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Can you identify the last unknown victim of the 'Happy Face Killer'?

California authorities are asking for the public's help in identifying the final unknown victim of the early-1990s "Happy Face Killer."
Can you identify the last unknown victim of the 'Happy Face Killer?'
Posted at 6:41 PM, Jan 10, 2024

Keith Hunter Jesperson murdered at least eight women across the U.S. in the early 1990s. Desperate for the public's attention, the "Happy Face Killer" would send anonymous letters to the media and authorities detailing his crimes, often marking them with a smiley face.

His arrest in 1995 didn't lead to the immediate identification of the women: It took decades for authorities to identify seven of them, as many were transients or sex workers who didn't have close ties to family or friends.

Now with just one unknown victim remaining, California officials are hoping the public can help them bring closure to the woman's story, 31 years later.

Riverside County authorities released new details about the unknown woman on Jan. 8 — the same date Jesperson pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. Those details included a sketch of the victim, whom Jesperson referred to as "Claudia."

After his arrest, Jesperson confessed to killing "Claudia" — as he did the seven others — in his spree that began in 1990 and spanned six states. Then in late 2023, he shared new details about the woman in an interview with homicide investigators at his residence, the Oregon State Penitentiary.

Jesperson told officials he met "Claudia" at a brake check near Victorville, California, around August of 1992. The long-haul truck driver said the woman was a hitchhiker wanting to catch a ride in his purple semitrailer to Los Angeles, but he told her he wouldn't divert his route. She still tagged along, he said, and the two later arrived at a rest stop in Indio.

There, Jesperson said the two argued about money and he killed her in his truck. He says he drove his truck to Blythe, California, where he dumped her body.

Authorities say "Claudia" might not be the woman's real name, but they're using his other descriptions of her along with advanced DNA technology to better represent how the woman looked before she was murdered.

He described her as having shaggy blond hair, standing about 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-7 and of medium build,  weighing about 140 to 150 pounds. The 20- to 30-year-old had two small dots tattooed on the left side of her right thumb, and she was found wearing a T-shirt with a motorcycle printed on it. 

These elements are all included in the new sketch of "Claudia." Authorities believe she lived in, or was familiar with, Southern California. She's also believed to have been a cigarette smoker and frequent hitchhiker with ties to Las Vegas and southern Nevada.

Forensic investigators and genealogists say advancements in the science have allowed them to identify the woman's now-deceased father and other relatives, but none of the living ones said they were aware of "Claudia," as they had different biological mothers. 

This forensic genetic genealogy has helped investigators name the other seven victims, too. Most recently, they identified Suzanne Kjellenberg in October after her body was found on the side of a Florida highway in 1994. They also used genetic genealogy to identify Patricia Skiple in April 2022. Her body was found in 1993 in California, and Jesperson had referred to her as "Carla" or "Cindy."

With this useful data and the public's help, authorities are hopeful they can finally identify "Claudia."

"Our goal is to identify this victim and provide closure to her family, wherever they may be," said District Attorney Mike Hestrin. "We are hopeful someone hearing any of these details may remember anything that could help us reunite this woman with the family who may have been looking for her for over three decades."

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