As CrimeCon 2021 fades in my rearview mirror, the trepidation that I felt in entering a post-Covid atmosphere has dissipated and I now realize how glad I am to have attended this year. Austin beckoned us with open arms, though there were a few health regulations still enforced in various places throughout town. This year’s convention was a more scaled-down event than previous CrimeCons, but it offered a great deal of interesting sessions and intriguing guests. Between June 4-6, attendees were able to catch up with Kelsi German, who is still fighting for justice in the Delphi Murders; learn more information about the illustrious career of former LAPD detective Gil Carrillo, who was the backbone of the hunt for California’s Night Stalker killer (Richard Ramirez), hear more about an upcoming program starring Chris Hanson, known for his Dateline series, “To Catch a Predator”; and to hear the incredible saga of Kerri Rawson, daughter of Wichita’s BTK killer. I also met a fantastic writer whose book I will be reviewing on this blog, Bill Moloney, author of the book “Confessions of a Crime Scene Investigator.” He was very friendly and didn’t hesitate to discuss his years of working as a state trooper and crime scene investigator for the state of New York.
The first session I attended was titled, “Beyond the Night Stalker – The Incredible Career of Gil Carrillo.” After having watched the documentary “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer,” I was intrigued by the life and career of LAPD detective, Gil Carrillo. His knowledge of and search for a man who was not only murdering men and women in the Los Angeles area between 1984-1985, but was also sexually assaulting children, was fascinating. Partnered with renowned investigator Frank Salerno, of Hillside Strangler investigation fame, Carrillo was the first person to connect the Avia sneaker prints found at multiple crime scenes to one person, determining that there was an active serial killer in the area. Despite not being taken seriously initially, the more evidence cropped up, the more interested the police department became in the crimes. Now that a big name was working the case, Salerno’s name gave clout to the investigation, more people were allotted to work the crimes.
Gil was capable of seeing things that other people weren’t noticing at crime scenes. The first time he was at odds with Salerno, he determined a dead body found on the street was the result of a cocaine overdose based on the estimated time of death. However, Salerno was convinced it was a homicide. When the medical examiner confirmed Gil’s theory, Gil felt that “the student had caught up with the master,” or that he had surpassed the skills of the more experienced Salerno. However, the Night Stalker case was the first time Salerno ever admitted that Gil was right about an investigation. Gil noted that the Night Stalker suspect defecated in other places than restroom (something I didn’t realize about Ramirez!) and he realized that the killer enjoyed seeing the fear in the eyes of his prey. He made noises so that his victims could hear him coming and he could gaze into their eyes and feel powerful. Despite attacking random victims in their homes, Ramirez was careless when he wore the same style of shoes to each of the crime scenes. Footprints were lifted from several crime scenes and, because only one pair of Avia sneakers was sold in the Los Angeles area, it was easy to link together some of his murders and some of his pedophilic molestations throughout the area. He learned a lot from the Ramirez case. For instance, Richard Ramirez taught the Night Stalker Task Force that sometimes a sexual deviant can later become a burglar rather than a burglar only later becoming a sexual predator.
Regarding Ramirez, he stated, “He was the most vile person I ever met.” Before he got married to Doreen Lioy, Ramirez reached out to Gil to talk and told him, “I’m good for four more murders that you don’t know about,” but unfortunately there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him for those deaths. After he got married, Gil was outraged. “It was a mockery of the criminal justice system. It was a mockery of the sanctity of marriage” and he struggled to understand why the penal system allowed a serial killer to get married. After hearing what Gil had to say about his marriage, Ramirez no longer wanted to talk to him.
Now that he’s retired, Gil does lectures throughout the United States, he did the aforementioned documentary, and has received a lot of calls from people all around the world. He even went on the George Lopez podcast, episode 11 on Youtube. When asked about the most disturbing factor about Richard Ramirez, Gil stated that there was “no disturbing factor. I talked to him like I’m talking to you now… he called me Gil, I called him Rich.” Once he was through working the Night Stalker case, he noted that all his personal feelings about the crimes were gone and that “once you win, you won. Who cares?”
The next session I attended featured one of the survivors of kidnapper and rapist, Ariel Castro, titled
“Surviving Castro: How a Lost Decade Created a Fierce Advocate Gina DeJesus.” During the session, Gina DeJesus briefly discussed her abduction by the father of one of her friends and how she never gave up hope of being found one day. She, along with two other girls, had been abducted and subjected to daily sexual abuse by serial rapist, Ariel Castro, until their escape and his arrest in 2013. She detailed her youth prior to the kidnapping at age fourteen. She loved music by J.Lo, Selena, and Christina Aguilera. She loved to skate and spend time with her family. Once she was captured and imprisoned by Castro, she bided her time. After she had been in captivity for over three years, Castro gave her a flyer he got from her mother and she held onto it until the day of her rescue. By the time she escaped her prison, she was twenty-three years old and hardly knew her family anymore. She even had to learn to drive a car, but luckily she found a neighbor who consented to teach her to drive in a nearby cemetery! She admitted that her kidnapping taught her survival skills she didn’t know she had. Once she escaped, she gave the flyer to her mother.
