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Episode #76: The Smiley Face Killer Theory

A theory advanced by retired New York City detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, as well as Dr. Lee Gilbertson, a criminal justice professor and gang expert at St. Cloud State University. It alleges that a number of young men found dead in bodies of water across several Midwestern American states from the late 1990s to the 2010s did not accidentally drown, as concluded by law enforcement agencies, but were victims of a serial killer or killers. - Wikipedia



Image from Rolling Stone Sept 13, 2019 provided to them by Dr. Lee Gilbertson



Background


Put together by a small team of retired detectives including NYPD Detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte and Dr. Lee Gilbertson, criminal justice professor. After 3 years of research the team went public with their findings in 2008. At that time they had potentially linked 45 victims together from the Midwest to the northeast and by now the number has more than doubled across 27 states. Instead of 1 killer they believe there are multiple well-structured cells of serial killers.

FBI issued a statement in 2008 saying that there is no evidence to back up this theory, and most, if not all of the

deaths were alcohol-related drownings.





Victim profile & circumstances


  • Young, white men

  • Top students/athletes

  • Drinking and then separated from friends

  • Victims are abducted, held for a period of time and then killed and dumped in water

  • Potentially drugged with GHB which is not commonly tested during toxicology screenings

  • Men are later found in water, deaths classified as accidental or undetermined (never investigated as criminal)

  • Smiley face graffiti nearby



Arguments for the theory


The group points to lack of decomposition of bodies found in water, they believe these men were held for a period of time before being killed.

Gannon also noted that the presence of land insects, lividity patterns, and the lack of bloating associated with the recovered remains suggest that the victims died on land, not in the water.

Dr. Lee Gilbertson says it’s not statistically random - there should be a large standard deviation of characteristics, but there’s not.

Dr. Cyril Wecht also thinks it’s statistically impossible for them to be coincidence. He also believes that the victims should have been able to react if they did fall into the water.

Watch Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice. Note: a subscription is needed to view the content

(or see link below in Sources section)




Arguments against the theory


The FBI issued a statement in 2008 saying that there is no evidence to back up this theory, and most, if not all of the deaths were alcohol-related drownings. It is also possible that once the victims fell into the river they just weren't able to get out due to the shock of the cold water or the undercurrent. Not long after the FBI's statement, the Center for Homicide Research released a detailed brief including 18 reasons why the Smiley Face Killer Theory was not credible.

You can read the entire brief here

(or see link below in Sources section)


First meeting

Image from Rolling Stone Sept 13, 2019 provided to them by Dr. Lee Gilbertson





Sources

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/smiley-face-murder-serial-killer-drowning-death-882042/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smiley_face_murder_theory

https://www.cbsnews.com/pittsburgh/news/serial-killer-or-accidental-drowning-dakota-james-mystery/

https://www.oxygen.com/smiley-face-killers-the-hunt-for-justice/crime-time/district-attorney-investigate-dakota-james

http://www.duqsm.com/smiley-face-oxygen/

http://homicidecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Research-Brief-on-Smiley-Face-Murder-Theory-FINAL.pdf

The Smiley Face Killers: Dakota James Press Conference Dec 13th, 2018 Podcast format (May 23, 2022)

Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice s1e1 Dakota James Jan 2019


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