Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Keith Hunter Jesperson

The First Known Murder

On Tuesday evening, January 23, 1990, pretty 23-year-old Taunja Bennett decided to go out for a few drinks and to hopefully meet up with a few of her friends.  It was a cold, damp night, typical weather for that time of year in Portland, Oregon, which could arguably be placed among the top ten rain capitals of the world, and Taunja dressed appropriately.  After grabbing her purse and umbrella, she climbed into her car and drove toward the B & I Tavern, one of her favorite haunts, on Portland, Oregons southeast side.  Upon her arrival at the tavern, Taunja, unable to make up her mind what she wanted to drink, settled on a beer and then a wine cooler, and continued to switch back and forth between the two drinks as the evening wore on.  Before long Taunja, who has been described by family members and friends as mentally slow and slightly retarded, became visibly intoxicated.

Keith Jesperson (AP)
Keith Jesperson (AP)

At first Taunja never paid much attention to the tall, burly-looking, loud-mouthed man sitting at the bar and, judging from all of his outward appearances, bar patrons would later say that he hadnt paid much attention to Taunja until later in the evening, after it had become apparent that Taunja was feeling the effect of the alcohol.  But he had been watching her all right, mentally making plans for the remainder of the evening.  A little later the man casually walked over to the pool tables area, where Taunja had been watching the players, with a glass of beer in his hand.  He introduced himself to her and offered to buy her a drink.  She accepted and, unbeknownst to her, had set into motion a series of events that would ultimately end her young life.

The mans name was Keith Hunter Jesperson, but Taunja may have known him only as Keith or perhaps even by some other name.  Jesperson was known to use a number of aliases, often a variation of his real name, and in all likelihood he had used an alias on this particular night.  Whatever he had called himself that night, the 35-five-year-old, 6-feet 6-inches tall hulk of a man who weighed in at 240 pounds had made quite an imprint on young impressionable Taunja.  She had been easy to befriend.  She trusted everyone, and hadnt yet really learned just how horrible some people can be.

At one point Jesperson excused himself and left the tavern for a while without explaining to Taunja where he was going.  When he returned a short time later, he met Taunja outside and offered to buy her dinner.  However, when he checked his wallet to see how much money he had left he realized that he didnt have enough cash to buy himself dinner, much less himself and Taunja.  He told Taunja that he had more money at home, and invited her to accompany him there to get it.  Taunja willingly agreed to accompany Jesperson to his residence, located nearby, and when they arrived she followed him inside, unaware that the quest for cash had been merely a ruse to separate her from the tavern and the patrons inside it.  Instead of retrieving money to buy dinner, he coaxed her into having sex.

Later, as would become his custom, the pent-up anger that had been seething inside Jesperson for so long made its way to the surface.  Even before getting dressed after their sexual tryst, he began taunting Taunja, and before long was making mean, cruel remarks to her, and soon they were into a full-blown argument during which Jesperson, by his own later admission, began striking her.  When Taunja attempted to fight back and defend herself against this giant of a man, Jesperson began to viciously beat her about the face and head.  In one swift movement he placed one of his massive hands around her frail neck, and with the other he grabbed a rope.  Without even taking the time to think about his actions, Jesperson wrapped the rope around Taunjas neck and pulled it taught as he strangled her and watched the life slowly leave her body.  When she ceased to struggle and her body became limp, he let her partially nude body slump to the floor.

Jesperson didnt panic after killing Taunja.  Leaving her inside the rented house, he drove back to the B&I Tavern and sat around drinking and talking to anyone who would listen to him, presumably to establish an alibi for himself.  After a few more beers, Jesperson drove back to the house and calmly loaded Taunjas body into the front seat of a friends car.  Knowing that he had to dispose of the body he drove eastward, past Portlands city limits, the airport, past Gresham and Troutdale toward the Columbia River Gorge.  Sticking to the old highway, which was much darker, far less traveled, and consisted of a series of curves and switchbacks, Jesperson found a suitable place near Crown Point where it was secluded and dark, just the right place to dump a body.  He pulled the car over to the side and stopped.  It was quiet, and there were no sounds of traffic in the distance.  Confident that he was alone, Jesperson pulled Taunjas body out of the car and tossed it over an embankment of one of the switchbacks, discarding her corpse as if it were a piece of unwanted rubbish.

After discarding Taunjas body, Jesperson exited the highway and tossed the Walkman she had left inside the car out of the window.  He then drove to a truck stop near Troutdale and drank coffee the remainder of the night, yet another attempt to establish an alibi for himself if it turned out that one was needed.  Afterward, just after dawn and now wide awake on a caffeine high, Jesperson drove up the Sandy River Highway and flung the contents of Taunjas purse, which included her Oregon identification, as well as the purse itself, into a brushy area near the river.

Days later a passer-by found Taunjas body where it had landed in a ditch after tumbling down the embankment.  Horrified by the grisly discovery, the passerby notified the police.  Photos were taken, the crime scene was processed in the usual manner, and the body was taken to the morgue where it was initially identified only as a Jane Doe.

Taunjas death didnt make much news at first in the local newspapers.  The articles that first appeared consisted of only a few short paragraphs outlining the discovery of her body and police statements that she was found half-dressed, beaten and strangled to death, that one of her teeth had punctured her lower lip, and the fact that she had a rope around her neck.  A description of her physical appearance was also published, and it didnt take long for her body to be positively identified.  The police had no suspects in the case, and for the time being Keith Jesperson was free to roam in his quest for other victims.



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