Kerri Rawson, the daughter of BTK serial killer Dennis Rader, broke the family’s nine-year silence Thursday and talked about her father’s 10 murders.
An interview by writer Stephen King about the upcoming movie “A Good Marriage” prompted her to break the self-imposed silence, she said.
The movie, adapted from one of King’s short stories, is about a wife who suddenly discovers her husband is a serial killer. Rawson, 36, learned on Wednesday that the movie was inspired by her father and her family.
“He’s exploiting my father’s 10 victims and their families,” she said.
She said she, her brother and her mother didn’t know that her father was BTK until the FBI told her in February 2005, shortly after Dennis Rader’s arrest.
She said her father is where he belongs, in prison. She has never visited him there. “I haven’t been brave enough for that yet,” she said.
“He has said he is sorry, but that means nothing,” she said of her father. “He is not worth all the books and the news stories and all the attention.”
And she criticized King, who gave interviews in recent days saying the novella and movie were inspired by the BTK murders, and how the killer lived for years with a family who had no idea what he was doing. “A Good Marriage” is a story in the collection “Full Dark, No Stars,” which was published in 2010.
King until Wednesday was one of her favorite writers, she said.
“He’s just going to give my father a big head, and he absolutely does not need that,” she said. “Great – now Stephen King is giving my father a big head. Thanks for that. That’s the last thing my dad should get.”
She said King will make money, as she said he always does, only this time from the grief of all the victim families. “How many millions does he already have?” she said.
“Any money King makes off this story should go either to abused children, battered wives, or police,” Rawson said.
She said she’s read at least a dozen Stephen King novels and loved them all but won’t read another. She said her father was also a huge King fan – she worries that King’s books might have influenced some of the bad things her father did in some of his later murders.
“We feel exploited,” she said of her family. “We consider ourselves the 11th victim family. Stephen King has the right to tell a story, but why bring us into it? Why couldn’t he just find inspiration for another good story, but leave out where it all came from?”
‘They never knew’
Rawson lives in Michigan; she married her husband, Darian, 11 years ago, with Dennis Rader giving her away at the wedding.
She is a stay-at-home mother and a former elementary school teacher; she has two young children, a boy and girl. Dennis Rader knows he has grandchildren, she said, but she has never sent him pictures.
She and her family were hounded by the media after her father’s arrest. They hid, and talked through doors, asking people to go away.
“Oprah called. Diane Sawyer called. I saw my father’s picture on CNN. It was insane,” Rawson said.
She said it hurt to hear that Ken Landwehr died of kidney cancer earlier this year. Landwehr was the Wichita police homicide unit commander who devised the strategy to capture her father after the serial killer resurfaced with taunting messages sent to police and the media in 2004.
Landwehr “and Kelly Otis (a police detective on the BTK task force) were very kind to me and my family,” Rawson said. “They helped us get through it, talked to us with a lot of kindness. I am sure they kept a lot of media crap away from us afterward. And there was a lot of that.”
She’s grateful to Landwehr for two other reasons. He and his task force removed a serial killer from freedom. And they publicly defended the rest of the family, saying in interviews that they were sure the other Raders, including her mother, Paula, did not know what Dennis was doing in the 31 years that he stalked women, killed 10 people and remained free.
In the nine years since her father’s capture in February 2005, a statement she and her mother Paula have heard repeatedly was that Paula knew all along.
“No way could she have known,” Rawson said. “She wouldn’t have raised us with him.”
Otis said she’s right.
“It’s absolutely true; they never knew about it,” Otis said.
Otis, now chief of investigations for the Sedgwick County district attorney, said he thinks it is unfortunate that King is basing the short story on the BTK story.
“Dennis Rader got sexually aroused every time he relived what he did to those victims,” Otis said. “I can absolutely guarantee that that’s what he will do now that he’ll know that King is basing this story on him.”
Katherine Monoghan, a publicist for King, who is scheduled to speak in Wichita on Nov. 14, said King was traveling by air on Thursday and wasn’t available to respond to Rawson’s comments.
But on King’s website he wrote this about the inspiration for his short story, “A Good Marriage”:
“This story came to my mind after reading an article about Dennis Rader, the infamous BTK (bind, torture, and kill) murderer who took the lives of ten people – mostly women, but two of his victims were children – over a period of roughly sixteen years.
“In many cases, he mailed pieces of his victims’ identification to the police. Paula Rader was married to this monster for thirty-four years, and many in the Wichita area, where Rader claimed his victims, refuse to believe that she could live with him and not know what he was doing.
“I did believe – I do believe – and I wrote this story to explore what might happen in such a case if the wife suddenly found out about her husband’s awful hobby.
“I also wrote it to explore the idea that it’s impossible to fully know anyone, even those we love the most.”
A synopsis of King’s story on the website says: “Darcy Anderson learns more about her husband of over twenty years than she would have liked to know when she stumbles literally upon a box under a worktable in their garage.”
‘He was confessing’
Dennis Rader remains in “special management” at El Dorado Correctional Facility, prison records show.
He has been held there since Aug. 19, 2005, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records. His “earliest possible release date” is listed as Feb. 26, 2180, long beyond a human lifetime.
He has received only one disciplinary report in those nine years, for a mail-related violation.
His latest prison mug shot, taken in early 2013, shows a man who looks noticeably older, with a deeply creased forehead and disheveled hair on both sides of the bald top of his head.
