CONSPIRACY: The Smiley Face Killer
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I'm your host, Ashley Flowers. And I'm Brett.

And I want to tell you all to brace yourself, because today I'm going to tell you a story that stretches across time, distance and even the boundaries of belief.

The more I read about this story, the more I feel like that meme of Charlie Day with, like, the crazy eyes next to the string ball, because depending on what you believe.

Hundreds of mysterious drownings across the United States could very well be connected for over 20 years. Young college aged men have been going missing only to turn up dead in local waterways. Now, police think these cases are just tragic accident, but a small group of investigators have long believed there's something else at work. Something much more sinister that leads back to one huge question. Is the smiley face killer or killers real?

In early 1997, a New York City police detective named Kevin Gannon is working in the missing person squad. When he gets assigned to work, the case of a 20 year old man named Patrick McNeil, who's been missing since after midnight on February 17th. Kevin's a veteran in the department. And so he and the other officers on the case go about the usual steps in any missing persons case to put together a timeline of Patrick's last known movements. Kevin and his team learned that on the night he vanished.

Patrick, who's a junior at Fordham University in the Bronx, was out drinking with his buddies at the Dapper Dog Bar in Manhattan that was known for having a pretty like hand wavy policy about checking I.D. and serving underage drinkers. So, as Patrick's friends tell police, around midnight that night, Patrick went to the bathroom to throw up and then came back and told his friends that he was going to go catch the subway back to the Bronx so he could just get back to campus and sleep it off.

Now, one of his female friends volunteered to go with him. But she said, listen, hold up just a second. I'd to use the bathroom first. Then his friends think that at this time when the girl goes to the bathroom, that Patrick headed outside to get some air to, like, start to sober up, except none of his friends actually saw him leave the bar. They just make this assumption because one second he's there and then the next he's not.

And when his friend went outside looking for him a few minutes later, Patrick was nowhere to be found. And no one had seen or heard from him since. Kevin, find some witnesses who put Patrick outside the dapper dog right within this timeframe, which seems to confirm his friend's idea about him going outside to wait.

But he wasn't just standing there. The witnesses say that he started walking away from the bar and kept this. They also say that Patrick was being followed by Hill. Nobody knows. According to Nicole Egan's piece in The Daily Beast, these witnesses tell Kevin about a man and a woman sitting in a double parked car outside the bar. Kind of like they're waiting for somebody. And then when Patrick comes out and starts walking south on Second Avenue, they start following him in their car.

And then when he turns left on 90th Street. So do they. According to Crime magazine, the witnesses did manage to catch a partial license plate number, which seems promising. But when they give what they have over to police, it's not enough to actually narrow down any kind of search. And no one can dig up anything about this car or its drivers. Despite both the NYPD and Patrick's loved ones mounting a massive search effort all throughout February and March, the investigation comes to the worst possible end.

On April 7th, when some Army Corps of Engineers people find Patrick's body floating face up in the East River just off Sixty Ninth Street Pier in Brooklyn. Now, right away, this sticks out, as I said to Kevin, because he's worked enough cases to know that drowning victims are almost always found face down, not face up. Michael Cooper reported for The New York Times that Patrick is found in the same clothes he was wearing the night he disappeared and his body doesn't have any obvious signs of injury.

So even at the scene, police don't think he was the victim of any kind of foul play when the autopsy results come back about a week later. The report lists Patrick's cause of death as drowning. It also says that his body condition matches with the timeline of his disappearance. As in, he's really been in the water all this time and just wasn't put there later. But that same report also lists Patrick's manner of death as undetermined.

Okay, so not an accident or homicide, just undetermined. Hmm. What about trauma? I know you said there wasn't anything obvious when Patrick's body was found. But does the report go into anything about maybe not so obvious stuff? The report says there was nothing but no broken bones, no head trauma, no physical injuries and no drugs.

The autopsy also shows that he had a moderate amount of alcohol in his blood, like enough that he was probably a bit impaired, but not fully wasted. Like the chief medical examiner described the amount as, quote, more than a little and less than a lot. And this is even though he supposedly threw up at the bar before he left. Now, despite the fact that there's nothing in the report about drugs or anything to back him up, Kevin actually theorizes that Patrick was drugged with GHB, which would contribute to him being more out of it.

