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September 28, 2018 28 mins

Sometimes it's hardest for the people who are closest to see the obvious clues. Melissa Moore reckons with the reality of her childhood and growing up with a serial killer for a dad.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:02):
Let's start from the beginning. I was a young girl.
I was eleven years old, and my parents had just divorced,
and my dad was now living with his girlfriend in Portland, Oregon.
And this was my first summer vacation where I stayed
at a different home than my my childhood home. And

(00:25):
the moment I walked in that house, I felt like
I wasn't alone, that there was energy there, that there
were spirits there, that I was being watched in every room.
In every room, he had purchased bunk beds for my
sister and I and my sister picked the bottom bunk

(00:46):
and I picked the top bunk. And it was my
first night in this new house. I fall asleep a
little bit, but then I'm awakened by being touched. And
then my hair is touched. It's not a heavy touch,
it's a light touch. So I leap and go down

(01:10):
the little stairs of the bunk bed and I rush
over and I'm going to go run into my dad's room,
but I froze. I felt that whatever was touching me
was over there too. I wasn't going to be safe
in my dad's room, and I didn't feel safe with

(01:32):
my dad, and so I laid on the in the
hallway floor with a light on, curled up in a ball,
hoping that the night would just go away fast. And
in the morning my dad stepped over me and he said,
why did you fall asleep in the hallway And I

(01:53):
said I was being touched, Dad, something was touching me.
And he said, Oh, don't pay any attention to them.
They bothered me all the time at night. Don't pay
them any mind. M Melissa, who is your dad? And

(02:18):
what is he known as? My father is Keith Hunter,
just person. He's known as the happy Face serial killer.
My girl, my girl, don't lie to me. Tell me

(02:39):
where did you sleep last night? And the fights and
the fights with the sun don't have a shine, I
will shiver. Oh nice. My name is Lauren bry Pacheco.

(03:09):
I'm a television producer and I've worked with Melissa Jasperson
Moore for about four years. We work on crime stories
together and we travel a lot, and during our downtime
we've had the chance to really get to know one another.
And she shared a lot with me about her past,
especially her childhood. My tall old home was amazing. My

(03:37):
parents had three children together. I'm the oldest. A year later,
my brother was born, and then two years after my
brother and my sister, Carrie was born, and my mom
was the stay at home mom, and my father was
a long hall truck driver. I felt loved, I felt
provided for, I felt adored, but I actually felt like

(03:58):
I was a super are Minissa, How big are you?
This big? Yes? Really big? Keep dance, Mania, you can't.
You're a good dancer. We lived in the country, and

(04:23):
when I would hear the semi truck pull up, and
you could hear the wheels on the gravel, and you
just knew, you knew, you could easily recognize that sound.
The window panes would actually shake because of the size
and the rumble of his engine. So we would just bolt.
My brother and my sister and I would actually race
to get to my dad to see who could get
into his pockets first, because in his pockets were tons

(04:47):
of change and and tokens and things from his trips,
and so it was like a competition who could get
who could get Dad's change? And and that was our
first encounter with him. And you pick us up and
he would throw us in the air and play with
us and be excited to see us, he would be
just as excited to see us as we were excited
to see him. Everybody thinks, there, you know, their dad

(05:11):
is the center of the universe, but your dad, How
did you feel being placed up on his shoulders. I
love the view that I because he's so much more
and I felt that I was absolutely safe and that
anything was possible, and that I could do whatever I
wanted to do, and that was safe in the arms

(05:33):
with my dad. He was six ft six and close
to three pounds. His size was something that the first
thing you notice, how you feel so small in comparison.
Keith was this huge giant man even to adult, so

(05:55):
for a child, he must have seemed even that much
more enormous. And when Melissa talks about him, she has
this reverence, this almost mythological lens that she views him through.
I felt like my dad was a superhero because he
was so large, and he could actually eclipse the sun

(06:15):
with his with his head, like he just his body,
like the sun would just like beam behind him and
he could just eclipse the sun. Phil Stanford the Oregonian.

