The Happy Face Killer and His Unidentified Victims

The Happy Face Killer and His Unidentified Victims

Police composite of Jane Doe, found September 15, 1994, in Okaloosa County, Florida.Police composite of Jane Doe, found September 15, 1994, in Okaloosa County, Florida.

It was 1994. Police found the skeletal remains of a woman in a wooded area off Interstate 10 near Holt in Okaloosa County, Florida. Nearly 25 years later, we still don?t know her name, but we know who killed her and how.

Jane Doe is but one victim of Keith Jesperson, a convicted serial killer, also known as the ?Happy Face Killer.? Jesperson has claimed to have murdered 185 women, but police have only been able to confirm 8.

Who Is She?

Jesperson believes her name was ?Suzanne,? or a variant of, and his own drawings gave police enough information about her appearance that they released a composite.

?She had probably been there about five months since the discovery and the woman had been killed not too long before she was placed there,? said Rick Hord, former public information officer for the Okaloosa County Sheriff?s Office.

Jane Doe was found wearing a cord necklace with three geometric symbols.Jane Doe was found wearing a cord necklace with three geometric symbols.

We know she was approximately 36?45 years old and weighed about 110 pounds. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), Jane Doe was wearing a full-length, floral patterned, button-up dress with the label ?Brandywine Creek.? Her jewelry was simple, wearing a black cord bracelet with multi-colored beads, a heart-shaped silver-colored ring, a charm bracelet without charms, and a cord necklace with a triangle, square and two circles pendant. She also had a deck of Tarot cards with her.

Reports say Jane Doe was beaten, raped and strangled before being thrown in the woods along Interstate 10, the southernmost cross-country highway in America running 2,460 miles from Florida to Los Angeles.

While sitting in an Oregon prison, Jesperson gave authorities a candid confession. ?He put three tie wraps around her throat and what we found at the crime scene in September of ?94 was three tie wraps,? said Dennis Haley, former Special Agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). So, we had no doubt he knows what he?s talking about.?

In 1995, Jesperson, who was a long-haul trucker, admitted to killing women across the country in California, Florida, Oregon, Wyoming, and Washington. However, law enforcement throughout the country continues to look at their own unsolved murders of unidentified victims for any connection with Jesperson.

Keith Jesperson, the ?Happy Face Killer? claims to have murder up to 185 women across the country.Keith Jesperson, the ?Happy Face Killer? claims to have murdered up to 185 women across the country.

Keith Jesperson?s Early Life

Keith Hunter Jesperson was born on April 6, 1955, to Leslie (Les) and Gladys Jesperson of Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. Jesperson was the middle child with two brothers and two sisters. As a child, Jesperson claims to have been treated as an outcast by his own family, living with a domineering alcoholic father and his church-going mother. At a very early age, other children teased him because of his large size. His own brothers nicknamed him ?Igor? or ?Ig,? a name that stuck with him during his school years.

During Jesperson?s childhood, he would get into trouble for his bad behavior. As early as age 5, he had a tendency to torture and kills animals. Jesperson said he liked to watch animals kill each other, but loved the feeling he got from taking their lives. This behavior continued as he aged. He would capture stray cats, dogs and birds around the trailer park where he grew up and severely beat and strangle them, conduct he says his father was proud of.

His behavior escalated. When Jesperson was about 10, he violently beat a boy named Martin that he grew up with and his father had to pull him off. He said it was his intention to kill the young boy. It happened again, one year later, when Jesperson attempted to drown a boy at a public pool and the lifeguard had to pull him off.

Keith Jesperson with wife Rose Hucke on their wedding day in 1975.Keith Jesperson with wife Rose Hucke on their wedding day in 1975.

Standing almost 6 feet 8 inches, Jesperson was not popular with girls in high school, but he began a relationship at age 20 when he married Rose Hucke. The couple had three children, one son and two daughters named Melissa, Jason, and Carrie.

A few years later, Hucke suspected Jesperson of having affairs when women would call their home. After 14 years of marriage, while her husband was on the road, she packed her children up and drove 200 miles to Spokane, Washington, to her parent?s home. Jesperson moved to Portland, Oregon, with one of his girlfriends. The couple divorced in 1990, but Jesperson continued to see his children when he was in town.

According to his own claims, Keith Jesperson drove an 18-wheeler throughout the country killing up to 185 women.According to his own claims, Keith Jesperson drove an 18-wheeler throughout the country killing up to 185 women.

At age 35, Jesperson attempted to become a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, but an injury he sustained during training stopped him from further pursuing that dream. He then got a job with a trucking firm in Cheney, Washington, and drove an 18-wheeler throughout the country. He soon found out his job provided him the opportunity to kill without being detected.

First Victim

Jesperson?s first-known victim was Taunja Bennett, 23, who he had met in a bar close to Portland on January 23, 1990. He claims he introduced himself and invited her to a house he had been renting. It was reported that Jesperson tried to have sex with Bennett, but she declined, so he beat her.

