Since going public with their theory in 2008, retired New York Police Department detective Kevin Gannon and his team of investigators have attempted to prove the existence of the Smiley Face Killers. They believe the serial killer gang murders college-aged men and dumps their remains in nearby bodies of water, leaving behind sinister happy face graffiti at the death sites.
"Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice," airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen, investigates these mysterious drowning deaths, which potentially number in the hundreds.
The 2014 disappearance a Paul Kochu has long aroused suspicion, and a 2017 podcast postulated that his death – along with the death of Dakota James — may be connected to the Smiley Face Killers. Like other alleged victims of the Smiley Face Killers, Kochu was an athletic young man. He had recently graduated from Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University and was working as a nurse at Allegheny General Hospital. Pittsburgh’s WPXI reported the 22-year-old went missing in the early morning hours of December 16, 2014.
On the night of his disappearance, Kochu was at a bar drinking and watching Monday Night Football. According to his friends, after having too much to drink, Kochu went home, where he accidentally cut his hand.
“He cut himself on broken glass or something, so we came home, helped clean that up,” roommate Ben Monito was quoted by ABC News. “At the time, he was really emotional.”
According to Pottstown, Pennsylvania's Mercury newspaper, Kochu was last seen at 1:30 a.m., after which his friends left to get food. When they returned, Kochu was gone, as were his wallet, keys and cell phone.
Ten days after his disappearance, police released surveillance footage that captured Kochu at 2:45 a.m., headed in the direction of the 10th Street Bridge, which crosses the Monongahela River in Downtown Pittsburgh. The footage shows Kochu walking erratically, weaving from one side of the sidewalk to another, and holding his hand in what appeared to be a makeshift bandage.
Three months later, on March 20, 2015, Kochu’s body was found floating in the Ohio River near Wheeling, West Virginia. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his body was nude with a small cut on his hand, three broken ribs and a 1-inch wound on his scalp. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, almost double the legal intoxication rate of .08.
Kochu’s cause of death was officially ruled an undetermined drowning.
Kochu’s parents have long voiced their suspicions that foul play was involved in their son’s death. In 2016, Paul’s father, Jack Kochu, told Pennsylvania’s Daily Local News, “The information that we have gotten, we can’t agree with.”
The family has since raised money to hire a forensic pathologist to review the autopsy results, though no new findings have yet to be announced.
Kochu’s drowning has often been mentioned in tandem with the 2017 death of 23-year-old Dakota James. Like Kochu, James attended Duquesne University and disappeared after a night out drinking with friends, only to have his body later be found floating in the Ohio River. Their deaths were examined in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette produced podcast “Three Rivers, Two Mysteries,” and the alleged Smiley Face Killers have been theorized as possibly being involved in both deaths. However, while Gannon and his team have been adamant James’ death was not an accident, they have been less committal about Kochu’s death.
“The Kochu case may be a homicide but may not be related to us,” Gannon told Post-Gazette in 2017.
[Photo: Getty Images]
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.