And really like amp up the effects of alcohol, even if he had less to drink. So that kind of makes sense with him, but feeling super sick. But the corner being like there's not that much here. But again, this is Kevin's theory. Now there. It goes on to say that his body was in the river for, again, around the same time that he'd been missing. But here's the thing. To Kevin, this is instantly suspicious because with the witnesses who saw Patrick being followed and then his body being found face up, none of the facts so far seem to add up to Kevin.

Everything that's supposed to give them clear answers just in Kevin's mind leads to more questions. I mean, even Patrick's body doesn't seem right to Kevin. The decomposition rate just doesn't seem to match the medical examiner's timeline. What do you mean? Well, the skin around his feet doesn't seem to have the right amount of slippage that a body in water for 50 days should have. And I think we've talked about this in other cases. But skin slippage is kind of.

I mean, exactly what it sounds like. Like during decomposition, the superficial layers of the skin start to literally slip off the body. And usually this happens about two or three days after death, depending on conditions like temperature and whatnot. So then since Patrick slippage doesn't seem to match, the question for Kevin becomes, if he wasn't in the water that whole time, then where was he and what really happened to him during that time? And most of all, no one could seem to answer the biggest questions Kevin had.

How did Patrick drown? How did he get in the river in the first place? And how had his body travelled twelve miles south from Manhattan all the way to the pier in Brooklyn?

Some other officers posit that, OK, maybe since Patrick had been drinking, maybe he had to pee, went down to the river and then fell in and the river took his body to where he was found. But Kevin doesn't buy this. He's sure deep in his gut that Patrick came across foul play. He canvasses the whole area around the dapper dog in upper Manhattan and he doesn't see how Patrick could have even gotten to the East River.

The bar isn't anywhere by the water now because I like visualizing things. I got on Google Maps to check this out for myself. And the dapper dog is long gone now. But I got its old address and here's what I found. Even when I factor in the New York City landscape changing between 1997 and now, getting to the river from the dapper dog would take work. If Patrick had to go to the bathroom and couldn't wait until he got back to campus, it makes no sense, not even drunk sense to walk for several blocks and then climb a fence just to get to the water.

But in the end, it doesn't matter, because even with Kevin Suspicion's Patrick's death is ultimately ruled an accidental drowning. And the case is closed for everyone except Patrick's family. And for Kevin, who is convinced that Patrick was murdered. So if Kevin didn't think it was an accident, why did he rule it that way? Well, I don't actually think he was the one who did close it. This was never said anywhere explicitly. But from what I picked up, Kevin was in charge of the missing person's case.

So for as long as Patrick's case was a missing persons case, it was his. But as soon as they found the body, it would have gone to homicide. And just from what I know about police procedure, it's likely that someone else would have taken over the investigation. So while Kevin would have been a colleague and maybe they would have been interested in what he thought because he had the case for so long before, ultimately it wouldn't have been up to him.

But just because it's closed doesn't mean he forgets about it. For Kevin Patrick, McNeill's case became that case the case that he could never stop thinking about, never fully walk away from. So he promises Patrick's family that he's going to find out the truth of what happened to their son. And one way or another, he'd learn who killed him and bring their killer to justice. Now, he never forgets the McNeil family. And he can't forget them when within 15 months, two more young men disappear and turned up drown in the East River under eerily similar circumstances.

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Almost the exact same spot as Patrick McNeil was found dead and his cause of death is determined to be drowning. But no one knows how he got in the water.

Then, in May of 1998, another college student, a 19 year old named Joshua Bender, vanishes from his dorm at Yeshiva University, only to turn up in the Hudson River. On May 24th, however, because of their Orthodox Jewish faith, Joshua's parents request that no autopsy be performed. So, according to the New York Daily News, Joshua's body has no external signs of foul play. But without an autopsy, there's just so much about his death that remains up in the air.

Now, even though Kevin doesn't work either Lawrence or Joshua's cases, he hears about them and his mind keeps circling right back to Patrick and all of the questions that he couldn't answer. He's already seeing connections here, haunting similarities between these young men and their mysterious deaths. So he eventually ends up moving from missing persons to supervising the Bronx Homicide Task Force in 1999. And while he's busy with other cases and running the task force, he never, ever forgets about Patrick.

