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Crime News Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt For Justice

Could Alleged ‘Smiley Face’ Victim Brian Welzien Have Fallen Into Lake Michigan As Investigators Initially Theorized?

The "Smiley Face Killers" team thinks not.

By Aly Vander Hayden

On the first day of the new millennium, 21-year-old Brian Welzien vanished from Chicago, Illinois, after celebrating New Year's with friends. Seventy-seven days later, the finance student was found washed ashore on a beach in Gary, Indiana. His death was ultimately ruled an undetermined drowning. Local law enforcement theorized an intoxicated Welzien had fallen into Lake Michigan and drowned, and that his body had traveled 30 miles south in the water before its discovery. An autopsy later revealed his blood alcohol content was just over the legal driving limit at .084 percent.

Welzien's friends and family, however, do not believe he could have made it to the edge of the lake on his own. According to witnesses from the night of his disappearance, Welzien was violently ill and struggling to stand after consuming only two or three drinks. Described by many as a health-conscious athlete who rarely partied, Welzien's behavior seemed out of character.

[Photo: "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice" Screengrab]

When Welzien made it back to the hotel where he and his friends were staying, witnesses saw him vomiting in the street, and that was the last time he was seen alive.

Former New York Police Department detectives Kevin Gannon, Michael Donovan, Anthony Duarte and professor of criminal justice Dr. Lee Gilbertson believe Welzien was possibly drugged, abducted, murdered and then placed into the lake by a group of unknown serial killers they have dubbed the Smiley Face Killers. The alleged serial killer gang targets college-aged men, dumps their bodies in nearby waterways and paints smiley face symbols near the death sites. In the majority of the cases the team has investigated, the drowning victims were found with the date-rape drug GHB in their systems.

Welzien was never tested for GHB during his autopsy, but the team believes someone could have slipped him the debilitating drug, making it fairly impossible for him to wander from the hotel to Lake Michigan. Though the shore is less than half a mile away, Welzien would have had to navigate through 10 lanes of heavy traffic or take a longer route via an underground walkway to reach the water's edge.

[Photo: "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice" Screengrab]

During “Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice,” which airs Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen, Donovan and Duarte retraced Welzien’s reported walk to Lake Michigan and contended the journey would have been infeasible.

"We know that Brian was not familiar with Chicago, so the chances of him walking towards the lake and finding the pedestrian tunnel under the highway is a very remote possibility," said Duarte.

To hear more about Welzien's case, watch "Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice" on Oxygen. 

[Photo: Courtesy of Stephany Welzien]