Keith Hunter Jesperson
Detective Rick Buckner Enters the Case
Seasoned Clark County, Washington Sheriffs Department Detective Rick Buckner, well known for his role in the Westley Allan Dodd child murders investigation a few years earlier, caught the Julie Ann Winningham case assignment. Buckner initially learned that Winningham was a Camas resident who had relocated to Utah for a while after breaking up with her truck driver husband. According to those he interviewed, she returned to Camas in February 1995 with a man named Keith Jesperson, who she referred to as her fiancé.
According to the information that Buckner uncovered, Winningham apparently met Jesperson at a truck stop in Utah and had hitched a ride with him back to Washington. A number of her acquaintances told Buckner that Jesperson was a big guy, and some described him as a giant and a Baby Huey type person.
Buckner also learned that Jesperson had no criminal record in the State of Washington. He learned that Jesperson had married a woman named Rose in 1986, and they had three children. The only records that turned up in his search for information about Jesperson were court records from Yakima County that showed that he and Rose had divorced in 1990.
It didnt take long for Buckner to learn of the Cheney trucking company for which Jesperson worked. Company officials told Buckner that he traveled all over the country, and in the days immediately following Winninghams death he was on the road to Pennsylvania. The company officials provided Buckner with Jespersons travel itinerary back toward the West Coast, a route that would take him through Texas, New Mexico and eventually to Arizona.
By Wednesday, March 22, 1995, Buckner had traced Jesperson to Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city located in the southern part of the state near the Mexican border. With the help of sheriffs deputies in Las Cruces, Buckner and another detective detained Jesperson for more than six hours and questioned him about the murder of Julie Winningham. By Jespersons own account, Buckner and the other detective tried to get Jesperson to confess to Winninghams murder, but he wouldnt talk. Jesperson would later say that they kept asking him if he wanted to talk about it or if he desired an attorney present during the questioning, and when he said that he did in fact want an attorney they asked him why he needed one, whether he had done something that required a lawyers assistance. Since he wouldnt talk and lacking any concrete evidence to arrest him, the detectives had no choice but to release him. Afterward, Jesperson immediately headed for Arizona and Buckner returned to Washington.
While in southern Arizona, Jesperson attempted to assign some kind of reason to the murders of the women he had killed, or so he claimed. Unable to do so, he claims that he made two attempts at suicide, the first on the evening of March 22 and the second attempt the following evening, each time overdosing himself on over-the-counter sleeping pills. Each time, he said, his body had rejected the sleep aids.
On March 24, after apparently deciding that the cops would nail him for Julie Winninghams murder and that he might fare considerably better with the judicial system if he turned himself in, Jesperson wrote two letters, one to his children and one to his brother. The letter to his brother, in part, read:
Seems like my luck has run out. I will never be able to enjoy life on the outside again. I got into a bad situation and got caught up with emotion. I killed a woman in my truck during an argument. With all the evidence against me it looks like I truly am a black sheep. The court will appoint me a lawyer and there will be a trial. I am sure they will kill me for this.
I am sorry that I turned out this way. I have been a killer for five years and have killed eight people, assaulted more. I guess I havent learned anything.
Dad always has worried about me because of what I have gone through in the divorce, finances, etc. I have been taking it out on different peopleAs I saw it, I was hoping they would catch me. I took forty-eight sleeping pills last night, and I woke up well rested. The night before, I took two bottles of pills to no avail. They will arrest me today.
Later that same night after dropping the letters he had written into the mail, Jesperson called Detective Buckner from Cochise County, Arizona and confessed to the murder of Julie Ann Winningham. According to Jesperson, he confessed to Winninghams murder because he knew that he would either be sentenced to life in prison or executed, and in either case he would no longer be in a position where he could kill another woman.
Six days later, Rick Buckner flew to Arizona to take Jesperson into his custody and return him to Washington State where he would be formally charged with Winninghams murder. According to what Jesperson would later write, Buckner purportedly told him: Westley Allan Dodd once wore those same cuffs. Jesperson said in his writings that he thought to himself after Buckners purported remarks: If he only knew what was in them now, he would faint.
When he arrived in Washington, Jesperson called his brother and instructed him to destroy the letter that he had sent him. However, on the advice of a lawyer and Jespersons father, his brother decided to turn the letter over to the police because they felt it was unlawful to hold onto or destroy evidence. Shortly after it was turned over to the police, the letter was published by a number of newspapers.
Meanwhile, Buckner began transmitting information about Jesperson to law enforcement agencies around the nation. He provided information about Jespersons confession and the letter that he had written to his brother, and inquired whether there were any jurisdictions that had any unsolved homicides that might fit into Jespersons travel itineraries. Within days Buckners office received 16 responses from law enforcement agencies as far away as New York and Florida, and the process of examining unsolved homicides in a number of states had begun. In addition to Jespersons routes of travel, investigators took another look at the physical evidence that had been collected from a number of crime scenes involving murdered women, including bodily fluids for DNA analysis for a possible match to Jesperson.
Focusing on female homicide victims found along major roadways and near truck stops, authorities in Oregon, Nevada and Utah were among the first to begin reexamining their open cases. Of particular interest to investigators in Oregon was an unsolved case involving a woman who disappeared from the vicinity of a truck stop in the Wilsonville area in the northern part of the state in August 1994 and whose body was eventually found along a highway near Medford in southern Oregon in March 1995, shortly after Jespersons arrest. Authorities in Utah and the Great Basin area of Northeastern Nevada also reexamined several unsolved homicides involving women to see if Jesperson somehow fit into the scheme of things. Although their gut instinct told them that Jesperson was probably their killer in a number of the cases they reexamined, they lacked sufficient evidence to bring any charges against him.