Melissa Moore, the daughter of the "Happy Face Killer" Keith Hunter Jesperson, says she wants to focus on helping victims

By Tara Fowler
Updated August 05, 2015 11:30 AM
Richard Knapp

As the daughter of a convicted serial killer, Melissa Moore is famous for all the wrong reasons – but now she’s using that notoriety to bring attention to the families of murder victims.

Moore’s father is the notorious “Happy Face Killer” Keith Hunter Jesperson, who got his nickname for the smiley faces he allegedly drew on letters to police and the media, and is currently serving three life sentences for the strangulation deaths of eight women (he once claimed to have as many as 160 victims).

Moore is now working to help solve the mystery of the missing and murdered women of Chillicothe, Ohio. Six women have disappeared or been found dead there in the past 14 months.

“There is such a strong spotlight on the perpetrator,” Moore tells PEOPLE. “But what about the victims?”

Moore spoke to the families of the six women as a special correspondent for Crime Watch Daily, a new series that will debut on Sept. 14. “They don’t feel like they’re getting the resources they need,” Moore says. “I decided that I would help.”

Moore documented her firsthand experience with murderers and the devastation they cause in her memoir, Shattered Silence. She says the media has a tendency to focus on the perpetrator and not the victims.

“With my dad, I remember hearing about his first victim, Taunja Bennett,” she says. “I heard three things: That she was mentally slow, that she had brown hair and her age. But I knew she was more than that.”

So she reached out to Bennett’s sister, Michelle White. “She wanted to tell her story,” says Moore. “She didn’t judge me for my father’s actions. It gave me more confidence to talk to the family members of other murder victims.”

In turn, Moore’s found that she’s been able to help them, if only by giving them an outlet to share their grief. “I think talking about their loved ones, having people just hear who they are, helps them,” she says. “I know from people who have lost loved ones, they just wanted them to be respected or remembered.”

She adds: “I really enjoy offering solace to these families.”

A Special Connection

In the case of the missing and dead Chillicothe women, Moore feels a special connection to them because they remind her of her father’s victims. “My father targeted prostitutes and drug addicts,” she says. “My dad felt that they were people who had no value.”

Charlotte Trego, 27, and Wanda Lemons, 37, have been missing since May and November 2014 respectively. Tameka Lynch, 30, Shasta Himelrick, 20, Tiffany Sayre, 26, and Timberly Claytor, 38, have all been found dead.

Police have said that they believe that at least some of the Chillicothe women were prostituting themselves out to fund their heroin addiction. And at least three of the women knew each other “in passing” from running in the same social circles where drug abuse was prominent.

“I could have easily turned to drugs, become addicted,” Moore says. “So I value these women. I see them as people.”

And while Moore isn’t sure what happened to the women, she doesn’t believe that alleged serial killer Neal Falls is responsible. Falls was shot dead last month after he attacked a sex worker in West Virginia. Investigators have since said that he may be connected to the unsolved deaths and disappearances in Chillicothe.

“I believe it’s somebody else,” she says. “Someone with a fishing and hunting license that probably is a local resident that’s in the Chillicothe area.” Most of the dead women have been found near or in local rivers and creeks.

But for now, Moore has no answers. Still, she hopes that by bringing attention to the six women, someone who does have answers will step forward. And by helping the family members of the victims, she’s finding her own catharsis.

“I face so much stigma daily,” she says. “But I don’t feel that when I’m working with these families.

“They don’t judge me for what my father has done.”

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