Who is BTK?
People who live in Wichita are already too familiar with the grisly details of BTK’s two decades-long killing spree, and most were fine to leave the story back in August 2005, when guards led a shackled Dennis Rader into the El Dorado Correctional Facility to begin serving his 10 life sentences for killing eight adults and two children.
The story of Wichita’s homegrown serial killer, though, has continued to fascinate the rest of the world. Documentaries, books and true crime shows focused on BTK — an ordinary-seeming father, husband and Boy Scout leader from the Wichita suburb of Park City who started a dark double life in 1974 — have sporadically appeared over the 14 years since Rader was finally apprehended by police.
But a whole new round of BTK attention is about to begin and will no doubt resurface memories for a city that would rather forget the terror it felt during the 31 years that Rader was at large.
On Friday, People Magazine’s newest issue hit newsstands with the cover story “Raised by a Serial Killer,” Kerri Rawson’s account of learning to forgive and heal after finding out her father was BTK. The cover features a photo of young Rawson smiling on her graduation day next to her father.
The story also is promoting Rawson’s new memoir, “A Serial Killer’s Daughter,” which will be released on Tuesday. Rawson, now 40, lives in Michigan with her husband, Darian, and their two children.
Rawson also will be featured on a special two-hour episode of the ABC news-show “20/20,” set to air from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1. It includes an interview with Rawson, conducted by reporter Deborah Roberts, which marks the first time Rader’s daughter has granted a television interview.
Then, on Feb. 4, Wichita’s KPTS, Channel 8, will air a special documentary it produced that includes an interview with Rawson.
Also in February, Investigation Discovery will air a two-hour special called “BTK: A Killer Among Us.” The documentary, which also features an interview with Rawson, will air at 9 p.m. on Feb. 17. (Investigation Discovery is on Cox Cable Channel 90 and 2090 in Wichita.)
The sudden renewed interest in BTK, though, is all inspired by the publication of Rawson’s book, which bills itself as a “story of faith, love and overcoming” and is being put out by Thomas Nelson Publishers, which specializes in works for the Christian marketplace.
Rawson was first thrust into the spotlight shortly after her father was arrested in 2005, when it was revealed that the police had obtained one of her Pap smears from when she was a student at Kansas State University and used it to confirm that Rader’s DNA matched a semen sample left at the scene of his first murders — the slaying of four members of the Otero family in 1974, four years before Rawson was even born. All but three of Rader’s 10 victims were killed before his daughter was born.
Rader, 73, is serving 10 life sentences for killing eight adults and two children in a murder spree that terrorized Wichita from 1974 to 1991. He resurfaced in 2004 after The Eagle wrote an anniversary story about his first murders — the brutal slayings of four members of the Otero family — and quoted a local author as saying that many Wichitans probably had never heard of BTK. Rader was captured in February 2005.
When her father was initially arrested, Rawson and her family — including mother, Paula, and brother, Brian — did not speak publicly. Rawson broke their silence with a September 2014 letter to The Wichita Eagle and subsequent interview that criticized author Stephen King’s novella, “A Good Marriage,” which was inspired by Rader and Rawson’s family. In the letter to the Wichita media, Rawson asked the media to leave her and her family alone, saying that they were “not a story to be exploited & profited on.” She argued in the letter that her father was not worth the attention.
The following year, she granted her first in-depth interview to The Wichita Eagle for the article, “When your father is the BTK serial killer, forgiveness is not tidy.” The story started with an FBI agent showing up on Rawson’s doorstep to tell her that her father was a seriel killer and ended with Rawson’s complicated attempt to forgive her father — for her own sanity.
The new book, which is a 318-pager written in the first person that took Rawson three years to write, tells mostly the same story with much more detail. It talks of her parents courtship and marriage, her outdoorsy childhood spent camping and hiking with her father, and his dark, unpredictable temper.
It tells of Rawson’s marriage and the birth of her kids, and it also discusses what was going on within her family as they learned exactly what the man they knew had been accused of doing. It details Rawson’s own panicked descent into denial and depression, and it also includes letters her father sent her from jail.
Rawson has said that she hopes her story helps others wade through their own emotional turmoil. She even shares in the book a couple lists of survivor’s tips, including “what not to say to a serial killer’s daughter.” (Did you know you’re on Google? Do you have a serial-killer gene?)
In the book’s epilogue, Rawson talks about finally finding her own peace.
“What’s in my past is what it is; it can’t be changed,” she wrote “Dad murdered ten people and devastated countless lives. Yet on the days when I’m not wrestling with hard, terrible truths, I will tell you: I love my dad - the one I mainly knew. I miss him.”
Rawson was not available for a phone interview last week.