SALEM, Pray. — After nearly 30 years, California authorities have identified an Oregon woman killed by the “Happy Face Killer.”
On June 3, 1993, Patricia Skiple’s body was found by a truck driver who stopped on the side of California State Route 152 in unincorporated Gilroy, about a half-hour south of San Jose. The woman was dressed in blue denim when she was found by detectives from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. An autopsy classified her death of her as “undetermined,” and with no leads on her identity of her, authorities referred to her as “Blue Pacheco.”
Detectives resurfaced the case a few years ago to follow up on leads. With the help of DNA Doe Project, a non-profit organization that provides investigative genetic genealogy services to identify “John and Jane Does,” they were able to uncover Ella’s Skiple’s identity last week and confirm her killer, Keith Hunter Jesperson.
Skiple, known to her family and friends as “Patsy,” was a mother and long-term resident of Colton, Oregon, according to a release from the Sheriff’s office. Skiple would have been approximately 45 years old at the time she was killed.
Jesperson, who is already serving four life sentences without the possibility of parole for murders in Oregon, California and Wyoming, gained notoriety for preying on multiple women throughout the Pacific Northwest. He worked as a long-haul trucker, according to archives from the Statesman Journal, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Jesperson is known as the “Happy Face Killer” for drawing happy faces in letters in which he boasted of committing five murders on the West Coast. Four of the five cases were unsolved.
Jesperson, now 67, has claimed to have killed several people; eight “strangulation” murders of women that occurred between 1990 and 1994 have been confirmed, according to the sheriff’s office and a statement from the DNA Doe Project.
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In 2006, Jesperson wrote a letter to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office as well as former Statesman Journal reporter Jan Davies, admitting to sexually assaulting and killing an unknown female subject along a dirt turnout on Highway 152 in California.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree homicide the following year for killing the unidentified woman known as “Blue Pacheco,” named due to the color she was wearing and the nickname of Highway 152, Pacheco Pass Highway. But Skiple’s identity was still unknown at the time of conviction.
In 2019, Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Detectives evaluated the “Blue Pacheco” case to follow up on leads, and partnered with the DNA Doe Project.
Volunteers with DNA Doe Project started researching genetic matches to “Blue Pacheco” in December, 2019, after Sgt. Shannon Catalano with the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office brought the case to the non-profit, according to a statement from the organization. A “likely candidate” was matched to “Blue Pacheco” in 2021.
On Wednesday, investigators were able to confirm “Blue Pacheco’s” identity as Skiple through DNA testing.
“This case was exceptionally challenging due to recent Norwegian ancestry which resulted in very distant DNA matches on GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA,” DNA Doe Project team leader Cairenn Binder said in a statement.
The organization said Catalano made the most of the information discovered through genealogy by contacting potential family members and encouraging them to voluntarily upload their DNA profiles to GEDmatch, a public DNA database that can be used for forensic cases.
“Every single DNA match made a difference in this difficult case,” said DNA Doe Project team leader Harmony Bronson.
“Although this criminal case was adjudicated, detectives never gave up as they worked diligently throughout this investigation to provide closure for the family of Patricia Skiple,” sheriff’s office authorities said in a release.
Records show Jesperson is in custody at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem for murder and aggravated murder convictions out of Washington and Multnomah counties, respectively. One case involved Laurie Ann Pentland, 23, whose body was found Nov. 14, 1992, behind an East Salem store.
Jesperson’s earliest release date from the Department of Corrections custody is March 1, 2063.
The sheriff’s office thanked DNA Doe Project, Oregon State Police Criminal Investigations Division, including Detective Jim O’Connor, and the Calgary Police Service, including Detective Ken Carriere and analyst Amy Lemieux for their help throughout this investigation.
Follow Virginia Barreda on Twitter: @vbarreda2.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism