Listeners might not recognize Kerri Rawson by name until they hear the title of her book: A Serial Killer’s Daughter. KMUW’s Tom Shine and Beth Golay recently spoke with Rawson about her journey since learning her father was the BTK serial killer.
When Dennis Rader was identified and arrested as the BTK serial killer in 2005 his wife, son, and daughter formed a united front: They would not speak to the media. The three kept their silence until 2014 when Rader's daughter, Kerri Rawson, did an interview with The Wichita Eagle. Rader's wife and son remained silent. But now Rawson is speaking again, this time through her memoir.
Beth Golay: So why did you decide to write this book?
Kerri Rawson: I decided to write the book after speaking up in the media. So in February , that large piece ran about my life and I talked about what I had been through and I talked about forgiveness and, you know, my own struggles with mental health and PTSD. Right after that people started writing into the newspaper and writing me letting me know that something positive was resonating in my story and their life. It was cathartic to have to talk and start working with the media.
And so writing was the same thing; it forced me to have to go back and find my father again, which I needed to do, and it forced me to deal with everything I had been through. My trauma therapist kept saying, "You need to go write." And I wouldn't do it; I, like, refused. And then I spent three and a half years writing, because once I started I could stop. It just sort of came out on the page.
BG: You had night terrors as a child, and you sought help for depression in college, and you suffered through postpartum depression after your first child. So I think it's safe to say that your mental state was somewhat fragile before you even learned the truth about your dad. You mentioned going to trauma therapy. You mentioned writing. How do you think you were able to work through this with having that fragile state?
I never knew, as a child, I was fragile. I thought I was pretty strong and tough. You know, a tomboy. My dad raised me to be pretty tough. I mean, I had these night terrors, but from my narrow understanding, kids had them and I would grow out of them. I mean, back in the '80s you didn't really seek help for children in therapy like you would now. You know, I knew my father had some struggles, minor struggles, but of course I didn't know the mental illness my father has. And I wasn't aware of, like, that depression and anxiety sort of run through my father's line, genetically. It really wasn't until two years after my father's arrest that I got to the right kind of help. And that's when she said, you know, she put names to these things I had been struggling with for a long time. I mean, without ... without trauma therapy I wouldn't probably still be alive.
Tom Shine: You've written your father quite often in prison and he's written you, but I don't think, according to the book, you've visited your father yet in prison. Do you think you'll ever visit him in prison?
I don't know. I never visited him. It's complicated because, I mean, he's in a maximum security wing. So they have to be aware that you're coming and to be prepared. And as far as I understand you're in one room talking through a video monitor and he's in another room shackled to a table. I've been told it would actually be better to have him call me because, like I heard, he can't even really even hear you well over the video.
So people are like, "Well, you forgive your dad and you love your dad, but you won't go visit." And it's not as simple as just walking into a prison and sitting across the table from somebody. Like, I'll never get to hug my dad again, I'll never get to touch my dad again. And that's on my dad because he lost all that 45 years ago when he stepped into the Otero home. But it's not as simple as people think it is.
You know... and have my dad call me, like, what do I do now, do I give him my phone number? I don't want my dad have my phone number. I don't want my dad to have my address. We protect those things, so when he mails me, he mails to a location in Wichita and then my family sends it on to me. Because we can't trust my father and we can't trust who he communicates with. And, you know, I have a family to protect also.
TS: What if at some point in the future as your children get older and become young adults and they want to establish a relationship with your father by letter, by visiting him, what would you counsel them?
I mean, at this point, they're 10 and seven. They know that their grandpa's in prison [and] won't be getting out. At this point they know that he's harmed people, but we will try to protect them from the words "murder" and my dad's "BTK" acronym. I mean, we're trying to just lock them up so that they're not shocked or Googling "Mom" and surprised when they get older.
But we're also trying to protect them as children. I mean, later, if they wanted to write him, I think I would walk through that process with them, or if they wanted to visit. I honestly don't imagine that they would because they don't have a connection to him. They don't know him. You know, he's just a stranger to them.
BG: You wrote about the victims of your dad's crimes; there were 10 people who were murdered. The victims were also their families, your family. At one point in the book you wrote about betrayal and how your dad had betrayed the whole city. You know, we don't really know the far reaching effects of his actions. You say he has asked God for forgiveness; when asking for forgiveness, do you think he realizes the number of people he betrayed?
Like September , I shared the letter where he wrote that he had asked God to be between him and the victims and he was sorry, but that's about the only time I really ever seen remorse from my father, and I legit don't know if it was for real [sighs]. I don't think he understands the ramifications of what he's done. I mean, I think when he thinks of the victims, I would hope he would at least think of the 10 people's lives he took and their families that he forever impacted. But I don't think he understands the generational cost of what he's done.
I mean, he took children's lives who could have grown up and have families, you know, he took parents away from children, he took daughters away from their families, he took sisters away. So he took away a lot of young people that had their whole lives in front of them. And by taking away people's mothers in front of children — those children were severely impacted, their whole life was altered. I mean, if you think of that spreading out now there's a generation of loss of a family. How many hundreds or thousands of people have my father negatively impacted?
He imploded my family; my family has never been the same. We're trying the best that we can, but it doesn't always look very pretty. I mean, I would do anything to wipe it all out, go back in time, send him to a psychiatric hospital before he committed the Otero murders, and then 10 people would have their lives back. But, you know, I wrote in the book then that would mean I wouldn't be alive. So then my kids wouldn't be alive.
You know, I'm getting emotional right now talking about it because that's not an easy place to sit and come to that realization that this person that you carry his blood around had committed so much travesty for 31 years to all these people in the community. It wasn't until '04 that I even had heard of BTK. In '04 I was trying to figure out what had happened in Wichita and I didn't even know about any of this. All of a sudden in '05 it's your father and every day for the rest your life is altered.