And so when he retires from the NYPD in 2001, he starts to investigate the case again on his own time. He gets his former partner, retired NYPD detective Anthony Duarte, to help him. And over the years, they believe that they start connecting some dots as they work together. They find more cases of young men who went missing and were found drowned under accidental or undetermined circumstances. Not just on the East Coast, but stretching all the way to the Midwest.

One after another after another. These men were winding up in the water, leaving nothing but grief and mystery behind them. And they all fit a very specific profile. These young men are all college, age, white, well-liked, sporty, generally happy guys who were doing well in school and seemed to be on the fast track to success before they died. Kevin and Anthony are convinced they're onto something big here. And little do they know they're not alone.

Across the country, over a thousand miles away in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a criminal justice professor at St. Cloud State University named Douglas Lee Gilbertson is reaching the same conclusion as Kevin and Anthony. After years of observation and now some serious research of his own.

So these guys don't know each other. They've never talked, but they're doing their own research independently and coming to the same conclusion. Yes.

So Professor Gilbertson. He actually goes by his middle name, Lee. So just like how Kevin got interested with this case in New York City League, it's interested in like early 2006 when a couple of cases, much like Patric's, unfold right in his home state of Minnesota and pique his interest. The case that first caught his attention was one from back in 2002 involving a young man named Chris Jenkins from the University of Minnesota down in Minneapolis. According to CNN, Chris was out with his friends partying for Halloween, got kicked out of the bar around midnight and then was just never seen alive again.

His body was pulled out of the Mississippi River near the Third Avenue Bridge in February of 2003. And in a familiar scene, he was found floating face up. But this time he had his arms crossed over his chest. Like to me, that totally C.M.A pose. Not like he got drunk and tumbled into the river. But yet again, this death was classified as an accidental drowning. That same year in 2002, a local college student in St. Cloud at St.

John's name Josh Guyman totally vanished. Josh was the same age range, same gender as Chris, and he, too, vanish after partying out with friends. But unlike Chris, Josh's body has just never been found. Now, although Lee had always been aware of Chris's case and Josh's disappearance, what really gets Lee's started on his research is a death even closer to home right at the university where Lee teaches with 21 year old Scott Radel. In a parallel to Patrick McNeil, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Scott was out in downtown St.

Cloud drinking with his friends on February 1st. This is 2006, when he just vanished. The Mississippi River runs right through downtown St. Cloud and. According to the St. Cloud Times, Scott was drinking at some bars, maybe like a block or two from the river during searches for him. Footprints were found on the river's ice near some of the bars and a full month later on March 1st. His body was recovered from the frigid Mississippi water. Now, unsurprisingly, Scott's death was quickly ruled an accidental drowning, and most people didn't give that much thought.

But it was just a tragic accident. But Lee couldn't shake it with his mindset as both a teacher and a criminologist. He gets fascinated with these cases. He wants to learn everything he can about these drownings, assemble the pieces kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and see if the complete picture tells a different story, together with a couple of graduate students from the Criminal Justice Department at St. Cloud State. He spends most of 2006 buried in research, digging up everything he can find about young male college students who drowned.

He expands his case search beyond Minnesota and into the rest of the Midwest, and he starts to put together a list of 22 drownings that he thinks might be connected. All where the victims share a very similar profile. Let me guess. College aged guys having a night on the town with their buddies.

Exactly. This was the case in every single one of the 22 cases he has listed that stretch from Minnesota all the way to Ohio by December of 2006. Lee has come to believe that not only were some of these accidental deaths not accidents, but he also thinks they might be connected. Okay, I get where he might be able to connect them like the victim profiles all the same or whatever. But is there anything else that points in to believe that they really are?

So there's actually a few things that he points to, like as far as his victim profile and why he thinks they're connected. So he's got a profile of all these victims. He says they're all white or Asian men, usually around five foot eight, maybe like 165 pounds, which is pretty specific. He says they all had like sporty builds. They're all doing well in their classes. And I mean, so far, this is almost identical to the victim profile Kevin and Anthony already have.

But he doesn't know that yet. Now, he also says they all went to colleges located within 50 miles of this stretch of Interstate 94 between Moorhead, Minnesota, and East Lansing, Michigan, which to me like is a weirdly specific connection. And beyond that, according to the Chippewa Herald, Lee's research shows that almost 82 percent of these deaths happen in the first two weeks of the month, and around 75 percent of the disappearances happen when the moon was less than half full.

