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20071217: JESPERSON Keith Hunter CA San Jose Serial Killer News
JESPERSON Keith Hunter: Letters from a Serial Killer
 
The student’s blood-red T-shirt was a big hit. “Friends help you move,” the front said. And on the back, “Real friends help you move a body.”

The dark humor was dead-on funny for the 30 Duquesne University forensic science and law majors. The seniors are enrolled in a five-year master’s program that for most will lead to careers as investigators, scientists and specialists dealing with murder and other vile crimes.

That’s why, on this October night, the members of Forensic Investigation I class were so excited.

 

Keith Hunter Jesperson, 52, a long-haul trucker who killed at least eight women in six states between 1990 and 1995, had sent them two letters in response to their request that he reveal to them the dark side of the criminal mind.

Now, it was time to open the letters. Amid some nervous laughter, the three students who had written Mr. Jesperson — Cara Spencer, Natalie Sciulli and Lyndsie Schantz — ripped open the envelopes he had mailed from the Oregon State Penitentiary, where he is serving three life sentences.

The nine handwritten pages quickly revealed that Mr. Jesperson had an agenda of his own — to embarrass Oregon officials. All these years later, it still rankles him that an innocent couple were arrested and convicted for his first known killing, that of Taunja Bennett, 23, a mildly retarded woman he met Jan. 23, 1990, in a bar near Portland, Ore. Only after Mr. Jesperson was arrested in 1995 were the couple released from prison.

“I want you and your class to dig into the Taunja Ann Bennett murder case and prove to me how a proper forensic team could support [their] guilt,” Mr. Jesperson wrote.

Mr. Jesperson also lambasted the book ” ‘I’– the Creation of a Serial Killer,” written by a true-crime author, the late Jack Olsen, with Mr. Jesperon’s help. He now claims much of the book is false, calling it “garbage.”

“We never had sex [as Mr. Olsen wrote],” Mr. Jesperson said, referring to the Bennett killing. “We kissed and I beat her to a pulp. The whole assault as Olsen said is false. No sex at all.”

The tension created by such passages was broken by Mr. Jesperson’s pitches. He wrote that if the students liked the enclosed postcard-sized drawings, one of a sunset and the other of vultures, they could purchase his 12-by-16 colored-pencil works for $75 each.

Class instructor Ron Freeman, a retired Pittsburgh homicide commander, said Mr. Jesperson’s tone throughout the letters — telling the students what to do, how to proceed — was typical of a serial killer, whose goal is to “dominate, manipulate and control.”

“I think it’s interesting to hear this letter, to see him, as you said, being dominant and still trying to be playful with us. It kind of reminds me of Hannibal Lecter kind of stuff,” said a female student, referring to the fictional serial killer in the movie “Silence of the Lambs.”

“I feel like he’s showing us the flaws in the system,” another woman in the predominately female class offered, “and he’s trying to teach us not to be like that because we are forensic majors.

“He’s telling us what they did wrong and what we shouldn’t do wrong.”

Mr. Freeman also was captivated by the letters, particularly Mr. Jesperson’s reluctance to admit that he sexually assaulted Miss Bennett even as he freely admitted to killing her.

“I think we can learn from this guy and I want to continue the communication,” Mr. Freeman said. “You all agree with that?”

Everyone did.

Before moving into that night’s lesson about criminal profiling, Mr. Freeman recalled a serial killer he had met in the 1970s. The man was arrested here for killing a University of Pittsburgh coed and eight other young women in Philadelphia.

Then-Detective Freeman asked the man how he chose his targets.

“His victims, unlike most serial killers, weren’t prostitutes, they were college students,” Mr. Freeman said. “He said he would go to campus areas in Philadelphia and he would walk around and look and walk and look and walk and look.”

“I finally knew which one it was,” the killer told the homicide detective, “because she was the girl without a face.”

The classroom fell silent.

Throughout the semester, the correspondence continued — more than a dozen letters in which Mr. Jesperson detailed how he committed his murders, why he did so and how he got away with his crimes for so long. He pointed out what he considered to be errors in Mr. Olsen’s book and in news accounts about his killings, all the while criticizing the police and prosecutors who wrongly arrested and convicted the couple for the Bennett murder.

“I hit Bennett so badly, I’m not sure she would have survived had I not strangled her,” he wrote the class about the case. “Placing my fist into her throat, I leaned into it and kept pressure on. … About four minutes later I leaned back — staring at the damage I did.”

