Keith “Happy Face” Jesperson is locked up at the Oregon State Penitentiary where he is serving three consecutive life sentences. He will die in prison. The serial killer earned his notoriety by sending confessions describing his heinous crimes to police and journalists and signing them with a smiley face.
Jeperson murdered at least eight women, most who were raped and brutally beaten. By all regards, Jesperson was a coward, preying on slight unsuspecting women, some who were under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering chemicals, mentally challenged, or desperate.
He was, what law enforcement experts would say, a disorganized serial killer. Unlike some other psychopathic killers, he was not particularly intelligent. He was sloppy and made numerous mistakes. As a truck driver, he was able to traverse across the nation, make a kill, and move on. The murders occurred in Nebraska, Washington, Florida, California, Oregon, and Wyoming.
Jesperson was a low achiever from his childhood to adulthood. He did not fit in with others in the community, failed at most of his endeavors, including job opportunities and raising a family. His daughter, Milissa G. Moore, who lived with him until his wife divorced him in 1990, wrote a book about her father wherein she denounced him as a sick lowly killer. She described how Jesperson would hang stray cats on a clothesline and beat them until they were dead.
Although all the murders were horrific, the death of Angela Surbrize stands out. In January of 1995, after using his strength and weight (over 220 pounds) to strangle the petite Surbrize, Jesperson strapped her body to the undercarriage of his truck and dragged her down the road face down to grind off her face and prints.
In his new book, “Dangerous Ground—my friendship with a serial killer,” author, M. William Phelps, chronicles his visits and calls with Jesperson at the prison that spanned over five years. Phelps goes into great detail as he describes the murders. His mission is to uncover the identity of “Jane Does” he believes Jesperson killed—in particular, he focused in on a woman killed in Florida who likely had traveled there from Louisianna.
Although several experts, including detectives, investigators, and forensic imaging specialists worked with Phelps to identify the Florida women (with the “help” of Jesperson who provided sketches), the woman was never identified. Indeed, the author is unable to point to any particular breakthroughs regarding the identity of any “Jane Does” (unidentified remains).
Phelps does not present any novel ideas about serial killers in general in this book. He describes the toll that the meetings and conversations took on him—mentally and physically. A large part of the book is directed at his brother’s addictions that led to his early death. He incorporates the brutal killing of his brother’s wife into the book—surmising that she was the victim of a serial killer—not Jesperson.
Mr. Phelps apparently dedicated substantial time researching and interviewing Mr. Jesperson. His efforts fall in line with other authors who have befriended killers in prison. He seems to have mixed up the line between journalist/author in this book. He calls his subject a friend yet he hates him at times. He is easily duped by the wild ramblings of an evil slow learner who talks in simple riddles and crude language much in the same way as Charles Manson. The problem with Phelps is that he could even consider Jasperson as being even close to a friend.
Someone once said, “What if there was a war and nobody came.” Phelp’s glorification of Jesperson results in piling more undeserved attention on a dumb, evil, sloppy, killer of vulnerable women who had no chance. The better approach is to ignore these outcasts and let them die without attention in their cells.