Until Lee, he says it's statistically impossible for all of these drownings to be so similar in so many ways and to be totally unconnected, like he just does not buy that. But you know who else doesn't buy it? The police in St. Cloud, just like how the police in New York didn't believe Kevin's theory about Patrick McNeil, the St. Cloud chief of police himself, goes on record in late 2006 after Chris Jenkins death is actually reclassified as a homicide.

And he says he doesn't believe there's any actual hard evidence to support Lee's findings. And he says the drownings in his case study were all just terrible tragedies. But that's all they were just tragic deaths, not murder. But just like Kevin Lee doesn't let it go. And his belief only gets stronger. So as I've learned in the years since I've gotten involved with a true crime community, law enforcement is kind of a small world. And so at some point.

Back in New York, Kevin and Anthony get wind of what Lee's doing and all of his research. According to the book, Case Studies and Drowning Forensics. Kevin and Anthony actually head out to St. Cloud and just kind of show up at Lee's office in 2006 without any kind of warning. And this is the way they make their first contact. Eventually, these three guys sit down. They compare notes and they are totally blown away by the amount of similarities in their findings.

They decide to join forces, start researching and investigating more and more cases across the eastern half of the country. I mean, all along Interstate 94 and by 2008, they are one hundred percent convinced that they've got a serial killer or killers on their hands. They genuinely believe that 40 young men across eleven states have all been murdered by this mysterious assailant. They're convinced that inconsistent decomposition timelines, weird body recovery locations and the victim's similarities, a whole point to a vast conspiracy.

Under this theory, they hold that these deaths aren't necessarily the work of one per. But rather that cells of killers are operating in major cities to choose, hunt and kill these young men. They say that these cells are pretty loosely affiliated and they think that somehow that they're all communicating through the dark web along the Internet's underbelly to like plan their crimes. And Lee actually tells The Daily Beast that he, Kevin and Anthony have actually been on this, like, dark Web page and interacted with someone on the other side, but that they couldn't really get anywhere because they didn't have the right password.

They wouldn't turn on their webcam. So I don't have a lot of information, but it's weird if it's true. Now, beyond this form of communication on the Dark Web, these three guys also posit that the killers share a method for making their victims more pliant. They say that the killers drugged their victims with GHB, which is mostly known for being a date rape drug. And they say that they use this drug to make them more compliant so it's easier to get them and they abduct them while making the desk look like drowning accidents after a night of partying gone wrong.

Now, beyond that, they think that they know what the killer is leaving behind as a signature. They say that this killer or cells of killers uses a smiley face that's always spray painted nearby where the bodies are found. Wait, there's a smiley face at all of these sites? Well, here's where the story starts to get a little wonky to me, because to answer your question, no, the smiley faces are only near some of the sites.

Oh, kay. Are they, like, identical smiley faces? Same color, same size? Also, no. So the smileys look different. And here I'll actually show you this composite that Rollingstone put together from Lee's photos. These smiley faces have no similarities other than they are smiling. Some of them have dots for eyes. Some of them have felines. Some of them, you know, are encased in a circle. Some of them have noses. I guess I don't understand how you would connect all of these.

See, you're hitting right at the core of one of the many reasons why some people think this whole theory is a hoax or just a theory, because just on the surface, it sounds like a total reach, right? Like terror of cells, of serial killers who are well-organized enough to communicate and operate for over 20 years right in front of law enforcement's nose. And their symbol is a smiley face. Right. Plus something that people always say is like, listen, smiley faces in graffiti isn't exactly new or exotic.

Like even the name Smiley Face Killer kind of sounds like something from a movie. But Kevin Lee and Anthony aren't bothered by how crazy it sounds or by the differences in the smiley graffiti. To them, the varying characteristics is just more proof of multiple killers, kind of like different signatures, but they're all trying to sign the same name kind of thing.

And there's such true believers, so convinced that this killer or killers is out there getting away with murder that they decide to go public in the hopes that law enforcement will reopen the cases and investigate them as homicides instead of accidents. So on April 20, 9th, 2008, they call a press conference in New York and take the smiley face killer theory to the world. They announce that they've got evidence that links and proves that 40 drowning cases in 25 cities, eleven different states aren't accidents.

