As a reporter, I’ve moved around a lot. Little Rock, Arkansas. Dallas, Texas. New York, New York. Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Some stories stick with you along the way, some actually haunt you, like the story I am reporting on tonight on Anderson Cooper 360°.
While I lived and worked in the Midwest for seven years, I reported on at least half a dozen college-age men who had simply vanished.
These men would disappear after a night of drinking with friends, and their bodies would turn up in the Mississippi River or some other body of water weeks or perhaps months later. Local police always wrote them off as drunk college kids losing their way and accidentally drowning.
But what was strange was that college-age women didn't disappear, and it only happened during the winter months, never during the summers when college guys, no doubt, were also out partying.
A few hours away in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, nine male college students disappeared in a decade. Strange, right? Some locals started suggesting a serial killer might be at work but police there never could find a connection.
Well now it turns out two retired cops from New York City say the bizarre drownings of at least 40 men around the country were not drownings at all, but murder.
They say they have evidence connecting them. And guess what? The evidence is, among other symbols found at crime scenes, smiley faces. They vary in size and color but were found painted on trees and sidewalks nearby where the retired cops think the bodies were placed in the water.
Of all the cases they’re examining, only one has officially been ruled a homicide. I covered that one for years in Minneapolis, so it feels personal to me.
The victim was Chris Jenkins. I got to know his parents, Steve and Jan Jenkins, who feel their son “was murdered and thrown away like a piece of trash.”
They still visit the spot where his body was pulled from the Mississippi River on the anniversary of his death. They leave a dozen red roses, and one white rose for him.
It’s been 5 and a half years and when I went to the river with them a couple of weeks ago, Jan Jenkins broke down in tears. Losing a child, she said, is something you never get over.
Chris was a senior at the University of Minnesota. He was out bar hopping with friends on Halloween in 2002 and simply vanished.
Chris was a good-looking kid. A smart kid who was co-captain of the lacrosse team. Chris’s image stuck with me.
Then, four years after his death, a tip from an informant suddenly led Minneapolis police to rule his case was not an “accidental drowning” but a homicide. They haven’t released details about that tip but that was what detectives Gannon and Duarte needed. This was the break that has helped them continue their crusade to figure out who, in their opinion, is murdering these college men and why.
They don’t believe it’s the work of one person. It would be too much for just one killer since the cases span 11 states and 25 cities.
This is personal for Detective Gannon, too. Turns out, in 1997 when he investigated the drowning death of Patrick McNeill, a college student at New York City’s Fordham University, he made a promise to his parents that he wouldn’t quit until he solved it. That was where it all started and he’s still going.
Could all of this be a coincidence? Or is there a gang of Smiley Face killers out there targeting young college men?
The FBI told us they don’t see any connection or give this theory any weight… What do you think?
READ RANDI'S FULL STORY ON CNN.COM
I was a Freshman when Chris Jenkins died at the Uof Minnesota Twin Cities. It was a very strange disappearance. After seeing this "Smiley Face" killer story break in Minneapolis, it makes perfect sense. Many other deaths along I94 fit the same pattern, so I truely feel that its an underground group that plans these attacks. Maybe these deaths are part of the hazing process, i dont know. But alot of these deaths are connected....its too eerie to be toherwise.
As a young journalist and college student in a small Iowa town where a young man mysteriously "drowned" over a year ago, I am especially haunted by this emerging case. I shot photos of the dive team searching for his body in our university pond. When they found his body, our community just simply thought something wasn't right. The hours leading up to his death (as covered by our local news outlets) just didn't seem to add up.
Now, as I read about these "Smiley Face Killers," I wonder about two other local "drownings" that have dominated the headlines in the past few years. One, another young man in my town, showed up in a creek in 2005 with blunt force trauma to his head. Another was found a few hours east of here in a country club pool, his body covered by the pool's tarp.
As a member of the collegiate population, I usually feel safe in my town. Students generally try to watch out for one another, always lending a hand or a kind word. But in light of the recent "Smiley Face" speculations, I find myself glancing over my shoulders when I walk around in the dark. And I really worry about my boyfriend and male friends cruising the bars late at night.
I guess I'm just glad our town isn't on a major river or lake.
I went to Michigan State and we had 2 river deaths in 4 years. I always used to ask myself, 'what was he doing near the river?' I don't buy the story of getting drunk and then stumbling into a river. Getting drunk and passing out in an alley or a front lawn, maybe, but going for a swim? The river at our campus wasn't ever accessible for swimming – it was dirty and brown and gross, and no one ever ventured in.
