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Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm the Daughter of a Serial Killer

By Melissa G. Moore, as told to Lemondrop Staff.

When I was 15, my mother asked my brother, sister and me to meet her at the end of the stairs. "Your father is in jail," she said. When my brother asked what for, my mom simply said, "Murder," and walked back up the stairs. Stunned, I ran to my room and sobbed. It was way too much to comprehend, and for weeks I went into a state of denial.

My father, Keith Hunter Jesperson, is the infamous "Happy Face" serial killer. The media coined the title due to the hand-drawn smiley face he'd include at the bottom of his letters that contained clues about his murders.

Between 1990 and 1995, my father killed eight women while living a double life. In March of 1995, he was incarcerated for the murder of my stepmother, Julie Winningham. My dad is serving three life terms in Oregon State Prison.

Growing up, I thought my dad loved me. He said he loved me.

Suspecting Something Wrong
My parents divorced in 1990 when I was 11, after my mother learned that my father had had an affair with a waitress in California. My mom was distant growing up, and when my father would return from his job as a long-haul truck driver, he'd often be the one parent to show us love by showering us with presents and going out of his way to make our time with him a blast. He spoiled us with expensive electronics and outdoor play equipment for Christmas gifts. He'd take us bike riding, bowling, hiking, camping -- he always wanted to make our days with him special. I mostly felt spoiled by his attention.

Despite his fun side, I never felt at ease or safe around my father. I'd get a sickening feeling that I couldn't explain. There was no logical reason at the time for my sense of discomfort, so I thought something was wrong with me.

When I was 12, my dad started giving me clues about the murders. I just figured he was reciting details from his detective novels and crime magazines. But he was actually telling me things he'd done! I remember him saying, "I know how to kill someone and get away with it." When I was 13, he told me that he would cut buttons off jeans so that there wouldn't be any fingerprints; at another visit he said he could drag a body under his truck to get rid of the teeth so they couldn't trace any dental records to the body.

Becoming Something Other Than My Father's Daughter
After I learned the truth about my dad, I was consumed with guilt and shame for his horrific actions. For years, I'd have nightmares of him showing up at my door.

In order to heal, I had to learn to move on. I tried to focus on how I could make myself a better person. I met and married a wonderful man and started a family. I concentrated on being a wife and mother and stopped wasting precious energy thinking about my father. I had no control over what he did, and I realized that there was nothing I could do to change it.

Fortunately, I've learned to replace grief and pain with the joy I experience as a mother. Being a mother to my two children, Aspen, 8, and Jake, 5, has been therapy for me. My love for my children helps to keep me positive and looking toward the future.

Looking to the Future
One day in the spring of 2008, my daughter came home from school and asked w here my dad was. I was frozen with fear that I might give the wrong answer. Then I answered, "In Salem," realizing that I could tell her where he lived without saying who he was. It was a turning point for me. As I watched my daughter run off to play on the swings in our backyard, I couldn't help but wonder how I was going to handle such questions in the future. I knew I had to find a way to confront what happened in my life, and I found help through therapy, journal writing and other healthy relationships in my life.

While I dread the day when I have to tell my children about their grandfather, I'm no longer haunted by my own past. I've learned that we are not a product of our circumstances in life. We are free to decide our own future.

Melissa G. Moore is author of "Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter."