Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killers Who Surrender

Too Many Cooks

Keith Jesperson
Keith Jesperson

Unwilling to turn himself but coming close to it by leaving messages in men's bathrooms in several states, cross-country trucker Keith Jesperson stated in a letter to the press, "I feel bad, but I will not turn myself in. I am not stupid." Yet he seemed to be rankled by the fact that someone else had taken credit for his first murder in January 1990.

After battering and killing Taunja Bennet, Jesperson pushed her down into a ravine in Columbia Gorge. He was certain it would be a long time before anyone discovered her remains, but in fact she was found that same day. Within a month, the police had a confession, but not from the killer.

Laverne Pavlinac, 57 and a grandmother with no criminal history, reported her boyfriend, John Sosnovske, 43, to the police as the killer. After hours of interrogation, he denied being involved, but Pavlinac insisted he had boasted about the murder, so he was arrested and detained. (This incident is immortalized in a film, The Happy Face Killer.)

Laverne Pavlinac
Laverne Pavlinac

A few weeks later, Pavlinac had a second story: she'd been involved in the killing as well: Sosnovske had forced her to help him dump the body. She even showed the police precisely where the body had been dumped. Since she came within five feet of its position, detectives believed her. But then she changed her story again. She said that she and Sosnovske were arguing and they had the girl in the car. The girl died as they had sex with her, and Pavlinac claimed to feel remorse over the incident. She was tearful as she told the tale and the police put her in jail as an accomplice.

Pavlinac prepared to accept a plea offer for a 10-year sentence, but suddenly claimed that she'd been lying all along. Her "confession" had been a ploy to have Sosnovske jailed to get him out of her life, but the whole thing had escalated beyond her control. However, the case was now going to trial and a jury gave Pavlinac 10 years. Upon hearing that, Sosnovske pleaded no contest in exchange for a life sentence.

John Sosnovske
John Sosnovske

Jesperson heard about all of this and decided (as he claims in the autobiography he later penned with Jack Olson) that he wanted credit for his murders. When he read about the two people in custody for his crime, he left messages in truck stop restrooms claiming that he was the real killer and signing them with smiley faces. Finally, he sent an anonymous letter to the newspaper in Portland, Oregon. In these various communications, Jesperson provided proof, but he always stopped short of revealing his identity.

Finally identified in 1995 for being seen with a victim, he readily confessed to six murders, including that of the young woman for whom Pavlinac and Sosnovske were serving time, so they were released. Jesperson went on to admit to more than 160 murders, but then he recanted. Yet when he accepted responsibility for crime he could not have done, the authorities settled on an official victim count of eight for the Happy Face Killer. Jesperson did not willing surrender, but he did voluntarily leave evidence that would support a conviction once the police found him.

Another man who confessed appeared to do so as bait.


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