Needless to say, I absolutely believe in this serial killer theory. I think these men were drugged at the bar, kidnapped, perhaps tortured and then dumped.
I'm not sure how wide the focus area is for this investigation, however, here in the Scranton area following the 2007 St. Patrick's day parade a Philadelphia area student was home for the parade, out drinking with friends, separated from the group, and was ultimately found drowned in a creek on the edge of our downtown district. Eerily similar circumstances to the situations being reported here. I would hope there isn't a connection, but wow, if there is...
This whole story became public the same week (last week in April) an Ithaca College male drowned under similar circumstances. I would think that this case would have made more national headlines since it is the most recent case. But I have not seen any mention of it, and local authorities dismissed this theory so quickly.
Brian Shaefer, a very promising me Medical student at Ohio State University disappeard from a campus bar a few years ago never to be seen again, it makes me wonder if he wasn't another victim of this killer.
How long did it take to figure out the link with John Wayne Gacy? Years...
A lot of these deaths could very well be linked...
This April a popular, good looking, athletic freshman male from Ithaca college disappeared for two nights and turned up dead in a pond on campus. It was ruled an accidental drowning. I find this a disturbing coincidence.
This is a morbid story and if there's a connection between all of them it's very scary. I feel for the families. I fear for my own son who will be leaving for college this summer. In an earlier post, someone alluded that the killer could be a girl, and I wouldn't doubt that. It hasn't been stated if the guys were gay. With all these comments and speculations, it really makes me wonder. Again, I feel for what the families must have gone through or are going through. We live in such a sick and twisted society now.
Are you kidding me....9 "accidental" deaths from one college??? HELLO, wake up of course its a serial killer or killer's.
When I saw this story yesterday on CNN.com I instantly forwarded it to my wife who attended UW-Lacrosse at the time one of the gentleman drowned. While she didn't know him personally, she did remember the stories she heard from the other students and faculty.
I, myself have attended Ocktoberfest more times than I can count. And I can attest that LaCrosse turns into a "party town" with all the bars that are located close to the river. While it isn't out of the ordinary to be "over-served," it isn't usually customary to jump into rough river waters in the middle of fall/early winter, no matter how drunk you are.
I applaud those who are sticking with this story as 9 people have died "questionably" in LaCrosse, all by the same means. For those who wrote in and questioned whether or not this should be further investigated obviously don't have kids, and don't have a general compasion for the parents who are suffering an unspeakable loss.
What can it hurt to have two retired cops looking into mysterious deaths that can possibly be linked from different states? At least those who have suffered a family loss can have some closure one way or the other down the road.
I became aware of the Smiley Face Serial Killer recently when a young man, Josh Szostak disappeared in Albany NY. He also was out drinking with friends, disappeared and ended up being found in the river. I read that Josh’s father was a police officer and had either reached out to the two retired NYC Detectives or they contacted him. I remember thinking that his Dad understandably , was grasping for an explanation other than “accidental drowning” to his son’s tragic death. What parent wants to admit that his son “got drunk and fell into the river.” Now I feel that I was mistaken. Maybe there is something to this and EVERYONE needs to be aware of it.
I drank every night in college...I hung out by lakes and rivers...You don't just walk away from all of your friends without anyone noticing, stumble through the woods, and fall into a river and drown. These were healthy young men. It certainly doesn't happen 40 times.
In every town you have at least a few people who have been influenced by our ultraviolent entertainment. It looks like someone likes horror movies, and has a problem with popular all american jock types.
Now I'm going to go back to shooting cops and dealing drugs in GTAIV for a few hours.
I would suspect somebody getting even for having family killed by a young drunk driver who was a good-looking male college student.
I don't understand that boy after boy who appeared dead in the water after a night of dirinking wouldn't raise a red flag with the police. It seems that so many deaths (I think the orig. article said as many as 12) ending in drunk drowning would seem a bit strange. Am I to understand that without these retired cops the police would STILL be in denial about this being the work of a serial killer? Man, I hope to God not.
Fellas, never thought I'd have to say this...but you better start traveling in packs and never leave a drink unattened. Could be the killer is spiking their drinks when they get up for a bathroom break. Maybe an autopsy would have told us this a long time ago. They may have alcohol in their system, but has anyone checked for anything else?
This is a good story and I commend the reporter for bringing forth this story to the public.......Finally! During the mid-1990's, there was a student that was found drowned in three feet of water right on the Michigan State campus. They suspected that he was drinking and lost his footing but his family refuted this. I wonder if anyone has connected this to the string of deaths.