He discussed how he returned to the bar where they met to establish an alibi, how he dumped the body over an embankment and later ran into Oregon state troopers at a truck stop: “These super cops had no idea I had just thrown away a body.”

He spoke of washing the walls and steam cleaning the rugs to get rid of Miss Bennett’s blood, but “up to several months after the murder I was still running across blood spatter in hide-and-seek areas.”

He said reading crime magazines had provided him with “certain solutions” to getting rid of forensic evidence, but “most importantly, I watched a lot of ‘Perry Mason’ reruns to see cases develop.”

In the murder of his seventh known victim, he said, “I felt a need to erase Angela’s looks and hands to get rid of her identification. Dragging her face down [under his tractor-trailer] on the roadway seemed to be the logical choice at the time.”

Along with such grisly details, delivered with a frightening matter-of-factness, Mr. Jesperson continued to prod the students to buy some of his artwork.

The correspondence was as spellbinding as it was chilling.

“It’s in such detail,” marveled Miss Spencer, who along with Miss Schantz and Miss Sciulli wrote all the letters to Mr. Jesperson. “There’s no emotion attached to it. There’s no regret or remorse. It feels really weird to be talking to someone who’s so nonchalant about the terrible things he did.”

Dr. David W. Seybert, dean of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, also found the letters engrossing.

“They are absolutely fascinating, absolutely intriguing,” Dr. Seybert said. “It was very sobering to hold the original letters and to realize the same hands that wrote these letters killed those women.

“It is a little disturbing to be reading in detail how he committed these crimes, how he evaded capture. You begin to get a sense into his psyche, into his mind from these letters.”

The women noted that Mr. Freeman and Mr. Jesperson, the former cop and the former killer, have provided the class with a yin-yang educational experience.

“Freeman is the complete polar opposite of Keith, who has just as good a memory and attention to detail, but in a different way,” Miss Sciulli said. “I feel we’re learning how to be observant in a good way from Freeman and in a completely horrible way from Keith.

“Either way, it’s going to help so much when we’re out working cases.”

Miss Sciulli, Miss Schantz and Miss Spencer were in Mellon Hall, a science building, with the letters from Mr. Jesperson, when they turned a corner and spotted a classroom — but it had a barred door like a jail cell.

Miss Sciulli’s cell phone rang; the caller ID read “Death Valley.” She answered and a voice said, “Hello, Natalie. This is Keith. Your voice mail message is just so you. It fits your personality,” Mr. Jesperson said. “Out of the three, you’re my favorite. My vote’s for you to be No. 1 with this project.”

“How come he gets a vote? Why are you his favorite?” Miss Spencer yelled.

And then Miss Sciulli jolted awake. It was 4 a.m., the room was completely dark.

“Wake up! Wake up!” she yelled to her boyfriend. “I just had the worst dream ever.”

“It’s that serial killer,” her boyfriend correctly guessed. “I told you it was a bad idea.”

Miss Spencer likewise learned that even while she slept, the psychological weight of interacting with evil was difficult to avoid.

“I never had nightmares before,” Miss Spencer said. “Last week, I was digging my nails into my side while I slept. I still don’t remember what the dream was about, but I had claw marks on my side.”

“We watch all of these weird, strange movies for fun,” Miss Sciulli said.

“And now this is our real-life movie,” Miss Schantz added.


20070625: JESPERSON Keith Hunter CA Santa Clara County Serial Killer News
Detective making last try to ID serial killer’s victim
 
Detective Ronald Breuss keeps the sketch above his desk, an artist's rendering of a woman whose identity has remained a mystery for 14 years. Most likely a truck stop prostitute, her lifeless body was found in 1993 near Pacheco Pass on Highway 152, dumped there by convicted serial murderer Keith Hunter Jesperson. Breuss, a cold case homicide investigator for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, likes to think the woman had a family, that someone once loved her and wonders what happened to her. So this summer Breuss will pack his car with copies of the sketch and hit the road. He will spend his own time and money in one last effort to put a name to the face.

If he strikes out, Breuss will close the case and put her file in an archive where "realistically no one will ever look ather again."

That's why her name matters so much to Breuss.

"She was a human being. She had a history ... and nobody could care less about that woman," said Breuss, a 26-year veteran in the sheriff's office.

He plans to drive I-5 posting her sketch with a plea for information along the way. "I care. She's entitled to somebody standing up for her. And in a lot of cases, the cold case officer is the last guy to stand up for somebody."

