Melissa's father, Keith Hunter Jesperson, is known to have committed eight murders. When others were given 'credit' for one of those killings, he got agitated and started writing letters to police and media with clues that only the killer could know. With each new victim, he'd send out another anonymous letter, signed with a smiley face. It earned him an unsettling sobriquet: the "Happy Face Serial Killer."
Jesperson continued his killing spree until March 1995, when he was incarcerated for the murder of his girlfriend, Julie Winningham.
Now -- 11 years after her father was sentenced to his fourth life-term for murder -- Melissa Moore is breaking the shackles of secrecy with her story of survival in this rare memoir, Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter.
She reveals how a serial killer managed to live a double-life; how she went to great lengths to hide her own true identity; and how she desperately came to terms with the startling double identity of her father. Moore leads the reader on a compelling and sometimes raw journey, revealing what it took to shatter the silence, and claim her own life.
She thought she had a handle on it until one day, her beautiful, innocent daughter looked into her eyes and said, "Mommy, everybody's got a daddy. Where's your daddy?"
Interview with Melissa Moore by Barry Leibowitz, Senior Writer at 48 Hours | Mystery
When did you learn the truth about your father, and how did you deal with it at first?
Moore: In April 1995, a few weeks after my father had been arrested, I heard the shocking news. My mother told us that our father was in jail. We then asked why he was in jail and she then told us 'for murder.' I was in shock and felt like running at first, until my knees buckled and I fell on my bed sobbing. I fell asleep that way, sobbing into my pillow. The next day I woke up and went to high school. It was a release to be in the familiar setting and routine of school. I decided I would deal with it by focusing on the moment and not worry about anything else that lay ahead.
Can you tell us about the moment in your adult life when the reality of your past hit home?
Moore: When my 6-year-old daughter asked who my father was. It hit home and was difficult to realize that my father's actions would always be a blemish on our family tree. Before her question, it never hit me that one day I would have to explain to my children that their grandfather is a serial killer. I never felt that I had the proper resources and help to understand my feelings, or to know how to cope in the world with my father's past. My daughter's question began my quest to have the information so I would know how to handle my child's future queries.
What was the experience or process that convinced you to write this book?
Moore: There were not many good resources available for family members of serial killers. I knew I had a unique perspective as the daughter of the "Happy Face Serial Killer" and had also faced a lot of my skeletons head on. Most people do not realize that a serial killer can be a husband, a friend or a father. I decided that having my story out would be beneficial to both myself and others.
Did anyone close to you know about your father's identity before the book came out?
Moore: My husband, Samuel, knew after a few months of dating, as well as his family as soon as we decided to get married. Telling your spouse that big of a secret after you are married would be devastating. I told Sam once I knew we were in a serious relationship and then he told his parents a few months before our wedding day. My close friend from high school, Tania, also knew as she was a confidant who helped me process my feelings and emotions. Beyond that, I chose not to reveal my father's identity because I wanted people to get to know me without making a judgment based on my father's actions.
You've previously discussed feeling guilty about what your father did. How do you put that guilt behind you?
Moore: I felt guilty due to my father's lack of remorse towards the victims and their family members. Mostly, I was treated as "guilty by association" when others found out about my father in the media. I always had to prove that I was trustworthy to others. Most people assumed I had irreparable psychological issues from having a father who was a sociopath. To get over the guilt I had to separate my father's actions from my own--I discovered major differences and knew I didn't have to own-up for his crimes. It became very clear that I do not deserve to carry guilt for crimes I have not committed.
What's the most difficult ongoing challenge you face because of your family's past?
Moore: The most difficult challenge has been to make people feel at ease around me after they find out. Most people when they first hear who my father is are worried that I may have the capacity to harm or abuse others. I instantly get put under a microscope. Dating was very difficult for me. I had to decide when it was the right time to break the news that my father was a serial killer to whoever I was dating. Should I tell them right away and have them be afraid of me, or wait until we are in a relationship to break the news? That was my dilemma.
What's your main goal in telling your story?
Moore: We are not the product of our circumstances. I want to be an example of someone that can come from horrific circumstances and pave a way through life that is stable and full of joy. I am not a victim and I share my story to help others realize they can survive abuse and get through their hard times. I knew going through those painful experiences that I had two choices--either dwell in despair or look with hope to create a better future. I choose to look optimistically to the future.
Melissa Moore lives with her husband and two young children in Spokane, Washington. She is a mother, author and speaker.