They're murders at the hands of the smiley face killer. Now, as you can imagine, a lot of people here this idea and brush it off right away. Even the FBI comes out literally on the same day that they have this press conference. And they say in a statement, quote, 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.

End quote. But that's pretty clear, like, thanks, but no thanks. You guys can go back to your jobs, like where the FBI will take it from here. Yeah. But Kevin Lee and Anthony are ready for all the naysayers and they've come prepared to prove themselves and vindicate their belief. They say that they're armed with more than just a theory. They say that they've got real hard evidence for why these cases should be reopened and investigated again, this time as murders.

And they're going all the way back to 1997 to the case that started it all. Patrick? Right. You bet. And they say that they now have physical proof that his case was a homicide. This episode was made possible by Spotlight. I always giggle a little when I do any Instagram story and people ask me how my teeth are so white. First of all, thank you. I have a huge teeth person. It's like the first thing I notice about someone that I'm eating and it's something that I want people to notice about me.

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Crime junkie. All one word. That's spotlight oral care doc. Com and use code. Crime junkie to get 25 percent off your first order. In 2009, Kevin and Anthony go on CNN's Larry King Live with an independent forensic pathologist and announce that Patrick McNeil's autopsy photos showed burns and ligature marks on his neck, indicating that he may have been strangled. There were also these fly eggs that they had found that were laid around Patrick's groin. Now, these were indoor house fly eggs and hatched larva, the kind that would not be on a body if that body really had been outside in the freezing East River from the time that Patrick had vanished.

In other words, Patrick didn't go into the river still alive. His body had to have been kept indoors somewhere warm and then put into the river later after he was dead. To Kevin Lee Anthony and Patrick's parents, this is all the proof they need that Patrick was murdered. Wait. If all this was on the autopsy, why didn't that come out? Back in 1997, I don't know.

Like literally the guy who had the missing person case, Kevin. He didn't even know about this back in 97 either. So I don't know if there was a miscommunication between the police and the medical examiner's office.

I don't know if they were keeping Kevin out of the loop. Maybe there was a mistake. Who knows? But after he retired and start investigating, like he promised Patrick's family, he finally managed to, like, actually get a hold of the report himself. And the photos. And it's all right there. So to him between those witnesses in 97 saying that Patrick was followed, this nonsensical story about him climbing a fence just to go pee. And now this forensic detail like it just seems so super clear.

But as I continued to read the Larry King transcript where they're talking about these findings, I noticed something that they're not saying about Patrick's death. There's nothing in there about a smiley face.

Now, obviously, you can say that since he's like victim zero or whatever. Kevin wouldn't have known to even look for it at the time. And yes, that's a valid point. But to me, I mean, it's still a little bit of a hole in the theory if you're going to connect all of these cases by this kind of signature for him not to have one. He could still be murdered. And it doesn't have to do with this bigger thing.

And the hole in this gets kind of bigger when you actually look at Kevin Leon Anthonys own statistics about just how common the smiley face actually is. You know, we talked about the faces not having like a single consistent look on the occasions when they're actually found. But I think the numbers tell a bigger story. Out of 40 murders, these investigators say that they found only 22 smiley face. So just over 50 percent, nine of those 22 smileys had horns on them.

So it's under 50 percent, not enough to point to a clear pattern. And they also say the smiley faces were found in only five out of the 11 states where these killer cells are supposedly operating. They found them in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin. Now, to me, all of these numbers just kind of seem coincidental, like I don't see enough evidence to form a pattern. But they also have an answer for that. As Kevin told The Daily Beast, the smiley face graffiti is only one of the possible spray paint markings they might see near a smiley face crime scene.

He said there could be a smiley face or there could be any of these 12 other symbols that they claim are hallmarks of the smiley face killings.

12 seems like a really high number. Yeah, it feels like a stretch. And when I tried to find out, okay, like, what are these other symbols? Are they as common as smiley faces or are they more specific? Yeah. Kevin, Anthony and Lee are pretty tight lipped about these other marks. But I did read on the Center for Homicide Research's Web site about the word since Sinur being found at a few other supposed it smiley face drowning sites, except as the center goes on to point out, this is the name of some streets, a river.