Even if that person was perhaps a down-on-her-luck prostitute, estranged from her family and addicted to drugs or alcohol. She wasn't from around here, just dumped in a remote part of the county. Breuss has theorized all of those scenarios.

"The minute he put his fist on her throat and took her life away, I think all of her worldly sins were absolved," Breuss said.

In interviews with police, Jespersen remembered her name might have been Carla. She was probably 39 years old when she was murdered on a May night in 1993 by Jespersen, who became known as the "Happy Face Killer." (Jesperson earned the nickname after drawing happy faces on letters describing his crimes he mailed to an Oregon newspaper). Four years after her death, Jespersen confessed to the murder in a letter he mailed to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors charged him with the murder last summer.

During a five-hour interview with Breuss, Jespersen provided chilling details about his encounter with the woman, which began at a truckers' rest stop off Interstate 5 in Corning, about 20 miles south of Red Bluff, and ended just inside Santa Clara County lines.

Jespersen, a long-haul trucker who authorities believe murdered 10 to 12 women, said he targeted the woman the moment she walked through the restaurant door. He described her to Breuss as looking "road hard" and said that she stared at plates of food as though she were starving to death.

He told the waitress he'd like to buy her lunch, anonymously. He then took credit for the kind gesture and offered to give her a ride. He walked to his truck, waited a few minutes and hit the brake lights, a prearranged signal he was about to leave. She darted out of the restaurant and into his truck. After 45 minutes of driving, the two had sex.

Then, Breuss believes, the woman somehow angered Jesperson, who wrapped his massive hands around her neck and strangled her with all the might of his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame.

Before he killed her, Jesperson told Breuss, "I looked at her, put my hand around her throat and said, 'Now you're going to die.' She got this absolutely frightful look."

He drove another four or five hours with the body in his cab before dumping it over the edge of a hill on Highway 152, about 20 miles east of Gilroy. On June 3, 1993, her badly decomposed body was found — the head pointed downhill and wedged under a rock — by a trucker who stopped at the turnout to urinate.

Breuss, who has overseen the cold case unit for about two years and in May made an arrest in a 1997 murder, theorizes if the woman was a truck stop prostitute traveling up and down I-5, she probably had a home base. Breuss plans on making a small poster with three similar sketches of the woman and driving north on I-5 well into Oregon, to cast as wide a net as possible. He'll leave copies of the poster at county jails, women's detention sites, truck stops, rest stops and homeless camps — any place he might look if she were alive and living on the street.

He believes the county jails might be his best chance to identify Jane Doe.

"If she was a street person, if she was an alcoholic or a drug user, she probably got arrested for those misdemeanor violations ... so people will know her," Breuss said. "That's pretty much our big shot at this."

To help bring national exposure to the case, Breuss agreed to be interviewed by the Discovery Channel for a show about the world's most evil people. It will be broadcast later this year. Breuss doesn't mince words when discussing his dislike for the media. Too often, it profits from victims, he said. But he's willing to cast that aside if it helps identify Jane Doe.

"This isn't about me or the justice system. It's about her," Breuss said.

"If you can benefit her, I will use that opportunity."

Breuss remains optimistic that he'll find someone who knows her. Although she was down-and-out at the end of her life, Breuss says evidence of dental work and an operation are proof that she once had the means to take care of herself.

To help their cause, Breuss and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office struck a deal with Jespersen, who is in Oregon serving two life terms. Prosecutors won't seek the death penalty in California as long as Jespersen shares everything he knows about the woman. Breuss believes that will happen sometime this year. Breuss said Jesperson is also suspected of having murdered women in Riverside and Atwater.

Breuss, the only cold-case investigator in the sheriff's office, has about 150 unsolved cases in his files. He keeps crime-scene photos of other murder victims in his office. "They keep me honest," he says. When this case is closed, another photo will go in Jane Doe's place.

He has given himself a time frame of six months to one year to identify her. At that point he may have to "consign her to eternity."

"If I feel that I gave it my all, I won't have any regrets," Breuss said. "I will always think about her if I don't identify her. I don't think I'll ever get away from that."


20060614: JESPERSON Keith Hunter CA San Jose Serial Killer News
Pacific Northwest serial killer charged in California case
 
 serial killer who stalked the Pacific Northwest was charged with strangling a woman in California in 1993 and dumping her body near a highway overpass.