Taunja Bennett, the first known victim of the Happy Face Killer in January 1990.Taunja Bennett, the first known victim of the Happy Face Killer in January 1990.

Worried Bennett would report him for the assault, there have been two accounts how he killed her. First is, he put his ?fist down her throat? and killed her and the second account was that he wrapped a rope around her throat and strangled her, similar to what he did to animals when he was younger.

Cool and collected, Jesperson returned to the bar and played pool and talked with others to create an alibi before returning to his home to dispose of Bennett and her belongings. He dumped Bennett?s body in a secluded area of Oregon, bordering Jesperson?s home state of Washington. He was back on the road the following day.

Bennett?s body was found a few days later in a ditch along a scenic highway at the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland. Retired Detective Chris Peterson of the Multnomah County Sheriff said the most unusual thing about the murder was that they found Bennett?s ?fly? had been cut out of her jeans.

?Taunja had a big smile,? said Julie?s sister Michelle White. Bennett?s sister describes her as very loving, outgoing and someone you never forget meeting. ?He?s a monster,? said White. ?Why would you take somebody so innocent. She was 23-years old. There was no time to make a life for her. He took it away from her.?

Laverne Pavlinac and boyfriend John Sosnovske arrested for the murder of Taunja Bennett in 1990.Laverne Pavlinac and boyfriend John Sosnovske arrested for the murder of Taunja Bennett in 1990.

A Twisted Confession

The story of Jesperson would now take an odd turn. A couple named Laverne Pavlinac, 59, and her boyfriend John Sosnovske, 39, lived in the area where Bennett?s body was located. Pavlinac read in-depth about Bennett?s murder and decided she would call police and claim that she and Sosnovske murdered Bennett. It is said she did this to end her 10-year abusive relationship with her younger boyfriend.

Pavlinac claimed they had met Bennett at a Portland bar and that Sosnovske forced her to help rape Bennett and dispose of the body.

Laverne Pavlinac with police detective at Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon.Laverne Pavlinac with a police detective at Columbia River Gorge near Portland, Oregon.

When police interviewed Pavlinac, they took her to the Columbia Gorge to see if she could pinpoint the location where Bennett?s body was located. Though she correctly identified the location, she could not tell police where Bennett?s belongings were found, which created some doubt in the investigator?s minds. Sosnovske adamantly denied having any involvement in Bennett?s murder.

Eventually, the case was turned over to prosecutors, and Pavlinac and Sosnovske were arrested in February 1990.

Despite recanting her confession, Pavlinac was tried first and in January 1991, sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 10 years. Later in 1991, Sosnovske was sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping and murder of Bennett.

Keith Jesperson, also known as the Happy Face Killer, wrote notes on truck stop bathroom walls.Keith Jesperson, also known as the Happy Face Killer, wrote notes on truck stop bathroom walls admitting to his murder of Taunja Bennett.

The Happy Face Killer Emerges

In 1994, upset he was not getting any media attention, Jesperson began writing anonymous letters on bathroom walls at truck stops admitting to the murder of Taunja Bennett. In closing, he scribbled a smiley face on the wall. At first, police thought Pavlinac had sent someone to write the bathroom messages for her.

Keith Jesperson wrote anonymous letters to the media and police.Keith Jesperson wrote anonymous letters to the media and the police.

When that did not elicit any response, he began writing to media outlets and the police, beginning with a six-page letter to the Oregonian newspaper revealing details about his murders and the locations of five bodies. He signed each with a ?smiley face.? Phil Stanford, a journalist with the Oregonian, dubbed the anonymous writer the ?Happy Face Killer.?

Written in the letters, the killer indicated he was a long-haul trucker; he wasn?t in the public eye, and that it was so easy to kill these people . . . and he traveled all over the country doing it.

?When I look at Keith?s letters, I see four main themes,? said criminal psychologist Robert Schug, Ph.D. ?A need for attention, low self-esteem, a negative self-image. I see a profound lack of empathy and I see isolation and I think these themes formed, these psychological backdrops for his life.?

Keith Jesperson became known as the ?Happy Face Killer? was arrested March 30, 1995, in Vancouver, Washington.Keith Jesperson became known as the ?Happy Face Killer? was arrested on March 30, 1995, in Vancouver, Washington. Photo courtesy of Crime Watch Daily.

Jesperson was arrested on March 30, 1995, for the murder of his long-time girlfriend and fellow trucker, Julie Ann Winningham. Jesperson had been questioned about other murders one week before, but police did not have grounds to arrest him when he refused to talk.

?It a shame in retrospect that Keith was getting away with all these killings because we couldn?t tie him to all these killings,? said Det. Chris Peterson at the Multnomah County Sheriff?s Office. ?As law enforcement, I had no way to know they were in any way connected to each other.?

Police got their big break with the murder of Winningham and connected Jesperson to her. From there, they began suspecting him of others.

Julie Ann Winningham was Jesperson?s long-time girlfriend.Julie Ann Winningham was Jesperson?s long-time girlfriend.

