5 Things We Know About Happy Face, a New Podcast About Having a Serial Killer for a Dad

Melissa Moore as a girl with her father, Keith Hunter Jesperson
Melissa Moore as a girl with her father, Keith Hunter Jesperson
How Stuff Works

For the most part, Melissa Moore thought her father was amazing. He was strong, 6-foot-6 and close to 300 pounds, and she loved how his head looked like it could eclipse the sun. When he'd return home from his long-haul trucking trips, he'd pick her up and throw her in the air, making her feel like a superhero. Sure, sometimes she thought he was a little weird—what kid doesn't think that about their dad?—but she was in no way prepared for the news her mother delivered one day when Moore was 15. After gathering her children around the kitchen table, Moore's mom announced that their dad was in jail. For murder. For several murders, in fact.

Today, Keith Hunter Jesperson is serving three consecutive life sentences without parole at Oregon State Penitentiary. He's been convicted of murdering eight women, although he has claimed to have killed dozens more. Happy Face is the story of how Moore has grappled with her father's crimes, how she's learned to separate fact from fiction in her own story of her childhood, how she's faced her nightmares, and how she's moved forward with hope. Here's what we know about the 12-part podcast series from How Stuff Works.

1. THE SHOW IS ABOUT CONFRONTING YOUR DEEPEST FEARS.

There might be only one thing scarier than a serial killer: the idea that you could have the potential to be one yourself. Moore resembles her father physically—she's blond like him, with a long nose and a strong chin—and also shares his intelligence and charisma. Could she share a trace of his evil, too?

"Melissa's deepest insecurity was that she could actually be a psychopath, like her dad, and she faces it full-on in the podcast," says Lauren Bright Pacheco, an executive producer on Happy Face and a friend of Moore's.

"She's worried about passing this along to her son," says Mangesh Hattikudur, also an executive producer on the show (and, full disclosure, one of the co-founders of Mental Floss). "She's trying to figure out what motivated [her dad]. Was it the head injury he sustained as a kid? Was it conditioning? Or is there a genetic component?"

2. IT'S PARTIALLY NARRATED BY THE MAN WHO GAVE JESPERSON HIS MONIKER.

In 1994, Jesperson sent an anonymous letter to The Oregonian newspaper. "I would Like to Tell my story!" the note began, using a strange mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters on pale blue paper. It went on to describe five murders, including chilling details about the crimes that no one outside the local police departments would have known—unless they were the killer themselves. At the top of the first page, the writer had scrawled a happy face: two circles for eyes, and a little c for a mouth.

Oregonian staff writer Phil Stanford used the letter as the jumping-off point for a multi-part series on the crimes. "There's something about the letter that holds you, that makes you keep reading," Stanford wrote. "Maybe it's the urgency of the prose itself. Maybe—although you might not want to admit it—it's the lurid details, spilling off the pages like cold sewage." Stanford's series also explored the fact that two people were already in jail for the first murder detailed in the letter, of Taunja Bennett, who was raped and strangled in January 1990.

Police would later reveal that Jesperson had also scrawled confessions at a truck stop and Greyhound station, and sent other letters to authorities, but Stanford was the one who gave Jesperson his famous moniker, based on the little drawing on the front page of his letter: The Happy Face Killer. On the podcast, Stanford reads from his Oregonian series, with an appropriately vintage-sounding treatment lending a historic vibe.

3. IT MIGHT NOT HAVE HAPPENED IF IT WEREN'T FOR DR. OZ.

Over the years, especially since Moore wrote a book about her experiences, Shattered Silence, and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show, hundreds of relatives of killers have reached out to her. "People often tell her their stories, because they feel judged by others, [but they know] she won't judge them," Hattikudur says. (Moore definitely knows what it's like to be judged herself—she was ostracized in high school because of her dad, and had to change schools several times.) These days, as an Emmy-nominated crime correspondent for the Dr. Oz show, Moore often interviews relatives of killers and their victims. That's how she met Lauren Bright Pacheco, a producer on the show, and part of what helped give rise to the podcast.

"Melissa and I had an instant connection as co-workers who quickly became friends," Bright Pacheco says. "Getting to know Melissa, I was taken aback by how much her father's crimes continued to impact her on a daily basis ... I've seen people blame her for his actions, begrudge her her career or treat her as if she's somehow contagious. It's a significant burden, but I've never seen Melissa bitter. In fact, she's sincerely driven by a conviction to somehow 'right' his wrongs." That drive became part of the genesis for the show.

4. THERE ARE SOME SOME NOTABLE GUESTS.

While untangling the idea of whether she might carry her dad's criminal DNA, Moore meets a neuroscientist who is himself a psychopath—just one of the show's several surprising guests. Happy Face also features some never-before-shared insights from the detectives who helped bring Jesperson to justice and interviews with the son of his last victim. Jesperson himself even makes an appearance—"but not in the self-glorifying narrative he's tried to spin in the past," Bright Pacheco explains.

