Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Another Young Man Found Dead in the Water: Smiley Face Killings?

There are at least two sides to the story of a young man's body, discovered below a waterfall.

Although identification doesn't seem to be official yet, the assumption is that the body is Nicholas Garza's: he's a college student from the American southwest, who went missing in February of this year.

Nicholas Garza's death is a terrible loss to his family and those who knew him.

Unhappily, they may have quite a bit of company.

A sample of "smiley face" graffiti was on a shed near where Nicholas Garza's body was found. Although smiley faces are a fairly common feature on the American scene, the presence of one near the body of another young, attractive, smart, male, college student does encourage thoughts of the "smiley face killers." (Homeland Security National Terror Alert - Homeland Security News (April 28, 2008)) (" is a private homeland security blog and not affiliated with any government agency. We archive and comment on homeland security related news items from a variety of news sources, as well as provide immediate updates on breaking stories, bulletins and any change in status to Homeland Security advisory.")

Despite what two retired New York detectives have found, Law Enforcement agencies prefer to see about 40 deaths as unrelated incidents, mostly accidents. Never mind that the victims
  • Match one profile
    • Young
    • Attractive
    • Male
    • Bright, successful
    • Men
  • Died in very similar ways
  • "Accidentally" died near smiley face graffiti
It's not hard to see law enforcement's approach to the "Smiley Face Killings" as a real-world equivalent of a standard old detective story scenario. You've probably run into it: stories where a police detective doesn't notice a pattern until the fifth member of the same British family is found dead, with a poisoned needle in his or her neck.

I have a great deal of respect for American police in general, but in this case I'm afraid that law enforcement may be dealing with a set of crimes that aren't neatly packaged enough to be recognized.

I'm reminded of "the I-70 Murders," where Herb Baumeister killed at least 10 men along the I-70 corridor. In that case, it was well after pieces of people started popping up on his property that local authorities decided that some sort of action should be taken. Mr. Baumeister eventually killed himself. (More at "Herb Baumeister" (an overview, with links to other resrources), "Loose Ends" ( and, in passing, in "Herb Baumeister" (True Crime Stories blog).)

Mr. Baumeister's relative immunity to investigation may have been due to his wealth and position in the community. There are people who are extremely unwilling to believe that someone in a particular group may be guilty of a serious crime.

I hope that, if "The Smiley Face Killings" are another case of interstate serial killings, law enforcement doesn't wait until a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot steps in to solve the case.

Sad News for the Garza Family

"Nicholas Garza Missing since February 5, 2008"
  • "On May 27, 2008 our beautiful Nicholas was recovered from Otter Creek. We are filled with unspeakable grief and sadness with the loss of our beloved boy. We thank everyone for their prayers and support."
  • "A fund has been set up to assist the Garza family in their search for Nick.
    • "Click here to donate online via PAYPAL
    • "Or, checks made out to to the Garza Family Fund can be sent to:
    • "Natalie Garza
      c/o Margaret Falcone
      8444 Vista Verde
      Albuquerque, NM 87120
(Generally, funds like this have a bank or similar institution as a receiver of funds. I don't know why the Garza family has this arrangement.)

"A $20,000 reward has been posted for anyone who can provide information leading to the safe return, or, if a homicide has occurred, to the arrest and conviction of those responsible."

"Body found in creek believed to be Nicholas Garza's" (May 27, 2008)

"MIDDLEBURY, Vt.—A body believed to be that of missing collegian Nicholas Garza was pulled from the Otter Creek on Tuesday, police said.

"The badly-decomposed body of an unidentified male was found among sunken timber in a floating debris pile below a waterfall as authorities prepared to mount another search this weekend. Searchers were taking temperature readings in the river and performing depth soundings when the remains were found, according to Police Chief Tom Hanley.

" 'They do appear to be the remains of Nicholas Garza, but identification will be made at an autopsy tomorrow,' said Hanley.

"A wallet found on the body belonged to Garza, police said.

" 'It was Nick,' said his mother, Natalie Garza, who was there when the body was removed."

Smiley Face Killings in the News

"Smiley face killers may be stalking college men""
CNN (May 21, 2008)

"ALBANY, New York (CNN) -- At the age of 21, Christopher Jenkins appeared to have everything going for him. The University of Minnesota senior was good-looking, had a near perfect grade-point average and had a future in business.

"Then, suddenly, he vanished.

"He was last seen celebrating Halloween at a bar in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2002. Jenkins' friends said he left about midnight. Four months later, his body was found in the Mississippi River, still wearing his Halloween costume.

"Minneapolis police classified the drowning as accidental.

"Jenkins' blood-alcohol level was well above the legal limit, and police told his parents that he'd probably had too much to drink after bar -hopping with friends. They thought he'd fallen into the river.

"Despite a lack of evidence, his parents, Steve and Jan Jenkins, insisted that there had been foul play...."

"...In 2006, nearly four years after Jenkins died, there was a break in the case. A tip from a man in jail, described by Minneapolis police as a witness or suspect, caused police to change Jenkins' cause of death from "unexplained drowning" to homicide...."

"... [retired police detective] Gannon enlisted the help of another former NYPD officer, Anthony Duarte, when Christopher Jenkins' death became a homicide. In 2003, the two traveled to Minneapolis to investigate Jenkins' death.

"They learned about a string of student drowning deaths, many of them involving young men who attended colleges along the Interstate 94 corridor in the Midwest -- in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa...."

"...Why would the killer or killers put the bodies in the water? The effect of water on evidence makes for an almost perfect crime, Duarte said. Not only does it make it appear like an accidental drowning instead of a murder, but the water frequently washes away key pieces of evidence such as fingerprints and fibers, so the killer can't be identified...."

So far, the strategy seems to have worked - assuming that the Smiley Face Killings aren't some sort of bizarre statistical fluke.

Previous posts on the "Smiley Face Killers:"

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