(06:39):
The letter, unsigned and written on pale blue paper, has
a happy face at the top of the first page two,
tiny circles for eyes, an upturned sliver of a moon
from mouth. Have a nice day, all five of it,

(07:00):
says next to the cartoon face. However, the letter is
six pages long. So what does that mean? Five? What?
Five murders? That's what h Melissa agreed to go on

(07:35):
the road with me and our producer Noel and revisit
the places from her past that have incredible significance, both
good and bad, to her today, and one of those
places was Spokane, Washington, where she moved with her mother
and siblings after her parents divorce. I haven't been to
Spokane for a long time, but whenever I come back here,

(07:58):
I think about the first time I came here back
in my dad was home for the weekend and we
had a great weekend. We're really close and it was
like a normal weekend. And then it was time for
my mom to drop off my dad at the truck station.

(08:18):
And on the way to the truck station to his
his offices at there was just this tension in the
air and there was something obviously going on between my parents,
my mom and my dad. When we arrived at my

(08:46):
dad's work, he got the car and acted like he
was never going to see us again. He hugged us
super tight, said how much he loves us, and was
just gripping us like it was his last time ever
holding us. When I saw him walk away and go

(09:08):
to his job, my brother and sister and I got
back in the car and my mom was silent until
we were about a block away from the house. She said,
when we go into the house, I need you to
pick one thing, your favorite thing. We drove there because

(09:32):
we were going to meet her mom, Rose, who we
met at work. I'm excited to see. Yeah, I'm glad
that you're going to meet her. She's a case worker
at First Slevation Army where she helps families who are
on the streets transition to having a life off the streets.
And so these are children that have lived in cars.

(09:52):
These are children that have nothing very similar to what
I had and what she had. I wonder if she
has a picture of me in her office. I think
she might be coming out. Well. They hadn't seen each
other in a few years, but you could definitely hear
the warmth and the pride and the love in Melissa's

(10:15):
voice when she described her to us. You know what
you'll find that about my mom is she's a very nurturing,
soft person that you could tell anything too. So not dreamy, skinny.
Oh my gosh, we're doating small. My office is over.
Meeting Melissa's mom in person, I was really taken aback

(10:37):
by the fact that they don't look alike. Melissa's always
told me that she looks just like her father, and
I never saw it until I met her mom. She
absolutely looks like her father. Was flying down here, I

(10:58):
was thinking about what your experience must have been like,
because when we came here is after separated. I remember just,
you know, leaving and coming here without planning. That's what
felt like. It wasn't planned, it wasn't what happened. Well,
it was our thirteenth wedding anniversary and I was expecting

(11:21):
a bouquet of flowers and he said, you know, I
think we should just get a divorce. He said, would
you mind just leaving? And were you happy at any
point with him? I think at the very beginning we
had a lot of fun and we would we take
a month off and we traveled down m I five
all the way down California along the beaches, or you know,

(11:45):
oh yeah, we did we take a month off go
to Lake pale Um. We go to Canada. Oh. He
had a golden wing motorcycle and we went all through Canada,
traveling through Lethbridge and Alberta. It was a good provider,
he really was. He probably felt really financially. I felt safe,

(12:05):
and then I had to and then things changed. I
would like to tell my story. The writer of the
letter begins. The exclamation point is all his. So is
the labored printing and the odd mixture of capital and

(12:27):
lower case letters honor. About January, I picked up Sonja Bennett,
and I took her home. I raped her and beat
her real bad. Then I ended her life by pushing
my fist into her throat. When my dad was so

(12:52):
open to town, he didn't get a hotel. He would
stay at our home, my mom's home, and even when
she was with her new boyfriend who became her husband,
my dad would stay in the house with him in
the house as well. The reward of him coming was
he's filling the pantry, he's helping her. But she was
a single mom. She was a sole provider for months

(13:16):
on end, and here he comes into town. She's going
to take any reprieve she can get. You know, this
area right here is where um, when my dad would
come to visit, we'd drive past this road right here.
But this used to be all open fields like this,
and um at the end here was as a safe

(13:38):
way where we would go and get groceries. So when
my dad would come into town, he would actually take
us three kids to this grocery store and just let
us pick anything we wanted. And one thing that he
constantly picked was just like he would get these huge
five gallon tubs of ice cream and then he would
get these, uh he would get like a couple of

