Police think that Keith Jesperson’s career as a serial killer first began in 1990. At the time, he was working as a truck driver, passing through small towns all throughout the country, where he picked up women, had sex with them, and then murdered them before dumping their bodies in other small towns far away.
His first victim was Taunja Bennett. She was 23-years-old and mildly retarded. Jesperson picked her up in a Portland, Oregan bar. They went back to his place and had sex before he beat and strangled her to death. He then drove east, just far enough away from town, where he dumped her body in an embankment. He then drove even further out, where he disposed of her purse and walkman in a river before stopping for a cup of coffee.
In an odd twist of events, a woman named Laverne Pavlinac read about Bennett’s murder in a local paper and then falsely confessed to the crime. She later said that she hoped to pin the crime on her abusive boyfriend, John Sosnovske, in an attempt to get out of the relationship. She told police that he’d murdered Bennett and forced her to help him dispose of the body. Sosnovske was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. Pavlinac also received 10 years for alleged participation.
Thanks to Pavlinac’s unintended cover, Keith Jesperson continued his methodical murdering, which he chillingly described for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He left a trail of bodies throughout Washington, Wyoming, Nebraska, and even down through Florida.
Finally, in 1995, he was picked up for the murder of his girlfriend, Julie Ann Winningham.
Jesperson had no trouble confessing to the murder. Apparently, he’d been boasting about his homicidal exploits since Bennett, when he left a confession on the wall of a truck stop bathroom along with his infamous tag line — a happy face. However, the cryptic message didn’t elicit the sort of police chase or media frenzy Jesperson had hoped for. That’s when Jesperson decided to up the stakes and began sending confessions to news outlets as well as police departments across the country.
He always signed his letters with a happy face, thus becoming the “happy face killer.”