Voices: My father is the BTK serial killer. This is why I’m speaking out about Idaho suspect Bryan Kohberger

Dennis Rader and Kerri Rawson  (AP/Harper Collins)
Dennis Rader and Kerri Rawson (AP/Harper Collins)

In the early hours of Friday, December 30, glass shattered out of the windows of the Kohberger family home, in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, as local police and agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation executed a no-knock search warrant. Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old teaching assistant and PhD student in criminal justice at Washington State University, was apprehended while staying with his family over the holiday break.

Kohberger, who has since been extradited to Moscow, Idaho, is facing four counts of murder in the November 13 stabbing deaths of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen, 21-year-old best friends, as well as their roommate, Xana Kernodle, and her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, both 20. He is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, and we’ll have to wait for a trial to determine that.

While obtaining his master’s degree in criminal justice at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, Kohberger studied under Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology and criminal justice, who teaches a course specifically on serial killers.

Dr. Ramsland has had a years-long academic relationship with my father, Dennis Rader, known as BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill). Dr. Ramsland wrote my father’s biography, Confessions of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, published in 2016 after years of correspondence, phone calls, and in-person visits to my father’s prison. They even played chess, a game my father taught me as a child, noting one move at a time via snail mail.

I initially became acquainted with Dr. Ramsland when my father contacted me in late 2014, urging me to work with her on his biography. I declined, issuing a victim’s statement in 2016, after spending weeks slowly reading, “Confessions of a Serial Killer.” I took notes, highlighted disturbing passages, and at least once, threw the book across my living room, full of disgust at my father’s narcissistic words and sexual sadistic psychopathy on full display. While I was knowledgeable of my father’s ten murders and had spent months in trauma therapy processing his horrific actions and my own PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), I was unprepared to read about his crimes detailed in his own graphic descriptions.

Since his arrest, my dad has regularly corresponded through the mail and been in telephone contact with the public, in particular true-crime fans, and criminology students. Due to the unique relationship my father has with Dr. Ramsland, I’ve been concerned since I heard of Kohberger’s arrest that he could have had direct contact with my father. I’m concerned about my father’s possible influence on Kohberger’s suspected crimes, both through academic study and potentially through correspondence. Dr. Ramsland made a public statement on Saturday, December 31, that she is “unable to make public statements at this time.”

My father’s first murders took place in January 1974, in Wichita, Kansas when he entered the Otero home, killing by strangulation, four members of the Otero family, including two children. My father then started classes at Wichita State University, studying criminal justice, gaining access to ongoing local law enforcement sources and methods of his own crimes, as he went on to commit three more murders in the 1970s. He even used a Xerox machine on campus in 1978 to photocopy one of his notorious BTK communications, attempting to remove individual traces, as he played “cat and mouse,” games with law enforcement.

My father committed three more murders after I was born, one taking place down the street between our home and my grandparent’s home in 1985, murdering Mrs. Hedge, a neighbor. Dad claimed to be on a cub scouts campout with my older brother, and I slept next to my mom, frightened during a spring thunderstorm. At the age of six, I knew Hedge had gone missing from her home the night of the thunderstorm, and I knew her body was found a week later, strangled.

In February 2005, thirty-one years after my father’s first murders, an FBI agent notified me via a knock at my apartment door in Michigan that my father had been arrested as BTK. Stumbling around in shock, shaking, I was in denial. Attempting to alibi my father, I inquired what were the dates of his potential murders. September 1986 was mentioned, a month after my family had gone on a two-week road trip to California and back, stopping at all the tourist sites, including Disneyland. Sitting in my living room in Michigan, trying not to fully collapse, I recalled the murder of Hedge in 1985, and that it was unsolved. I knew BTK strangled women, after cutting their phone lines, and I knew my father wasn’t home that night. I told the FBI agent, and he stopped the interview and called it back into the investigation team in Wichita.

I had just turned in my father on the eighth of his ten murders.

My father pled guilty in June 2005 after my family wrote him in prison requesting he take a plea to spare the victims’ families, our family, and the community of Wichita. My father facing a sentence of 177 years, showed no remorse in his final court statements. As my father shuffled into the El Dorado Correctional Facility in leg chains, to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement, I shut down and my family was left to pick up the pieces.

Similar to Kohberger’s family, my family and our lives were completely upended with my father’s arrest. For them, it was shattered glass that likely first alerted them to something being terribly wrong, for me it was an unexpected knock and the flick of an FBI badge. From the first weekend of navigating law enforcement interviews, media amassing outside our homes, attempting to obtain legal defense for my father, and navigating the criminal court system, our family has been on a 17-year immense uphill climb to try to regain some sort of normalcy.

I eventually started speaking up in the media in 2014, after spending nine years in silence. I quickly realized speaking up not only continued to help me heal, but also helped others feel not so alone. While I can’t alter the past, or what my father has done, I hope that in my continued sharing and educating, predators like my father will be identified quicker and potentially even stopped before they commit heinous crimes.