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The Smiley Face Killers

For the past dozen years, a cult, syndicate or gang of serial killers has criss-crossed America, traveling to college campuses in 25 different cities in a dozen different states in an ever increasing murder spree. Their targets were 19-23 year-old attractive, intelligent, mainly white (93%) men.

They’ve carry out their crimes by slipping their unsuspecting victims GHB (a date rape drug) and then kidnap them. Some of the victims were allegedly held for an unknown period of time, possibly tortured, and then disposed of in a local body of water, thereby depriving investigators of valuable physical evidence of the crime. All the killers leave behind is their group signature, a “Smiley Face” caricature. They were dubbed the “Smiley Face Killers” because Canadian born American serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson, who murdered eight people across six states between 1990-1995, had already taken on the moniker of the “Happy Face Killer,” this as he drew “happy faces” on the letters he wrote to the media.

Local, state and federal investigators have been completely ignorant of this multi-celled gang and go so far as to deny its very existence, while these sadistic, psychopathic murderers continue to target, stalk and kill their prey. We wouldn’t even be aware that this underground group of serial killers existed were it not for two diligent former detectives. These men have single-handedly waged an investigative war against this group of killers, whilst the ignorant naysayers refuse to help them. All the Feds and other lazy cops do is frustrate the efforts of these two heroic individuals who refer to the alleged murders as “perfect crimes.”

To all of the above I say “No, I don’t think so.”

The “Smiley Face Killers” is the theory that two former NYPD detectives, the forlorn parents of some of the victims who are looking for answers, and one or two histrionic media types have come forward to put spin on a number of tragic deaths among a given population group, this while writing a book or two concerning their otherwise empty theories. True, no one can question or even understand a parent’s grief for a child’s death and the hopefully altruistic motive of the two former cops; still we’re left to either believe or not believe in the existence of this silent gang of killers. This is purportedly a secret society that has been knit together for over a decade and yet has left absolutely no indication of any meetings or evidence of their communications. They have also succeeded in hiding their method of identifying their targeted victims and how they coordinated their kidnappings and murders, all the while leaving no linking physical evidence at any believed crime scene. What’s more, they have prevented law enforcement agencies from connecting any of these 40-100 homicides to this secret, sophisticated, and sadistic murder club.

The Victims

Patrick McNeill, Jr., was only 21 when he walked out of the Dapper Dog, an Upper East Side bar in New York City on a cold February night in 1997. His friends said he was “slightly drunk” when he told them he was taking the subway back to Fordham University. When his body was found floating near a Brooklyn pier almost two months later, the presence of alcohol (0.16 blood/alcohol) still lingered in his system, but the Medical Examiner (ME) stated he was not overly inebriated when he died of drowning. As there was no indication of foul play, his death was ruled an accident, a ruling McNeill’s parents and the two former detectives dispute to this day. Twenty-four-year-old Matthew Kruziki was last seen alive on Christmas Eve, 2005. He had a dispute over a bar bill and left without his coat and wallet. His body was found almost three months later in the Mississippi River near his hotel. His death was also ruled a drowning. Michael Knoll had just left his 22nd birthday party at a bar in Eau Claire, Wisconsin when he was last seen in November of 2002. He was found in a nearby lake four months later. His death, like most of the other dozens of associated victims in this matter, was also ruled an accidental drowning, because, like McNeill and Kruziki and the other victims, there was no evidence of injury to his body.

Many hundreds of drownings and/or missing person cases have occurred around New York and across the mid west during the past 12 years. Those missing and dead that are believed by the two former investigators to be associated with this matter have been linked because they met the same victim profile, this while most of their deaths are believed by authorities to have alcohol consumption/abuse as a contributing factor to their death.

While I have reviewed many of the cases allegedly linked to the “Smiley Face Killers,” I too, like most investigators, have not seen any evidence that would suggest that all of these young men were the victim of murder, much less murder by a gang of demented serial killers who signed their crimes with a “Smiley Face.”

The ‘Evil’ Smiley Face

In 2002, University of Wisconsin student Lucas Helder was 21 when he drove 3,200 miles across Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Illinois and Iowa, leaving 18 pipe bombs in mailboxes as he drove. His master plan was to create a gigantic “Smiley Face” on the map of the United States when the locations of his bombs, like dots on a map, were connected. At the time of his arrest he said he was protesting government control over the daily lives of people.

