The Mississippi River, much like New Orleans, is shrouded in mystery and has a dark history. It has been the location of many horrible accidents. Tragedies such as steamer and boat crashes have left its body count in the hundreds. But while these deaths are tragic, there are some who believe that some of the accidental deaths of the river may be the work of a serial killer known as the Smiley Face Killer.

Over the course of roughly twenty years, forty-five college-age males were found dead in the Mississippi River across eleven different states.  More often than not, these males would be found after leaving parties or bars where they had been drinking shortly before their death. Because of these circumstances, all of the deceased were presumed to have died due to accidental drowning after becoming too intoxicated to make it back to shore. But a few men were skeptical that these deaths weren’t connected.

The “Smiley Face Killer”

Retired New York City detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, along with criminal justice professor Dr. Lee Gilbertson began to create a theory in the late 2000s that these deaths were not accidents. In 2008, Gannon and Duarte began to evaluate the evidence from the various different crime scene investigations over the years. During these evaluations, they found some evidence that led them to believe that the forty-five deaths may have been the work of a serial killer.

Supporting Evidence

First, each of the forty-five men fit a distinct and similar profile. Typically, the deceased would be Caucasian males who were popular, athletic and performed well in school. This, in addition to their similar ages, was the first big clue to a potential serial murderer. Secondly, during at least a dozen of the investigations over the years, police would find graffiti depicting a smiley face near the site of the dead bodies. If this was the work of a serial killer, this graffiti would have been his or her calling card.

Although the theory has been contested by many other researchers and investigators, many still believe that these mysterious deaths could indeed be the work of a murderer. For so many males in the same age range and of the same background to die in almost identical circumstances, it’s hard not to wonder if something more sinister may be at work. However, until the theory is completely proven, these forty-five tragic deaths will remain mysterious and haunt the Mississippi River’s history.