The Shattering Moment I Learned My Dad Was the Notorious BTK Serial Killer
Kerri Rawson has spent nearly 14 years trying to shake the memory of that morning in February 2005 when an FBI agent showed up at her front door with devastating news.
Dennis Rader, the doting, protective 59-year-old father she thought she knew, had just been arrested for 10 unimaginably savage murders — and unmasked as the serial killer known as “BTK,” for “bind, torture, kill,” a name he’d created for himself while terrorizing the family’s hometown of Wichita, Kan., between 1974 and 1991.
“It took more than 10 years before I could even sit across from someone and even talk about this,” Rawson tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “Nobody wants to believe their father could be capable of such monstrous things.”
Now, Rawson, 40, has written a book — A Serial Killer’s Daughter — that chronicles how her horror and anger were complicated by the love she’d felt for her father, as well as the terrible toll his double-life has taken on her family. (Rawson’s book comes out Jan. 29.)
The sheer savagery of her father’s crimes hasn’t made her journey easy. Rader often stalked his victims — most of whom he strangled slowly after binding their arms and legs with rope — for months, then hid mementos from his kills in the floorboards beneath the family’s linen closet.
Memories of the morning her life was turned upside down still haunt Rawson, whose husband Darian was at work when the FBI agent appeared at the front door of their Detroit-area apartment.
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Reluctantly, she let the agent inside and moments later he began to tell her why he’d come. “Have you heard of BTK?” he asked Rawson, who was unaware that her father had just been arrested by dozens of police officers after detectives had linked him to the killings through a floppy disk BTK had recently sent them, taunting them that he was about to kill again.
Rawson was confused by the question. “It seemed like such a weird thing to bring up,” she recalls. “Suddenly I was thinking, ‘My mom’s been murdered.’ My mind started making these illogical leaps because I was so scared and frightened.”
As her mind raced and she tried to make sense of his words, she heard the agent say something about her father being a murderer. In her panic and confusion, Rawson began thinking, “My God, my father murdered my mom. … I felt like I was going to pass out. I was falling apart, holding onto the wall above the stove and I told him, ‘I need to sit down.'”
Over the next few hours the terrible truth began to sink in — and years would pass before any semblance of normalcy would return to her life. Her father would ultimately plead guilty to the 10 murders and is now serving a 175-year sentence.
“I was just trying to stay alive and breathe,” Rawson recalls of the day she learned the horrible truth. “Trying to recover from the shock, telling myself over and over that I’d do anything not to be the daughter of a serial killer.”
20/20 will air an interview with Kerri Rawson on Friday, February 1 at 9pm ET on ABC.