Her cousin, Sylvia Colon, joined her onstage to detail the continuing effort to find Gina throughout the years. Social media wasn’t nearly as advanced as is it is today in 2004 nor was there one place the family could reach out to for resources. Colon remembered begging for paper to put up flyers and begging for snacks and food to help the searches. She asserted that the families of those missing shouldn’t have to beg for anything when their focus should be on finding their loved one. Gina’s kidnapping inspired her to co-founded the non-profit group, Cleveland Missing. Police developed a victim’s advocacy to work with the family while law enforcement is working the case. Both Gina and Sylvia are involved in the advocacy for survivors and in the Amber Alert program. The presentation was less about the horrible abuse she received at the hands of her kidnapper and more about the empowerment and future she saw for herself in helping others who have experienced the same thing. At the end of the session, I saw Gina in a new light; no longer as just a survivor of a nightmare at the hands of a violent criminal, but also as a warrior in the field of search and rescue for other missing women and children.
Another session I couldn’t wait to attend was titled “The Cutting Edge: True Crime Journalism in the Digital Age with Chris Hansen.” I remember when the first episodes of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” series aired back in 2006. I was fascinated by the program, not only because I had done some volunteer work for the non-profit group Perverted Justice, but because pedophiles and their danger to children has always appalled me. When I saw that Chris Hansen, the host of the Dateline segment, was headlining a session at CrimeCon, I made sure not to miss it. Hansen came onto the stage to great applause and was very humble when addressing the audience. He noted that he had been working in journalism for forty years and he couldn’t believe how far technology had progressed from the very beginning of his career. He described how taking people inside the story and showing them the thought-process of predators was very important. Hansen felt that if people could see this and understand the mind of a criminal, they would have a better chance of not being a victim themselves.
Hansen came up with the idea of “To Catch a Predator” as part of Dateline and he learned about a non-profit group called Perverted Justice, who used decoys posing as thirteen to fifteen year old kids in chat rooms. There was usually a sexually charged chat and if the adult wanted to meet, the group posted the disgusting chat online to embarrass them. Hansen determined that by if they could combine this type of conversation with a decoy house and engage the police, they could affect real change in society. When the first sting house was rented and decoys and police were in place, Hansen worried that he was wasting Dateline’s money. Then, only forty-five minutes in, he learned there were already three men preparing to come to meet what they thought was a minor for sex. In the second investigation in Virginia, twenty-five men showed up in just three days! He mentioned the rabbi who was caught in that sting and noted he was put in federal prison for six years for coming to meet an underage boy.
On two separate occasions he thought he was going to get his ass kicked by a predator. The first instance was in the Petaluma, California sting. They were not far from the navy base and a well-built guy showed up. Hansen could tell he was tensing up and, despite Hansen being a big guy, he was looking for his security back-up. However, the predator realized he was outnumbered and stood down. Another individual had to be tasered because he refused to leave the sting house calmly with police. He quickly got out of the way until the man was handcuffed.
Hansen advised that what has changed about the predators since those early days of the Internet is the ability for these individuals to mine places online that should be safe. And he noted that today they want more than just a snapshot, they want live interactions and that police have to be more creative. Predators don’t stand out in a crowd and he encouraged people to educate their children about the dangers of online chatrooms and apps.
To date, close to four-hundred predators have caught in this type of sting. Hansen has worked with a lot of law enforcement teams and volunteer groups and currently has a Youtube channel called “Have a Seat with Chris Hansen.” He announced a new program that is currently in the works and he showed a preview of the show to us.
When audience questions were invited, a young woman stood up and told Hansen, “You’re awesome.” He quipped back, “Only in my own mind.” He was asked if the predators who show up at the sting house have to give permission to be on the program when it airs. He noted that no consent by the predator is needed because the story is under the guise of journalism. In fact, in viewing some of the clips of the show on Netflix, I can confirm that Hansen has told at least two predators this same thing when they asked if they had to consent to be on the show.
When asked if any women ever showed up to the stings, Hansen noted that the only individuals who showed up were men, stating that female predators tend to prefer the teacher/student role, they don’t seem to enjoy the anonymity of online predator behavior like men do.
Hansen’s parting thoughts included noting that if you don’t know someone in person, they’re not your friend. This is something good for all of us to remember, not just children. He has an upcoming program titled “Unseemly: The Peter Nygard Story” about a fashion designer who may have had thousands of victims of sexual assault going back five decades. He is also currently hosting his own podcast, “Predators I’ve Caught with Chris Hansen,” that I’m currently enjoying on Spotify. This podcast drops a new episode every Monday. He was also interviewed on the Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald that dropped last February and he stated that he is open to requests for interviews. Hansen can be contacted at email@example.com.
