BTK Serial Killer: Did Kerri Rawson Know Her Dad Was a Murderer?

Kids learning out their parents have secrets – even flaws – is common. But discovering your dad is secretly a serial killer? That’s a whole other level of astonishing.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened to Kerri Rawson when the police were successful in catching the notorious BTK Killer. Dennis Rader, a husband, father, and respected community member, eluded police for more than three decades. Now Kerri Rawson is speaking out about what it was like growing up as the daughter of a serial killer. Her revelations are haunting – and undeniably sad.

Who was the BTK Killer?

BTK killer
Dennis Rader | Travis Heying-Pool/Getty Images

The BTK Killer terrorized the Wichita, Kansas area beginning in 1974. The nickname, which he assigned to himself in a series of taunting letters he sent to police, stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill.” That’s how he disposed of his victims.

Dennis Rader eventually got caught when police traced a letter he sent back to his church. But his arrest and subsequent trial meant the nightmare was just beginning for his family. According to them, they had no idea Rader was secretly murdering people.

Did Kerri Rawson know her dad was a killer?

Kerri Rawson describes Rader as a protective, doting father. After his arrest, she had to come to terms with the fact that the man she looked up to was living a lie. “I had to learn how to grieve a man that was not dead, somebody I loved very much that no one else loved anymore,” Rawson told 20/20.

Rader began his killing spree when he murdered the Otero family in 1974. His daughter Kerri was born the next year, in 1975. She and her mother both maintain that they had no idea Rader was a killer and never would have helped him cover up any crimes. In total, the BTK Killer murdered 10 victims.

Kerri Rawson
Kerri Rawson via Instagram

How did Kerri Rawson help her dad get convicted?

She may not have known it at the time, but Kerri Rawson was instrumental in getting her father put away for life in conjunction with his crimes. In order to build their case, prosecutors had to use DNA evidence to link Rader to the crime scenes. For this task, they used Rawson’s DNA samples without her permission.

“They found out I had had annual pap smears and they got a warrant for my medical records,” Rawson explains during the 20/20 documentary. “It would have been nice if somebody had asked me for my DNA. I would have willingly given it.”

Did Rawson stop talking to her father, the BTK Killer?

Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader | Bo Rader-Pool/Getty Images

Rawson describes the moment that she discovered the true nature of her father as “devastating.” But even in that moment, it was hard to separate the man she thought she knew with the man he really was.

Rader was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 175 years in prison. After he was incarcerated, he and Rawson began exchanging letters. During the 20/20 interview she said, “I wasn’t corresponding with BTK. I’m never corresponding with BTK. I’m talking to my father. I’m talking to the man that I lived with and loved for 26 years.” She went on to explain, “I still love my dad today. I love the man that I knew. I don’t know a psychopath… That’s not the man I knew and loved.”

Rader had similar sentiments. In the letters he sent to Rawson, he pled for forgiveness. In a letter from 2005 he wrote, “You will always be my baby girl I raised right-proud-independent and now is a grown adult with many years of love to give. Life before the arrest was a good time and the dark side took me away.”

What does Kerri Rawson think of her father now?

Although she’s horrified by what he did, Kerri Rawson eventually began down a path of forgiveness for her own well-being. “I realized I was rotting within. I didn’t just forgive my father for him. I had to do it for myself,” she explained.

“It was a very long journey,” Rawson said. “There was a lot of hard work in me, with faith. I had gone back to church. I was working on my relationship with God, working on my own heart.”

However, that forgiveness didn’t extend to everything. She still can’t get over the lives he ruined. “I’m not forgiving him for what he did to those other families,” says Rawson. “But I am forgiving him for what he did to our family.”