OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (TCD) — Officials have positively identified the last unknown victim of the infamous “Happy Face Killer” thanks to advancements in DNA technology and genome sequencing.
On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden announced a Jane Doe who was found deceased on the side of a highway in September 1994 has been named as Suzanne Kjellenberg. She was likely the sixth of eight victims brutally murdered by Keith Jesperson, who was notoriously known as the “Happy Face Killer” because he sent letters to the press and signed each correspondence with a smiley face.
Jesperson is currently locked up at Oregon State Penitentiary serving seven life sentences for murdering seven people between 1990 and 1995. Prosecutors are charging him in connection with Kjellenberg’s death.
Kjellenberg was killed in August 1994 and her body was left in a tree line off Interstate 10 near Holt in the Florida Panhandle. Inmates working on the side of the highway discovered her remains on Sept. 14, 1994. According to Othram Inc., the company that helped positively identify Kjellenberg, she was found wearing a long button-up dress with flowers and lots of jewelry, including a cord bracelet with beads, a cord necklace with pendants, a charm bracelet without a charm, and more.
At the time, an investigation determined the Jane Doe was a white female between 35 and 55 years old. Kjellenberg was 34 years old when she was killed.
Law enforcement caught Jesperson in 1995. His crimes spanned the United States, with victims in California, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Florida. He worked as a long-haul truck driver at the time of the murders. He spoke with Okaloosa County officials in 1996 and admitted to killing a Jane Doe in the area and leaving her body near Holt. He reportedly told a detective he “believed the woman’s name was Susan or Suzette.”
At the end of 2022, the District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office teamed up with Othram to identify the Jane Doe whose identity eluded investigators for over 25 years. The Medical Examiner’s Office sent DNA samples to Othram, who created a genealogical profile of the victim. The genetic genealogy team at Othram located a family member, who submitted a DNA sample. The sample came back as a 100% DNA match, which led investigators to identifying the victim as Kjellenberg.
In September, exactly 29 years after Kjellenberg’s body was found, investigators and an assistant state attorney traveled to Oregon for an unannounced interview with Jesperson. Aden said Jesperson “talked openly about the murder and how it took place.”
Jesperson told the investigators he picked up Kjellenberg at a truck stop in Tampa, then drove her up to the Panhandle, where they stopped at a rest area. He was reportedly parked next to a security truck, and when he sat down next to a sleeping Kjellenberg, she allegedly started screaming “and wouldn’t stop.” He became nervous because he could not have any unauthorized people in his truck.
Aden said Jesperson described “brutally” killing Kjellenberg by allegedly using zip ties and his fist to cut off her airways.
Aden shared, “Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many over so long, the remains of Suzanne Kjellenberg, the final unidentified victim of Jesperson’s cross-country murder sprees, can finally leave the Medical Examiner’s Office, and return home.”
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