Dennis Rader is a serial murderer whose self-chosen moniker, BTK, was an acronym for “bind, torture, kill.” Between 1974 and 1991, he killed ten people in Wichita, Kansas, including two children. Throughout this period, he lived an outwardly normal life, working full time, raising a family, volunteering with Boy Scouts, and serving as president of his church council.
Kerri Rawson is BTK’s daughter. In A Serial Killer’s Daughter, she recounts her life with Rader until the moment that life fell apart on February 25, 2005, when her father was arrested. Over the next decade, she suffered anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder as she attempted to reconcile the man she knew as her father with the man whose crimes revealed a monster.
At first, she could not believe that her father was the killer. Over time, however, acknowledgement of her dad’s crimes shined a retrospective light on her father’s temper, secrecy, and controlling tendencies in her growing up years, as well as her lifelong night terrors and overdeveloped sense of stranger danger.
Looking at the past through the lens of her dad’s crimes, she was horrified when she realized that he had killed two victims while on a Boy Scouts outing with his son, that he had killed a neighbor several doors down, and that he had used the church basement to store equipment he used in murders as well as to stage a corpse for bondage photos.
True crime stories typically focus on the perpetrator or his victims. What makes A Serial Killer’s Daughter unique is its focus on the perpetrator’s family members, who also are victims of his crimes. Without in any way downplaying the suffering of Rader’s ten victims or their families, Rawson tells the story of her and her family’s victimization in unsparing terms. The book includes several examples of letters between her and father, as well as family pictures from before the arrest.
Rawson’s memoir is a memoir of faith. In addition to professional counseling, meditation on Scripture and participation in church helped her put her life back together in the decade following her father’s arrest. They eventually led her to forgive her father for what he did to his family, a forgiveness she experienced as a healing of her emotional wounds. Even so, she states outright that Dennis Rader deserves the life imprisonment he was sentenced to because of the enormity of his crimes.
A Serial Killer’s Daughter makes for engrossing reading, not because it reports on Rader’s crimes in salacious detail, but because it chronicles the way one man’s evil rebounded on his own beloved daughter.
Kerri Rawson, A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2019).
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