Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Keith Hunter Jesperson

A Trail of Bodies

Meanwhile, with two people put away for a murder that they didnt commit, Keith Jesperson remained free to roam the country, trolling for new victims.  Born in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Jespersons primary ambition in life was to become a policeman; specifically, he wanted more than anything else to become a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  After being accepted into the RCMP program, Jesperson felt that he was well on his way to achieving his dream.  However, after sustaining a fall from a rope climbing exercise during RCMP training that severely injured him, he quickly found that his hopes were dashed.  Unable to complete his training due to the injury, he was permanently dismissed from the RCMP.  He suddenly felt spurned and deprived, and vowed to himself to get even with a society whose rules barred him from fulfilling his goals.  Although he probably didnt realize it at the time, there was a monster hiding deep inside his psyche, just waiting to be unleashed.  At some point after his injury he decided, either consciously or unconsciously, that he would release the monster, ultimately leaving a trail of dead female bodies in its wake.

Keith and his family eventually moved to Washington State and took up residence in a trailer park.  Lacking any significant job skills, Keith would later take up truck driving and soon realized that he could do the job and that it would become one that he liked.  As it turned out, a long-haul trucking outfit in Cheney, Washington, near Spokane, hired him, and before long he was zigzagging across the U.S., from Washington to Oregon, California, Montana, Nebraska, even New York and Florida and all of the states in between.

After getting his first taste of blood, so to speak, by murdering Taunja Bennett, Jesperson soon found that he had become addicted to killing.  Depending on whose account of Jespersons activities one chooses to believe, either his own account or official accounts, it appears that Jesperson waited nearly a year and a half before committing his second murder, after which the others appeared to come in rapid succession.

According to Jespersons account, the next murder attributed to him occurred sometime in late July or early August 1992.  An unidentified womans body was found on August 30 that year approximately ten miles north of Blythe, California, and investigators determined that she had been dead for a number of weeks.  Labeled a Jane Doe by the police, Jesperson would later tell authorities that her name was Claudia.

The following month, the body of Cynthia Lynn Rose, 32, was found along U.S. Highway 99 near Turlock, California.  She, too, had been dead for some time, and her death was originally listed as a drug overdose.  However, it was about this time that Jesperson began writing letters to the media, particularly to a columnist for The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon, claiming responsibility for Roses murder as well as others.  In one letter he had claimed that Rose was a prostitute he had picked up and murdered.  He signed his letters with a smiling happy face, and the columnist for The Oregonian quickly dubbed him, for lack of any other name, the Happy Face Killer.  Although the letters were turned over to the police, there was little for investigators to go on with regard to identifying the letter writer, and Jesperson would maintain his anonymity until 1995.

Laurie Ann Pentland, 26, became the next victim.  Lauries body was found in November 1992 behind a G.I. Joes store in Salem, Oregon, the states capitol, about 50 miles south of Portland.  Detectives determined that she had been strangled, but were left with no leads as to who her killer might be.  However, they would eventually learn that strangulation appeared to be the Happy Face Killers preferred method of murder.

The following July, another Jane Doe was found west of Santa Nella, California, on a state highway near a truck turn-out.  The woman had been dead for only a couple of days when her body was found, and a county coroner listed her death as a drug overdose.  Her case would eventually be reopened and looked at as a homicide after the Happy Face Killer wrote another letter and referred to her as a street person.

The remains of what would be known as victim number six on the Happy Face Killers list, another Jane Doe, was found more than a year later on September 14, 1994 west of Crestview, Florida along Interstate 10, by a road crew working in the Florida panhandle.  The remains consisted of mostly bones of a woman that investigators believe had been approximately 40-years-old at the time of her death.  The following year a detective would begin focusing on Jesperson as a possible suspect, but only after Jesperson claimed victim number eight and following his apprehension.  Although homicide detectives had made several attempts at identifying the woman through facial reconstructions, for the time being, as with all of the other as yet unconnected cases, investigators had little to work with aside from the bones.  Jesperson, however, would eventually claim that this victims name was Susanne.

Somewhere, somebody is missing a daughter, a wife or a sister, one of the Florida investigators said.

Although her corpse would not be found until September 1995, 21-year-old Angela Subrize of Oklahoma City would become Jespersons seventh victim.  Until then, few people would realize that Angela was even missing, much less dead, due to the transient lifestyle that she led.

It wasnt until victim number eight that Jesperson became careless by murdering someone he knew instead of a complete stranger.  Julie Ann Winningham, 41, of Camas, Washington, was believed to have been murdered on March 10, 1995, in Washougal, Washington, just a few miles east of Vancouver, Washington.  Like the others, she had been strangled and her nude body had been dumped over an embankment alongside state Highway 14 just east of the Clark and Skamania County line.  Unlike the others, Julies friends and relatives knew that she had been seeing Jesperson and provided the first valuable link, his name, that would aid investigators in apprehending one of the most notorious serial killers of the past decade.


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