THE daughter of the Happy Face Killer has issued an emotional apology to the family of one of his victims after she was finally identified after almost three decades, telling them: “I’m so sorry.”
Keith Hunter Jesperson, now 68, is a Canadian-born serial killer who confessed to brutally murdering at least eight women in multiple different U.S. states while working as a truck driver in the 1990s.
Jepserson became known as the Happy Face Killer for a signature smiley face he left on letters he sent to police and the media bragging about his crimes.
In 1996, a year after his arrest in connection with seven homicides, Jesperson told police he’d killed an unknown woman by the name of “Susan” or “Suzette” along Interstate 10 in Holt, Florida, in August 1994.
The woman’s remains were found a month after her murder by an inmate worker crew but her identity would remain a mystery for 29 years.
That was until Tuesday when the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) announced in a press conference that the woman had finally been identified as Suzanne Kjellenberg.
Kjellenberg was 34 years old at the time of her death and had been hitchhiking across the country when her and Jesperson’s paths fatefully crossed.
One of Jesperson’s daughters, Melissa Moore, told The U.S. Sun on Wednesday that she had been deeply saddened by the confirmation of Kjellenberg’s death and issued her apologies to the tragic woman’s family.
“I’m deeply saddened to know my father is responsible for the suffering and the murder of Suzanne L. Kjellenberg,” wrote more in a texted statement.
“I’m grateful for the dedication of local authorities in pursuing her identity for nearly three decades. While I know this will not bring closure for her loved ones, I’m grateful that it provides answers.
“Suzanne deserved a beautiful long life and I’m sorry it was cut horrifically short by my father.
“Sending my prayers and support to her family and friends.”
‘SUZANNE HAS A VOICE’
During Tuesday’s press conference, Okaloosa investigators revealed they consulted with a private lab and used genetic genealogy to identify Kjellenberg.
They created a genetic profile of the Jane Doe using her DNA and ran that profile against the millions of of profiles on public databases such as Ancestory.com and 23andMe to find a match.
With the technology, investigators were able to create a family tree for the subject and they identified relatives of Kjellenberg’s living in Wisconsin.
Those family members have since been notified, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden said Tuesday.
He said they were grateful for the perseverance of investigators but also asked for privacy.
“Suzanne deserves a voice,” said Sherrif Aden. “We’re that voice for her today and this case has been years in the making.”
Jesperson, who is currently serving four life sentences in Oregon, has now been formally charged with Kjellenberg’s murder.
After his arrest in 1995, he began confessing to multiple murders, at one time claiming to have killed as many as 160.
He eventually recanted the majority of those claims but investigators were able to verify the murders of eight women between 1990 and 1995 in California, Florida, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.
Last month, a team of Okaloosa investigators visited Jesperson in prison to meet with him and pry for more information about Kjellenberg’s final moments.
Jesperson told them he picked the hitch-hiker up at a truck stop in Tampa in August 1994 where she told him she needed a ride to Lake Tahoe.
The serial killer said he wasn’t familiar with where she was heading specifically but he agreed to take her to his next stop in Cairo, Georgia, where the pair shared a meal together.
Jesperson said they made it to Cairo and eventually began driving back to Florida, at which point he parked at a rest stop near a security vehicle and went to check on Kjellenberg who was in his cab.
Inside, he claims she had been sitting on a mattress when he decided to sit down next to her and she began to scream.
Jesperson said he panicked because a security guard was parked next to his truck, so he killed her to silence her.
“She just sat up and started screaming,” Jesperson is heard recounting in a video of his September interview.
“I was like, ‘Shut up!’ and the more I told her to ‘shut up,’ the more she screamed. And I don’t need that, because I wasn’t supposed to have people in my truck anyway . . . so I just killed her.”
“After murdering too many people, it was just an easy thing to do,” he chillingly added.
Jesperson then secured zip-ties around Kjellenberg’s neck and dumped her body along Interstate 10, where it would lay undiscovered for just over a month.
He said his reasoning for placing zip ties around her neck was so that the large spaghetti dinner the woman had just eaten wouldn’t “come up” while he was moving her body.
“I figured that way, when I moved her, nothing would come out,” he said.
Investigators marveled at Jesperson’s ability to recall the murder and disposal of Kjellenberg’s remains.
“He has a phenomenal memory,” said Kelly Henderson, senior OCSO investigator. “To the point of specific exit numbers.”
Sheriff Aden said Kjellenberg was a drifter at the time she was killed, a repeating theme for Jesperson’s victims.