Keith Hunter Jesperson, 55, was known as the “Happy Face Killer” for drawing happy faces in letters to an Oregon newspaper in which he boasted of his crimes. He is serving two life terms for murders in Oregon and Wyoming.

Santa Clara County prosecutors said Jesperson boasted of the slaying in a 1997 letter, but they withheld filing charges as they tried to determine the victim's identity.

“We knew he wasn't going anywhere,” prosecutor David Tomkins said.

Prosecutors said Tuesday they haven't decided whether to pursue the death penalty, adding the decision partially depends on Jesperson's willingness to name the victim, who remains unidentified.

Jesperson claimed he met her at a truck stop, had sex with her and strangled her before driving off.

The body was so badly decomposed that authorities could only determine she was a white woman in her 20s or 30s.

“We're hoping someone out there knows her,” Tomkins said. “She deserves a name.”


20060614: JESPERSON Keith Hunter NV Reno Serial Killer News
Authorities Link Local Slaying To Notorious 'Happy Face' Serial Killer
 
The "Happy Face Killer," one of the most notorious killers in the last decade, is about to be charged on suspicion of slaying a yet unidentified woman whose body was found at a truck stop along state Highway 152 near Dinosaur Point in unincorporated Santa Clara County in 1993. Santa Clara County sheriff's Detective Ron Breuss on Tuesday signed a warrant for Keith Hunter Jesperson, 55, a former long haul trucker who is serving a total of four life-sentences for the killings of four women in Oregon, Washington and Wyoming in the early to mid 1990s. Breuss said investigators caught on to Jesperson after he wrote several detailed confessions in letters to a newspaper columnist in Portland, Ore., who at the time in 1994 dubbed him the "Happy Face Killer" because Jesperson would draw a happy face at the top of his letters. In one of those letters, Jesperson described how he dumped the body of a woman on a dirt turnout along state Highway 152 east of Merced. That woman remains unidentified to this day and Breuss said he plans to do everything in his power to identify her, including posting several new detailed sketches of her at truck stops along the California coastline. "To me the value in this case is not Mr. Jesperson and the justice that will be brought to him," Breuss said. "(This woman) has a lifetime of pain in her eyes. ... Mr. Jesperson stated when he first saw her, she looked like a drowned cat and he knew she was desperate, and that is one of the things that enabled him to get an advantage of her. I knew the first drawings were not accurate and we have one opportunity before she is lost to the ages and ID her." In his letters, Breuss said Jesperson provided details that had not been released to the media and were thus not public knowledge. "Mr. Jesperson mentioned he lost his (black and yellow) flashlight at the scene and we discovered that flashlight there," Breuss said, adding that Jesperson also gave away little tidbits about the way the body was placed that only the killer would know. Jesperson has confessed that he picked her up at a truck stop near Corning, Calif., along Interstate Highway 5, strangled her at a rest stop in Williams, also along Interstate 5, before dumping her body near Casa de Fruita along westbound Highway 152. Jesperson, a native of Canada who is known to have tortured animals and wanted to become a policeman in his early years, has at times claimed responsibility for some 160 slayings throughout the United States, though he has later recanted several of those confessions. To date, he has pleaded guilty in court to four murders, including the 1990 slaying of Taunja Bennett in Oregon, the 1992 killing of Laurie Ann Pentland also in Oregon, the 1995 murder of Angela Subrize in Wyoming, and the 1995 murder of Julie Ann Winningham in Washington. It was Winningham's murder that first led detectives to identify Jesperson as a serial killer. He had apparently dated her briefly unlike the other women. His preferred method of killing was strangulation. Jesperson wrote several letters to The Oregonian columnist as well as his brother in which he described the killings of at least three women in California and the two women in Oregon. In interviews, he has told journalists about the murders of at least 15 women between 1992 and 1995. The woman is described as white in her late 30s to early 40s standing about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighing about 130 pounds. She has brown medium length hair and a 5-inch scar on her abdomen, possibly from a gall bladder surgical operation. Her teeth had deteriorated, though she had good dental work in her earlier years. According to Jesperson, she called herself Carla and claimed to have relatives in the Sacramento area. Police say she has marks on her body that indicate she was a drug user. "Mr. Jesperson is not going anywhere," Breuss said. "He will die in prison. ... His career was based on drawing the life out of the victims ... and I want to take that power back and restore it to her."


Copyright 1995-2006 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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