True Crime Podcasting has taken off tremendously over the last few years. It all started with the addictive Serial and now there are hundreds which are either ongoing series which look at a new, or several new cases each week, or deep dives, which forensically examine a case, or series of linked cases.
Happy Face is a deep dive, and the deep dive I consistently recommend to people, especially if they are just starting out in the world of true crime podcast, which amazingly is still not over subscribed. Happy Face focuses on Keith Hunter Jespersen an American-Canadian serial killer who murdered at least eight women.
What really makes Happy Face stand out through is that the podcast form lends it self to a far more intimate, nuanced, and considered treatment of the subject that we would get if it had been made into a Holywood movie, or used as inspiration for the next best selling crime book. These forms can adhere to rigid expectations based on what has sold well in the past. However because podcasting is still an emerging form (although you could argue it is a subset of radio that has been around for a long time) there is a lot of room for experimentation and doing things differently.
Happy Face is presented by Melissa Moore, Jespersen’s daughter, who was a teenager when her father was arrested for his crimes. This is what makes Happy Face unique. Moore has lived her life terrified that she might have in some way inherited her fathers darkness, and wonders how much of him was in her. It starts with the ghosts she remembers from childhood, charts her life and relationships, and how her profound fear of being like her Dad and her grief at his crimes had shaped everything. Moore allows us to hear her when she is vulnerable, and at one heart-breaking point very emotionally raw – it brings home just how privileged we are as listeners to be allowed this glimpse into another humans most intimate pain. As Moore’s discoveries grow and she meets the son of her fathers last victim, someone who had things been different could have been a step-brother, it reaches an almost spiritual note. The podcast never shy’s away from both the pain and redemption we can find in each other.
I have also read Jespersen’s biography by Greg Olsen, and had that been made into a film or mini-series I am sure it would have been interesting, but part of the well worn serial killer story, which generally fits the narrative into what we already know and expect. Moore, however, is not just interesting but fascinating because she opens up, to those of us who thankfully have never had our lives touch this kind of tragedy, how it ripples through and through lives and the swirling painful mess that is left behind long after the media has stopped reporting.
I don’t expect to stop recommending Happy Face anytime soon, because it does what so many offerings in the serial killer genre do not do; shows us something painful, and difficult, and slow, which does not end in an hour and half: Because it is real.