Real or Imagined: 'Smiley Face' Killers Targeting Young Men

Trying to prove murderers are targeting young men, leaving doodled calling card.

ByABC News via logo
March 23, 2009, 7:23 AM

March 23, 2009— -- Across the country, parents are wondering what happened in their sons' final moments. Were they drugged? Did they party too hard? Were they murdered?

As the years have passed, a growing group of families have joined forces with two determined former New York City Police Department detectives and an investigative reporter to prove that dozens of young men were murdered in what some have dubbed the "Smiley Face" mystery.

At least 50 men in 11 states have been found dead in the last 10 years, though no police department has said that the cases are connected. Their causes of death have been blamed on drunken accidents -- except one.

Chris Jenkins, a University of Minnesota student, was found dead in 2003 and was the only one whose cause of death was changed to homicide. It also became the reported connection to other suspicious drownings in 11 states in the opinions of retired NYPD detectives Anthony Duarte and Kevin Gannon.

"It is almost a perfect crime," Duarte said.

Perfect, he said, because the water washes away physical evidence and there never seemed to be any witnesses. Most of the men were last seen by friends leaving a bar or a college party.

"They can't be a coincidence or coincidences," Duarte said.

In city after city, the two detectives claim they found a smiley face painted somewhere at the crime scene, what they believe to be a sick signature claiming responsibility. And it looks to be the work of more than one person because there have been strikingly similar deaths and smiley faces in numerous cities and states, some in a relatively short time span, they assert.

Bill Szostak's son Josh went missing in December 2007. He was last seen with college buddies at an Albany, N.Y., bar. His body was later found in the Hudson River.

When police ruled Josh's death an accident, Szostak, a retired fire investigator, went to work. When looking for a personal item near the spot authorities believe Josh went into the water, he found it -- a smiley face.

"It definitely screams homicide," Szostak told "Good Morning America." "Not an accidental death."