In March of 1995, Canadian truck driver Keith Jesperson’s five-year, eight-victim murder spree ended, but his notoriety had just begun. Livid when a woman falsely confessed to the first killing as a way out of an abusive relationship, Jesperson had sent letters detailing his crimes to prosecutors and media outlets, signing them with only a smiley face — leading one reporter to dub him the “Happy Face Killer.”
This month, Lifetime dramatizes Jesperson’s story in the harrowing original movie Happy Face Killer, starring David Arquette in the title role. “It’s a social study and an examination of what leads to violent behavior,” says Arquette. “A lot of the research I did on him revealed that he had a horrible childhood and was a victim of abuse, and he was bullied incredibly when he was growing up — not that that is any excuse for his actions. It’s weird to play a character who is still alive and did such horrible things — and there are actual victims involved, so you don’t want to do anything to add to his notoriety or glorify it in any way.”
To take himself and viewers inside the mind of a killer who used his job to find his victims and conceal his crimes, Arquette says he read a book called Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler, an FBI agent he met while concepting another show. “I got to know him pretty well, so I knew a lot about the psychoses and behaviors of these characters,” Arquette explains. “It was interesting to play a character like that and just dive in.”
Despite his oft colorful appearances in the tabloids and on gossip shows, Arquette adds that the role isn’t something he’s typically offered. “People don’t initially think I’m a psychopath,” he chuckles, “but once they get to know me, they might.”
Happy Face Killer premieres Saturday, March 1 at 8/7CT on Lifetime.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov Copyright 2014