One of ‘Happy Face’ killer’s eight victims identified after nearly three decades, police say

Florida investigators have identified an eighth victim murdered by “Happy Face” serial killer Keith Jesperson in the 1990s.

Jesperson, now 68, told police in 1996, a year after his arrest in connection with seven other homicides, that he killed an unknown woman by the name of “Susan” or “Suzette” in August 1994 and dumped her body near an exit off Interstate 10 in Florida.

The Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office (OSO) on Tuesday announced the identification of Suzanne Kjellenberg — nearly 30 years after an inmate worker crew discovered her remains off Interstate 10 in September 1994. She was 34 at the time of her death.

“We had him as a suspect early on — just didn’t have an identity for our victim,” Sheriff Eric Aden said during a Tuesday press conference, adding later that the case has been “years in the making.”

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Keith Jesperson mugshot from 1995

Keith Jesperson, now 68, told police in 1996, a year after his arrest in connection with seven other homicides, that he killed an unknown woman by the name of “Susan” or “Suzette” in August 1994 and dumped her body near an exit off Interstate 10 in Florida. (Okaloosa County Sheriff/Clark County Sheriff)

Jesperson was nicknamed the “Happy Face” serial killer because he sent letters to the media detailing his crimes, which he committed across state lines as a long-haul trucker, with a smiley-face signature at the bottom of each note.

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In an unannounced, September interview with Okaloosa authorities, who traveled to the Oregon State Penitentiary to meet with the suspect, Jesperson said he met Kjellenberg at a truck rest stop, where she told him that she was headed to Lake Tahoe and needed a ride. 

Suzanne Kjellenberg holds a bouquet

The Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office (OSO) on Tuesday announced the identification of Suzanne Kjellenberg — nearly 30 years after an inmate work crew discovered her remains off Interstate 10 in September 1994. She was 34 at the time of her death. (Okaloosa County Sheriff)

Jesperson said he told her he didn’t know exactly where he was headed, but they drove together anyway to his next stop in Cairo, Georgia, and even had a meal together along the way.

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Jesperson said they made it to Cairo and eventually began driving back to Florida, at which point he parked at a rest stop near a security vehicle and went to check on Kjellenberg, who was sitting on a mattress in the driver’s lounge. When he sat next to her, she apparently began screaming, and he panicked because the security guard was parked next to his truck, he told authorities in the interview. 

One of Jesperson's notes with a smiley face at the top

Keith Jesperson was nicknamed the “Happy Face” serial killer because he sent letters to the media detailing his crimes, which he committed across state lines as a long-haul trucker, with a smiley-face signature at the bottom of each note. (Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office)

“She just sat up and started screaming,” he said. “I was like, ‘Shut up!’ and the more I told her to ‘shut up,’ the more she screamed. And I don’t need that, because I wasn’t supposed to have people in my truck anyway . . . so I just killed her.”

“After murdering too many people, it was just an easy thing to do.”

— Keith Jesperson

Jesperson then secured zip-ties around Kjellenberg’s neck and dumped her body along the interstate, he told police.

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OSO began working with Othram, a forensic genetic genealogy lab, in 2022 in an effort to identify Kjellenberg’s remains found 28 years earlier.

Keith Jesperson meets with Florida authorities during a September interview at the Oregon State Penitentiary

In an unannounced, September interview with Okaloosa authorities, who traveled to the Oregon State Penitentiary to meet with the suspect, Jesperson said he met Kjellenberg at a truck rest stop, where she told him that she was headed to Lake Tahoe and needed a ride.  (Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office)

“In 2023, the [District 1 Medical Examiner’s Office] sent samples to Othram, Inc. and, with funding through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), a genealogical profile produced leads that led to Suzanne Kjellenberg’s identification,” Chrissy Nieten, Chief Investigator with the District One Medical Examiner’s Office, said in a Tuesday statement.

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The entire process of identifying Kjellenberg’s remains took six weeks, District 1 Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Deanna Oleske said during Tuesday’s press conference.

On Tuesday, authorities officially charged Jesperson in Kjellenberg’s murder, according to Aden.

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“Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many over so long, the remains of Suzanne Kjellenberg, the final unidentified victim of Jesperson’s cross-country murder sprees, can finally leave the Medical Examiner’s Office, and return home,” Aden said.

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