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'I’m Ashamed That He's My Dad': Here’s What 4 Children Of Serial Killers Have To Say About Their Notorious Parents

The 'Prodigal Son' is a fictional show about a man with a serial killer for a father. But that's the harsh reality for several real-life people. 

By Gina Tron
Dennis Rader and Gary Ridgway

Child-parent dynamics have long proved fertile ground to build a TV show on, but Fox’s new show "Prodigal Son" takes that to a new level with its portrayal of a criminal psychologist son and his serial killer dad.

The fictionalized killer, Martin Whitly (played by Michael Sheen), killed more than 20 people while living a double life as a devoted family man and cardiothoracic surgeon. But now Whitly, dubbed “The Surgeon,” spends his time trying to help police, through his son, stop other killers.

That concept isn’t too far-fetched of an idea. In fact, Ted Bundy did just that. And, of course, in real life serial killers often do have children who struggle with their parents' murderous legacy.

Whitly's son Malcolm (played by Tom Payne) is a disgraced former FBI profiler who now works for the NYPD. He changed his last name from Whitly to Bright and is not only responsible for his father's capture, but he also has a gift for picking up on clues that people with less familiarity with serial killers simply can't. And, naturally, he struggles with his complicated relationship with his dad.

"We're both obsessed with murder," Martin tells Malcolm in the show. "Like father, like son."

It's obviously a fictional show, but plenty of real-life people have to grapple with having a serial killer as a parent.  Growing up is hard enough. Imagine carrying that extra burden around. Here's what four now-adult children have had to say about their notorious fathers.

1. “Happy Face Killer’s” Daughter

Melissa Moore is the daughter of serial killer Keith Jesperson, a truck driver who took credit for killing eight women in the early 1990s, according to a 1995 Associated Press report. He was known as the "Happy Face Killer" because of the trademark smiley faces he drew on his letters to the media and authorities. Then-columnist for The Oregonian Phil Stanford gave him the nickname before he was caught, according to an Oregonian story from 2014. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1995.

Moore has taken a different route than her father. Instead of hurting people, she has become an advocate for other children of killers. She has been in touch with more than 100 relatives of murderers and helps them share their stories. She is a crime correspondent and the host/executive producer of LMN’s show “Monster in My Family."

As for her father, she doesn’t have kind words.

“I’m ashamed that he’s my dad,” Moore told a relative of one of her dad’s victims in 2015 on “20/20. “I’m ashamed that he has no remorse. I’m ashamed of how he treated your sister and what he did to your sister.”

She explained that she often questions if she even has the right to be happy.

“Being the daughter of a serial killer puts everything into question, ‘Am I worthy? Do I have a right to exist?’ When he took so much away from other people,” Moore said on "20/20." “If I’m happy is that a slap in the face to the victim’s families? I don’t want it to be.”

She went on "The Dr. Oz Show" last year to undergo a brain scan to find out if she inherited her father’s psychopathic traits. The test showed that her brain is, in fact, normal, despite letters from her dad which claimed otherwise.

During that appearance, Moore read some of the letters her dad wrote her from prison. “I’ve created a monster in you,” her told her in one of the letters. Moore became so distraught reading the letters that she spiraled into a panic attack.

2. BTK Killer’s daughter

Dennis Rader gave himself the moniker BTK (short for bind, torture, kill) while taunting Kansas media over his decades-long killing spree. In all, he killed 10 people and, like on "Prodigal Son," it was his own child who helped lead to his capture in 2005, at least in part. His daughter Kerri Rawson's DNA led to his arrest, confirming that it was Rader who'd sent a floppy disk to police. Rawson broke the family’s nine-year silence in 2016 after it was announced that a Stephen King novella-turned-film was inspired by her father’s attacks. She revealed that she pretty much thinks her dad is a narcissist.

“He’s just going to give my father a big head, and he absolutely does not need that. Great – now Stephen King is giving my father a big head. Thanks for that. That’s the last thing my dad should get," Rawson told the Wichita Eagle. In that interview, she also revealed how she felt about her father.

“He has said he is sorry, but that means nothing,” she said. “He is not worth all the books and the news stories and all the attention.”

Rawson went on to detail the conflicted feelings she has about her father in her book “A Serial Killer’s Daughter: My Story Of Faith, Love and Overcoming.”

She said she forgave him in 2012 and said she still loves him.

“It was just a massive release,” she said on ABC’s "20/20." “I realized I was rotting within, like I didn’t just forgive my father for him, I had to do it for myself. I hope to see him in heaven someday because he could be forgiven for his sins too.”

She may forgive him but that doesn't mean she's happy to be his daughter.

“I’d do anything to not be the daughter of a serial killer, but I am,” she said on "Dr. Phil" earlier this year.

3. Green River Killer’s son

Gary Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, is thought to be America’s most prolific serial killer.  He murdered at least 49 women and has claimed to have killed more than 70. Ridgway targeted sex workers and he confessed that often he’d show a photograph of his son to his victims to make them think he was a good person. Ridgway even once picked up a victim with his son in the car. While the child sat in his vehicle, Ridgway murdered that woman in a nearby wooded area. Her body, like so many of his victims, was heartlessly dumped near or in the Green River.

That same son, Matthew, remembered his serial killer parent as a great soccer dad.

"Even when I was in fourth grade, when I was with soccer, he'd always, you know, be there for me," Matthew told police a day after his dad was arrested for murder, according to the News Tribune.

Matthew doesn’t remember any women getting into his dad’s car.

In 2001, after his dad’s arrest, Matthew said that his dad still tried to make him laugh "like I'm a kid again."

4. “Witch Killer’s” daughter

Suzan Barnes and James Carson were known as the “San Francisco Witch Killers,” a pair convicted of three murders. The couple said they believed their victims were “witches,” and claimed they wanted to rid the world of them. They claimed God told them to kill not only witches but also abortionists and gay people.

James’ daughter, Jenn Carson said of her dad, “If he had fallen in love with a televangelist, he would become one. If she had joined ISIS, he would have. He was that much of a follower. He was drawn to extremists, people he found really exciting.”

She grew up to become an advocate for children of prisoners. Jenn has also advocated for her father and Suzan Barnes to remain behind bars. She even created a Change.org petition demanding that Barnes not be let out on parole.

Jenn actually met up with Melissa Moore for an interview CrimeWatchDaily. She told Moore that she grew up feeling alone because she didn’t have anyone to relate to. She didn't know any other children of serial killers. Jenn admitted that growing up she thought she was the devil, because of who her dad was.

“The likelihood of having a parent as a serial killer is less likely than being struck by lightning,” she told the Daily Beast. “There’s moments where it’s like: Is this a Lifetime movie? But this is real.”