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The Unusual Circumstances Surrounding The Happy Face Killer

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

The most terrifying calling card from a serial killer is probably a smiley face. The "Happy Face Killer" liked to use them to sign his taunting letters to the police in addition to his eventual confession written on the wall of a Greyhound bus station bathroom.

The acts committed by this killer (who I will affectionately dub HFK throughout this post for the sake of simplicity) were certainly not lacking in atrocity, but what really intrigues me about this story is the wild twist that takes place during the case.

21 year old Taunja Bennett was last seen alive at a bar near Portland before being found strangled to death the next day. The police found a break in the case when a female caller anonymously informed them that she had overheard 39 year old John Sosnovske boasting about committing the crime. Investigators were suspicious that the details she provided were so specific, and but considering John’s criminal history, decided to bring him in for questioning.


The caller turned out to be Laverne Pavlinac, John’s 58 year old girlfriend who agreed to wear a wire to coax a confession out of him. After this attempt was unsuccessful, police began to notice discrepancies in Laverne's testimony. Her story changed; she suddenly decided to drop her eavesdropping claim and revealed that she was actually an accessory to the crime, helping John hide Taunja's body after calling her and confessing to the act, a story that later went on to include Laverne herself as a part of the murder.


These bizarre accusations led to the couples' conviction and the case being apparently closed. Of course, it couldn't be this simple because soon after the arrests, an alleged confession was found written on a bathroom wall in Montana. The author claimed to be the true killer and that because of Laverne and John's arrests, he was "free". The disturbing confession included the first instance of the HFK's trademark smiley face signature.


Spoiler alert: Laverne and John were completely innocent. Surprise! She later made her only truthful confession that because of the alleged abuse she endured at the hand of her boyfriend, she decided that the best course of action was to frame him for murder. This plan clearly backfired tremendously on Laverne, as she ended up in prison as well- allowing the real killer, Keith Jesperson, to roam free and commit more murders with no risk of suspicion from police.


Laverne and John were eventually released from prison when Jesperson was finally apprehended and convicted. Unfortunately, this absurd fabrication intended to free Laverne from her abuse (which was never proven, by the way) stalled the capture of the true HFK and led to the gruesome murders of at least 7 more victims.


Sources:

https://www.nydailynews.com/true-crime-justice-story/ny-happy-face-killer-20200830-e6avx5575bcyhd6ohh5nvka5ia-story.html


https://medium.com/the-candid-cuppa/woman-falsely-confesses-to-murder-to-escape-abusive-boyfriend-25e3f09acfa8


https://criminalminds.fandom.com/wiki/Keith_Hunter_Jesperson




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