The “Happy or Smiley Face” symbol has been around since 1963. Its first use is attributed to Harvey Ball, a commercial artist in Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s been abundantly used in pop culture since. A few examples include the film “Forest Gump” and more recently as the signature of the anti-hero “The Comedian” in the film “Watchmen.” It is almost as common as the Coca-Cola symbol, especially around a college campus.

While at least 12 of the 40+ victims allegedly have a “Smiley Face” or other similar symbol allegedly related to their deaths or to their body disposal sites, the two former cops who’ve linked these deaths had to estimate or guess at the location where many of the victims were believed to have entered the water, perhaps somewhere along miles of shoreline. It was in many of these “guesstimated” locations that some kind of believed related symbol was found. Some of the symbols are known to have been at their location prior to the victim’s death, while one or more may have been placed in its location after the fact by persons unknown. In reality there is really no way to know for sure if these symbols are even related to the death of the associated victims.

The symbols found to date have not been consistent in style, size, or coloration, and there was no indication of such a symbol at sites related to the majority of the victim’s identified by the two former investigators. If there was such a secret gang, one might think they would at least be able to agree on the details or design of their murderous signature sign, this since they were apparently able to agree on other elements of their nationwide conspiracy of murder madness.

College Age Drownings

What is consistent in this case is that it involves young college-aged men who may have drunk too much and who somehow wound up drowning in a local river, lake or pond. Over 4,000 people drown in the U.S. every year, an average of 11 per day, this as the result of an accident, suicide, or for some other unknown reason. For every fatal drowning there are upwards of four nonfatal submersions related to swimming, boating, playing or working in and around bodies of water. Males are four times more likely to drown than females, and in the critical age group of 15-24, almost 700 drowning accidents were reported in a recent year. Alcohol abuse is related to 80% of these drowning deaths.

The former investigators have alleged that some of the associated victims were missing their religions metals and crosses, suggesting that their hypothetical killer(s) may have taken the religious symbol as a souvenir or “trophy” of their death, a characteristic sometimes associated with serial killers. But not all of the related victims were wearing such symbols and in the case of most, they were not missing anything that was considered a potential “souvenir.”

Tragic Deaths, but No Evidence of a Gang of Serial Killers

There is really nothing more tragic for a parent than the loss of their son or daughter, no matter the age of the child or the circumstance of the death. Some parents, in their overwhelming grief, may want to believe that their child’s death was the result of a terrible crime: In this case, perhaps the result of a national conspiracy vs. an accident due to intoxication or, perhaps, the result of suicide.

Drowning is the fifth most likely cause of death for all Americans, and this is even higher for younger people. The blood/alcohol level in many of the suspected victims was high, suggesting to police investigators that many were at some level of intoxication prior to their death. Others had been observed drinking to excess at parties and college bars before they disappeared and/or died.

Police and the FBI say:

The Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD has stated that the death of Patrick McNeill, Jr., was the result of an accidental drowning, and there is no evidence, contrary to statements attributed to the two former detectives, of a “blow torch” or a ligature being used on the victim’s body. A well-known forensic pathologist, however, has reviewed the reports on Patrick McNeill’s death and found evidence of fly larva eggs in the victim’s groin area. This could, of course, suggest McNeill had died, and perhaps was the victim of homicide on land, with his body placed in the water sometime post mortem. No local police department, however, involved in investigating these associated deaths has suggested that they were part of any national conspiracy, and in fact, most believe the deaths were either accidental or suicidal. The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and VICAP have both looked at the indicated deaths all across the country and have stated their belief that the deaths, while tragic, were not related, and were not part of any type of secret national serial killer group. The Bureau investigators, like their police counterparts, all tend to believe the majority of these deaths were again either accidents or suicides.

