20/20 ‘Happy Face Killer’ The false confession of Laverne Pavlinac

The Happy Face Killer is a nickname given to a serial killer who took the lives of at least eight women in the 1990s. Police thought that the murder of his first victim, Taunja Bennett, had been solved when a woman in an abusive relationship implicated her boyfriend John Sosnovski in the crime. She later herself to the scenario, but it was all false.

Laverne Pavlinac’s mug shot

Confessing to a crime you didn’t commit can be dangerous, especially if the true murderer is a serial killer. It can distract law enforcement from preventing more deaths by looking for the real killer, and that’s exactly what happened when Laverne and her boyfriend John Sosnovski received life sentences for Taunja Bennet. The real murderer, Keith Hunter Jesperson, was on a killing spree while the couple was locked up for a murder he committed.

“I think what happened to mother was she was in an abusive relationship, and she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things, not to say that it was right, but that’s what I think happened,” Laverne Pavlinac’s daughter Bonne McAlpine said on an episode of 20/20 airing tonight. John Sosnovski denied being involved in the killings, but he was charged with Taunja Bennett’s killing based on Laverne’s statements. The fact that he failed a polygraph didn’t help matters.

In 1995, Keith Jesperson turned himself in, partly because he wanted to get Laverne and John out of prison. Before he turned himself in, Keith had been leaving messages on walls and sending letters about his killings. The messages would include a drawn happy face, which earned him the moniker “Happy Face Killer.”

His first message was written on the wall of a truck stop in Oregan. It described in detail the murder of Tuanja Bennett and mentioned that two innocent people had taken the fall for the murder. He had met Tuanja at a bar in Portland, Oregan, and took her back to the house he was renting. After an argument, he strangled her with a rope.

He left another message on another wall and then wrote a six-page letter to the newspaper linking several murders to one person.

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