By now many of you have probably seen the story on CNN, ABC, 20/20 or any number of other sources. The "Smiley Face" killers, a loose gang of shadowy killers, is responsible for the drowning deaths of 40 college age males who have drowned after last being seen drinking in college towns. It appears that the story broke with KSTP, the local St. Paul ABC affiliate, and is growing fast.

The story is straight from modern noir fiction. A shadowy gang of loosely tied killers (a la Fight Club) murdering unsuspecting college kids. Two renegade cops working on their own dime to solve a cold case after pledging an answer to a bereaved mother in New York. Unsuspecting local police departments unwilling to face the obvious facts of the case. The killers signature, smiley face graffiti, left at the scene of the crime. A cryptic word, Sinsiniwa, in common between two of the cases.

It sounds like a convincing case but does it make sense logically?

Here are the video links from the KSTP site:


I think this will turn out to be a case of the media blowing something out of proportion for a ratings bump. Think about it.

What portion of the college age population does the hardest drinking? Males.
What is the largest cause of drowning deaths? Drinking.
What segment of the male population frequents the bars and parties in college towns known for drinking? Athletic WASP males.

So, is it any wonder that the victims would be overwhelmingly athletic, jockish, WASP males who died by drowning after a heavy night of drinking? To me it isn't.

The one thing that throws a wrench in the works is a supposed "mark" left by the killers at the crime scene and the Sinisiwa link between two of the cases. Supposedly one man died near Sinisiwa avenue and at the location of a second, later, death in another state the investigators found graffiti with the word Sinisiwa in it. Compelling? Possibly, but I have not seen any photographic evidence for this.

The smiley faces are another story. How many smiley faces have you seen painted, drawn, or scratched into public surfaces in your life? I see them all the time. When I scratch something in the sand that is one of the first things I think about drawing. It is perhaps second only to HI! in the pantheon of innocent public graffiti that does not contain phone numbers and vulgar promises of sexual acts. This sounds like observation bias to me.

But they saw them AT THE CRIME SCENE you insist. Well, so they say, but I have yet to see good evidence that anyone knows where the "crime scene" is in any of the cases. In the Jenkins case (The only one currently being investigated as a homicide) the place that Jenkins ended up in the water is still up for serious debate and no one can be sure he died in the water but instead may have been transported there.

The officers set up a crime scene where the body is recovered but the location of recovery is rarely the same as the location of death in a river. The police must try to guess based on drift patterns where the body may have come from. To say with any certainty that these two rogue cops have found the "crime scene" (if a crime occurred at all) is very misleading.

It would be quite easy to see a couple smiley faces that looked fairly similar, assume a possible pattern, and then look on the banks of rivers in the other cases for incidents of smiley faces within the miles of shoreline that could possibly be where the body entered the water. When they found a smiley face they would look harder and convince themselves that this was the "crime scene" based on a stack of suppositions unfounded by any physical evidence or eyewitness accounts.

The TV reporters use of vivid imagery and concrete past tense to describe the 'circumstances' of the murder is another tip off. In all the videos there is a distinct lack of skepticism or even equivocal language. The reporter at one point runs through a description of how Jenkins pulled out wads of his own hair while trying to pry the killers hands from the back of his head as he was forcibly drowned. A gripping story to be sure but one not supported by any facts whatsoever other than a clump of his hair found in his hand during recovery. Despite this lack of evidence the reporters retelling is unequivocal. There is no, "This is how he may have died", only "This is how he was killed".

I find this lack of logic appalling. The fact that the national media is all over it today is even more appalling. I expect this from local TV news (The slime at the bottom of the media bucket) but not respected national networks. Is there no one in the nations news rooms with an iota of rational sense? It's one thing to report the theory and quite another to report a largely unsubstantiated theory as fact, yet the major news organizations are following KSTP's lead and doing just that.

I for one think that Occam's Razor falls on the side of these being simple cases of college kids being dumb, drinking to much, and falling in the water while walking alone in quixotic, soul searching angst. Lord knows I and my friends did enough of that in college.

I spent numerous nights walking along Summit Ave and East River Road in St. Paul, slightly drunk, alone, and not paying nearly enough attention to the dangers of cars and water. I remember specifically walking with a group to the Summit Ave overlook and crawling down to the cliffs above the river in the pitch dark to sit and talk philosophy ("Isn't it just beautiful man? I mean...we're all now, man...yeah...I mean...alone, in the universe, man."). If I'd been alone, slightly more stupid, and less adept at crawling over rocks, I might be a statistic. I highly doubt that given all those risk factors I would have instead fallen victim to a shadowy underworld gang bent on thrill killing.