I will state upfront, that this will be difficult for me. I might rant a little, but I will try really hard not to. First, I’ll give the facts of the theory and then I’ll offer my opinion.
Two New York Detectives have advanced the theory that 40+ college aged males have been murdered and their bodies disposed of in bodies of water in the Midwest. They are all connected with graffiti consisting of a Smiley Face. The men had all left bars or parties and were discovered dead or missing the next day. The detectives even have a victimology: smart, athletic, popular, good students, and predominately white. The deaths span nearly 15 years and cover 11 states.
Some of the victims’ families agree with the theory, some don’t. One woman, whose son was terrified of water, is an adamant supporter of the theory and his phobia of water does seem to indicate something is going on. Also, few of the men were near water when they left the bar or party where they were last seen, but their bodies were discovered in water after death. It’s unclear if drowning is the cause of death in all the cases. Some sources say it is, some sources say it isn’t. There’s sort of some books about it, Case Studies in Drowning Forensics is written by one of the detectives. Then there are books about it by Eponymous Rox.
It has largely been dismissed by law enforcement. They work on the premise that drunk people do stupid things.
My thoughts: While some serial killers do travel, even across country to take victims, this is a very specific victimology and type of disposal method. The graffiti that links them is… yeah. First, they say near but near seems to be a relative term. One report I read had a smiley face being found in a bathroom over 300 yards away from where the body was found in a river (however, they believe the current had carried the body another 500 yards from where he went into the water… so, 2,400 feet from the body disposal site was a smiley face on a bathroom wall). Second, the smiley face is to the computer generation what Kilroy was to those who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. I haven’t personally graffitied anything with a smiley face, but I once saw a girl draw it on a rock on the swim beach at Mark Twain Lake (no colleges nearby, so I doubt she was the killer). One of my friends has it as a tattoo (booze were involved). I see it on all sorts of things; telephone poles, bathroom stalls, the sides of buildings, and even drawn into wet concrete (the smiley face is still there). As someone who lives in a college town, I can testify that drunken college students are really good at splashing emojis or emoticons or whatever they call them nowadays on everything (it actually makes me miss the Kilroy drawing on a fence that I used to have to pass as a kid). There was a shooting in a liquor store in my town last week, I’m sure if you looked hard enough, you could find a smiley face within a half mile of the shooting (which is roughly 2,600 feet).
Next, let’s think about the victimology: athletic, smart, popular, and good student (we’ll ignore race for now). That requires stalking. I’m smart, but having a drunken conversation is probably not going to prove it. I doubt these guys were reciting physics problems to prove to their killer that they were smart. Popular is subjective and also requires stalking. I was never popular, but I had moments when I hung out with the cool kids. If someone saw me on that one single night, I might have been mistaken as popular (as opposed to weird, dark, and kinda odd… I was writing even back then and listening to Nine Inch Nails way before it was cool). Athletic doesn’t require stalking, a quick glance will tell you that I’m not that athletic, put me next to my friend that runs marathons and well, it’s self explanatory. The good student confounds me. Even stalking someone may not prove they are a good student. Hacking their computer or the school’s computers might, but otherwise, how does one select the “good student” among a group of drunken college kids? I have no idea how this even becomes part of a victimology. If he was the dork in sweater vest, glasses, carrying a tablet, and a pocket protector, yeah, that’s the good student, but that student probably isn’t popular. Okay, we won’t ignore race. Serial killers usually kill people of their own ethnicity; white serial killers tend to kill white people. However, that isn’t a hard and fast rule and all serial killers will deviate from their preferred victim type for a very good opportunistic victim (and a few, like the Baton Rouge serial killer from a few years ago, preferred his victims to be white, even though he was black). This means that predominately white really might not be a reflection of victimology, but a reflection of demographics. We are talking about the Midwest and honestly, a lot of them have been in places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Minnesota.. Statistics show that coastal colleges and southern colleges tend to have more diversity in their demographics than midwestern colleges, especially northern midwestern colleges.
Finally, the method. Some of these kids were really drunk, some only showed minimal alcohol intake… however, alcohol impacts everyone differently. My blood alcohol level might only be a 0.04, but you wouldn’t want me to drive a car (my other medications interact with it). One of my professors blacked out during a formal dinner because she took 2 Benedryl and had a glass of wine, she didn’t even remember getting home… we discussed it in class (it was a formal dinner for majors and faculty), but when it happened, we didn’t notice a change in her. And I’m not sure they screen for things like Benedryl in a toxicology exam. Furthermore, drowning is weird. If you forcibly hold someone under the water, they struggle, but I’ve never heard of any of victims showing signs of resisting being forced under the water. So, they had to be unconscious, but that doesn’t really add up with the not really drunk theory unless they were immobilized, but then there would signs of a paralytic drug or date-rape drug or blunt force trauma to the head. Benedryl probably wouldn’t do it, my professor didn’t remember the event, but she acted normal, if someone had tried to drown her, she would have fought back. Also, I get drunk fast, but it wears off fast (thanks Klonopin for making me a cheap drunk) and even with my meds, my will to survive trumps my willingness to let someone drown me… and my meds definitely show up in a tox screen, since it’s a controlled substance (just like barbiturates, narcotics, and other drugs that might make someone pliable enough to drown without a fight). That leaves a giant hole: How is he convincing his victims to let him drown them without a fight? Especially college-aged males who are of an athletic build? In this case, victimology seems to point to there not being a serial killer. College-aged males might get into a fight and do dumbshit, but they probably won’t agree to be drowned. Especially the ones that weren’t that drunk. Someone suggested the killer pulled a gun on them and made them drown themselves, but can you purposely drown yourself? Why not just swim away once you are in the water? Bullets can penetrate water, but not to great depths. There’s another problem with shooting through water, if you hit the surface at the wrong angle, the bullet ricochets off the surface and never enters the water, let alone your target. Considering the average adult, athletic male can hold enough oxygen in his lungs to stay underwater for two minutes and we move faster through the water than on land, swimming away from a gun wielding surface menace is a logical and good idea. If the guy was in the water with him it might help; guns can fire underwater, but again, water kills the bullet’s momentum and there’s still no real signs of struggle, so that doesn’t seem like an effective coercion method either. The more I think about it, the more making someone drown themselves seems like a great way to have your victims get away. A knife is too close of a weapon, drunken guys in their early 20s would most likely fight back. Stun guns sometimes work in the water, but water conducts electricity really well and if he didn’t electrocute himself at least once in a while, it would be miraculous. Plus, there’d be evidence of electrocution on the bodies. I can’t think of a weapon that makes this work, but I’m open to suggestions.
Did all these kids die of drunken misadventure? Probably not. A few probably were murdered, but all of them? Probably not, sometimes people and college students just die in bizarre ways (a few years ago, a party in my hometown resulted in a student falling from a balcony, when the railing broke, and landing on a lawn ornament that killed him… or fence, depending on the newspaper you read). However, it’s highly improbable that any of the murders were connected in the form of a serial killer. If the bodies had smiley faces on them, we could shout serial killer (since serial killers are narcissists, a symbol so far away from the bodies that may or may not be found and connected doesn’t seem like a signature… Zodiac freaking drew on his victims’ cars and kept tallies under his symbol… if a serial killer is going to sign his work, history shows he’s going to sign it for all the world to see).