There is a statistical possibility, perhaps a probability that at least one or more of the 40 – 100 deaths related to this matter could be a cleverly disguised murder, or, perhaps, the local investigators and the medical examiner could have just missed the subtle or hidden signs of a homicide. Remember, some bodies had been in the water a lengthy period of time. There is not, however, anything to connect the dozens of suspect deaths other than the method of death (drowning) and the demographics that the two former detectives say link the victims. In reality the demographics concerning the suspected victims are, in fact, much broader than have been reported, thereby representing a much larger cross section of college aged men. In the case of one geographic area that suffered an unusually large number of drownings represented in this study, police and the FBI note that other demographically similar men had survived falls into local bodies of water and none were the result of them having contact with a potential assailant. When patrols were increased after one death, patrol members found numerous intoxicated college age men alongside the edge of the water, obviously increasing the likelihood of an accidental drowning in that area.

All in all, the two former investigators have not presented any creditable evidence to prove these questioned deaths were all the result of homicide, or that they were linked as part of the actions of a secret crime syndicate of gang of serial killers. Meanwhile most, if not all of the evidence developed by investigating police agencies appears to contradict the assertions made by the former police officers.

For my Part:

I spoke to investigators in Indiana last week concerning the alleged deaths in that state that have been associated with this case by the former NYPD investigators. They don’t believe that these tragic losses were the result of a gang of homicidal killers, but again suggest that the victims died due to other non-murder related causes such as accidental drowning.

I was once asked to review these cases by a reporter working with the former detectives and I reluctantly agreed to do so, this while expressing serious doubt in their theory of a secret serial killer gang that preyed on intoxicated college men. I did indicate that I would be open to any solid evidence they had to support their theory. They never contacted me again.

The reality is that some of these deaths are challenging and do need to be reviewed. Were some to be homicides, such could be the work of multiple killers, some of which could even be copy cats, using the guise of the “Smiley Face Killer” to murder and allow their crime to be blamed of the invisible gang of sociopathic killers.

I believe that most of these are tragic losses are linked only by the coincidence of the drowning of intoxicated young college-aged men. I think these deaths were the result of accidents in most cases, although suicide and even undiscovered homicides could, statistically speaking, be evident in one or more of these deaths. But were there to be undiscovered or hidden homicides in the 40 – 100 suspected cases, there is still no apparent connection between any believed homicide victim and the other suspected cases. With 16,500 homicides in the U.S. and almost 1,000,000 missing persons each year, murder as a cause of death should always be considered in the drowning of a young person. Police have considered and rejected homicide as a cause of death in all of these cases to date, although a jail house snitch has caused police to reopen one accidental death case.

I believe these two former investigators have invested so much of themselves into this case, and into the families of those who died (“I got emotionally involved with the families,” said one investigator), as well as into their own personal theory of a secret, 12-year-old national conspiracy between killers across the country, that they have lost their objectivity and look only for what could link these tragic deaths as opposed to what clearly separates them from serial homicide cases. What they have is an abundance of unbridled emotion and unproven theories that fail to prove homicide, and fail to provide any evidence of the far reaching murder conspiracy they have put forth.

Questions that need answered…

Unanswered questions abound, include how such a killer group got together in the first place; how they choose their victims, to include gaining access to a potential victim’s GPA; how they, as a group, communicate between members and otherwise coordinate their crimes; why the same exact symbol was not found at every location and why it is not left at the same basic location; how the ME’s from all the states involved have all missed evidence of drugging such as GHB; and, after 12 years and upwards of 100 murders, how the gang is able to keep their secret, secret? Wouldn’t at least one loose-lipped member have told someone who would have sold the story to some tabloid for $100,000, or wouldn’t one of the fringe sociopaths have confessed or offered up the gang so he could escape jail on another charge?

Finally how many college aged men “accidently” drown in the period 1987 – 1999? I’m led to believe that such losses are similar in number to the numbers quoted by the two former investigators for the period represented by their current investigation. Should this be the case, it would suggest either a 24-year history for the mysterious gang of serial killers or deaths, though tragic, that are numerically consistent with the historical mix of college age men, alcohol abuse, and accidents involving bodies of water.

Americans love conspiracies, like in the bloody movie “Hostel” where college-aged victims are murdered by a group of sadistic killers in eastern Europe. While such is the fodder of horror films, it is rarely reality and in this case “bogey men” appear to have been invented that simply do not exist.

The fact is there are no easy answers here, but the pain felt by so many victim family members is, unlike the “Smiley Face Killer” conspiracy theory, totally real.

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