If you’re a male college student in the Midwest, be careful the next time you’re out drinking or you might end up the victim of the Smiley Face Killer. According to retired New York City Police detectives, Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, and St. Cloud State University criminology professor Lee Gilberston, a person (or persons) has been targeting males—primarily white—who’ve had a bit too much to drink on or near college campuses in the Midwest. They believe that as many as forty-five young men have been killed by the Smiley Face Killer, so named because of the smiley-face graffiti found near some of the bodies.
Most of the men were found in rivers or lakes, with the local police believing they were drowning victims.
But Gannon, Duarte, and Gilbertson believe most of the men were forcibly drowned.
One potential victim was Dakota James, who called a friend on the evening of December 16, 2016 to pick him up from a motel. James told his friend that he was drinking with some other friends at bars in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he blacked out and came to in the motel. Five weeks later he vanished again, this time for good; his body was discovered weeks later, floating ten miles away in the Ohio River.
There were several smiley faces spray-painted on a nearby bridge.
Although the local police ruled James’ death an accidental drowning, the date-rape drug GHB was found in his system, and the decomposition rate of his body showed he’d been in the water for a couple days at the most, not the forty days he had been missing. And after famed forensic analyst Cyril Wecht examined the autopsy photos, he determined that there were ligature marks on James’ neck.
But Dakota James is one of only forty-five to one hundred young men whom Gannon, Duarte, and Gilberston believe were murdered by the Smiley Face Killer. From Fargo, North Dakota to Lacrosse, Wisconsin and from Massachusetts to Minnesota, numerous young, healthy, white men have been found floating in bodies of water with GHB in their systems and smiley faces nearby. Besides looking similar, many of these young men excelled in athletics and were studying STEM or medicine in college.
The investigative trio believes that the culprit is actually a well-organized gang or cult driven by hatred for the victims’ demographic. They also believe there is a sexual-ritualistic aspect to the crimes.
But as creepy as these crimes are, not everyone believes they are the work of an organized conspiracy, or that they are even connected. The FBI has publicly stated that they have reviewed many of these cases and that they see no connections.
The FBI’s denials have only added steam to some of the conspiracy theories floating around.
The work of these three investigators was enough for the American cable television network Oxygen to turn the case into a six-part 2019 series, Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice.
The majority of law enforcement remains unconvinced that there is a Smiley Face Killer on the loose. But if you’re a young man who fits this particular demographic and are drinking in bars in the Midwest, you’d best watch your drink and stay on guard.