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Crime News Snapped

‘He Tries To Paint The Victim As Someone Who Needed To Be Killed’: Who Are The Women Murdered By The Happy Face Killer?

Between 1990 and 1995, eight women died at the hands of Keith Hunter Jesperson, also known as the Happy Face Killer. 

By Joe Dziemianowicz
Keith Jesperson Smiley Face Killer 2

In 1990, shortly after his marriage ended, Keith Jesperson, a long-haul trucker from Selah, Washington, began killing women.

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Most were strangers and some were sex workers. After he strangled them, he dumped the dead bodies on the side of the road.

Jesperson, who was born in British Columbia in 1955 and moved to the US when he was 12, kept on killing until he was caught in 1995. His last known victim was a woman he dated, which led to his capture and incarceration for life.

During his depraved spree, Jesperson taunted authorities with anonymous confessions signed with a smiley face. A journalist noticed the symbol and came up with the Happy Face Killer nickname.

Jesperson’s heinous crimes as well as shocking twists in the case — including a couple who took the blame for one of his homicides — are covered in bracing detail in the Oxygen special “Snapped Notorious: The Happy Face Killer,” now streaming.

The production features interviews between Jesperson and M. William Phelps, author “Dangerous Ground: My Friendship with a Serial Killer.” It also features an interview with Daun Slagel, who survived a violent encounter with Jesperson when she was 21.

“He tries to paint the victim as someone who needed to be killed,” Phelps, whose nearly decade-long relationship with the killer gives him insight into Jesperson’s mind, told producers.

Eight murders were eventually linked to Jesperson, who’s serving multiple concurrent sentences in Oregon State Penitentiary. Some of his victims, as seen in this timeline, have never been identified.

Victim 1: Taunja Bennett. Jesperson met 21-year-old Bennett in a bar in Portland, Oregon. On January 21, 1990, after taking her to his rental place, plans to have sex went awry and he “beat her senseless,” he told Phelps. After he raped and strangled her, Jesperson dumped her body near the Columbia River Gorge, outside Portland.

Victim 2: California Jane Doe. Jesperson’s second victim, known only as Claudia, was found murdered on August 30, 1992 in Blythe, California. Jesperson told Phelps they met at a truck stop and that after he agreed to give her a ride he felt like she was trying to “play” him. That triggered him. He duct-taped her mouth and hands before raping and strangling her. 

Victim 3: Cynthia Lyn Rose, 32, was found dead in September 1992. Her body was discovered behind the Blueberry Hill Cafe in Turlock, California. Jesperson claims she was a sex worker who climbed into his truck, even though he told her he wasn’t interested in her services, according to the two-hour Oxygen special.

Victim 4: Laurie Ann Pentland, 26. Pentland’s body was found in November 1992 after being discarded in Salem, Oregon. Jesperson claims he killed her after she tried to double charge him for sex, according to “Snapped Notorious: The Happy Face Killer.”

Victim 5: California Jane Doe. Jesperson claimed this still-unidentified woman as his fifth victim but told Phelps that he can’t recall anything about her. Her body was found on a roadside rock pile in Santa Nella, California. 

Victim 6: Florida Jane Doe. Jesperson’s fifth victim was known only as Susanne, whom he met in Crestview, Florida. Jesperson described murdering her, like other women he killed, as “putting her out of her misery.”

Victim 7: Angela Subrize, 21. Jesperson met her in a bar in January 1995 and agreed to give her a ride before eventually killing her.

Because Jesperson allowed her to use his credit card to make a phone call, he devised a depraved way to conceal her identity. “He strapped the woman beneath his big rig,” the New York Post reported. “Her body disintegrated against the hot asphalt as he drove.” Her body was found after his arrest.

Victim 8: Julia Ann Winningham, 41. Jesperson had dated before her before killing her on March 3, 1995  because he believed she was after his money. Because of their relationship, authorities connected her death to him.

“When contacted by sheriff’s detectives, he said he had gagged her with duct tape, raped her in the sleeping cab of his rig and strangled her,” reported the Spokesman-Review.

To learn more about this case, watch “Snapped Notorious: The Happy Face Killer,” streaming now on Oxygen.

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