With all the multiple observations being mentionedin this blog there is one that has been overlooked. Having grown up in the La Crosse area and having lived in Minneapolis for the past twenty I know that both cities have a large population of gay men. Is it possible that killer(s) is gay preying on young men or that the young men themselves are gay or closeted. The graffitti or emoticon of the smiley faces may also serve another purpose here , that being a gay cruising ground for sex. That would explain why the youths would be found in this area as well a the killer(s).
They are looking into this as a possibility for a young man who disapeared in Albany NY the night before Thanksgiving day, to be found in the Hudson River a few weeks ago. There were other strange details involved in this case as well.
My first thought when I read this article is that there has already been a "Smiley Face Killer." His name is Keith Hunter Jesperson. He is currently serving a life sentence in Oregon. Although he used "smiley faces," he is known as the "Happy Face Killer." Regardless, this "theme" has already been used. Jesperson did not leave his mark at crime scenes though. He put smiley faces on letters taunting the police. I'm sure that he is currently sitting in his cell wondering when and if someone would think to mention his name in regard to these news stories.
There is not enough information given in the original CNN article or in Cooper's blog to convince me that there is any real threat of a traveling band of serial killers hunting down college-aged males. To even suggest this without providing sufficient support and evidence is ridiculous.
The original article states, "Who would commit this type of crime?
"The type of person that would be the opposite, not smart, someone not good in school, maybe doesn't have a job, not popular," Duarte said."
It is obvious that the FBI is not assisting Duarte on these cases. If they were, he would know that IF there were a serial killer who had successfully killed 40 men without detection, dumped their bodies without being seen, left smiley faces at the crime scenes, and escaped without having left a single trace of evidence behind.....that the individual would not be a dumb, unemployed, unlikeable individual. The "killer" that Duarte has described is a disorganized killer. If this imaginary killer did exist, we would be dealing with an organized serial killer. He would be intelligent, charming, socially adept, probably employed, someone that would be able to convince these young men to come out and "party" with him, someone that likely drives a nice clean car. His appearance will be clean and well dressed. We're not talking about someone that looks and acts like a "loon." A "loon" would not be able to pull off such an intricate plan.
Finally, if there were such a killer, the smiley face would be his "signature." He would leave that mark at every crime scene (not just here and there). Leaving the mark is asking for the attention (or credit) that he feels he deserves for the murder and for getting away with it.
The details provided in these stories are not consistent. The analysis of the details is clearly not based on training and education in the field of behavioral analysis and demonstrates a lack of knowledge in the area of serial murder. To someone familiar with the topic, it just sounds like someone has been reading one too many Robert Ressler books.
Trish, I had the same thought ... as soon as I read this story, my jaw dropped. The whole set-up sounded exactly like what happened to my cousin in 1991 in the midwest ... very popular kid on campus, disappeared into thin air right in the middle of a party ... showed up 6 weeks later in a river one state over. This article gave me chills.
I'm from Eau Claire, WI, another college town that has had at least 2 (if not more, I can't remember) college age men drown after a night of partying. I really can't say that I'm convinced there is more to it than men getting incredibly drunk, getting lost, and falling into the river. The river in EC is just blocks away from the downtown Water Street. While it's tragic that this is happening to men, right now I just don't see any proof that this is the actual work of a serial killer.
Has anyone though about how far the water is from where these young drunk men disappeared. Is possible that the only way they could have gotten to the water was by vehicle. Maybe some one should look into how they go to the water. If they had stumbled into the water would there have been some kind of evidence (disturbed ground) I know if I so drunk I can drown that I am not walking straight and would be dragging my feet or falling down and disturbing the ground around where I fell in.
This Red Devil Smiley face looks like the tongue is sticking out and may indicate homosexual link. There is also a cross on the forehead which could be a subconcious tag of a brain injury in the perpetrator.
We have a good looking med student who dissappeared a few years ago. He had been drinking at an OSU bar and walked out the door alone and that was the last time anyone saw him.
By the vast arrary of locations this could be a frequent flyer. A traveler who may be a sales rep to colleges for supplies or textbooks. Young or appearing young.. to fit into the college bar scene. Clean cut scolar looking man who no one would suspect like a Bundy but with vengence to guys preceived better than him.
I have been keeping up with this for some time now. I believe that this is some sort of gang initiation. Also, look at the "smiley face" that was drawn...what is in the middle of his forehead? It looks like some kind of Charles Manson cross.
There looks to be a lot of anger in the writing with the heavy dots at the end of each line on each letter. Also, it does look like someone who is the opposite of the educated guy with the dyslexia thing going on the e's.
