Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Keith Hunter Jesperson

Going Public

In writing the letter to The Columbian Jesperson realized that he would need the help of public opinion if he were going to be able to convince the authorities that he had killed Taunja Bennett.  When one looks at Keith Jespersons case as a whole, it becomes easier to see that his motivation for confessing to Taunjas murder was not so much out of a desire to come clean, or that he was being sympathetic or empathic, but was in all likelihood motivated more out of his desire for self preservation.  Jesperson knew that if extradited to Wyoming, he would face a potential death penalty for the murder of Angela Subrize.  However, if he were able to confess to Taunja Bennetts murder and be sentenced to death in Oregon, a state where a death sentence hasnt been carried out since the early 1960s, he knew that he could at the very least postpone any actions that Wyoming might be able to carry out against him.  It was even likely that Oregon would not sentence him to death but would give him life in prison instead if his attorney was successful in working out a plea agreement.  At any rate, he would later reveal that his reasoning had been that his confession and subsequent sentence in Oregon would make it ultimately more difficult for Wyoming to get its hands on him.

The press appeared more than eager to help out as reporters from a number of newspapers contacted Jesperson about the claims he was making.  He told them that Laverne Pavlinac and John Sosnovske were innocent and had been sent to prison for a crime that he had committed.  According to Jesperson, the police did not believe him at first and insisted that they had the right people in jail for Bennetts murder.  It wasnt until he insisted that he could lead them to the location of Taunjas purse and Oregon identification card, something that Laverne Pavlinac had been unable to do, that they began to show interest.  

Location of purse (King)
Location of purse (King)

It wasnt until after Jesperson had led the detectives to those critical pieces of evidence lying behind a bush near the Sandy River that they began to believe him.  When taken to the location where Bennetts body was found, he provided them with information about the body and its position, details that no one other than the killer and the cops could know.  Adding credence to what Jesperson had provided them, Jesperson told the investigators to review his lawyers notes that had been compiled in May 1995 before the press or anyone else had any idea that Jesperson might be the Happy Face Killer, who had written intimate details about the case to The Oregonian.  Jesperson, through his attorney, indicated that he was willing to plead no contest to the murder of Taunja Bennett.

In the meantime it was agreed that Laverne Pavlinac and Keith Jesperson would undergo polygraph examinations, which would be administered by the FBI.  The results of the polygraph tests indicated that Pavlinac was being truthful in her denials that she had killed Bennett, and that Jesperson was being truthful in his claims of being the killer.  The results of the tests also showed that Jesperson and Pavlinac did not know each other.

Based on the new information, Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk filed a motion in Marion County, where the Oregon State Penitentiary is located, asking for the immediate release of Pavlinac and Sosnovske.  Schrunk told Presiding Marion County Circuit Judge Paul Lipscomb that Pavlinac and Sosnovske had served more than four years in prison for a crime that they didnt commit.  He also outlined the evidence that Jesperson had provided.  However, Lipscomb refused to immediately release the couple.  Instead, the judge said that he would consider an evidentiary hearing after Jesperson entered his plea in which Jesperson could testify on behalf of Pavlinac and Sosnovske.

Its extraordinary, Schrunk said afterward.  You dont see prosecutors doing this all the time.  Its the appropriate thing to do under the appropriate circumstances.  He emphasized that there were no improprieties on the part of the judge, jury or lawyers when Pavlinac and Sosnovske were convicted.  The evidence they had at the time was ample evidence to convict.

There are a lot of dynamics to this case and you would have to have been there to understand, Deputy District Attorney James McIntyre said.  McIntyre, who prosecuted the case, said that he did not owe anyone an apology for having prosecuted a case that sent two innocent people to prison.  What I will say is that based upon the evidence we discovered in interviewing Jesperson, we couldnt have obtained these convictions.

Pavlinacs family, meanwhile, remained hopeful that the judge would do the right thing and release Pavlinac and Sosnovske from prison.

Were happy, but not happy enough, one of Pavlinacs relatives said after Lipscombs decision.  We need the release order signed before we get real happythe case should have never gone to trial.  If the jury had heard the whole truth, they would have never been convictedShe (Laverne) always read mystery books and murder books.  She read in the paper that this girl had been murdered and that the police didnt have a suspect.  So she gave them a suspect.

In the meantime, while Jesperson waited to enter his plea for murdering Taunja Bennett and as the State of Wyoming continued building its case against him for the murder of Angela Subrize, Jesperson continued his many contacts with the news media, claiming responsibility for the murders of a number of other women. 

After Bennett, Jesperson said:  There was Claudia, a girl wanting a ride to Phoenix, Arizona with me.  She tried to extort my wallet from me and died trying.  Then there was Cynthia Lynn Rose, a prostitute working the south bound rest area on Highway 99 near Turlock, California.  Then Laurie Ann Pentland, a prostitute working the Burns Brothers truck stop in Wilsonville, Oregon.  Then a Jane Doe prostitute working the Petro truck stop in Corning, California.  Then a woman I gave a ride to in Florida going to Lake Tahoe, Nevada.  She called herself Susanna.

Jesperson also claimed that he was responsible for the murders of the following women:  Bobbie in Oregon, October 27, 1992; Lynn in Nevada, January 1993; Susan in Oklahoma, January 1993; Linda in Washington, March 1993; Sunny in Arizona, April 1993; Jane Doe in Idaho, April 1993; Jane Doe in California, May 1993; Jane Doe in California, July 1993; Jane Doe in Arizona, September 1993; Carrie in Idaho, November 1993; Karen in Georgia, February 1994; Carol in Nevada, February 1994; Jane Doe in Nebraska, October 1994; Jane Doe in Iowa, February 1995; and Jane Doe in Indiana, February 1995.

There were others that he could not name or provide a location for.  All in all, he said, he was responsible for at least 160 slayings across the United States.  Jesperson told the media that he was admitting to all of these murders because he was bothered by his guilty conscience.  However, like Henry Lee Lucas before him, Jesperson would later recant most of the confessions.


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