I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
What is it like to learn that your ordinary, loving father is a serial killer?
In 2005, Kerri Rawson heard a knock on the door of her apartment. When she opened it, an FBI agent informed her that her father had been arrested for murdering ten people, including two children. It was then that she learned her father was the notorious serial killer known as BTK, a name he’d given himself that described the horrific way he committed his crimes: bind, torture, kill. As news of his capture spread, Wichita celebrated the end of a thirty-one-year nightmare.
For Kerri Rawson, another was just beginning. She was plunged into a black hole of horror and disbelief. The same man who had been a loving father, a devoted husband, church president, Boy Scout leader, and a public servant had been using their family as a cover for his heinous crimes since before she was born. Everything she had believed about her life had been a lie.
I wouldn’t have requested this book from the library if I hadn’t heard the author interviewed on the radio. She sounded somewhat exasperated and I wondered why, driving me to look for her book. Now that I’ve read it, I understand some of her indignation.
First, it seems that many people don’t read the title or don’t believe it. This is NOT a book about her father, this is HER story. Yes, her father appears in her account as a major player because he is her father, but the story is hers. It focuses on her life and her beliefs. I can see why she’s ticked that people read it only as a way to view her dad.
Secondly, it has obviously been written as what the evangelical Christians call “a witness.” She is professing her Christian faith and it is the most important part of the work to her. The discount of that by secular reviewers must drive her mad.
Truth be told, she could have used a good ghostwriter to assist her. There are several chapters dealing with one hiking trip to the Grand Canyon, where there should probably only be one. It was a good idea to use this trip as a way to illustrate her relationship with her father and to highlight his idiosyncrasies. It just drags on far too long and has too much religious reference in it.
It quickly becomes obvious to the reader that Dennis Rader was a volatile man and a challenge to live with. His daughter, having known no other way of life, didn’t realize the extent of his abusiveness until long after his arrest. She has fought a life-long struggle with anxiety and depression and that is unsurprising, given her family situation. Interestingly, it seems that she and her mother are the ones who are depended on to “manage” Rader. Funny how it’s always up to the women in the family to handle the volatile man!
The important aspect of this book, to my mind, is the fact that we tend to forget the families of serial killers when we are thinking about their victims. Rawson shows us in no uncertain terms the difficulties encountered by her family and their attempts to put their lives back together. Dennis Rader may be BTK to the world, but he was still a husband and father, uncle, neighbour, and working man. Those who shared his life were shocked by his arrest and confession and had hard work to do to put all of this behind them to some extent. We need to extend to them the same compassion that is offered to the murder victims’ families, as they have been betrayed and damaged too.