The Difference Between The Happy Face Killer And The Smiley Face Killer

Over the decades, the media has taken to assigning names to various serial killers, oftentimes at the killer's own direction. For example, as All That Is Interesting reports, David Berkowitz was known as the "Son of Sam" killer because he claimed that the devil had possessed the dog of a neighbor named Sam, which was sending him messages to kill. Similarly, as CNN explains, the so-called "Zodiac Killer" got the name because he sent cryptic, coded letters to police and the media.

In recent decades, two serial killer cases have come to be known by very similar names, both of which reference a mundane bit of doodling that you may have even drawn recently. However, the "Happy Face Killer" and the "Smiley Face Killer" are two different cases. And while one was solved and sent the culprit behind bars, the other remains unsolved and may not even be a case of a serial killer at all.

Keith Jesperson: The Happy Face Killer

There is little to no ambiguity about the circumstances of the Happy Face Killer. As True Crime Report notes, Keith Hunter Jesperson killed at least eight women in a crime spree believed to have begun in 1990. Specifically, Jesperson — who was working as a cross-country truck driver at the time — picked up Taunja Bennett at a bar, then later strangled her and dumped her body. Jesperson was then able to kill more women, most of them sex workers and/or transients, in part because another woman framed her boyfriend for the murder of Bennett. The process took the heat off of Jesperson, who was also targeting marginalized individuals who often don't receive adequate police attention.

Jesperson, taking a page out of other serial killers' books, craved attention. He began scribbling confessions on bathroom walls at truck stops, oft signing them with a doodled happy face. When that failed to get attention, he began sending letters to the media with the same doodles, leading to his nickname. Eventually, Jesperson was caught, tried, and convicted, and is currently behind bars.

The Smiley Face Killer: Maybe not a serial killer at all

Unlike the "Happy Face Killer," the so-called "Smiley Face Killer" might be one killer, multiple killers, or no killers at all. What is known for certain is that over the past 25 years, dozens if not hundreds of young, college-aged men have drowned under suspicious circumstances in 25 cities across 11 states, Oxygen reports. So what makes this a possible serial killer case and not just a list of random accidental drownings? First, all of the victims in these cases fit a profile, which in this case is young, physically-fit men of a certain age. Second, in at least some of the cases, the Happy Face graffito has been discovered at the scene of the crime, Rolling Stone reports

Former NYPD detective Anthony Duarte, criminal-justice professor Lee Gilbertson, and Kevin Gannon (a detective who investigated one of the drownings) are convinced that these are not accidents but the collective work of a group of serial killers. According to the trio, these killers are effectively a collection of domestic terrorists bent on exacting revenge against men they see as "privileged." It bears noting, however, that this is just a theory, and as of this writing, there is no evidence pointing to a suspect or group of suspects.