Bizarre False Confession Gave Serial Killer a Break

ABC News looks back at the case linked to the 'Happy Face Killer'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 6, 2021 11:45 AM CDT
Bizarre False Confession Let Serial Killer Continue Killing
A 2009 mugshot of Keith Hunter Jesperson, aka the Happy Face Killer.   (Police mugshot/Wikipedia)

If you saw it in a movie, you might think there's no possible way it could happen in real life. But as ABC News explains in a story about now-imprisoned serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson, it did indeed happen. And newly obtained police interview tapes shed new light on how detectives were fooled. In 1990, a woman in Portland named Laverne Pavlinac told police that boyfriend John Sosnovske murdered 23-year-old Taunja Bennett. Pavlinac kept changing her story, however, and eventually she said she knew Sosnovske did it because she helped him. She was very convincing, and even though Sosnovske denied it all, both were convicted and sent to prison.

There they remained for about five years until Jesperson—aka the "Happy Face Killer"—confessed to multiple murders, including Bennett's. Pavlinac and Sosnovske were then released from prison, and the true story emerged. Pavlinac had been in an abusive relationship with Sosnovske, and she wanted him imprisoned. But in the course of trying to falsely implicate him, she also falsely implicated herself. She fooled detectives with her knowledge of the murder, including where the body was found, simply by reading newspaper accounts and police records. Both she and Sosnovske have since died.

"The greatest human tragedy is that Laverne Pavlinac derailed the investigation in 1990, and in four years, Keith Jesperson killed more women," says Oregon prosecutor Jim McIntyre. That is undeniably true, but when Jesperson turned himself into to authorities in 1995, he cited the couple as one of his reasons for coming forward. "To come clean… get it all over, the record straight," he said at the time. "I had been worried about this for a long time. I wanted to get those two people out of prison." (Read the full story.)

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