True Crime

My dad was a serial killer!

"The ‘bad man’ I feared was under my roof"

Kerri Rawson’s dad had an evil secret.

Here, Kerri, tells the story in her own words.

As I woke with a scream, my mum Paula rushed into my room.

Aged six, I’d been plagued with night terrors ever since our lovely neighbour, Marine, a 53-year-old widow and grandma, had gone missing and was found murdered a week later.

‘There’s a bad man in the house,’ I told Mum, petrified.

‘You’re dreaming, you’re safe,’ she murmured.

So I drifted back to sleep, because Mum was right there and my dad, Dennis, was just across the hall. He’d never let anything hurt us.

Growing up, Dad did everything in his power to protect me and my big brother Brian, who was three years older.

After a stint installing security systems, Dad had drummed stranger danger into us. That’s why at 26, I hesitated when I heard a rap on my front door.

I loved fishing with Dad
I loved fishing with Dad

I was home alone and visitors usually had to buzz to be let in…

‘Can I help you?’ I called.

‘I’m with the FBI. I need to speak with you,’ a man said.

He seemed harmless – all he was carrying was a notebook and a pencil.

‘Have you heard of BTK?’ he asked, after I let him in.

It was the moniker a serial killer who’d evaded the authorities since the 70s had given to himself. It stood for Bind, Torture, Kill.

‘It’s your dad – he’s been arrested,’ the agent said.

‘My dad is what?’ I stammered. ‘BTK,’ the officer said.

The room spun. My sweet dad – who’d cried when we put down our dog Patches, who’d choked back tears as he walked me down the aisle when I’d married my husband, Darian, who’d reminded me to change the oil in my car just yesterday – was a serial killer?

Dad wore many hats – boy scout volunteer, church leader, husband, father… But murderer?

When I spoke to Mum later that day, she was distraught.

‘I keep telling the police they’ve made a terrible mistake,’ she said.

‘Me too, Mama,’ I echoed.

Sure my father was innocent, I typed BTK into Google. Quickly, I tumbled into an abyss of terror.

How could he?
How could he?

Dad was wanted for eight murders – including two kids. I wanted to vomit.

Scrolling through countless links, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A year before my brother was born, BTK had slaughtered Joseph and Julie Otero and their two children, Josie, 11, and Joey, nine. A few months later, he’d killed Kathryn Bright, 21.

Seeking notoriety, he’d contacted the media, taunting the police with letters and phone calls.

Most recently, he’d used cereal boxes to leave the authorities messages.

Brian wasn’t quite two when BTK killed mum-of-three Shirley Vian Relford.

Later that year, when Mum was three months pregnant with me, he’d taken the life of Nancy Fox, 25.

Nearly a decade on, he strangled young mum Vicki Wegerle, 28, with her pantyhose. It can’t be true… I thought.

Then, I came across a recording of a call BTK made to emergency services after killing Nancy Fox in 1977.

‘You will find a homicide at 843,’ the male caller said.

Dad! I realised. It felt like my whole life was a lie.

Nancy Fox
Nancy Fox

The next day, police announced they’d arrested my father, Dennis Rader, 59.

Soon after, Dad was also charged with the murders of retiree Dolores Davis, 62, and

Marine Hedge – our neighbour, whose death had haunted me as a child.

‘Don’t worry, we’re safe…’ Dad had reassured me all those years ago. I’d feared a ‘bad man’ – a stranger – but he’d been under our roof all along. Dad had confessed to the FBI.

‘It’s like your dad has died,’ Mum said a few weeks later.

Over the coming days, we remembered chilling details.

‘I asked your dad once why would BTK use a cereal box to communicate with the police, like it was reported in the news. He said, “Cereal – like a serial killer”.’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A fortnight later, and just days on from his 60th birthday, I wrote to Dad.

I’d adored my father
I’d adored my father

I wanted to convince him to plead guilty, sparing his victims’ families, and ours, a lengthy trial.

We love the husband, father and man we know with all our hearts, we don’t know who that other man is, I wrote.

They finally honed in on me like a missile, Dad replied. I do have some serious problems and I do need help on them, he admitted, before signing off, Love, Dad.

In another note, he wrote, I’m so proud of you and how you turned out. You and Brian. A dad could never ask for anything else.

It gutted me to write to my father, but I did it monthly, decorating my typed letters with clip art to cheer him up.

My night terrors came back with a vengeance, too.

But now the thing trying to kill me in the dead of night looked like my father.

‘Dad?’ I’d scream, tugging at Darian. ‘It’s not,’ he’d soothe. ‘Go back to sleep.’

In June 2005, four months after his arrest, my father, Dennis Rader, 60, pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder.

After years of silence, a newspaper article in early 2004, on the 30th anniversary of the Otero family murder, had spurred Dad to reach out.

Soon after, he sent the paper a letter, enclosing Vicki Wegerle’s driver’s licence and photos taken from the crime scene.

On a roll, Dad showered the police and local media with cryptic word puzzles. Can I communicate with Floppy disk and not be traced to a computer? Be honest, he’d asked the police in one note. If so, he asked the cops to place an ad in the paper with the message, Rex, it will be OK.

Seizing the chance, the authorities did just that and two weeks later Dad sent them a disk. But my father didn’t realise it contained encrypted data that led police straight to him.

‘How come you lied to me?’ Dad asked the detective later.

‘Because I was trying to catch you,’ he replied.

I’ve had to forgive Dad
I’ve had to forgive Dad

I couldn’t bear to be in court. Reading the court transcript online, Dad had shared horrifying details of his crimes with the judge.

Referring to his victims as ‘projects’, my father said he’d stalk them before pouncing.

The two-day sentencing in August was almost the death of me. The detectives who’d worked on the cases went into gut-wrenching details of his reign of terror.

It was horrific, but he was still my father, and I loved him – no matter what.

After the families read their victim impact statements, Dad was given a chance to make a final statement – a chance to show remorse.

Instead, Dad rambled on selfishly for 20 minutes.

He called himself a ‘sexual predator’, ‘self-centred’ and added, ‘I seem to crave the attention of the media.’

He called me, Brian and Mum ‘social contacts’ – we were just pawns in his sick, twisted game. I’d adored him. How dare he? He could rot in hell. That was the last time I’d ever hear my father’s voice. I cut off all communication with him.

He should never have got married or had children, he should have turned himself in. I wouldn’t be alive, but I was okay with that. I’d trade my life for theirs, I thought.

My father was given 10 consecutive life sentences – 175 years in jail.

Later, I found out that DNA taken from semen left on 11-year-old Josie Otero’s leg in January 1974 was matched to DNA taken from one of my pap smears.

Already a suspect, this gave police the ammunition they needed to arrest Dad the next day.

Dad kept sending letters, but I didn’t reply. Now, 14 years on, we’re writing again.

A mum-of-two, I battle depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dad murdered 10 people and devastated countless lives – I can never forget that. But, to get through, I’ve had to forgive. I love my dad – the one I knew.

A Serial Killer’s Daughter, Harper Collins, out now.

A Serial Killer's Daughter

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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