Keep going with this, because the public can help catch whoever is doing this.
It will be interesting to find out what the other symbols and information that they are withholding from the public are later.
To those who think that is graffiti, I don't think so.
Please have this accident checked out among your others. A graduate from Chambersburg, Pa. left for college and same thing happened to him a few years ago. I worked with the father many years
ago. I didn't know his son but maybe you can help solve this for them.
Please don't publish this information for sake of the family.
Michael Haduk is the fathers name from Chambersburg, Pa. but
is now retired. I only know what I read in the paper and don't remember specifics. Not sure if you already have this case included in your list. Thank you, D. Stotler
I think Bess is correct about emoticons. They're giving a list of the emoticons they've combined together to come up with their own emoticon.
EVIL HAPPY SMILEY FACE MAN!
Which is why it's red and has horns. The EVIL emoticon is a red devil.
Smiley face killers? So they like the movie Fight Club?
1-800-577-TIPS CRIME STOPPERS
crime tips that you can make anonymously.
god i hope something comes out of this. How can so many college-aged white males who fit a similar profile, enter a bar with a group of friends, disappear, then be found with no sign of injury in a near-by river? It's relatively easy to drug the man, lure him out into a van or other transportation...how ppl don't see the link–or at least can't identify homicide baffles me! someone would surely notice a man stumbling by himself...but if at the side of a woman or "buddy" perhaps, then its forgettable. To rule these cases as accidental drownings sounds like the case never truly got the examination it deserved. it was the tip of the iceberg...as there is a whole lot going on that has yet to be discovered.
I remember seeing a story about this on my local news a couple of months ago- was there also something about a very odd street name that one of the men disappeared on being spray painted at the site that another body was put in the water?
What if the killers are female?
I realize that this maybe a long shot at best, but there was and or still is a non-traditional gang in the Salt Lake City, UT area known as the "Happy Campers," these youths and young adults were led by an older male individual, who promised college educations to his followers/gang members. The Happy Campers were known to be well versed in gang symbolism and taggging. The leader of the group preached that the less advantaged should rise against the more affluent and economically stable. Members were recruited from runaway shelters, youth programs, etc. and taught that they were the only truly deserving of such things as a higher education and that the upper and upper-middle class were nothing more than "rich scum" who did not appreciate their blessings, etc. The reason this group comes to mind, is the Red Paint used in the Devil Horned Smiley face found at a crime scene and also the tongue and the X on the forehead of the tagging – there is a resemblence to this gangs logo (less the horns). Like I said, it's a very long, long reach, but could members (past or present) of the Happy Campers be involved? I am sure that the Salt Lake Metro Gand Task Force can provide the retired detectives working this case with the intelligence files on this group, it's leader(s) and members. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased.
Duarte said “The type of person that would be the opposite, not smart, someone not good in school, maybe doesn't have a job, and not popular,” but it seems unlikely. Try and image young popular, athletic and good college boys hanging out with them. And no one has noticed who they are at least 40 times already? I believe most, if not all, members of Evil Smiley Face Gang are smart, good looking, either rich or have jobs, but I think they aren’t as popular is probably true. So either they are doing this just for fun or repealing their rivalries as they hate being competitive against other talents. If all 40 victims are white, then it’s possible that all ESFG members are black, Asian, middle-eastern, or other ethnic. I could be wrong, but this is just my opinion for now.
Test the face Paint to tell if its the same Brand. Then you'll know if its the same group or individual. Plus you might learn the state of origin?
So far the faces shown in the media have been white paint.
The devil red paint is a new batch of paint or a copycat.?
Just some ideas...
I don't think it sounds like something women could do. I'm definately no expert but if it were more than one woman the secret would have slipped out over the last few years because women are talkers, men are the ones that can remain silent. I also think that he or they probably seem sort of arrogant but inside feel low on the totem pole inside. Strange that it only appears in the winter....I will probably catch heck for this, but summer only employment can lead too much time on your hands in the winter and fewer people are out and about to witness a crime. Construction is seasonal job that comes to mind right away but then again so is landscaping. Construction workers go where the work is and that could mean moving around the Country. If these are NOT accidental deaths, I hope they find those responsible.
