A woman who was murdered by Keith Jesperson, the “Happy Face” serial killer, has been identified decades after her death, police said in a news release.
Jesperson is serving multiple life sentences after confessing to murdering eight women in multiple states between 1990 and 1995, and was known as the Happy Face killer because he wrote notes to the media that he signed with a smiley face. In February 1996, he told an investigator from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office that he had killed one of the women in 1994 and dumped her body along Interstate 10 in Oregon. Jesperson did not identify the woman, saying that he believed her name was “Susan” or “Suzette.”
A prison work crew found the body on Sept. 14, 1994. At the time, the only thing investigators could determine was that the body was that of a white female likely between the ages of 35 and 55. A facial reconstruction made at the time did not generate any leads.
Since then, the woman has been unidentified, despite what the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office described as decades-long efforts by their investigators and those from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the District One Medical Examiner’s Office. Those efforts included a facial reconstruction in 2007, additional anthrophological examination in 2008, and isotope analysis from the remains at the University of Florida in 2018.
In late 2022, the medical examiner’s office began working with Othram, a private company that “uses genetic genealogy to aid in identification,” said Chrissy Neiten, a chief investigator with the office, in the news release.
Using what Neiten described as “forensic-grade genome sequencing,” Othram was able to create a comprehensive genealogical profile of the unidentified woman in 2023. This led to the identification of the woman as Suzanne Kjellenberg.
Kjellenberg was 34 at the time of her death, according to Okaloosa sheriff Eric Aden. She is survived by family in Wisconsin.
Jesperson has been charged with her murder. He met with investigators and officials in Sept. 2023 and provided further details about Kjellenberg’s murder. Aden said that Jesperson repeated the claim that he met Kjellenberg in 1994, when he was working as a long-haul trucker. Jesperson told officials that they traveled to a rest area in the Florida panhandle, and while there, he parked next to a security guard while Kjellenberg slept in his bed. He said that she “began screaming and wouldn’t stop,” the sheriff’s office news release said.
Jesperson said he was not allowed to “have unauthorized riders” in his truck, and did not want to draw attention, so he “stopped (Kjellenberg) from breathing by pushing his fist against her neck.” He later “placed zip ties around her throat.”
“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,” said Aden.
Another victim of Jesperson’s was identified in 2022., had been known only as “Blue Pacheco” because of the clothing found on her body, but genetic genealogy was able to identify her nearly 30 years after her remains were found along California’s State Route 152. Jesperson confessed to the murder in 2006, saying in a letter to the county district attorney’s office that he had sexually assaulted and killed a woman in the area.