Keith Hunter Jesperson aka the happy face killer is a typical case of how child abuse can lead to extremely violent behavior and later lead to denial of the abuse. Keith Hunter Jesperson told his story in “I: the creation of a serial killer” 2002 by Jack Olsen. He described how he was raised in a strict household by a father who had a drinking problem and often abused his children. He suffered from bullying and humiliation from the other children as well. When he was caught getting into trouble it often seemed as if his father was more concerned about how he damaged his reputation than the trouble he got into. At times ridicule was used to discipline him and his father was fond of practical jokes that many people would consider cruel. His father was often cruel to animals and he taught it to his children especially Keith.
Keith wound up torturing and killing animals and committing arson before becoming a serial killer. There is a long list of abuses that he suffered as a child. As usual there are also denials of these abuses in some cases Jack Olsen was able to confirm some aspects of them through independent sources and it is clear that even though some of the details may not be conclusive the general environment of abuse was there. Jesperson has demonstrated a history of lying he confessed to 166 murders at one point. This didn't help his case and it indicated that fact checks are important but this doesn't mean that all of his claims are false. It appears that he may have become more serious and credible after the trial and the media spotlight was no longer on him. Other details almost certainly were false but in most cases this was about parts of the murders not the abuse that lead up to the murders.
Shortly after reading this book I saw the tail end of an episode of American Justice about this case. They showed his father on TV saying that he couldn’t understand how Keith became a serial killer. This went unchallenged. His father has down played the abuse Keith suffered as a child but in some cases the version that Keith presents seems more credible and was backed up by additional corroborating evidence. His father seems to be in denial and this gives the people that want to minimize mitigating circumstances something to latch onto and use to refute Keith’s claims.
A close look seems to indicate that his father may have blocked out the memories and he also suffered from an abusive childhood.
There was apparently a history of violence in the family dating back generations. They may have mentioned the abuse earlier in the show but I doubt if they spent much time on it. This is typical of the way they downplay any thing that could be considered mitigating circumstances. They closed the show giving the viewer the impression that this was a total mystery. The book was written years before this show was taped they could have easily have found out that information if they wanted to. By constantly repeating stories that exaggerate the brutality of the crime and ignore the abuse to the defendant that led up to the crime it prevents the public from understanding that there is a way that crime can be dramatically reduced.
First posted on Tripod on 8/23/09
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