5 Serial Killers Who Were Also Fathers

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

Many people think a serial killer would be easy to spot because there’s just no way a psychopath would be able to blend into the scenery and hide his true nature. In reality, that’s exactly what a psychopath does. He (or she) learns how to act in ways that appear normal to outsiders, and for many that includes having a family. A wife and kids are the perfect camouflage for a serial killer because people don’t think a murderer could be capable of maintaining a relationship.

Whether a serial killer can be a good father is up for interpretation, but one thing is for sure—plenty of cold-blooded killers find a way to date, get married, reproduce, and contribute to raising their kids. Here are five infamous serial killers who were also fathers.

BTK
Dennis Rader, or BTK, is one of the most infamous serial killers for a number of reasons. Not only did he murder 10 people in horrific ways, but he also managed to live under the radar for over 30 years. Paula, his wife of 34 years, was granted an emergency divorce a few months after Rader was arrested and charged with 10 counts of first degree murder. Together Rader and his wife had two children, Kerri and Brian. For her part, Paula claimed to have no idea her husband was a serial killer. His kills were spread years apart and there are theories that was due to having a family and the pressures to appear normal.

Since his arrest in 2005, Rader’s daughter Kerri has spoken out about what it’s like to be the daughter of a killer. She has a book coming out in 2019 about which she said, “Being the daughter of a serial killer is rare, but I know many who carry unhealed wounds, and struggle to protect themselves and their families from the crippling effects of violence, anger, and loss. I’m not alone in grappling with how to forgive the unforgivable, in attempting to rebuild life in the shadow of death. It is my hope that my story will bring others hope. That it will help them along their journeys of grief, loss, forgiveness, and recovery.”

Green River Killer
Gary Ridgway, or the Green River Killer, has the dubious distinction of being the most prolific American serial killer in history with 49 confirmed victims. You’d think with that much time spent stalking and killing, he wouldn’t have much time or energy leftover for a relationship, let alone to raise a child. Nevertheless, Ridgway managed to get married three times and have one son named Matthew. After he was caught, Ridgway told investigators that he would show women pictures of his son to gain their trust and put them at ease.

Matthew was only seven when his father picked up a woman and killed her in the woods while Matthew waited in the car. Ridgway also took his son along with him when he visited the bodies of women he’d already killed. Still, after Ridgway was arrested, Matthew said he never knew the truth about his father. “Even when I was in fourth grade, when I was with soccer, he’d always, you know, be there for me,” Matthew told investigators. He remembered his father as being a relaxed man who took him camping and always showed up to cheer him on.

Happy Face Killer
Keith Jesperson, or the Happy Face Killer, wasn’t interested in someone else getting credit for the murders he committed. That’s why he started drawing happy faces at the scenes of his crimes and sending lettings to the media and prosecutors confessing his crimes. He didn’t start killing until after his wife of 15 years divorced him and took their three kids, two girls and a boy, with her across the country. Jesperson started working as a truck driver and realized he had the opportunity to kill without being detected. He was caught in 1995 and convicted of murdering 8 women, although he claimed to have killed over 100.

In 2008, Jesperson’s eldest daughter Melissa appeared on the Dr. Phil Show to talk about her father. She also wrote a book called Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter where she revealed her memories of what her father was like when she was a child. She recalled him catching stray cats and laughing as he killed them. She now works as an advocate for relatives of mass murderers. ”Meeting family members of … other serial killers… I know that that’s my meaning,” she told 20/20. “Not because of, but despite, what happened to me, we are finding meaning together in the aftermath of these horrible crimes.”

Andrei Chikatilo
Known by a few nicknames including the Butcher of Rostov and the Red Ripper, Andrei Chikatilo was one of Russia’s worst serial killers. He confessed to killing 56 women and children between 1978 and 1990 and was convicted and sentenced to death for 52 of them. Although Chikatilo struggled with impotence as a teenager and young man, he got married in 1963 and had two children, a son and a daughter. He committed his first known murder in 1978 and went on to kill many more over the course of the next 22 years before he was finally caught.

Chikatilo’s son Yury was not left unscathed after his father’s crimes were revealed. He ended up taking his mother’s maiden name, but still followed in his father’s footsteps with multiple run-ins with the law including convictions for theft and extortion. In 2009, 15 years after his father was executed, Yury was arrested for attempted murder.

Mikhail Popkov
Nicknamed The Werewolf, Mikhail Popkov was another one of Russia’s most prolific serial killers having been convicted of 22 murders, but confessing to an addition 59. His crimes were allegedly motivated by his suspicions that his wife was cheating on him. Popkov would dress as a police office in order to lure his victims with promises of a free ride and then he would assault and murder them. He had one daughter, Katya, who was in her twenties when her father was arrested.

After Popkov’s arrest in 2012, Katya and her mother Elena appeared on TV claiming his innocence. They claimed they had always felt safe with him and they believed him when he said he hadn’t killed anyone. Katya even expressed her desire to solve the crimes for herself to prove her father’s innocence. “I do not believe any of this. I always felt myself as ‘Daddy’s girl,’” she said. “I wanted to be a criminologist, so I read a book with tips of how investigators catch serial killers and there were also basic classifications [about murderers]. Daddy doesn’t fit any of these classifications – he doesn’t look like some maniac.”

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick

Courtney Hardwick is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared on AmongMen.com, 29secrets.com, therichest.com, and ELLECanada.com.  When she isn’t writing about relationships, and the best TV shows and books you should really already know about, she is working on her novel. She hopes to have it published by 2025. You can follow her on Twitter @Courtooo.

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