A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming
By Kerri Rawson
The first time I found that writing could be therapeutic, was the death of my mother’s husband. He was 52 years old. He was a sweet, kind, and gentle man. I worked in a hospital and had seen people who had passed on, but never had I seen one laying on my mother’s living room floor and never had I cleaned the carpet afterward. Time progressed, but those flashing images continued to be stuck in my mind in a constant barrage that I couldn’t break free from. It was only after an emotional writing session where I documented every painful moment, that I was able to dislodge those images and move forward.
For Kerri Rawson, daughter of Dennis Rader, otherwise known as the serial killer BTK, writing became not only therapeutic, but a necessary way to manage both her grief and her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
For Rawson, it was February 25, 2005 when her world forever changed. It was the day that marked everything before and everything after. Her before world consisted of growing up in Kansas, in a normal middle-class family, her after world seemed to singularly identify her as the daughter of a serial killer.
Rawson relies heavily on the work of forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, known for her in-depth correspondence and discussions with Dennis Rader, as summarized in what she calls a “guided autobiography,” Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, as well as from the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, Roy Wenzl, who wrote one of the definitive books about Rader, Blind, Torture, Kill: Inside the Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door.1 Rawson’s need to research her own life, is a nightmarish scenario. Imagine having to read books and articles to learn about your life. In doing so, though, she wins over the immense pain she experienced during the predictable media onslaught after her father’s arrest. The pressures of a 24 hour news cycle, the desire to get the story, the desire to respond to a thirsty public desperate for information, made her and her family prisoners at the time.
Even more painful, were questions about whether the family knew about her father’s crimes. Anti-social traits are easily obvious in hindsight, but instances of irritability, impulsivity, and narcissistic behavior are not always an indicator of an antisocial personality disorder. What is clear from the book, is the fact that Dennis Rader became adept at compartmentalizing his life. His disregard for moral values and his lack of conscience were carefully hidden behind a facade of church activities and the appearance of being a normal husband, father, brother, and son.
For Rawson, the slow process of unfolding the massive ball of confusing emotions would not be easy, and in fact would be excruciatingly painful, made most difficult by the reality that she was suffering from post traumatic stress. With grief that didn’t fall neatly into stages, her PTSD would manifest itself in night terrors that plagued her for years.2 And while mourning is a part of life, it is also true that mourning is not always for the dead. On that February day, Kerri Rawson began her long journey of mourning the loss of a life she once knew as well as grieving the loss of the father she once knew; she says, “I loved the dad I knew.”3 The process of mourning, though, would also become the source of “guilt and shame” as Rawson questioned whether she should be afforded the right to such grief.4 In light of the overwhelming pain her father had caused his victims and their families, whom she also grieved for, was it right for her to feel anything but hatred? Was there room for anything else?
For Rawson, healing came through her faith. Her mantra, “Love Never Fails,” has been a guiding force. That, and leaning on her ultra supportive husband Darian, all rounded out by music soundtracks that allow her to shelter herself, if only for brief, but necessary, times of needed respite.
Rawson doesn’t understand her father, doesn’t excuse his actions, but forgives him and when she does so, she is clear that she does it for herself.5 “There were no excuses for what my father had done. He was responsible for all of it. He chose this for himself—chose to harm others.”6 By finally taking control of the one thing she can take control of, she frees herself and allows for the opportunity to begin the healing process and to begin to move forward in the only way she knows how. Maybe most importantly, though, is it’s in the way that works for her.
1 Ramsland, Katherine. Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Radar, the BTK Killer. (Lebanon, NH: ForeEdge, 2016).
2 Rawson, Kerri. A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming. (Nashville, Tennessee: Nashville, Tennessee, 2019), 272.
3 Rawson, 181.
4 Rawson, 198.
5 Rawson, 317.
6 Rawson, 173.