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Keith Hunter Jesperson, a.k.a. "The Happy Face Killer", is a Canadian-born American (possibly prolific) serial killer and serial rapist.


Jesperson was born in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. His father and grandfather were both extremely violent and frequently abused their families. He moved to Selah, Washington, U.S., and because of his large size, he had trouble with making friends and was bullied by his classmates and his own brothers. Like many serial killers, Jesperson showed signs of psychopathy at an early age by capturing various animals, then torturing and strangling them to death. His desire to hurt other people first manifested itself in two attempted murders: the first when he attacked a friend, Martin, by beating him; and the second when he attempted to drown a boy at a public school. He also claimed that he was raped at age of fourteen, though this was never confirmed. Although he was not successful with courting girls, he managed to enter into a relationship after high school. He married a woman named Rose Hucke and together they had three children. He later became a truck driver to support his family. Years after marrying Hucke, she started to suspect that Jesperson was cheating on her when strange women would call her house. The couple eventually divorced in 1990, devastating Jesperson. His dream was to work as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but he suffered an injury during training and his dream was destroyed. He then began to work as an interstate truck driver and took advantage of his job to start serial killing.

Murders, Arrest, and Incarceration

Jesperson's first known victim was a woman named Taunja Bennett. He invited her to his house, and after having an argument, she was strangled to death with a rope and her body was later disposed of. Her body was found days later but the case went unsolved until a woman named Laverne Pavliac claimed that she and her boyfriend, John Sosnovske, were responsible for her death. They were arrested, and as result, Jesperson wrote a confession on the bathroom wall of a truck stop, signed it with a happy face, and subsequently wrote letters to media outlets and police departments, all signed with a happy face. Following this, he was dubbed "The Happy Face Killer" by journalist Phil Stanford. Two-and-a-half years later, he killed his next victim, a woman he claimed to be named Claudia; she was raped by him and then strangled. A month later, the body of possible prostitute Cynthia Lyn Rose was found. Jesperson's next victim was another possible prostitute, Laurie Ann Pentland; her body was found in November of that year. More than six months later, he murdered another woman, whose name was claimed by him to be Carla or Cindy.

A year later, Jesperson murdered a woman he claimed to be named Susanne. Another year later, he agreed to give a young woman named Angela Surbrize a lift from Spokane, Washington, to Indiana. During the trip, they got into a fight, and in response, Jesperson raped and strangled her before strapping her her to the undercarriage of his truck and dragged her face-down. Her body was found only after Jesperson was arrested. Two months later, Jesperson murdered his girlfriend, Julie Ann Winningham, because he felt that she was interested in his money. Unfortunately for him, he quickly became the prime suspect in her death and was arrested on March 30, 1995, for her murder. He tried to commit suicide twice but failed. Jesperson subsequently confessed to the murders he committed and also had sent a confession letter to Winningham's brother a week before his arrest. In prison, he claimed to have killed more than 160 people, though this was never confirmed. He was convicted for all of the murders he had committed in California, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Jesperson is now serving three life sentences at the Oregon State Penitentiary. In 2009, he was indicted for murder in Riverside County and was extradited to California to face charges.

Modus Operandi

Most of Jesperson's victims were prostitutes and transients who were lured by Jesperson into his truck, where he would sometimes rape them before strangling them to death, manually or with some sort of ligature. His first known victim, Taunja Bennett, was strangled with a rope in his home.

Known Victims

Taunja Bennett, Jesperson's first murder victim.

Julie Winningham, Jesperson's fiancée and last murder victim.

A facial reconstruction of the victim identified by Jesperson as "Carla" or "Cindy".

  • Unspecified date in 1965-1966: Martin (surname unrevealed; attempted, but survived; was non-fatally beaten)
  • Unspecified date in 1966-1967: Unnamed boy (attempted, but survived; was drowned to the point of unconsciousness)
  • Unspecified dates from 1967 to 1990:
    • Unnamed victim (attempted, but survived; was non-fatally shot in the genitals with a BB gun)
    • Unnamed victim (attempted, but survived; was non-fatally shot with a BB gun)
  • 1990:
    • January 23, Portland, Oregon: Taunja Bennett, 23 (punched in the face 20 times, raped, and strangled with a rope)
    • April 12, Mt. Shasta, California: Daun Richert-Slagle, 21 (abducted and attempted to kill by breaking her neck; was released)
  • 1992:
    • August 30, Blythe, California (found): Claudia (surname unrevealed; raped and manually strangled)
    • September, Turlock, California: Cynthia Lyn Rose, 32 (manually strangled)
    • November, Salem, Oregon: Laurie Ann Pentland, 26 (strangled with an unspecified ligature)
  • July 1993, Santa Nella, California: Carla/Cindy[1] (killed by unknown causes)
  • September 14, 1994, Crestview, Florida: Susanne, 40 (killed by unknown causes)
  • January 1995, Spokane, Washington: Angela Surbrize, 21 (raped and manually strangled, then dragged with a truck post-mortem)
  • March 10, 1995, Washougal, Washington: Julie Ann Winningham, 41 (his fiancée; manually strangled)
  • Note: Jesperson also claimed to have killed as high as 160 people across the U.S., a claim that has been repeated by various other sources.


  • Jesperson appears on the TV show Dark Minds, under the code-name "Raven", as M. William Phelps' "serial killer consultant", alongside fellow serial killer Joel Rifkin, who appears as "Thirteen".

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Five
    • "Solitary Man" - While Jesperson was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, he appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Wade Hatchett - Both were serial killers who lost their wives prior to their killings (Jesperson's divorced him while Hatchett's died), had a daughter, had jobs as truckers, operated in several states, targeted women, picked them up in their trucks, and manually strangled them to death (though Jesperson often used ligatures instead).



  1. The victim is unidentified, with both names only being provided by Jesperson