Serial Killer – The Happy Face Killer – Keith Hunter Jesperson
When the Happy Face Killer movie released in 2014, it sounded like as chilling as a horror fiction story, but the movie was actually based upon the life, hunt, and capture of a real serial killer – Keith Hunter Jesperson. During the early 1990s, Jesperson went on a serial killing spree, murdering eight women over five years. While many of Jesperson’s victims were transients and prostitutes, his long-time girlfriend was his final victim, and that murder finally led to the capture of the Happy Face Killer. According to Jesperson, he killed over 160 people, although only eight of those murders were confirmed.
The Early Life of Keith Jesperson
Keith Hunter Jesperson was born in British Columbia to Les and Gladys Jesperson in 1955. His father, Les, was an abusive, domineering alcoholic. While he was young, Jesperson received little attention, and when the family moved to Selah, Washington, it was difficult for the young boy to fit in because of his huge size. As a shy child, he often played on his own, and when he behaved badly, his father severely punished him, using beatings, and in one case, and electric shock, as punishment.
From the time he was very young, Jesperson enjoyed torturing animals. He enjoyed seeing animals kill each other and he loved the feeling he had when he took the lives of animals. As he grew older, he would capture dogs, birds, and cats in the trailer park where he lived, beating the animals and then strangling the animals to death. Jesperson later noted that he often considered how it would feel to strangle a human in the same way.
When Jesperson was only 10, he violently attacked a friend of his, claiming that he wanted to kill the boy. When ie was 11, he attempted to drown a boy who had previously held him under water. Jesperson also claims that he was raped at the age of 14 in high school.
Jesperson’s Marriage and Career
At age 20, Jesperson married Rose Hucke, and through the years, the couple had three children. To support his family, Jesperson began working as a truck driver. When strange women began calling the home, Hucke started suspecting that Jesperson was having multiple affairs. While her husband was out on the road, Huck left with her children, driving to Spokane, Washington to live with her parents, and the two divorced in 1990. However, Jesperson continued visiting his children whenever he was in town.
Jesperson was a huge man, weighing about 240 pounds and standing at 6’6” tall. At one point, he started to work to become a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, but he sustained an injury during training that ended this dream. He started trucking again, and soon he realized that his trucking job gave him the ability to kill without him being a suspect.
The Victims of the Happy Face Serial Killer
Taunja Bennett was the first known victim of the Happy Face serial killer. He met her at a bar in January 1990, invited her to a home he was renting, and after sleeping together, an argument between the two ended in Jesperson beating and strangling her.
Two and a half years later, he killed again, and the unidentified body of a woman who he had raped and strangled was found in August 1992. According to Jesperson, her name was Claudia. Just a month later, Cynthia Lyn Rose was found dead, and Jesperson claims that she was a prostitute. Another prostitute, Laurie Ann Pentland, was the fourth victim, and her body was found in November 1992.
More than six months later, the next victim, another unidentified woman, was found in June 1993. In September 1994, yet another unidentified woman was found in Florida. Jesperson gave Angela Surbrize a ride in 1995, and during the trip Jesperson raped and strangled her as well, strapping her body to his truck’s undercarriage and dragging the body face down to grind away the face and prints. It was several months before her body was found.
Two months after Jeseprson murded Surbrize, he decided that Julie Ann Winningham, his long-time girlfriend, was only interested in him for his money. He strangled his girlfriend in March 1995, and it was his link to her that finally led to his arrest. By the end of March 1995, he was arrested for Winningham’s murder, turning himself in after attempting to commit suicide twice. He started to reveal the details of his killings after he was taken into custody, and he started making claims of multiple other killings.
How Keith Jesperson Became the Happy Face Killer
After Jesperson committed his first murder, the murder of Taunja Bennett, Laverne Pavlinac gave a false confession, telling police that she and her boyfriend raped, murdered, and disposed of the body. However, when Jesperson saw that Pavlinac was getting all the attention, he wrote his confession in a truck stop’s bathroom, signing the confession with a smiley face. Since this didn’t bring the attention he wanted, he started writing letters to police departments and media outlets, confessing to the murders. All of the letters he sent were signed with a smiley face, which is why a journalist eventually dubbed him the “Happy Face Killer”.