(14:00):
packages of bacon. He would make not like one package
of bacon at a time, he would make like five
packages of bacon at a time. So when he came,
he was a source of all at A girl that

(14:25):
I used to hang out with, Tamera, and she lived
right here in this house, huh. And what happened was
she lost her jacket and she accused me of stealing
her jacket. And you know, in the just person household,
we don't steal like that is like something is the
code of honor, you don't still And so I told

(14:48):
my dad that her parents think I'm a thief, and
then I stole her coat. So he walked over there
and confronted her parents. And I was so nervous because
he was so aggressive. I was just terrified of what
he's going to do to that to her parents. And
he explained how I didn't steal that jacket, and he

(15:09):
pretty much I don't know remember exactly what he said,
but he really terrified her parents so much so that
she never came back to my health. But there's something
about the letter that holds you, that makes you keep reading.

(15:32):
Maybe it's the urgency of the prose itself. Maybe, although
you might not want to admit it, it's the lurid
details spelling off the pages like cold sewage. Maybe the writer,
whoever he is, is making it all up. But if so,
you have to wonder what kind of person would even
be able to write something like this. This turned me on.

(15:57):
I got high, then panic set in. Where to put
the body? First, he says, he drove to the Sandy
River and through Tanya Bennett's purse and walkman into the water.
Then he drove back home and dragged the body out
to his car. I want the world to know that

(16:21):
it was my crime, So I tied a one half
inch soft white rope around her neck. I drove her
to a switchback on the scenic Road about one and
one half miles east of Lateral Falls. I dragged her downhill.
Her pants were around her knees because I had cut
her buttons off. You know, happy faces. On one side

(16:50):
of the coin, he's he's a loving family man, and
he's a good friend, and he's he's a good provider.
He's everything that you know as a child you want
for a dad. And then on the other side of
the coin, he is everything that scares you, everything that

(17:17):
could hurt you. He goes from protected or predator and
and wrapping my mind around it is impossible. I started

(17:49):
to notice the shift and the household probably about when
I was in kindergarten first grade. Things started to change
in the household. My mom seemed more withdrawn, and I
imagine her being isolated in a house with three young
children must have been difficult for her and my father

(18:11):
being gone, but when he would come home, there seemed
to be a distance between my mom and my dad
physically as well that I didn't witness them hugging or
being affectionate with one another. I actually I don't even
recall kissing. I can't even remember if they even kissed
each other when they greeted each other. Now, looking back,

(18:40):
I see the dynamic between my parents and recalling how
critical and degrading he was to my mother. He would
put her down for driving, He embarrassed her, He told
her all the time about what a horrible housekeeper she was.
He complained about her food, he complained about her weight.
Everything my mother did was wrong. I was never din

(19:05):
enough for I was de fat. You know. Eight dinner,
Oh God forbid about eight dinner. As a kid, when

(19:26):
I was alone with my father, he would bring up
that he constantly felt sexually rejected, and he would say
that my mom would tell him to go put it
in a keyhole. So what was your father thinking talking
about his sex life with his child? My father sex
life was always a part of the conversation. I heard

(19:46):
it with his friends. I heard it in the flirtation,
in the sexual harassment of waitresses. I heard it having
to hear him tell me these details about their sex life.
I never asked my father. It was just part of
the conversation. Constantly. I knew that my father was a
very sexual man. From a young age. I recall finding

(20:09):
hustlers and playboys all around, like all around the house,
and when I would go to the truck stops, I
would see his offices were lit like discovered and nude calendars.
So nude women in pornography was always a part of
my childhood. Mag Maga, don't lie to me. When Bennett's

(20:42):
body was found actually about a mile west of Lateral
Falls and a mile and a half east of the
Vista House, there was a rope around her neck, good sleepless,
and the addition, as the police reports indicate, the button

(21:03):
fly of bennett jeans had been cut away, and the

(21:26):
letter continues, she was my first and I thought I
would not do it again, but I was wrong. It
was clear that Keith had no filter um for what