It's a local business name. So in other words, like far from a slam dunk here, even though it feels like a very specific word. OK, I feel like we could kind of, you know, spiral about these marks because all day freedom works don't just show up at crime scenes. I could probably go to a number of industrial areas and find, you know, some kind of graffiti, even just, you know, waiting at train tracks.

You see graffiti. So I guess let's go back and talk about the drugs. You said these guys are convinced that all the men got slipped GHB. Right. That's part of their theory. That's like what connects them all that. And they think that's how that the killer, like, subdued them. OK. So what kind of stats they have to back all that up?

Well, at this point in 2008, they really don't have any. And in fairness, like, part of that isn't their fault because I was reading on the American addiction. Web site GHB isn't included in a standard drug screen. And one of the toxicologists on the auction series, The Smiley Face Killers Hunt for Justice, said the same thing. But it's not usually something medical examiners actually look for in an autopsy. And the thing that really gets me about the GHB theory is that Kevin's own numbers don't seem consistent or 100 percent provable.

He told Rolling Stone in 2019 that ninety nine point nine percent of their cases had GHB present. You know, if they weren't testing for I don't know how they know. And I don't think you can, like, start tossing around this kind of hyperbole when you're trying to prove there's a serial killer gang out there. Yeah. If you can't back it up 100 percent. Now, he does go on to say that families have requested GHB testing later.

And The Daily Beast reported that, quote, About 30 of the victims did have it in their system. But that about kind of gives me pause again for you to say ninety nine point nine percent. And then we've got 30 out of their original 40. I, I, you know, I don't know how I feel like I need a little bit more clarity from Kevin and a little less speculation. So, again, everything we had. I mean, it's enough to spark interest, but it's still looking like a theory, like conjecture, hypotheses, whatever you want to call it.

But Kevin, Anthony and Lee keep trying to prove their case to the public. But it's hard because, I mean, you're going back 20 years and you only have these old cases where pretty much all the legwork is done and you're trying to like piece it together from the future. It's very difficult. But then in 2009, a Boston man named William Hurley goes missing after going to a Bruins hockey game at T.D. Gardens. And when his body is found in the Charles River, the medical examiner does actually test him for GHB right away.

And guess what? They find it. And again, this guy's not at a club. I mean, I don't know how you'd say he's using it recreationally, like the guy was just going to watch a hockey game and then ends up in a river. And they also find evidence of blunt force trauma to William's head and a smiley face painted on an electrical box nearby. Now, even though Boston police rule Williams death as an undetermined drowning. I mean, it least makes you ask some questions, right?

Like, maybe this theory isn't so bonkers after all. But one case with proven trauma and GHB doesn't make everyone stop what they're doing and take notice. Maybe something bad happened to William. But this whole thing, just like everything about it, is still almost too much for the public and people of authority to believe. And I think that's part of the reason that after a while, the hype kind of dies down, the news cycle moves on. None of the cases that Kevin Lee and Anthony point to end up getting reopened and actually more groups come out against their whole theory.

In 2010, the Center for Homicide Research, which is this pretty renowned nonprofit in Minneapolis, actually puts out this big rebuttal called Drowning the Smiley Face Murder Theory, which is basically 12 pages of well-written academic smackdown. Basically, that takes his whole theory apart. I mean, the paper lays out 18 points of why they say that the smiley face killer isn't real vile. But some of them really stuck out to me because it's just kind of what I see when I look at these from the most logical angle.

Now, first they point to time order like, you know, when were the smiley faces painted in relation to the young men's deaths? And some of the smiley faces look super old, super weathered, like they were already there when the victims went into the water. So it wouldn't be a marker by this gang. Just a coincidence, rather. In other cases, the smiley faces aren't found four months after the body is recovered. And again, if the killers were, like, signaling their crime, you think they would have done it right away, like put their stamp on it immediately.

The center goes on to point out how common graffiti is. I mean, like we said, we can pretty much walk down any alley way or drive over a bridge and you'll see something. Right. Like, I mean, it's everywhere. And the third thing that really stood out to me is they say what we were saying earlier, Bret, about the smiley faces being inconsistent in style and in size. And they also touch on how rare it is for murderers, let alone serial killers, to choose to drown their victims and how there's zero evidence that the victims with GHB in their system didn't know that it was there.