The process to identify her began late last year when OCSO teamed up with Othram, a lab specializing in genetic genealogy that has been instrumental in cracking dozens of cold cases in recent years.
In total, it took just six weeks to determine Kjellenberg’s identity.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many over so long, the remains of Suzanne Kjellenberg, the final unidentified victim of Jesperson’s cross-country murder sprees, can finally leave the Medical Examiner’s Office, and return home,” Sheriff Aden said.
Melissa Moore was just a teenager when her father was arrested.
She previously revealed to The U.S. Sun the moments the horrifying reality of her father’s true identity was laid bare.
Her mom – who had divorced Jesperson a few years earlier – informed her and her two siblings that he’d been arrested and likely wouldn’t be coming to visit them any time soon.
When pressed as to why, Moore’s mother said it was because he’d killed someone.
Moore immediately ran to her room and wept uncontrollably on her bed, wondering how her father could be capable of doing such a thing.
But that wouldn’t be the end of the bad news; the rug would continue to be pulled from beneath Moore and her family over the following weeks and months as investigators discovered more and more victims.
The first victim identified by police had been Jesperson’s most recent kill: his girlfriend, 41-year-old Julie Ann Winningham, whom he strangled to death in Washougal, Washington, on March 10, 1995, having apparently grown convinced she was only with him for money.
After two failed suicide attempts, Jesperson handed himself in hoping it would result in leniency during his sentencing.
However, during his time behind bars, he began confessing to multiple murders and, in a letter penned to his brother days before his arrest, he confessed to killing eight people in five years across several different states.
Kjellenberg is believed to be Jesperson’s sixth kill.
Over time, Moore would recover memories from numerous interactions she’d shared with her father that appeared disturbing with the clarity of hindsight.
Those memories included him beating and strangling stray cats and dogs in front of her as she watched in horror.
She’d also remember him telling her he “learned how to kill someone and get away with it,” before describing almost to the exact detail how he disposed of one of his victims.
HAPPY FACE VICTIMS
Jesperson’s first known victim, Taunja Bennett, was murdered in January 1990 near Portland, Oregon.
Jesperson had introduced himself to 23-year-old Bennett at a bar and later invited her back to his home. An argument ensued and Jesperson beat, raped, and strangled her before disposing of her body.
An investigation was launched within days after Bennett’s partially nude remains were found at the side of the road with a rope around her neck.
Early in the probe, a woman with a track record of making false police reports, Laverne Pavlinac, came forward to confess, insisting she had murdered Bennett at the direction of her abusive boyfriend, John Sosnovske.
The couple was arrested on March 5, 1990, and they were both convicted of her murder the following February.
After sentencing, Pavlinac admitted to the false confession but her claims were ignored for years.
Jesperson, meanwhile, roamed free. But apparently incensed that someone was attempting to take credit for his kill, he began writing taunting messages in rest stops, to the media, and to police, confessing to being the real culprit.
Each of the letters was signed with a smiley face, earning him the moniker the Happy Face Killer.
Jesperson would claim his second known victim in August 1992, when the body of a woman he raped and strangled was found near Blythe, California.
The woman, who has not been identified but whom Jesperson calls “Claudia,” met him at a truck stop and was attacked shortly after he offered her a ride.
A month later, in Turlock, California, the body of Cynthia Lyn Rose was discovered. Jesperson claims she was a sex worker who entered his truck at a stop when he was sleeping.
His fourth victim was another sex worker, Laurie Ann Pentland of Salem, Oregon. Her body was found in November of that year. According to Jesperson, he strangled and raped her after she attempted to charge him a high fee.
Another victim was found in Santa Nella, California, in 1993. She – like Kjellenberg – was identified through genealogy DNA as Patricia Skiple in 2022. Kjellenberg’s remains were found the following year.
His seventh victim, Angela Subrize, 22, met her tragic fate during a weeklong road trip with Jesperson from Washington to Indiana.
According to Jesperson, Subrize became impatient with how long the journey was taking and asked him to speed up because she wanted to see her boyfriend.
Jesperson responded by raping and strangling her. He then strapped her to the underside of his truck and started driving, dragging her face down to “grind off her face and prints,” he’d later tell police.
Two months later, he’d kill Winningham, ultimately leading to his arrest.
Moore says her mom refused to speak with her about her father’s case, so she used to sneak off to the library to read about it.
He was eventually sentenced to life without parole and is serving his sentence in Salem, Idaho.