Another victim of the “Happy Face Killer” has been identified, giving names to seven of the man’s eight known victims.
Suzanne Kellenberg. (Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office)
The body found in September 1994 next to a Florida freeway is that of Suzanne Kjellenberg, who was 34 when she was strangled by long-haul truck driver Keith Jesperson, said Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden at a Tuesday news conference.
Another of the man’s victims, who was found dead in 1993 east of Gilroy, Calif., was identified last year.
Jesperson, now 68, was dubbed the Happy Face Killer because he drew smiley faces on letters he sent to the media and police. He is serving four life sentences without the possibility of parole in Oregon. He confessed to killing eight women from 1990 to 1995 in California, Washington, Oregon, Florida and Wyoming — and claims to have committed more than 100 killings.
1995 photo: Keith Hunter Jesperson, dubbed the Happy Face Killer, at the Clark County Courthouse in Vancouver, Wash. (Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian via AP, File) The eight confessions included the Florida crime. Jesperson said he knew the victim as “Susan or Suzette,” and her identity was not known until this year, when Florida officials partnered with genetic genealogy company Othram to produce a genealogical profile. Her family in Wisconsin was notified of the discovery, the sheriff said.
Jesperson was interviewed last month and “provided additional details which law enforcement was not previously aware of,” the Okaloosa County sheriff’s office said. He has been charged with Kjellenberg’s murder; under an agreement with prosecutors, he does not face a death sentence.
Jesperson told investigators that he met Kjellenberg when she was hitchhiking at a truck stop near Tampa in August 1994; she said she was trying to get to Lake Tahoe. That night at a rest area on the Florida Panhandle, he said, she was asleep in the parked truck when she woke up and began screaming. A security guard was nearby, and Jesperson didn’t want to get in trouble for having an unauthorized rider in his truck, so he strangled her.
“I killed her,” he said in an interview recorded on video. “You have to consider that, after so many people, it was just the easiest thing to do.”
He dumped the body at an Interstate 10 exit near the town of Holt, where it was found by a work crew on Sept. 14, 1994.
After the identifications of Kjellenberg and the Gilroy victim, Patsy Skiple, only one of the eight known victims remains unnamed: a woman found dead in 1992 near Blythe, Calif. It was for her murder that Jesperson received his fourth life sentence, in 2010.
The eight women are:
Taunja Bennett, 23, January 1990 near Portland, Ore.
Unidentified woman (possibly named Claudia), August 1992 near Blythe, Calif.
Cynthia Lyn Rose, 32, September 1992 in Turlock
Laurie Ann Pentland, 26, November 1992 in Salem, Ore.
Patricia Skiple, May 1993 near Williams; body found near Gilroy.
Suzanne Kjellenberg, 34, August 1994 in Crestview, Fla.
Angela Subrize, 21, January 1995 in Laramie County, Wyo.; body found in Nebraska. She had met Jesperson in Spokane, Wash., and asked if he would drive her to Indiana, where her boyfriend was.
Julie Winningham, 41, March 1995, Washougal, Wash. Unlike with the other women, Jesperson had dated Winningham before the murder. It was his known relationship to her that led to his arrest.
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The only woman known to have survived an attack by Jesperson is Daun Richert-Slagle, who was a 21-year-old mother of three when she met the killer at a Mount Shasta shopping center in April 1990. She had her infant son with her. Jesperson reportedly struck up a conversation and invited her into his car. Though he attempted to rape her and break her neck, he eventually gave up the attack and released her and the baby.