At least 40 young men who drowned may have died by far more sinister means — serial killings at the hands of a national gang that revels in murdering young men and leaving smiley-face markings at the scene, a team of retired New York City police detectives and criminal justice investigators said Monday.
They believe the victims, including University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins and Fordham University student Patrick McNeill, didn’t accidentally drown but were actually killed by members of the so-called “Smiley Face Gang.”
A smiley-face symbol was found painted at some of the drowning locations — in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa, they said.
“They’re telling you here that they’re into evil, they’re very happy as most serial killers are,” said retired NYPD Det. Kevin Gannon. “They’re content with their work and what they’re doing and the fact that they’re thwarting the police.”
Jenkins’ body was discovered in the Mississippi River about four months after he disappeared in 2003. To police, his death looked like an accidental fall after a night of drinking.
McNeill drowned in New York City in 1997, also after bar-hopping.
The task force that formed to solve the crimes believes a national crime network has killed at least 40 men — mostly white college students and 20-somethings, often with high grades and impressive athletic records — in about 10 different states.
The team investigated 89 separate cases dating back a decade and said it had connected 40 of them through a variety of evidence — including matching sets of gang graffiti.
It was Jenkins’ death, however, that tipped off police. His body was found encased in ice in the Mississippi, his hands folded across his chest in an odd pose that was inconsistent with a chance drowning.
Chris Jenkins was a popular student at the University of Minnesota who disappeared one night in 2003.
Four months later, he was found dead in the Mississippi River. At first police thought Jenkins was just a drunk college kid who accidentally fell into the river and drowned after a night on the town.
But for two retired New York City Police detectives, Jenkins’ death became the link that connected the drowning deaths of 40 young men — usually high-achieving college students — in 25 cities in 11 different states.
Detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte have been tracking the suspicious drowning deaths of young men across the country ever since they investigated the death of college student Patrick McNeill, who drowned in New York City in 1997. Gannon made a promise to McNeill’s parents that he would never give up on his case.
When the detectives took a look at Jenkins’ death, they discovered that the position of his body and other physical evidence proved that the college student didn’t drown accidentally. The cause of death on Jenkins’ death certificate was changed to “homicide.”
New details have emerged in the search for missing 19-year-old Middlebury College freshman Nicholas Garza that could link him to the so-called “Smiley Face Gang,” which a group of retired detectives believes is responsible for the apparent drowning deaths of dozens of young men across the country.
Searchers have found smiley-face graffiti near Garza’s campus like that painted near some of the locations where about 40 bodies have been discovered across 11 states, FOX 44 News reported. Garza’s mother thinks that discovery could link her son’s disappearance to the deaths of the other mostly college-age victims.
Volunteer searchers have come forward with pictures of the smiley face, found on a utility shed door a short distance from downtown Middlebury, Vt. The photos were taken a week-and-a-half ago, when the group was scouring a river bank for clues.
When the volunteers saw New York detectives describing the alleged gang of serial killers on national TV and saw pictures of the graffiti discovered in some of the other cases, they realized the striking similarity to the drawings they had photographed.
The graffiti on the shed was almost identical to that painted near some of the spots where the young men’s bodies have been found, typically in rivers.
“When you’re walking around, you notice there’s graffiti but you’re not paying attention to what’s out there,” Nicholas’ mother, Natalie Garza.
Garza was last seen walking out of a dormitory Feb. 5. When friends couldn’t find him the next day, they notified campus security, but his mother didn’t file a missing persons report until five days later because friends thought Garza might have left campus to go to a cabin that was out of cell-phone range.