Like basically they're saying there's nothing to prove that they didn't take it themselves to get high. I mean, I guess I keep going back to William's case like there's no reason in my mind for him to have been taking GHB at a hockey game, I guess. Yeah.

And I mean, that's not to say that it like it never happens like people do drugs just cause, you know, I mean, cause it's Wednesday, like, it has only do the hockey game, but like. Right. I don't know. It's these kind of questions that you could spiral around for so long. And it's kind of what everyone did. Everyone just kind of spiraled and theorized for years. So by 2012, the smiley face killer theory seems like it's really lost a lot of steam.

And according to Jim Godes piece on thought catalog, even Kevin seems to have had kind of like dropped the research in favor of doing private investigator work that actually, you know, pays his bills. Now, I didn't see that anywhere else, but I did read other reports about him having to take out a mortgage on his home to keep investigating the smiley face cases. So, I mean, I kind of believe it. But as we've seen time and time again with conspiracies like the moon landing being faked by the U.S. government and Tupac still being alive just because they stop investigating like this idea doesn't ever really go away.

It kind of gets rehashed all over the Internet again and again and through other cases. I mean, even the disappearance of Brian Schafer, who we did an episode on back in October, keeps kind of getting like tacked on to this by online observers, but even more than people online continuing this theory. The thing that is strange is that young college age men keep disappearing under the very same circumstances. Last seen having a good time with their friends, only to be found dead.

Leader in the water, maybe with a smiley face nearby, maybe even with GHB found in their system and even some other cases that oxygen covers don't have the right amount of skin slippage and decomposition for bodies that have been in the water for long periods of time. And it's interesting because like in this time, Boston in particular gets kind of a reputation for vanishing young men like William Hurley and Jonathan Dailey, who turn up drown to the point that police even have to come out in Boston in 2017 and say, hey, like, you know, we're fully aware of what's going on and what people are saying.

But this isn't a serial killer. You need to chill out. And so the question has to be asked, are these just more coincidences or is there really a chance that Kevin Lee and Anthony have been right all along? On January 25th, 2017, almost 20 years to the very day that Patrick McNeil went missing in New York City, a 23 year old man named Dakota, James, goes missing in Pittsburgh. He's last seen alive on surveillance footage at eleven forty nine p.m.

That night. And his body is found 40 days later floating in the Ohio River. Now, police believe he fell somewhere near the Roberto Clemente Bridge and then traveled 10 miles down river.

Let me guess. It was ruled an accidental drowning. You betcha.

The county medical examiner says that he fell into the river and drowned the night that he disappeared. And they say there's nothing to indicate foul play. But Dakota's family doesn't believe this assessment. So they get a hold of Kevin Lee and Anthony to come in and investigate. Now, the trio agrees, and based on their findings, they add Dakotah to their tally of smiley face victims. By the time Dakota's case debuted on Oxygen TV series in early 2019, the numbers that Kevin Lee and Anthony pointed to really start to feel sort of ridiculous.

I mean, even more than the stats from 2008, because at this time in 2019, they ballooned from 40 potential cases to.

I mean, do you you want to guess how many they say are connected? Over one hundred. Three hundred and thirty five. I mean, I have to know how many of those cases have smiley faces, according to Rolling Stone.

Only 70. And Dakota's smiley face, like he technically had one. But the smiley face that they attribute to his crime was found about 10 miles away from where his body was recovered.

How can you count that? I don't know.

And that kind of again, brings back into question when they say they're 70, okay, they're 70. But like but where were they found? And should we be Canada?

And how close were these 70 smiley faces? Exactly. Especially for, you know, we talked about earlier how common this specific type of graffiti is for it to be 10 miles away. Either I'm missing something or this is like a total stretch. But yet again, when everything sounds totally freaking crazy, there's still a little bit of logic behind it because their investigation into Dakota's death turns up some really shocking findings that air on Oxygen's episode about this case.

Like, for example, someone use Dakota's PayPal account and spent eleven ninety nine. 48 hours after he vanished. So if the theory was that he went into the water the same night he disappeared, then who the heck is using his account beyond the PayPal account? There's also Dakota's body. The same independent forensic pathologist who reviewed Patrick Neal's body finds not only some really nasty ligature marks on the back of Dakota's neck, but also discoloration in his fingernails. That is totally consistent with someone trying to escape from strangulation.

