Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Keith Hunter Jesperson

The Murder of Angela Subrize

Keith Jesperson (AP)
Keith Jesperson (AP)

While Jesperson sat in the Clark County Jail for the murder of Julie Winningham, he began talking to his attorney, Thomas Phelan, about other crimes that he had committed.  The conversation began when Phelan asked Jesperson about the letter that he had sent to his brother, which had been turned over to the police.  In an adrenaline scared rush, Jesperson began telling his innermost secrets to the attorney when he realized that he would be labeled a serial killer after the police linked him to additional killings.  One of those cases involved the murder of 21-year-old Angela Subrize.  Against legal advice to keep his mouth shut, Jesperson decided to tell his account of Angelas murder to other inmates who, in turn, reported what he had said to authorities.  Clark County investigators relayed the information to their counterparts in Wyoming and Nebraska.  Later, Jesperson would also talk to investigators about Angelas killing as well as others, and would detail his accounts in his letter writing campaign and Internet postings made possible through the help of people willing to post his writings on their websites.

According to Jespersons account, he picked up Angela Subrize near Spokane, Washington in January 1995 and had agreed to give her a ride to Fort Collins, Colorado, to see her father.  At one point along the way they stopped so that she could call her dad who, Jesperson would later claim, told her that he didnt want to see her and to stay away.  Afterward, Angela changed her mind about going to Fort Collins and asked Jesperson to take her to Indiana instead to visit a friend.

In a rage, I murdered her in Wyoming, Jesperson said.

Jesperson went on to explain that he became enraged when Angela would not let him sleep when they had stopped at a truck stop just east of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  She kept bitching at him to keep driving in bad weather, and he ended up strangling her by placing his fist tightly against her throat.  Afterward, he went back to sleep.  When he awoke about three hours later, he drove on into Nebraska and pulled off into a rest area where he bound her body with black nylon rope and secured it face down beneath his rig.  He dragged her body along the pavement for about ten to twelve miles, until it became loose.  He then untied her body and threw it into a ditch situated about 75 feet off Interstate 80, some 250 miles east of the truck stop where hed killed her.  The nylon rope was still attached to her ankles.

Sgt Terry Bohlig (King)
Sgt Terry Bohlig (King)

Sergeant Terry Bohlig of the Laramie County, Wyoming Sheriffs Department, caught the assignment in that jurisdiction since it was believed that Angela had been killed in Wyoming.  Bohlig learned that Angela had led a transient lifestyle, and as such had not been reported missing by family members.  Bohlig, however, eventually located her father by examining phone calls charged to a credit card believed to have belonged to Jespersons brother.

As spring slowly turned into summer and summer just as slowly made its way into autumn, Keith Jesperson sat in jail in Washington with little else to do except to think about his crimes and make plans on how he might manipulate the system to his benefit as prosecutors built their case against him for the murder of Julie Ann Winningham.  Similarly, authorities from Wyoming confronted him with what little evidence and information they had regarding Angela Subrize.  At one point they showed him a photo of her in which he identified Angela as the person that he had picked up and killed.  He also told the investigators about a significant detail that would leave little doubt in their minds that he was, for reasons known only to him, being truthful with them regarding Angela.  He said that she had a tattoo of the cartoon character Tweety Bird on one of her ankles in which Tweety was making an obscene gesture with one of its hands.

In September 1995, based on specific and accurate information from Jesperson relayed by Clark County, Washington investigators to their counterparts in Nebraska, a Nebraska highway patrolman found Angelas remains lying near the shoulder of Interstate 80 near Gothenberg, a small town of 3,200 residents located near the South Platte River, where it had been lying in tall grass for several months, probably since early January.  Badly decomposed, most of her skin had decayed and investigators were able to identify her only after examining pelvic x-rays and finding the tattoo of Tweety Bird that was still visible on one of her ankles, one of only a few identifying marks that remained on her body.  As the Wyoming investigators continued to systematically build their case against Jesperson, one in which they hoped would eventually bring him the death penalty, Jesperson continued making plans of his own on how to manipulate the system to his benefit.  Nonetheless, Jesperson was soon charged with Angelas murder, and Wyoming prosecutors promptly rejected an offer by his attorney for him to provide information in exchange for an agreement from Wyoming not to seek the death penalty.

Meanwhile, investigators in Washington, California and Oregon went to work examining Jespersons handwriting.  Because of the comments that he had been making to other inmates and due to the letter that he had written to his brother, the investigators wanted to determine if Jesperson was the same person who had written the letters to The Oregonian columnist claiming to have killed three women in California and two in Oregon.  Using the letter that he wrote to his brother claiming to have killed eight women over a five year period, the investigators saw similarities, not only in the handwriting but in the crimes themselves.  Regarding one of the California victims, the Happy Face Killer wrote that he had used duct tape to bind her hands and feet, a fact that was never released to the public.  Investigators also found duct tape near her body.  Similarly, in statements he made to the police, Jesperson claimed to have taped Julie Winninghams mouth shut with duct tape.  But there were discrepancies in the letters as well.  In one Happy Face Killer letter, the writer claimed to have quit long-haul truck driving and was instead employed as a driver where I am in the public eye and out of harms wayI got away from what became easy.  I do not want to kill again.

Yet another similarity in the letter writing between Jesperson and the Happy Face Killer appeared when Jesperson wrote a letter to The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Washington, and had it smuggled out of the jail.  In that letter he again alluded to a desire to be caught so that he would not kill again, and stated:  I know what Ive done has been wrong, and I feel sorry for all the families of my victimsI am in fact the Happy Face KillerI created that man because I wanted to be stopped, but it is hard to just come out and say itI have prayed many nights in this cold dark prison cell for the answer and God has told me to come clear with it all, tell the truth about everything.  I will not be happy until I am replacing that man (Sosnovske) in the Oregon State Penitentiary for the crime I did and he goes freeMost people will say that I am a monster!  I am not a monster!  Just like the movie, Jurassic Park, I was created by people.

Jespersons comments about Sosnovske and their obvious relevance to the Taunja Bennett case naturally shocked the investigators, especially detectives Corson and Ingram and prosecutor McIntyre who were responsible for putting Sosnovske and Pavlinac behind bars.  His comments marked the first time that anyone had sown any seeds of doubt that the right suspects had been prosecuted.  Naturally, all those involved were inclined to believe that Jesperson was lying and that they had convicted the right people for Bennetts murder.

As soon as I feel we have the wrong people in jail, youll probably catch me going to Salem to get them out, Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk said of Jespersons remarks.  In the meantime, Jespersons attorney went to work setting up a plea-bargain agreement between the state of Oregon and Jesperson regarding Bennetts murder.

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