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Woman Dumped Along Interstate in Florida Identified as "Happy Face Killer" Victim, 29 Years Later
Keith Jesperson told investigators he didn’t want to draw a security guard’s attention when a woman in his truck screamed, "so he stopped her from breathing by pushing his fist against her neck," authorities said.
Nearly three decades after she was murdered and dumped by the side of a road in northwestern Florida, a woman previously only known to authorities as a "Jane Doe" has been identified as a victim of the "Happy Face Killer."
The Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday that Suzanne Kjellenberg, 34, was the woman that Keith Jesperson killed in August of 1994 whose body he said he disposed of near the Holt exit on Interstate 10.
Jesperson admitted to an Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office investigator in February of 1996 that he killed a woman in August 1994 and dumped her remains near that interstate exit, adding that he remembered the victim's name as “Susan” or "Suzette," according to the sheriff's office.
By that point, Jesperson had already been arrested in March of 1995 for the murder of Julie Winningham, whose body was found by a road in Washougal, Washington that month.
Who is "Happy Face Killer" Keith Jesperson?
Jesperson was dubbed the "Happy Face Killer" because he drew smiley faces on the notes he sent to investigators and media outlets about his crimes. Police have confirmed his connection to eight murders across several states — Washington, Oregon, California, Florida, Nebraska and Wyoming — during the five-year span between 1990 and 1995, thought at one point he claimed he'd killed more than 100 people.
While the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the District One Medical Examiner’s Office have been trying to identify the woman dumped along Interstate 10 in Florida since her body was found, they weren't able to match her to a name until this year.
"In late 2022, the D1MEO began working with Othram, a company that uses genetic genealogy to aid in identification," the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office stated. "Othram, Inc., based in The Woodlands, Texas, is a leader in using Forensic-Grade Genome Sequencing to develop comprehensive genealogical profiles."
How was Happy Face Killer victim Suzanne Kjellenberg identified?
This year, the District One Medical Examiner’s Office "sent samples to Othram, Inc. and, with funding through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a genealogical profile produced leads that led to Suzanne Kjellenberg’s identification,” said Chrissy Neiten, chief investigator with the District One Medical Examiner’s Office.
In September, investigators from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and an assistant state attorney visited Oregon State Penitentiary, where Jesperson is serving seven life sentences for the murders of seven other women from across the U.S. that he committed while working as a long-haul trucker.
"Jesperson, who was unaware until that morning of the group’s arrival, met with them unannounced and provided additional details which law enforcement was not previously aware of," the sheriff's office stated.
Jesperson has since been charged with Kjellenberg's murder. Kjellenberg has family that live in Wisconsin, and her next of kin have been notified. The family asked for privacy at this time, according to the sheriff's office.
"At the Oregon State Penitentiary, Jesperson outlined again to investigators that he met the victim at a truck stop near Tampa in August 1994 and they traveled to a rest area in the Panhandle," he sheriff's office stated. "While at the rest area, Jesperson was parked next to a security guard and the victim was sleeping in his bed. When he sat next to her, he says she began screaming and wouldn’t stop.
"Jesperson told investigators he was not allowed to have unauthorized riders in his truck, and didn’t want to draw the security guard’s attention, so he stopped her from breathing by pushing his fist against her neck," authorities continued. "He later placed zip ties around her throat as well."
Jesperson then drove to the Holt exit on Interstate 10, where he left Kjellenberg's body, later discovered by an inmate worker on September 14, 1994.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many over so long, the remains of Suzanne Kjellenberg, the final unidentified victim of Jesperson’s cross country murder sprees, can finally leave the Medical Examiner’s Office, and return home," said Sheriff Eric Aden of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
The District One Medical Examiner’s Office received the skeleton remains of Kjellenberg on September 15, 1994, the day after her body was found near I-10. During the initial investigation, an exam found that the remains belonged to a white female who was approximately 35 to 55 years of age.
A clay facial reconstruction was created at the time but did not result in any leads. In 2007, another facial reconstruction was made. The remains were sent out for additional testing and DNA analysis several other times over the years before the Othram tests this year led to the positive identification of Kjellenberg.