A case involving a serial killer gang has caught the attention and imagination of America. Retired detective Kevin Gannon and his team are intent on proving that these killers have drowned dozens of college-aged men across America since the late 1990s and that they weren’t accidents. The hunt for the Smiley-Face serial killers is coming to television.
Gannon, who is a former NYPD detective, has been hunting these killers for twelve long years to bring justice to their victims. He served twenty years with the New York City Police Department and his longtime partner, Anthony Duarte, has joined him in the hunt. The name of the docuseries is entitled: “Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice.”
The men who have been killed were all young, athletic and academic achievers. Every one of them was found drowned after a night out drinking. The murders started showing up in 1997. A graffiti of a smiley face was reportedly found near the bodies which spawned the infamous nickname for the killers. Nine of them were drawn with horns. 19 of the deaths have occurred in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“Back in 2003 I saw there was like 30 or 40 new cases across the country,” claimed Gannon. “I said, ‘Wow, there can’t be that many cases.’ I started really looking at it and I got my partner Anthony. At that point, we started traveling around the country and looking at these cases independently.”
The special on Oxygen evidently focuses on Dakota James, one of the victims who was found in the Ohio River on March 6, 2017. His body was found almost six weeks after he went out drinking with co-workers. He was a graduate student from Duquesne University. He was last seen entering a dark alley. One wonders why this isn’t major news across the nation. He was only 23-years-old and his death was ruled an accident. His parents don’t believe it and frankly, neither do I.
Just three years earlier, another graduate student from the same university, 22-year-old Paul Kochu, vanished after a night out drinking with friends. His body was found months later floating 85 miles downriver in Wheeling, West Virginia. His death was ruled ‘undetermined’.
From Fox News:
“The Gazette noted that in December 2018, Gannon and forensic pathologist Cyril H. Wecht held a press conference to report that an independent examination on James’ autopsy photos indicated he may have been strangled. Gannon and Wecht said they discovered the appearance of ligature marks, which were inconsistent with a drowning death.
“Gannon claimed James’ death was no accident. In fact, he told Oxygen he and Duarte believe there’s a “well-structured, organized gang with cells in major cities across the United States who drug, abduct, hold the victims for a period of time before they murder them and then place them in the water.”
“We look at these young men as being the best of the best as far as we’re concerned,” said Gannon. “They’re the best athletes, and all of them are affluent. They come from the best families. Anthony said years ago that [these killers] could have been envious, jealous of these kids. They had something they didn’t have. That’s a possibility. But also, if you know anything about domestic terrorism, about these gangs in general, is that when you have nothing you have nothing to lose. That’s where terrorism actually begins.”
“The documentary also revealed a smiley face was found spray-painted on an underpass near where James’ body was discovered.
“Gannon also pointed out that when James was found by police, his body experienced minimal deterioration, despite being missing for 40 days. Still, the Pittsburgh police theorized James fell into the river while crossing a bridge near the city center and drowned. It is believed James’ body traveled for almost 10 miles and even went through a dam before its discovery.”
Not everyone agrees and a number of experts cite a lack of evidence and are calling it nothing more than folklore. Just how many similar deaths with the same calling card have to occur before this is taken seriously?
The FBI had this to say and let’s just say that their agency isn’t exactly credible these days:
“Over the past several years, law enforcement and the FBI have received information about young, college-aged men who were found deceased in rivers in the Midwest,” said the FBI in a 2008 press release. “The FBI has reviewed the information about the victims provided by two retired police detectives, who have dubbed these incidents the ‘Smiley Face Murders,’ and interviewed an individual who provided information to the detectives.
“To date, we have not developed any evidence to support links between these tragic deaths or any evidence substantiating the theory that these deaths are the work of a serial killer or killers. The vast majority of these instances appear to be alcohol-related drownings. The FBI will continue to work with the local police in the affected areas to provide support as requested.”
Gannon is not deterred by the criticism and frankly, he seems extremely knowledgeable and credible on the killings. He believes in this so strongly that he has mortgaged his home and maxed out his credit cards trying to solve the cases. Shame on the FBI. He even had cancer in 2004 and kept going.
“I know there was some homicide group that said we didn’t know what we were talking about, but I never saw one piece of forensic evidence in that group to disprove us,” said Gannon. “All they did was take articles from the news media and linked them together as a paper. Any kid in high school could write that paper. That’s not a comprehensive paper.”
“People have their own opinions,” he added. “That was one of the reasons we wrote a forensic textbook to provide homicides. … if we were wrong about these cases being homicides, we wanted to know for sure. Nobody ever came to us to show us that they missed this critical piece of evidence in these cases that were homicides.”
Some headway is being made on all this by Gannon. Chris Jenkins, a 21-year-old University of Minnesota student, disappeared after leaving a Minneapolis bar in 2002. His body was found floating in the Mississippi River on his back with his arms crossed across his chest four months later. It was noted that while Jenkins’ death was initially classified as an accidental drowning, police later agreed to change it to homicide in 2006. This former cop is making these investigators look bad.
Gannon is urging people to watch the show and make up their own minds. I already have but will watch anyway. I think Gannon and his team deserve national support and help here to catch these monsters. This is a gang of serial killers we are talking about – they are a roving rabid pack of murderous beasts.
“We thought, you know what, let’s put out what we have in the court of public opinion,” he said. “And if the people don’t think there is anything here, then you know, that’s it. But… a lot of experts are going to come up on this show. … And we want them to look at [these cases].”
You can catch “Smiley Face Killers: The Hunt for Justice” airs Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. on Oxygen. That’s tonight.