Like, you know, if you were reaching up, trying to get your hands around a cord or belt or whatever. I mean, it cause the exact same thing. And yet, just like Patrick, somehow this information about the condition of his body was never communicated to police. I mean, that's just nuts to me. Again, are we talking miscommunication or are we talking people not paying attention? I mean, these are some huge errors that are very similar in these two cases that are already so similar and they're in different jurisdictions.

So it's not even like you could say the same people are messing up. Now, I did read something super interesting about Dakota's case in The Daily Beast. They reported that just a few weeks before he disappeared, Dakota had called a friend to pick him up when he was out. And when he called that friend, she was sobbing. He was super disoriented after being out with co-workers. And he said that he lost like four full hours of time.

And his friends said that when she came to pick him up, he was actually walking towards a strange SUV like he was going to get in. And he turned away only when she called his name. Instantly. I mean, I don't know about you, but I went back to that double parked car that followed Patrick. I mean, if we're to believe this story, there's no reason for his friend to lie. It sounds like he got drugged and someone tried to kidnap him weeks earlier.

But even with all that, it's still thought to be an accident.

Yeah, his death hasn't been reclassified today. Kevin Leigh Anne Antony's efforts to get these cases reopened and investigated as murders haven't worked. Oxygen did six cases. And of the six cases covered. Not a single one has been reclassified as a homicide, even though this shows pressure. Did convince some local authorities to at least ask the medical examiner to take another look. The smiley face killer theory keeps getting new life and new detractors. And the truth stays up for vigorous debate.

But here's my thing. I mean, we've seen so many times that truth can often be so much stranger than fiction and literally almost anything is possible. I mean, after hearing about the things found during the autopsy that the medical examiner didn't tell police, like the ligature marks and the fly eggs. I'm Patrick.

I mean, I really stop and look at those cases where there is that additional evidence.

And it it makes me think, okay, like some of these guys, like, very well could have been probably were murdered and their cases need to be relooked at. But do I think these deaths are all connected or that there's this, like, shadowy group with with all these different graffiti signs operating without police's knowledge? I honestly don't know. I mean, it's hard to say with what we know now and every time I want to say it's too out there.

I mean, I go back and I think about the Iraqis of this, right? I mean, how bizarre did his methods sound? The idea of him would have been unfathomable before he was caught, too.

And maybe when this started, I mean, maybe this was like a random one off killing or some were accidents.

And then they'd, like turn into something like if this theory got out and people started doing like copycat murders. Yeah.

Like maybe, again, one or two of these happened and someone got a hold of this theory and then kind of went with it. But. You know, either way, I don't know, these are accidents. I don't know if there are truly these people working on the dark web. I don't know if these are all just one off cases of murder that are so similar. There's just truly no answers. Yeah. And I guess that walking away from this case, like, is really kind of bumming me out because whether the smiley face killer or killers are real and are responsible for, you know, even some of these cases, there are still young men dead.

And this conspiracy is taking the attention that their cases should have in investigating or reinvestigating these as homicides away from them because of this kind of out there theory, you know?

Yeah, you know, I agree. And I kind of actually go back and forth because I. I also think that without this often I mean, it's horrible to say, but like law enforcement sometimes doesn't look twice when there is a guy who is out and drinking and ends up in the river.

It's so easy to say that it was a mistake. So is the attention good or bad for these cases, whether or not they even are connected?

Yeah, I think there's a middle ground, right. Like, I think this theory helped us to, like, at least look deeper. Let let's ask questions about these cases, because some of them are not adding up and they need to be reinvestigated. But has it taken on such a life of its own that people who are actually people of authority in these authority figures don't want to take it seriously because it sounds so bananas? And at the end of the day, I mean, all I do know is that these were real men.

I mean, whether smiley face killers are real. These were horrible accidents. Some of them were definitely murder. And right at the end of the day, those men deserve justice and their families deserve answers.

If you want to see pictures or our source material for this episode, you can see all of that on our Web site. Crime Junkie podcast, dot com. And be sure to follow us on Instagram at Crime Junkie podcast. We'll be back next week with a brand new episode. Crime junkie is an audio chuck production.

So what do you think, Chuck D Aprils?