The show also features some haunting music courtesy of Hope for a Golden Summer, an Athens band, who do a memorable interpretation of the folk song "In the Pines" (also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?").

5. THERE'S A POSITIVE GOAL BEHIND IT ALL.

While the podcast definitely makes for some unsettling listening—sensitive listeners will likely want to steer clear of the graphic details—it's not just meant to shock. As Moore works on understanding her past, what motivated her dad, and how his crimes affected her, she's ultimately sharing a story of overcoming adversity.

"While Melissa is the daughter of a serial killer, ultimately her story—and her struggles—are really relatable, universal, and inspiring," Bright Pacheco says. "Happy Face is about overcoming fear, shame, and ultimately grief."

DNA Links Polish Barber Aaron Kosminski to Jack the Ripper Murders, But Experts Are Skeptical

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Many people have been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, from author Lewis Carroll to Liverpool cotton salesman James Maybrick, but the perpetrator of the grisly crimes that gripped Victorian London has never been identified. Now, one of the case's first suspects is back in the news. As Smithsonian reports, Aaron Kosminski, a barber from Poland, has been linked to the Jack the Ripper murders with DNA evidence—but experts are hesitant to call the case closed.

The new claim comes from data now published in the Journal of Forensic Science. Several years ago, Ripperologist Russell Edwards asked researchers from the University of Leeds and John Moores University in Liverpool to analyze a blood-stained silk shawl thought to have belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. The item, which Edwards owns, has been a primary piece of evidence in the murder investigation for years. In 2014, Edwards published a book in which he claimed Aaron Kosminski's DNA had been found on the garment, but his results weren't published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Five years later, the researchers have released their findings. Using infrared and spectrophotometry technology, they confirmed the fabric was stained with blood and discovered a possible semen stain. They collected DNA fragments from the stain and compared them to DNA taken from a descendent of Eddowes and a descendent of Kosminski. The mitochondrial DNA (the DNA passed down from mother to offspring) extracted from the shawl contained matching profiles for both subjects.

Kosminski was a 23-year-old Polish barber living in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. He was one of the first suspects identified by the London police, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him in 1888.

Following the newest study, many Jack the Ripper experts are saying there still isn't enough evidence to definitively pin the murders on Kosminski. One of the main issues is that a mitochondrial DNA match isn't as conclusive as matches with other DNA; many people have the same mitochondrial DNA profile, even if they're not related, so the forensic tool is best used for ruling out suspects rather than confirming them.

The shawl at the center of the study is also controversial. It was supposedly picked up by a police officer at the scene of Eddowes's murder, but that version of the story has been disputed. The shawl's origin also been traced back to multiple eras, including the early 1800s and early 1900s, as well as different parts of Europe.

Due to many factors complicating the Jack the Ripper case, the murders may never be solved completely. The crimes spurred a flurry of hoax letters to the London Police department in the 1880s, and even the letters that were thought to be authentic, like the one that gave Jack the Ripper his nickname, may have been fabricated.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Last Surviving Person of Interest in Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist to Be Released From Prison

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Almost exactly 29 years ago, two men disguised as police officers weaseled their way into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and started removing prized artworks from the wall. They made off with 13 famous paintings and sculptures, representing a value of more than $500 million. It remains the largest property theft in U.S. history, but no one has ever been charged in connection with the heist.

Now, as Smithsonian reports, the last living person who may have first-hand knowledge about the heist will be released from prison this Sunday after serving 54 months for an unrelated crime. Robert (Bobby) Gentile, an 82-year-old mobster who was jailed for selling a gun to a known murderer, has been questioned by authorities in the past. In 2010, the wife of the late mobster Robert (Bobby) Guarente told investigators she had seen her husband give several of the artworks in question to Gentile—a good friend of Guarente’s—eight years prior.

A 2012 raid of Gentile’s home also revealed a list of black market prices for the stolen items. Previous testimony from other mob associates—coupled with the fact that Gentile had failed a polygraph test when he was questioned about the art heist—suggest Gentile might know more about the crime than he has let on. For his part, though, Gentile says he is innocent and knows nothing about the art or the heist.

The FBI announced in 2013 that it knew who was responsible for the museum heist, but would not reveal their names because they were dead. Still, the whereabouts of the artworks—including prized paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer, and Degas—remain unknown. The museum is offering a $10 million reward to anyone who can provide information leading to “the recovery of all 13 works in good condition," according to the museum's website. A separate $100,000 reward will be provided for the return of an eagle finial that was used by Napoleon’s Imperial Guard.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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