OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — It’s taken almost 30 years, but a victim of Florida’s so-called Happy Face Killer has been identified.
Okaloosa County investigators used new forensic technology and DNA to identify Suzanne Kjellenberg, 34, as the sixth victim Keith Jesperson is accused of murdering.
“In February 1996, Jesperson actually admitted to killing our victim. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the identity of our victim,” said Okaloosa County Sheriff Eric Aden.
Aden said an inmate on work duty discovered Kjellenberg’s body on Sept. 14, 1994, near the Holt, Florida, exit on Interstate 10.
Her identity remained unknown until March 2023. Using DNA forensic technology from Othram Inc., they found a match.
“We have a team of nearly a dozen forensic genetic genealogists on staff who work through publicly available databases to search to find relatives,” said David Nutting, law enforcement liaison.
Detectives with the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement traveled to Oregon and spoke with Jesperson, who confessed to the murder and gave details on how he killed Kjellenberg in 1994.
“He has a phenomenal memory. To the point of specific exit numbers,” said Kelly Henderson, senior investigator.
Jesperson confessed to killing at least eight women he met while working as a large haul truck driver across the country.
He told investigators he picked Kjellenberg up at a Tampa, Florida, truck stop in August before killing her in his rig using zip ties and then leaving her by the interstate.
Jesperson will remain at the Oregon State Penitentiary serving seven life sentences. He also has been formally charged with killing Kjellenberg.
Jesperson is known as the Happy Face Killer due to letters he wrote to the media in the early 1990s detailing his crimes signed with a “smiley face.”
Sheriff Aden said Kjellenberg was a drifter at the time she was killed, a repeating theme for Jesperson’s victims.
All images courtesy of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.