me on the phone. But then he would have my phone number, and I haven't ever wanted him to have it. I've never been comfortable enough to talk to him on the phone or see him at the prison.How did he react when he learned you were writing a book about this?In 2015, when the article [a Wichita Eagle piece about Rawson] came out, he said seeing the impact he had when he was arrested on my family, he was actually upset and almost cried reading it. That's the most emotion I've seen out of him in letters. After that, he sort of came back to his narcissistic self, focused on himself. He's been encouraging me on the book, but he also wanted to be involved. He wanted to, like, have me do a book of his artwork. I was like, "No, that's not possible."The book's portrait of your father is complicated. In some parts, you describe him as being a loving father and family man before his arrest. You also talk about how he had this temper and occasionally became violent. Do you still consider him a great and loving father? Like 90 to 95 percent of the time, he was a good dad. I've been told, "Every day of your life is a lie because you never lived with the man you thought you did." The fact that he murdered seven people before you were born and three after — that automatically makes him not a good dad. But my therapist said, even if it was a lie, it was a lie I believed. I had a father raising me. I had two parents raising me. If you ask me to try to reconcile it, my brain will explode. I'll have to go, like, take a nap. I'm a trauma victim. I still deal with PTSD today. If I try to think about living with BTK [instead of] living with my dad, it's not a good place to be.I know that he cared for us and loved us. That side of him wasn't an act. I'm not ever trying to defend anything my father has done, because it's not defensible. But I think it's important for people to understand: I did lose my father. I think it's important, from a criminology aspect, to show that he was a father and a husband and a co-worker. You hear that my dad's a psychopath and he can't have feelings. I argue that he can.In the book, you show how emotional he was when the family dog had to be put to sleep. It's difficult to reconcile the fact that he was a murderer, and yet he cried like a normal person would cry when his dog died.I believe my dad was sincerely emotional in those moments I wrote about. He's said that he compartmentalizes, so that if he's with you, he's just Dennis. If he's out there being BTK, he's BTK. I don't know what makes a person able to do that.  Continue reading...

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