By Brad Dison
Kerri Rawson was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1978. She had a happy childhood with loving parents and good friends. When Kerri was about ten years old, she and her parents watched a news report on local tv about a serial killer in Wichita, her hometown. The news anchor briefly told of the murders, explained that the killer was still on the loose, and asked anyone with information to report it to police. Kerri was terrified. What if the killer came for her next? Her parents did as most parents would do and assured her that she was safe. Kerri was not so sure.
The news program explained that on January 15, 1974, Charlie, Danny, and Carmen Ortego returned home from school in Wichita and discovered the lifeless bodies of their father, 38-year-old Joseph, mother, 33-year-old Julie, sister, 11-year-old Josephine, and brother, 9-year-old Joseph, Jr. They had been tied up, torture, and murdered. The police found few clues.
At about 2 p.m. on April 4, 1974, 20-year-old Kathryn Bright and her 19-year-old brother, Kevin, returned to her residence in Wichita, and discovered an intruder in the home. The man said he would not hurt them, he just wanted to rob them. The man forced Kevin to tie his sister to a chair and led him into another room. The man attempted to bind Kevin and began choking him. To the man’s surprise, Kevin fought back. During the struggle, the man pulled a gun and shot Kevin in the head. Thinking Kevin was dead, the man returned to Kathryn. Somehow, Kevin escaped from the house and alerted police. Kathryn had been stabbed multiple times and died that evening in the hospital. Kevin survived but was unable to provide much information about the killer.
On March 17, 1977, Shirley Vian Relford’s three children, ages 8, 6, and 4, ran to a neighbor’s house in Wichita. The panicked children explained that their mother had been murdered. Police located Shirley’s lifeless body on a bed in her home. She had been bound, tortured, and murdered.
On the morning of December 8, 1977, a man called the Wichita Police Department and reported a murder. He provided the address and hung up. Police went to the residence and found the body of Nancy Fox. She had been bound, tortured and murdered.
In 1978, a television station in Wichita received a letter from someone who claimed to be the killer of the Oteros, Bright, Vian Relford, and Fox. In this letter, the writer provided several nicknames for himself that the press could use when reporting on his crimes. One of them stuck. From then on, he was referred to as BTK, which stands for Bind, Torture, Kill, his method of murder. The press finally reported that Wichita had a serial killer.
In 1979, BTK stalked 63-year-old Anna Williams and intended for her to be his next victim. He studied her schedule and had everything planned. Anna failed to return home at her normal time. BTK waited impatiently. Anna was visiting friends. After waiting for several hours, BTK, furious that his target had evaded him, drove away. Anna’s visit to her friends saved her life.
April 27, 1985, was the last time friends saw 53-year-old Marine Hedge. A few days later, police found her car at a shopping center in Wichita. On May 5, police located a body in rural Sedgwick County. They positively identified her through dental records.
On December 31, 1987, Mary Fager returned to her home in Wichita and found her husband, 37-year-old Phillip, lying on the living room floor. He had been bound, tortured and murdered. In a panic, she ran to neighbor’s house for help. Police arrived at the Fager home and found the lifeless bodies of Mary’s 16-year-old daughter, Kelly, and 9-year-old daughter, Sherri. BTK wrote a letter in which he denied killing the Fagers. However, evidence on the letter proved that he was their killer.
On February 1, 1991, police found the body of 62-year-old Dolores Davis under a bridge in Sedgwick County. She had been bound, tortured, and strangled. They later learned that BTK had killed Dolores on January 19th.
Police wondered when the next murder would occur. They hoped he would make a mistake which would give away his identity. They were building evidence against BTK but still had no idea who he was. They waited but no more murders fit BTK’s method. Local news stations occasionally reported on the cold case. Each time she saw the news story about the serial killer, Kerri’s fear of the killer was renewed. One day, Kerri and her father were walking hand-in-hand near their home. She explained her fears to her father. As he had done many times before, he told her she was safe to ease her mind.
BTK’s downfall came with his desire for public attention. He taunted investigators with postcards and letters. He sometimes left packages to be found by police which contained mementos he had removed from his victims. On one occasion, BTK sent a package to a television station which contained a letter on a floppy disk and more mementos from one of his murders. Investigators located information stored in the metadata of the floppy disk and learned the true identity of BTK.
On February 25, 2005, Kerri heard a knock at the door. She had not thought about BTK for some time, but the stern FBI agent on the other side of the door sent chills down her spine when he told her that after 31 years of searching they had arrested BTK. At first, Kerry was confused as to why the agent would be alerting her specifically. Then she learned that the man who had reassured her all those years that she was safe, her father, was BTK.
This article is dedicated to the victims of BTK. The absence of his name from this article is no mistake. Kerri Rawson (her married name) filed a no-contact order against her father and works as an advocate for victims of abuse, crime, and trauma.
1. The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), April 5, 1974, p.1.
2. The Salina Journal (Salina, Kansas), March 18, 1977, p.15.
3. The Wichita Beacon (Wichita Kansas), December 9, 1977, p.32.
4. The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), May 7, 1985, p.77.
5. The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), February 26, 2005, p.1.
6. Investigation Discovery. “’BTK: A Killer Among us’ Unmasks ‘Normal Dad’ Dennis Rader.” Accessed March 6, 2022. investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/id-shows/btk-a-killer-among-us-dennis-rader-kerri-rawson.