Tonight on a shocking special episode of After Hours AM/The Criminal Code — Wednesdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis, Eric Olsen, and forensic psychologist Dr. Clarissa Cole — we plunge into the watery domain of the Smiley Face Killer with former FBI agent and author John DeSouza. Is there a demented serial killer or killers stalking and killing drunken college bros across the nation and leaving a smiley face as a calling card? Or is the linkage of 40 tragic drowning deaths a figment of the febrile imaginations of two retired NYPD detectives?
In 2008 retired New York police detectives Frank Gannon and Anthony Duarte announced an amazing and alarming serial killer(s) theory. They theorized that starting in 1997, across eleven states from New York to Minnesota, about 40 corpses that had been fished from bodies of water including rivers, lakes, and ponds exhibited too many similarities to be coincidental, to wit:
Victims were white, college-aged males Gannon and Duarte described as “athletic, good-looking, and academically successful.” Could there be one or more “clumsy, ugly, and dumb” killers out there motivated by resentment and envy?
All victims were out drinking at local bars or parties on the evening they disappeared.
In a dozen or more cases, smiley faces were found painted near where the detectives determined victims’ bodies had been dumped into the water.
Virtually all of these “drowning victims” were discovered in northern states during the winter. Very peculiar in itself, but even odder when you consider that there has been no similar pattern of alcohol-related drownings in more southerly states, at any time of year.
Some disappearances occurred on the same night in different states, leading the detectives to conclude that a “well-structured” organization of killers was responsible.
While most of the deaths are still classified as accidental drownings, two of the cases, those of Patrick O’Neil in Manhattan in 1997 and of Chris Jenkins in Minneapolis in 2008, were eventually classified as homicides.
Despite all of this, on the other side of the coin, most investigators say the deaths are merely tragic coincidences. Who is right?