Riverside County authorities seek public’s help in identifying 1992 victim of ‘Happy Face Killer’ – Press Enterprise

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Authorities on Monday, Jan. 8, announced that they are seeking the public’s help in identifying the last unidentified victim of serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson on the 14th anniversary of his conviction in her murder.

On Aug. 30, 1992, the woman’s body was found along Highway 95, around seven miles north of Blythe, the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release. In the more than 30 years since her death, authorities have been unable to positively identify the victim though advances in DNA technology have allowed to them to create a rendering of the woman as she may have appeared before her death.

Happy Face Killer Keith Hunter Jesperson. (File courtesy photo)
Happy Face Killer Keith Hunter Jesperson. (File courtesy photo)

“We are hopeful someone hearing any of these details may remember anything that could help us reunite this woman with the family who may have been looking for her for over three decades,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a statement.

Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide investigators interviewed Jesperson about the unidentified woman at the Oregon State Penitentiary in late 2023.

Jesperson told investigators that he met “Claudia” at a brake check area on the 15 Freeway, south of Victorville, around August 1992 while he was working as a long-haul truck driver. The woman, whose real name may not be Claudia, attempted to hitchhike with Jesperson to Los Angeles, which he refused because of his truck route taking him to Arizona.

He instead drove the woman to Cabazon, where she decided to continue traveling with him until they reached an Indio/Coachella rest stop, authorities said.

Jesperson and the woman argued about money at some point during the commute, and Jesperson claimed he killed the woman in his truck before driving from Coachella to Blythe, where he dumped her body.

Jesperson — referred to as the “Happy Face Killer” because of his calling card of drawing happy faces in letters in which he boasted of his crimes to prosecutors and media outlets — confessed his crimes to a reporter in Portland, Oregon after his arrest in another case in 1995.

He pleaded guilty to the murder of the unidentified victim in Riverside County in 2010 and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, the fourth life sentence he had received .

Jesperson has also admitted to killings in Washington, Wyoming, Oregon and Northern California.

Authorities believe, based on conversations with Jesperson, that the woman was either living in or familiar with the Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside county areas. She may also have had ties to Las Vegas and Southern Nevada, officials said.

A rendering of the shirt worn by the last remaining unidentified victim of serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson. (Courtesy of the Riverside County District Attorney's Office)
A rendering of the shirt worn by the last remaining unidentified victim of serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson. (Courtesy of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office)

She is described as a frequent hitchhiker about 20 to 30 years old, standing about 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing around 140-150 pounds, according to authorities. She was found wearing a t-shirt printed with a motorcycle and had a tattoo of two small dots on the left side of her right thumb.

She is believed to have been a cigarette smoker.

Authorities were also able to identify potential family relatives using her DNA, including her biological father who has since died. Her father was from Cameron County, Texas, and had travelled all over the country, including to Santa Barbara County, Washington state and Oregon.

Additionally, several half-siblings were identified, though the living relatives are not biological matches to the victim’s mother. The relatives were not aware of a woman named “Claudia,” and were unable to assist authorities with her identification.

Authorities said there is reason to believe the woman’s maternal side has ties to Louisiana or the southeast Texas area.

Anyone with information on the woman’s identity should call the Cold Case Hotline at 951-955-5567, or by emailing coldcaseunit@rivcoda.org

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