Who Is the Real ‘Happy Face’ Serial Killer? The Real Story Behind the Series

The investigation into the "Happy Face" killer is the subject of a new miniseries from Paramount+. Find out all the details of the true story here.

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The “Happy Face Killer” was one of the most disturbing serial killers of the 90s. While he was arrested in 1995 and is serving a life sentence, the story of the killer has captivated true crime fans for years. After his 1995 arrest, he claimed to be responsible for 160 murders, but only eight have officially been linked to the Happy Face Killer.

A wide range of podcasts have covered the story of the Happy Face Killer. There have also been movies loosely based on him and the murders. His daughter Melissa Moore also wrote the book Shattered Silence about her experience growing up with a serial killer for a dad. Melissa’s story plays a part in the upcoming Paramount+ series Happy Face. Before the show hits the streamer, find out the true story behind the Happy Face Killer.

What Did the Happy Face Killer Do?

The Happy Face Killer has been connected to eight murders that took place between 1990 and 1995. He strangled most of his victims, some of whom were sex workers. It took years to identify some of the victims, with the last one being identified in October 2023, as Suzanne Kjellenberg, according to CNNThe murderer was arrested in 1995 following the murder of Julie Winningham. He was given three life sentences, and in January 2010, he received a fourth.

Why Was He Called the “Happy Face” Killer?

The killer was given his infamous nickname shortly after his first murder of Taunja Bennet in 1990. After the news of Bennet’s death, Laverne Pavlinac had falsely confessed to the murder, claiming that her then-boyfriend John Sosnovske was responsible, per People. She had claimed that her relationship was abusive and saw the confession as a chance to end the relationship. Following her confession, both she and her boyfriend were convicted and spent four years in jail for the murder.

In 1994, the killer wrote the letter, which earned him the nickname. It was a confession letter to The Oregonian newspaper, where he detailed five murders, including Bennet’s. He signed the letter with a drawing of a Happy Face, thus earning the nickname, per The New York Times. 

Who Is the Happy Face Killer?

After his arrest, the Happy Face Killer’s identity was revealed to be Keith Hunter Jesperson. He had been married to Rose Hucke from 1975 to 1990, when they divorced. They had four children together, including their eldest daughter Melissa, who was 10 when they split. Jesperson had worked as a trucker, and during one of his trips Rose left with the kids, suspecting that he was having an affair.

Who Is Playing the Happy Face Killer in the New Show?

Dennis will play Keith in the new docuseries. (Paul Archuleta/Getty Images))

The upcoming series from Paramount+ will be based on an iHeartMedia podcast Happy Face, as well as Moore’s book and her own experiences. The show will reportedly star Annaleigh Ashford as Melissa, while Dennis Quaid will play Keith, according to VarietyIt’s expected to premiere in 2025.