Did "Smiley Face Killer" theory hype let real murder go undetected?
CBS 58 News has reported on the controversial crime theory for the better part of a decade.
Dubbed "Smiley Face Killer" the speculation was that a serial killer with a penchant for smiling graffiti was abducting college-aged men, killing them and then dumping them in rivers and waterways.
Now, retired Milwaukee Homicide Detective Steven Spingola is out with a new book called "Shattered Paths" and he details why he thinks the unfounded hype let the real murder go undetected.
Spingola says he is no way is trying to promote the "Smiley Face Killer Theory."
"The Smiley Face Killer was probably an urban myth," Spingola told CBS 58 News. "People couldn't explain it and police probably didn't do a good job talking to the community. So, that myth spread."
The serial killer theory gained a lot of attention in 2008 when some retired New York City Police Department detectives came forward with their belief that the drowning, blamed on intoxication, were actual criminal acts.
Their theory was based on the condition of the bodies when they were found, where they found and how currents indicated a certain entry point. An entry point that often had smiley face spray painting nearby.
"We can prove that some individuals went into the water not on the night they went missing," Detective Frank Gannon said at the time. "Which means they were held for some time before they entered the water."
To see that report click here
Spingola says he can understand why local families, including the mother of Racine County's Chris Jenkins, would look for an explanation like a serial killer.
"Clearly, they stretched the truth in some of these cases," said Spingola of his law enforcement colleagues.
Spingola said the hype also distracted from what he believes are arguably two or three cases of homicide out of the 31 drownings he's reviewed.
He points to the 2006 drowning of Brookfield's Luke Homan who was found in La Crosse where he has transferred from UW Milwaukee.
Homan's death is not classified as a homicide.
"His roommate had injuries, blood on his feet couldn't explain what happened," Spingola points out. "His stories never matched up. He said he may have been fighting with Luke. That one, clearly, there are questions about what happened."
Spingola says he believes it was easy to right off because of the drowning cases that had similar m-o's.
He admits it will be tough with officers no doubt retired and students who have moved on.
So why write this book? And why now?
"I think there's a lot of people who want to send their kids to universities," answered Spingola. "I think law enforcement along with public safety of these university has to go out there and explain to people and try to keep these people safe."
La Crosse Police Department Captain Jason Melby gave the following statement to CBS 58 News:
"We've talked about this phenomenon ad nauseam. Both the DCI and FBI have reviewed our case filed and we have nothing more to say about Smiley Face Killer."