There have been an alarming number of deaths where young men of college age are found in a body of water with a smiley face drawn nearby them. The killings are completely unconnected in most ways aside from the fact that most are completely unsolved and listed simply as accidental drownings. The thing connecting all of them is a sort of calling card that two investigators are suggesting is the link to all the drowned victims. The case is known widely as the smiley face killings. Currently there are some 40 suspected victims over 11 states.
Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte began gathering evidence in recent years connecting a series of deaths by the eerie smiley face graffiti found nearby many of the bodies as the victims were discovered by authorities. The victims were almost always on their way home from a social gathering and never appeared home that night only to be discovered next to a smiley face by authorities the next day or in the days following after an extended period of disappearance. Typically the victims were considered popular among friends, and typically they would not have had any trouble swimming their way to safety had the deaths really been accidental. The investigation by Gannon and Duarte, both retired detectives, was joined by D. Lee Gilbertson and Adam Carlson in 2006 rounding out their technical and law enforcement expertise. Together the group has suggested that the killings themselves may have been premeditated murders by one person or possibly even an organization of mass murderers and/or serial killers.
The theory even enjoyed some mainstream media attention when in 2009 the news talk show Larry King Live did a segment on the murders, calling in the expertise of Gilbertson who had joined the investigation. King was described as being cautiously interested in the case.
But there are opponents to the theory. Many skeptics have suggested that the premise of a group of serial killers is unlikely, and that the deaths were most likely a series of drownings connected by only one thing: the drinking of alcohol and falling into a body of water. The smiley faces have been disputed as a mere coincidence.
But it isn’t simply the graffiti that raises questions. It is also eyewitness testimony. As Patrick McNeill was walking home from a bar he was observed as being disoriented. Some thought it may have been due to drinking too much, but others think he may have been under the influence of some narcotic drug. As he stumbled down the street a car followed closely behind him occupied by a man and a woman. As he stopped and fell to the ground the car stopped and the couple sat there watching him. As he stood up he began to walk home, and the car started following him slowly once again until they rounded the corner out of sight. A partial plate was written down of the witnesses, but the search would have been too expensive according to authorities and the death was listed as an accidental death by drowning. Other cases have similarly noted witnesses following those who drowned just before their deaths. In addition, a BAC analysis of McNeill suggests he was nowhere near as drunk as he was acting when he left, having imbibed approximately six drinks before heading home. The evidence suggests he may have been drugged. And this is only one example. The smiley face killers case is one of the most mysterious longstanding unsolved murder mysteries still open.