With so many true crime podcasts available, it can be difficult to decide which to choose. It is clear that in order to stand out in a vast array of similar stories, a successful true crime podcast must have something special to offer. The new 12-part series by HowStuffWorks, “Happy Face,” has just that.
“Happy Face,” narrated by Lauren Bright Pacheco, explores the horrific story of Keith Hunter Jesperson, also known as the “Happy Face Killer.” Jesperson was responsible for the brutal murders of at least eight women between 1990 and 1995. Bright Pacheco worked as a television producer where she met Melissa Moore, formerly Melissa Jesperson, daughter of the Happy Face Killer.
Throughout the podcast, Bright Pacheco helps Moore decompress her emotions and fears associated with being the child of a serial killer. The series combines testimonies, audio clips of Jesperson himself, passages from books and new facts to unfold a classic terrifying story in a new and emotionally charged way.
Hearing from the family of the killer offers a new perspective to a true crime story. Rather than a mystery, the compelling aspect of this podcast is the emotional complexity of an untold side of trauma. Moore describes her childhood with a serial killer parent, from seeing blood stains on the ceiling, to witnessing her father kill animals when she was less than 10 years old.
A particularly chilling section of the series comes in episodes 6 and 7, where Moore has a face-to-face meeting with the son of her father’s last victim, Don Findlay. Together, Moore and Findlay share a heart-wrenching conversation exploring their complex emotions and fondly remembering Findlay’s mother Julie Ann Winningham. Findlay goes as far as correcting the media’s account of his mother and breaks down as he describes passing the place of his mother’s murder daily.
“Everyday of my life since then I have to drive by it. Everyday I go fishing in the beautiful gorge, I gotta drive right by it. I didn’t run, I faced it head-on. It kept crushing my heart,” Findlay’s voice trails off as he chokes back tears.
Perhaps the most difficult audio to listen to is that of Jesperson himself recounting his own gruesome acts. Al Carlisle, a true crime author, met with Jesperson in prison, and for some reason Jesperson decided to open up to Carlisle and spoke to him in length about himself as well as the murders he committed. This audio was given to Moore and Bright Pacheco after Carlisle’s passing, and it is woven in throughout the podcast.
The latest episode focuses on Jesperson, describing his murders and the way he played with law enforcement as if he was playing a game with them. Jesperson famously wrote a letter to The Oregonian newspaper confessing to five murders, which he signed with a smiley face, coining his name as the “Happy Face Killer.”
After the particularly haunting episode, a note was given to listeners that there would be a break for Thanksgiving. “Happy Face” is due to return November 30th, with 3 more new episodes coming out every Friday. Bright Pacheco notes that the upcoming episodes will focus on the effect of Moore’s father on her current life and relationships, as well as diving in to discuss her deepest fear, that she is somehow like her father.
“Happy Face” is not for the faint-hearted, but its compelling content and elaborate interweaving of sources create a riveting podcast experience for those brave enough to listen. If you are a fan of true crime looking for a stand-out new podcast, this is certainly a great option.