Though I didn’t catch the beginning of the session, I made it in time to see the majority of the “Chasing Cosby: The Downfall of America’s Dad” with survivors Tamara Green and Therese Serignese. **I want to note that this session was shortly before Cosby was released on a technicality by the Pennsylvania court system. I can only imagine how devastated the survivors of his abuse must be. My heart goes out to all of them.**
Tamara Green was a model who later became the face of the Cosby investigation in 2005 when she accused actor and comedian, Bill Cosby, of rape. She remembered being asked to make a demo of a song, but that Cosby kept offering her drinks of wine. The recording studio was empty and there was equipment was all over the floor, which she found odd. Cosby took the young woman home, despite a friend having warned her not to be alone with him. Cosby took her out to lunch in Beverly Hills later and he had his own private area. He gave her some pills that made her feel like she was “melting into her food.” She heard him say, “I’ll take her home.” He took her back to her house and she recalled feeling really sick. She heard Cosby say, “Let’s take your clothes off.” She remembered saying, “No no, it’s okay,” but she saw him taking off his clothes and wondered how that would help her feel better. She knew she was in danger but couldn’t keep her eyes open and later realized she had been unconscious until 3:00 A.M. Two $100 dollar bills were on coffee table. (The crowd listening to Green’s story had been deathly silent until hearing this when many of us, myself included, loudly gasped.) She remembered him “coming at me and me trying to fend him off.” She saw him the next day at a public event around children. She then told herself she would tell everyone she would eventually meet for the rest of her life what happened.
She was subsequently told, “You should address him as Dr. Cosby.” To which she replied, “I’ve seen him with his britches off, I’ll call him what I want.” Green mentioned that she was interviewed by Matt Lauer about her accusation, noting that Lauer had his own secret at the time (he was later accused by several women of sexual harassment through the years). Though it took over a decade for Cosby to be sentenced, none of the victims had ever met and their stories were so similar. Some of them said they couldn’t share the information with their families because it was simply too devastating. Many were afraid they wouldn’t be believed. Green was told “Well, you’ll just have to get over it.” She was raised in a time when no matter how men touched your body, you were expected to just move beyond it. She had been conditioned to cover it up, but it festered and kept bubbling to the surface.
Eighteen-year-old Therese Serignese was at lunch at the Hilton with her three siblings and they later went to the gift shop. From out of nowhere, somebody put his arm around her neck, leaned in and said “Will you marry me?” She smiled when she turned to find it was Bill Cosby. Apparently, he had pushed her brother out of the way and made a B-line to her when he saw her. He invited all four of them to his comedy show, but her siblings couldn’t go because they were under eighteen, but she could attend. She was thrilled. Serignese went to the show and was escorted to a seat. She thoroughly enjoyed the show, then someone came and brought her to a meet and greet with Cosby. Everyone was laughing around him, though she felt shy. She stayed after everyone else left because she didn’t know where she was and nobody came to help her find her way out of the building. The next thing she knew, Cosby offered her two large white pills. She had been raised to be obedient and didn’t know what else to do, so she took them and quickly passed out. When she woke up, she was standing in front of a mirror and saw that he was raping her from behind. She was barely able to register what was happening before she passed out again. The next thing she knew, she was outside the hotel having no recollection about how she got there. She told her mother what happened, but her mother told her these were things you just didn’t talk about. In fact, she was told not to tell anyone, so she tried to reframe the rape to make sense of it. She eventually called Bill Cosby and talked to him about it, which is not an uncommon thing for a victim to do. She later saw Andrea Constantin on TV telling her story, so she called Detective Rick Shaver who determined she had been given two quaaludes. She was invited to join the lawsuit that Constantin had started. Her case was later settled and buried, but it came to light again in 2014 and she couldn’t wait to tell her story. Later she joined the lawsuit started by Tamara Green.
Something I’ve noticed at sessions is that women have become freer about discussing their trauma. At CrimeCon 2021, I was amazed by how many women opened up and discussed their childhood molestation. It isn’t just the presenters who are sharing these experiences, but the attendees as well. More than one person stood up this year to tell the presenters how important it was to hear that they aren’t alone in their shame and guilt. It feels like CrimeCon is becoming more and more about empowerment, sisterhood, and support for one another. I’m proud to be a part of it.
