The Happy Face Killer: Mind of a Monster on ID is investigating the horrific crimes of Keith Jesperson, who murdered at least eight women across multiple states.
Known as The Happy Face Killer, the majority of Jesperson’s victims were among the most vulnerable in society; they were often sex workers or homeless. And some of the true names of his victims remain a mystery as they were never adequately identified.
His preferred method of murder was to strangle his victims after he had raped them. He claimed to have killed up to 185 people, but only eight victims were confirmed.
Jesperson’s first victim was Taunja Bennett, who he murdered in January 1990 near Portland, Oregon. They met at a bar, and he persuaded her to go back to his house. He killed her after she’d rebuffed his sexual advances.
A couple was later wrongfully convicted of killing Bennett when Laverne Pavlinac lied to police, telling them that she had helped her boyfriend, John Sosnovske, commit the crime. She had lied to escape her abusive relationship with Sosnovske, and the pair were actually convicted.
However, instead of being pleased with this outcome, Jesperson was annoyed that somebody else took ‘credit’ for the crime, so he wrote an anonymous confession on the wall of a bus terminal restroom and signed it with a smiley face.
Jesperson went on to kill at least another seven people in Oregon, California, Florida, Nebraska, and Washington. He worked as a long-haul lorry driver, allowing him to travel the country and select his victims while staying anonymous.
The killer wrote letters to The Oregonian newspaper detailing his crimes, which he signed with a smiley face. He also left smiley face stickers as calling cards in various restroom stalls across the country.
Keith Jesperson was identified after killing Julie Winningham
The Happy Face Killer was eventually identified after he killed someone close to him. On March 10, 1995, he killed his girlfriend, Julie Winningham, and because the cops knew of the relationship, he instantly became a suspect. He was arrested 20 days later.
Before he was arrested, Jefferson, realizing his downfall was coming, attempted suicide twice. He wrote a letter to his brother which read: “I am sorry that I turned out this way. I have been a killer for five years and have killed eight people.” His brother handed the letter to the cops.
In June 1998, Jesperson was sentenced to life in prison.
More from Investigation Discovery
Follow the links to read about other serial killers profiled on ID.
Samuel Little is considered one of America’s most prolific serial killers, with up to 93 victims attributed to his brutal nature. Most of the murders occurred in the Los Angeles area and were women who had been marginalized by society.
Jeffrey Dahmer, aka The Milwaukee Cannibal, murdered and dismembered at least seventeen young men between 1978 and 1991. He would strangle them before having sex with their corpses and would keep body parts as souvenirs.
The Happy Face Killer: Mind of a Monster airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.