Jesperson claimed he had killed Winningham because she was only interested in his money. She died from manual strangulation. Winningham was found in March 1995, down a slope on the side of the road at a pullout, by a passerby who just stopped and to enjoy the view.

Jesperson was certain he would be arrested for Winningham?s murder, so he turned himself in expecting leniency.

After the arrest, Keith Jesperson confessed to killing Bennett and told authorities something only the killer would know ? -the location of Bennett?s purse. This proved, with doubt, Jesperson was the actual killer, not Pavlinac and Sosnovske.

Jesperson pleaded ?no contest? to the murder of Bennett resulting in Pavlinac and Sosnovske being exonerated and released. ?There?s no longer any doubt that these two are innocent. The evidence is compelling,? said Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb. Pavlinac died in 2003.

While in police custody, Jesperson began to confess to more and more murders.

More Murders

In police interviews, it would come out that Jesperson waited two and half years before he killed his next victim . . . or so he says.

On September 16, 1992, the still-unidentified body of a woman he raped and strangled was found near Blythe, California. Jesperson told police her name was Claudia.

A month later in Turlock, California, the body of Cynthia Lyn Rose was discovered. Jesperson claims she was a sex worker who entered his truck while he slept.

The fourth victim was Laurie Ann Pentland of Salem, Oregon. Her body was found in November of that year. According to Jesperson, she was a sex worker who tried to charge a double fee for the sex they had engaged in and he strangled her.

Facial reconstruction of an unidentified female named Carla or Cindy found in June 1993.Facial reconstruction of an unidentified female named Carla or Cindy found in June 1993.

It would be over six months before the next victim was found in June 1993 in Santa Nella, California. Jesperson claims her name was ?Carla? or ?Cindy,? and she was a ?street person?. She remains unidentified.

In January 1995, Jesperson agreed to give Angela Subrize a ride from Spokane, Washington to Indiana. Several days into the trip, Subrize became impatient and nagged Jesperson to hurry because she wanted to see her boyfriend. Jesperson became angry and raped and strangled her in the cab of his truck. Knowing he had been seen publicly with Subrize, he then strapped her body to the bottom of his 18-wheeler and dragged her face down for 12-miles to ?grind off? her face and fingerprints. Her body was not found for several months and dumped in Nebraska.

Despite telling police he murdered upwards to 185 women within a five-year span of time, Jesperson was only charged with 8 murders of women.

Keith Jesperson is not allowed to have on camera interviews.Keith Jesperson is not allowed to have on-camera interviews because police believe it allows him to relive and relish in his heinous act.

Jesperson is currently serving three consecutive life terms at Oregon State Penitentiary. He is not allowed to have on-camera interviews because officials believe it gives him the opportunity to relish in the crimes he committed.

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Growing Up with Jesperson

Jesperson?s daughter, Melissa G. Moore appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in 2008, to talk about her father and what it was like to grow up with a serial killer. Moore is the author of ?Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer?s Daughter.?

In Moore?s book, she tells of an incident when she realized her dad was different. Their house sat on an apple orchard where her dad killed stray cats and gophers that wandered in on the property. But one day she watched, aghast, as Jesperson hanged her pet kittens from their tails from the family?s clothesline and then beat them to death.

After Moore?s parents divorced, he always made an effort to come to visit his children. Moore says he really did enjoy being a father. During their childhood, he would take them camping and fishing near Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. She said while swimming under the waterfall he would laugh and act like a kid. However, there was a darker side that came out too.

Moore revisits the location where Taunja Bennett?s body was recovered.Moore revisits the location where Taunja Bennett?s body was recovered and recalls taking a drive with her father Keith Jesperson as a child along the scenic road.

Once, while driving the old scenic highway, Moore said, ?My father said, ?I know how to kill someone and get away with it.?? He told her how he would cut the button of the girl?s jeans off so they could not match his fingerprints, and he would wear his cycling boots because they don?t have an imprint in the sole. She remembers she didn?t know how to respond and feeling trapped inside the car with him. She remembers thinking maybe he was into detective magazines and chalked the comment up to a fantasy. At that time, Moore did not understand they were driving right by the place where he had disposed of the body of Bennett.

?I would have never imagined my dad drove in the middle of the night, hoping no one would spot him and take the body out of the car and dump her on the side . . . with no remorse, just dumped out here,? said Moore.

While Moore was in high school, she would hear reports about the Happy Face Killer and said she wasn?t really concerned for her own family because it was something that was happening in Portland. Little did she know the Happy Face Killer was her own father.

?Despite how it feels for me, I can?t imagine what it?s like for the families of the victims,? said Moore. ?When I think about the family members I think about their torment. I don?t know how the family members even cope.?

Moore says she wrote the book Shattered Silence to encourage other families of murderers to come forward and reach out to the families of the victims. ?I started this journey to come out of the shadows and apologize for all the pain my father caused,? said Moore.


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