The session that I most looked forward to attending at CrimeCon this year was the conversation with Kerri Rawson, daughter of serial killer, BTK, aptly titled “BTK’s Daughter: A Conversation with Kerri Rawson.” Her father, Dennis Rader, murdered at least ten women between the years 1974 and 1991. Her story is of a daughter who had a close relationship with her father, but when she learned he committed these heinous killings, she was devastated. Kerri began the session remembering the conversation she had with an FBI agent who visited her Michigan home on February 25, 2005. He asked her if she knew who BTK was and she hesitated, asking him about her grandmother, who was a widow. The agent assured her that her grandmother was fine, but that her father had just been arrested for the BTK murders in Wichita, Kansas. As if this weren’t disturbing enough, the agent took a DNA swab to run against her father’s DNA. Kerri later found out that her DNA had already been obtained in an effort to pinpoint the identity of BTK. At that moment, “everything changed,” Rawson noted. “He was BTK and I was BTK’s daughter.”
“I grew up with a pretty normal childhood. He was my dad, he was my best friend.” She recalled that Rader
was a church leader, a boy scout leader, and was considered really good guy in his community. Married to her mother for 34 years, Rader was a family man who enjoyed time with his two children. Though she had not kept up with the area’s crime statistics, she remembered a time when her mother mentioned she was afraid of BTK and she heard her dad tell her, “Oh you’re safe.” Though most of her memories of life with her father were good, she admitted that he tried to strangle her older brother on two occasions and that both she and her mother had to pull him off.
Kerri also knew one of the neighbors Rader killed (Marine Hedge). The FBI wasn’t aware he was connected to the Hedge murder and Kerri told them about his probable connection wryly noting that on the day Rader killed Hedge, “My dad made my mom and I scrambled eggs and then he murdered a grandmother.”
Rawson was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after this revelation and had to go to trauma therapy. She was later put on anxiety medication. In fact, sometimes she can be triggered by just seeing cops or police badges. When she was pregnant, she thought about how her father murdered a young woman (Nancy Fox) when her mother was pregnant with Kerri. She later listened to a recording where Rader called in the crime he had committed and was mortified. He even sent a communication to the media on her first birthday in 1979.
Dennis Rader won’t talk to his daughter about his crimes, so she hasn’t been able to ask him “Why?” and he never said he was sorry. She advised that he doesn’t like that the family knows who he truly is, though it’s often difficult remembering that her father is BTK because sometimes she forgets because, to her, he’s just her dad.
Her mother shredded Rader’s personal papers and his school transcripts that were found in the home office where he was creating his BTK documents. When asked, Rawson said her mother was doing well and had determined early on she wouldn’t be a victim and that she wouldn’t move or hide. She stayed at the same job the same church, not allowing him to win. She divorced him and has refused to communicate with him ever since. (The crowd sent up a hearty cheer for the strength of Rawson’s mother.)
Kerri has been told by some that she wasn’t a victim of Dennis Rader, but though she didn’t lose the life of a loved one, she lost a father she adored because he didn’t actually exist. She had to grieve a man who wasn’t actually dead. She still feels that every day of her life was a lie and that the pain will never end. She still loves her father and wrote to him in prison for awhile, but found it too difficult, especially after he began using her media presence to insert himself into her story. He told people around him that “She reminds me of me. She is fearless and uses the media.” Her response was that, “He’s a narcissist, psychopath, pathological liar” and she refuses to let him control her narrative.
When she started speaking out in support of mental health, Rader sent her drawings of animals with gaping mouths with teeth. “The problem is there’s nothing wrong with him creating art, but he makes money off of his artwork.” She hasn’t been able to shut down this behavior, despite speaking with police. He’s still trying to manipulate her from prison, writing her things like, “It cost me a candy bar to get paper to send you a letter.” He also cyber-stalks Kerri thru letters and through his fan club. The members print out his social media for him, they print out photos of her, and those people reach out to her on social media her telling her that her father is a big deal. Because of all this, she recently signed a “cease contact order” which was delivered to him the day before his birthday.
Writing her book has helped Rawson heal. She realizes if he had been caught in 1974 that neither she nor her brother would exist. Sent copies of her books to everyone in the family. She sent copy to her mom who couldn’t put it down. Coming to CrimeCon has been healing and everyone has been great stating, “It’s good for me to be able to be embraced by this community. I never expected it.”
If you haven’t read the book “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story of Faith, Love, and Overcoming,” let me recommend it to you. It provides details about what life was like growing up with a man who was able to juggle a family, a job, and a disturbing fantasy life at the same time for over thirty years.
Overall, despite the smaller amount of podcasters and attendees this year, I feel it was a success. As the event wrapped up, I was excited to learn that Aaron from the Generation Why podcast and Dr. John White were still in the area, so an impromptu meeting that the Fairmont Austin hotel was set up. We had a great time discussing serial killers, various other criminals covered by the Gen Why podcast, and we met a couple of very interesting young women who were also true crime content creators. So if you feel like staying in town after CrimeCon 2022, which I will be doing, please hit me up! I will come and we can talk serial killers all day and all night long! Cheers!