(21:47):
was appropriate to say or do in front of his kids,
and many of his other impulses were even darker, and
he acted upon them. I remember there was a weekend
that my dad was back home and he from one

(22:08):
of his long hales, and there was a barrel u
a rusty barrel that he was burning shrubbery and and
old debris from the yard, and he was cleaning the
yard and we had this barn, and behind the barn
I saw my brother and he had a black cat.
And I remember how dark the cat's fur was because

(22:31):
it was so shiny. It looked silvery like, almost like
glass from the sun hitting the cat's back, hitting the fur.
And so I saw my brother just petting this black cat,
and how slick and pretty the cat looked, and I
wanted to touch this cat too. I wanted to pet
and so I went up to my brother and I

(22:53):
sat next to him behind the barn, and I started
petting the cat with him. And quickly I noticed that
my dad had witnessed me petting the cat with my brother.
And at this point, the cat is still my brother's
lab and then my dad approaches us. He walks up
to us, and he says, what do you have there.

(23:24):
I remember my dad's sitting down to the other side
of Jason and taking the cat in his in his lap,
and he started petting the cat, and both my brother
and I were tense. I could we could feel like
something's something's wrong, because we knew my dad hated cats,
absolutely hated them. So for my dad to be sitting

(23:46):
next to my brother petting this cat. Was was odd
that he would be lovingly petting a cat, and quickly
he was remember his big hand just like engulfing the
whole cat. And then all of a a sudden, with one hand,
he pinned the head down and grabbed it with the
other hand and he just started squeezing the cat's neck.

(24:07):
And then the cat started to like screech and to
and to scream and started clawing for its life um
on my dad's forearms and just was clawing. And I
was thinking, and my brother and I were screaming, and
we're like stop a dad, Stop a dad, Like why

(24:28):
are you doing this? Dad? Why are you doing this?
And just screaming at him to try to like stop it.
Like it just it made me so nauseous, Like it
just made me How old would you and Jason have been?
We were young? My brother and I were young. We

(24:49):
were six seven years old. I don't recall telling my mom,
I don't recall telling anybody. And the reason and why
is it just like when it came to my father,
there was just this thing that people said in the family.
They would say, well, that's just Keith, that's just how

(25:09):
Keith is. And it seemed to be acceptable. Keith Jesperson
takes steps toward a court appearance he's tried to avoid
for years, as well as an order enemy plea of

(25:30):
no contest to the aggravated murder count. After prosecutors read
off the charges and with the victims family looking on,
Jesperson gave grizzly details of how he killed twenty three
year old Tanya Bennett in his apartment and forced my
fist into her throat and h and later grabbed the
rope and tied around her neck securely, and she was dead.

(26:00):
You know, I stopped in the hallway that one night.
The second night, I slept on the couch and kept
the TV on so i'd have light. And as I
laid on the couch, I looked at the ceiling and
I saw markings on the ceiling of some kind of splatter.
And then as I was laying there, the cabinet doors

(26:21):
in the kitchen were opening and closing, and I remember
touching my eyes and rubbing my eyes, thinking I must
be seeing things. But I would hear it too. They
would open and they would close, says. He left the
body in the Columbia Gorge, then cleaned up his house
watched the carpet. I washed the blood off the walls
what I could, and eventually painted the walls in the

(26:44):
house I was in, and I'm trying to forget about it.
I would later discover that in that very room where
I was laying down was where he he murdered Tanya
Bennett in the most gruesome and brutal way possible, And

(27:05):
that now I look back and think, was that blood
that I saw? And I believe it was my good
my girl, don't to me tell me where did you

(27:30):
sleep last night? Happy Faces a production of How Stuff Works.
Executive producers are Melissa Moore, Lauren Bright, Pacheco, Mangesha Ticketer,
and Will Pearson. Supervising producer is Noel Brown. Music by
Claire Campbell, Page Campbell and Hope for a Golden Summer.
Story editor is Matt Riddle. Audio editing by Chandler Mays

(27:52):
and Noel Brown. Assistant editor is Taylor Chickoin. Special thanks
to Phil Stanford, the publishers of The Oregonian Newspaper in
KTU News in Portland, Oregon. I'm going with a quote
when blow

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