Last unidentified victim of “Happy Face Killer” believed to have ties to Southeast Texas

Published 12:02 am Monday, January 15, 2024

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Recent advances in DNA technology have allowed cold case investigators in Riverside County, California, to come the closest they’ve ever been to identifying the only remaining unidentified victim of serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson, known as the “Happy Face Killer.”

On the anniversary of his conviction for that murder, the Riverside County Regional Cold Case Homicide Team is seeking help to put a name the woman’s face.

The team is led by investigators from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. They are reaching out to anyone who might have known her, including possible relatives in Southeast Texas and Louisiana.

The woman’s body was found on Aug. 30, 1992, along Highway 95, approximately seven miles north of the city of Blythe, California. After his arrest in another case, Jesperson confessed to a news reporter in Portland, Oregon, and later to Riverside County Sheriff’s Office deputies, that he killed her and seven other women.

Jesperson pleaded guilty to the murder in Riverside County on Jan. 8, 2010, and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, but the woman Jesperson referred to as “Claudia” was never positively identified.

“Our goal is to identify this victim and provide closure to her family, wherever they may be,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “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.”

In the years since the woman’s death, improvements in forensic science have allowed investigators and genealogists to determine some familial relatives, including her biological father, who is now deceased.

The victim’s father was from Cameron County, Texas, but traveled all over the country, including Texas; Santa Barbara County, California; Washington state and Oregon.

Several half-siblings were identified, unfortunately, these living relatives are not biological matches to the victim’s mother, and so these individuals were not aware of “Claudia,” and cannot assist with her identification.

However, genetic mapping has indicated the woman’s maternal side of the family has ties to the Louisiana and/or Southeast Texas.

Jesperson described the victim as a woman with shaggy, wild blonde hair and tight clothing. He said her name was “Claudia,” but that may not be her real name.

She was described as about 20 to 30 years old in 1992, about 5’6″ to 5’7,” and was of medium build, around 140-150 pounds.

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. A number of sketches have been made of the woman as she may have appeared prior to her death.

These forensic approximations were created using a combination of DNA technology, her remains, and a description by Jesperson himself.

The Riverside County DA’s Office is calling on the community to contact our investigators with any additional leads that will grant dignity to the victim and answer long-asked questions from her family.

Any leads, no matter how insignificant they may seem, can be reported to the Cold Case Hotline at 951-955-5567, or by emailing coldcaseunit@rivcoda.org. For example, those who may have known her from interactions in southern California, or in Las Vegas, or more significantly, those who recognize her face as an acquaintance from a long time ago.

If you believe that you are a relative in this case, or other unsolved homicides, please consider contacting GedMatch for DNA comparison.