Her father is now 69, Rawson said. Her mother is 66, and retired.
Rawson said the FBI came to her door in Michigan in February 2005.
“At first I tried to argue,” she said. “I get a knock on my door at noon (in Michigan). The FBI is telling me my dad is this other person. I didn’t believe it and tried to alibi my dad: ‘What dates are you talking about?’ ‘What time periods are we talking about here?’ I tried, but then quickly found out … there was no other way around it, it was true.
“He was confessing.”
The media hounded her mother, her grandmother, the rest of her family in Wichita. They hounded her in Michigan, she said. They offered friends and relatives money to talk. “It was awful,” she said. “I think my mother and I both suffer from some PTSD from what happened.”
It shattered her and her brother’s lives and emotions, she said. Both were bright children. Her brother, Brian, had been an Eagle scout and was in training to serve in U.S. Navy submarines when Dennis Rader was arrested, she said, noting that “you can’t do anything like that unless you’re really bright.”
Her brother served on Navy submarines from 2004 to 2009, she said. He’s going to college on the GI Bill, she said. She worries that he is struggling.
“He doesn’t have the kids and the family that I have,” she said. “And that’s really all I should say about him.”
She has two degrees, one in education, one in life sciences, from Kansas State University, she said. But they all had to go into hiding. She and her mother sought counseling.
“The hardest thing: Once you find out this horrible stuff about someone you loved and live with, you had to really work through it,” Rawson said.
She said she would never have made it without the strength of her husband, her mother and her Christian faith. “You just decide this is what life gave you,” Rawson said. “And you decide to go on.”
Her mother, who still lives in the Wichita area, is one of her heroes. “She held her head up, kept her life quiet, kept going to church – she is amazing,” she said.
Her own daughter, a child, has begun to ask questions. “She’s realized she’s got these two grandmothers – but where is her grandfather?” Rawson said. “She’s seen our wedding video. My father gave me away at the wedding. What father wouldn’t do that?”
“I didn’t want to lie,” Rawson said. “So I’ve told my daughter he’s in prison. I have not told her why. I told her that her grandpa did bad things. And because it’s sometimes really hard to get through a day, I sometimes tell her that her mom is having a really bad day.
“I know it’s all crazy. Anybody who met my dad, who knew him – to hear that he’s this other thing, this killer. … It is very hard for everyone who knew him to wrap their heads around it.’
‘He was my dad’
The last time she saw her father: Christmas 2004. BTK had resurfaced the previous March. He would be caught two months later, in February 2005.
She can’t bring herself to go see him in prison, she said. But she has written occasionally, “Is it true?”
And her father has occasionally written back.
She accepts none of his explanations for what he did.
In her home, growing up, she loved him.
“He was everything,” Rawson said. “He was just a dad. He taught us about nature. How to fish. How to go camping. How to garden. He taught me a ton. He took us on good vacations. He was pretty Boy Scouty – no swearing.”
In her home in Park City as a child, she said, their father disciplined her and her brother for mistakes – for not picking up their shoes, or for swearing, or for sitting in his favorite chair at the kitchen table. “But,” she said, “he never abused us in any way.”
“He’s just this guy.
“I have never hated him. I was extremely hurt by him I loved him, after all. He was my dad. So I was extremely angry and hurt.
“One of the worst parts: wondering, did he really love us?
“Or was it just a facade?”
‘I’m glad they caught him’
In 2012, she said, she stood up in her church (“I am a non-denominational evangelical Christian,” she said). “I told my story to 200 women,” she said.
That brought a measure of relief, though she told the women she’d never forgive her father.
But some time after that, at Christmas time, on the way home from a movie, she decided to forgive her father – to bring some peace to herself, though not necessarily for him. “God gave me that forgiveness,” she said. “My faith is my rock under me.”
She wrote a six-page letter to her dad, explaining that her forgiveness comes with caveats: That she will never understand what he did, or why. That what he did makes no sense.
“No matter what the books or the stories have said, he’s not a monster,” she said. “He’s just a guy who did the worst thing possible, 10 times in 17 years.
“He belongs in prison.
“I’m glad they caught him.
“I cannot imagine being one of the victim families and to endure what they must have gone through.”
Contributing: Tim Potter of The Eagle
Letter from Dennis Rader’s daughter
On Thursday, Kerri Rawson sent a letter titled: “A letter to Stephen King, the media from Dennis Rader’s daughter.”
She included her phone number and e-mail.
The letter from her reads as follows:
To The Eagle, The Wichita TV Media & Mr. Stephen King. My family is done, we are tired. We are not news, we are not a story to be exploited & profited on, to be twisted & retold to your liking whenever you want. Leave us, the families & the community out of it.
My dad is not a monster, that’s elevating him. He’s just a man, who choose to do some of the most horrible things a person can do. Not a monster, a man. A man who took 10 precious lives & tried to destroy countless others. He’s not worth the attention.
My mom is the strongest & bravest woman I know. She doesn’t need her life re-spun in a story or on the big screen. Her life is a true testament of all that is good & right in this world.
My family has tried hard to fight the good fight, to stand on our faith & live out a peaceful life. So let us live that life & please, leave us out of it. Out of the noise & chaos & the ugly & the awful.
Kerri (Rader) Rawson