Calif. police seek help to identify B.C.-born serial killer’s last unknown victim

Authorities in Riverside County, California, unveiled a sketch of what they described as the final unidentified victim in Keith Jesperson's killing spree. Riverside County DA

For five years in the early 1990s, Keith Jesperson, a B.C.-born long-haul trucker, crisscrossed the western United States in his truck, killing women he met along the way.

From 1990 to 1995 he killed at least eight women, ensuring his notoriety by sending anonymous confession letters to journalists and investigators which he often signed with a smiley face.

And while Jesperson — known widely as the “Happy Face Killer” for his unusual letter sign-off — has since confessed to the serial killings and is serving four life sentences at the Oregon State Penitentiary, police are asking for help in identifying Jesperson’s final unknown victim.

Officials with Riverside County in California released a new sketch and DNA-renderings of a California woman whom Jesperson referred to as “Claudia” — although investigators are unsure if that’s her true name.

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A sketch made of the woman by an artist from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office based on a description by Keith Jesperson.
A sketch made of the woman by an artist from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office based on a description by Keith Jesperson. Cori Kopitzke / Riverside County DA

Her body was found on Aug. 30, 1992, along a highway near the California-Arizona border, and is the only victim left to be properly identified.

“We hope to give this victim back her identity,” said Riverside Country District Attorney Mike Hestrin in a video statement released Monday. “We are hopeful someone hearing any of these details may remember anything that could help us reunite this woman with the family.”

In an effort to identify Claudia, reports CNN, cold case investigators interviewed Jesperson behind bars late last year.

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He told police that he first encountered her while at a brake-check area in Victorville, Calif., when she asked him for a ride to Los Angeles. Jesperson said he was heading to Arizona instead, and Claudia accepted his offer to ride with him.

Jesperson told police they got into an argument about money while eating at a rest stop, which led to his decision to kill her.

After she was dead, Jesperson said he taped her down to the truck bed to “keep her from bouncing onto the floor … because the road was rough and everything on the bed ends up on the floor sooner or later anyway.”

He then said he drove to Blythe, a city on the Arizona-California border, and disposed of her body in some bushes once it was dark, before driving to Phoenix to complete his trucking job.

Jesperson described Claudia as being in her 20s or 30s and about five feet six inches or five feet seven inches tall.

She was of medium build, weighing about 140 or 150 pounds, and had shaggy blonde hair and was wearing tight clothing, including a T-shirt bearing the image of a motorcycle. She had two small dots tattooed on the left side of her right thumb.

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The DA’s office said they’ve been able to determine some of Claudia’s family members via forensics, but they’ve led to dead ends.

Her biological father, a Texan, is now deceased, and several half-siblings were identified but are not biological matches to the victim’s mother and had no idea Claudia existed.

Jesperson, now 68, has confessed to eight killings in his spree, spanning California, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington and Florida.

Some of the women were drifters or sex workers, making identifying them more difficult.

In 2022, the Calgary Police Service was credited with helping identify one of his victims — a woman by the name of Patricia Skiple of Colton, Ore., whose body was found on the side of a California highway in 1993.

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California investigators partnered with the DNA Doe Project, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that helps identify “Jane Does” and “John Does” using genetic genealogy services.

From there, they reached out to Calgary police to help track down Skiple’s Canadian relatives who were identified during those searches.

Tracking down the ‘Happy Face Killer’

A year after Skiple’s body was found, an Oregon newspaper ran a five-part series where an anonymous letter writer claimed to have committed five murders throughout the west coast.

“I would like to tell my story!” one letter began, according to reports from the time. “I always have wanted to be noticed … so I started something I don’t know how to stop,” it continued, with a description of the attacks.

Investigators later identified the writer as Jesperson.

He was arrested in 1995 on suspicion of murder in Washington state, according to prison records, and eventually confessed to eight murders.

Some of his victims went unidentified for decades. Recent advances in forensic genetic genealogy have helped piece together their identities by connecting investigators to their living relatives.

With files from Global News’ Paula Tran

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