"One time as we were driving up the old scenic highway, my father said, 'I know how to kill someone and get away with it,'" Moore recalled. She thought maybe he got the idea to say that from one of the detective magazines he often had in his car.
But it turns out he was talking about an actual murder, one he had just committed. "The same route that we would take going to the Oregon coast is where he disposed of the first victim," Moore said.
Jesperson is currently serving multiple life sentences in Oregon's state penitentiary. His killing spree started in 1990, the same year his divorce to Moore's mother was finalized.
His first victim was a 23-year-old woman named Taunja Bennett, who was described by her family as overtly friendly and developmentally slow.
After a night of drinking, Jesperson said he took her back to his bachelor pad in Portland, Ore. "Comments were made and different things and uh, an altercation happened, and I struck her. I actually had hit her in the face and for some reason I just kept hitting her in the face and because of that," Jesperson said. "I feared going to prison for slugging her in the face and causing her bodily injury and so I killed her."
For five years he got away with one grim slaying after another. He wanted credit for his crimes, but he also wanted to stay out of jail, so he wrote a six-page confession letter to The Oregonian, the local newspaper, detailing a virtual roadmap of his murders. The only thing missing was his name.
Phil Stanford, a writer for the newspaper, recalled getting the letters "He didn't sign it, he just signed it with happy faces and so I called him "The Happy Face Killer" when I wrote the series."
Jesperson's eighth victim would be his last. Once the woman's body was discovered, police found his signature on a receipt among her possessions. After being questioned by a detective, Jesperson turned himself in the next day. While he was in custody, detectives discovered a letter Jesperson had sent to his brother before turning himself in that described the eight murders he had committed.
His family was shocked when they received the news. Moore was 15. "I heard my mom say, 'Come to the stairs, I have something to tell you," she said. "I got up the stairs with my brother and sister and she says, 'Your dad's in jail for murder'… and then she walked right back up the stairs."
Moore's mother admitted she was totally shocked, and regretfully tried to make the whole thing go away, so they never talked about it.
But it wasn't going away. "I started thinking, How would my dad be capable of doing this? How would he do it?" Moore said. "But then the memory of the cat came to my mind and him strangling the cat ... and then instead of the cat, I pictured a woman. Then it became real."
Jesperson confessed to the murders in exchange for plea deals that would allow him to avoid the death penalty. He received multiple life sentences that would ensure that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Ashamed and worried what people would think, Moore kept the dark family secret to herself.
When she was 21, Melissa met Sam Moore at a church dance. Their romance blossomed quickly, but she was worried about telling him her secret.