Graffiti is an art form that is taken pretty darn seriously. The artists have a tag, and it is meant to identify their work. There is no consistency in the ages of the faces whether they are tags or taunts. Nothing to tie them to anything. There have been a gazillion smiley faces in places where no bodies were ever found and it has been going on since forever. The bodies have been found in places where there is alot of room for graffiti. Places where debri washes up and along banks and locks. Places where people do graffiti hoping not to be caught. Like the inside rails of train bridges or whatever they're called. The Feds are trying to make graffiti a felony and the smileys are there to poke at the entire idea. The theory is pretty ridiculous and borne of hysteria. I am totally convinced and frankly it ticks me off to see the false hope it's giving these families. You have two retired NY cops who are still pretty young and need to be needed. You have a college professor who evidently needs it too. They are stirring a pot and I believe it's for attention. If they know their business, they should know that even publicizing a theory like that is going to produce alot more smiley faces. It's the stupidist, most cruel, ridiculous circus and abuse of pain I've seen from law enforcement. You are not doing anybody any favor guys. If you believe this stuff, keep it quiet. Don't got grabbing the media to make a show out of it. Good grief. There are plenty of other reasons why this might have happened to these kids.
I think the Detectives need to focus on what all these young men had in common. Besides being in college and going to a bar to drink with their friends. There has to be somethings that they have in common that would lead to the killer(s). I think Candace DeLong the former FBI profiler would be a great person to ask for help. Profiling is all about behavior. Were there cameras in the bar for the last young man. Did any of his friends or the bartender recall seeing anyone who stood out or was by themselves. Maybe someone saw the killer mess with his drink. Maybe all these young men were targeted for a specific reason. I think it is a serial killer. Maybe its a college employee or bar employee someone who has had alot of jobs on college campuses. They get access to clubs parties they can pick their prey. I think detectives need to focus away from the crime scene. Unless they want to take samples of the paint to find its source. Focus on the things that are important. They each were chosen for a reason find out what and why and they find the killer or killers. I hope they catch the bastards. Like the BTK they will solve this.
wow, im in lawrence, kansas, the univesity of kansas, and it has been years ago but a boy died while trying to swim the river.. he had left a bar and was never found. only his shoes were found on the shore. my question is how many of these took place along a rail line? seems to me that a transient killer or pack of killers, rail jumpers, could be responsible. in lawrence the river in question runs very close to one of the busiest rail lines in the midwest. i observe numerous camps of these transient rail travelers in the woods along the river and rails. crazy stuff.
I don't think it's likely that the police are just trying to be the next "Mark Fuhrman" if they _mortgaged_ their house to keep trying to investigate this. Speaks to a level of personal involvement. It may not be true, but I think they are trying for the right reasons.
I think the point about drowning deaths being clustered in summer rather than winter is important – and true from what i've seen as well. However, it sounds like a majority of these cases involve GHB, which doesn't seem to get used on guys all that much...
I like looking at graffiti and have spent some time looking around locally and few some websites and books, I'm not seeing smiley faces being all that common a theme these days. 30-40 years ago, sure, but not so much in the decade we're talking about with these crimes. 22/40 isn't ultimately conclusive, but it might have developed later. Though...because this is spread out through 11 states, if it's seen in most of those states as opposed to just around one cluster, it's more convincing.
Trish – 1991 isn't in the range of time they're discussing, iirc. I think the earliest person they're looking at, as far as I've seen publicized was 1997?
I suppose this is an obvious point about the "smiley face killer" case, but it seems to me that the easiest way to lure a drunk college-age male out of a bar – or soon after leaving a bar – would involve using an attractive woman (or women) as bait. Once in a vehicle – a van in particular – much stronger people could overpower, or drug, the man.
I just can't see these guys, even while drunk, going off with other men. If the lure is a woman though – or, more likely, two or more women – a young drunk guy would be easy to trick into entering a vehicle. They could claim to be going off to a party, for example.
Those investigating the case should go over all security tapes from the bars that these men visited before disappearing, and make a file of all the faces of the women who appear on these tapes – then look for faces that show up on more than one of the tapes taken in the bars these victims frequented before disappearing.
It would be beyond coincidence for the same woman (or women) to be seen on the security tapes of more than one of these bars. If the same face appears on more than one tape, well.........
There is your first suspect.
I don't think you can ignore the smiley face connection – even if it shows up at just 2 or 3 of the sites. A serial killer may not be connected to ALL of the cases in question, but even if the smiley face just shows up at a few locations, for those handful of cases, the chances that it is coincidence is very low. Also, the smiley face has an "X" (or a cross?) on its head. Is it a far stretch to think this could symbolize a killing? It was mentioned that the smiley face was absent from certain sites. Could it be that there is a smiley face at some of those sites that has yet to be discovered? The article mentioned that discovering the proposed site of the body dumping involved a lot of guess work to determine how far down river the body has floated. There could still be a lot of ground that needs to be covered in searching for yet-to-be-discovered clues...
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