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May 3, 2008 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Who (or what) is killing our college boys? Over the past decade the bodies of dozens American male college students have been found drowned, near their respective campuses. The victims were usually last seen drinking at parties or area bars before they disappeared.

Two retired New York City detectives believe that "pods" of murderers are responsible for many of the deaths, and parents and a congressman are calling for more investigation.

But the FBI and others disagree, saying the deaths are unrelated (except by this factor). And now there are reports that the retired detectives are no longer granting interviews, and one of them has been hospitalized.

Is there a band of Smiley Faced Killers in our midst, or can the cause be explained by Hanlon's Razor?
posted by Kibbutz (126 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
:/
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:25 AM on May 3, 2008


Yes, I'm sure that scores of drunken college-aged men falling into bodies of water and drowning can be attributed to roving bands of murderers. Also, pods of sociopathic killers are believed to have been breaking into old people's houses, scaring them into having heart attacks, and then leaving without notice for the past hundred years. Without detection. Very clever, these roving homicidists.
posted by billysumday at 11:39 AM on May 3, 2008 [14 favorites]


Wait until these investigators start investigating the number of college deaths via traffic accident. It will suddenly become clear that GM and Ford are working together to dispose of our youth, one by one.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:43 AM on May 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


I thought to myself, please let this be a link to The Onion.

It wasn't.

*facepalm*
posted by fleetmouse at 11:48 AM on May 3, 2008


OK, a little respect here. Yes, a country-wide conspiracy theory is a little unlikely. On the other hand, I was still living in Minnesota when college boys started disappearing, and let me tell you that it was a sad, scary situation. We're not talking about people who fell into the river. We're talking abduction and murder. The evidence does not point to accidental death, which these articles make clear. I'm not saying I know or believe that these instances are connected, but I think it's immensely distasteful to make these kinds of jokes. You have no excuse to be uninformed when the links are right there. Read them first and then decide if you want to have a big laugh about a trail of corpses.
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 11:50 AM on May 3, 2008 [16 favorites]


I read all of the links and it seems to be only these two detectives who think it's abduction and murder.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:55 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I admit I got chills reading this. I cannot watch the links at work, but from what I read, colour me intrigued. Citrus, you're in college AND surrounded by bodies of water. Stay inside, where you know you're going to kill and die often. It's the only safe answer for you.
posted by Busithoth at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Slight edit... "does not point to accidental death in all circumstances." One has already been reclassified as a homicide, and they're working on others. Many seem to be legitimate accidents. But still. Dead kids. Not funny.)
posted by Help, I can't stop talking! at 11:57 AM on May 3, 2008


I've read the links and I don't see any particular reason to believe that this isn't a case of college dudes getting drunk and drowning, which isn't an unknown occurrence. Parents don't want to believe that their children could die a meaningless, freak death because they were toasted and so they grasp at straws. That's a common thing; it's exactly analogous to the whole vaccine/autism stuff. Parents need reasons and answers and they will grab on to whatever provides those answers, true or not.

This isn't a "trail of corpses" in any sense that all deaths aren't a "trail of corpses"/
posted by Justinian at 11:58 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This story says the cops watched the kid walk into the river. Then, There is no evidence the man was under the influence of alcohol or that it was an act of suicide, said Tim Golden, detective sergeant of the Eau Claire Police Department. Then, Jesse's body was found Sept. 12, 2004 in the Chippewa River. He had a blood-alcohol content of 0.22, which is above the 0.08 legal driving limit in Wisconsin.

I haven't read all of the stories in the second link, but the overwhelming majority are drunk guy + drowning, and while sad and awful, it doesn't seem odd.
posted by rtha at 11:58 AM on May 3, 2008


Yeah, won't somebody please think of the children, HICST?
posted by Justinian at 11:59 AM on May 3, 2008


I like the use of the word pods to describe a band of murderers. Sure, a group of crows is called a murder, so what would be the appropriate name for killers? Why, a "pod," which I typically associate with dolphins. I will never see them the same way again, what with their perpetual grins and their rapish lusts. Perhaps the dolphins are smiley-faced killers, after all.

And they're luring these kids into the water. With their intradimensional water teleporters they developed with their Giant Dolphin Brains. It's all so clear to me now! Eeeee! EeeeEEEEeee EEEEE eeeEEEE! "Come to me, human, come to the water's edge that I might take you down to our sunless sea!"

Maybe I should lay off the hash, but when you've named your water pipe (there that sinister connection is again) Coleridge, you kinda form a bond with it.
posted by adipocere at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


OK, a little respect here.

No. No respect for sloppy thinking. Fuck these stupid cops for getting the grieving parents all worked up over nothing.

This is SRA all over again.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:02 PM on May 3, 2008


early spring-pond on the campus of Eastern Michigan University- two young college age males observed walking along the pond-one decides to walk across the pond to save 25 yards of walking around-luckily he falls through the ice when it is only hip deep- male seemed to be sober at the time.

evidence that college age males are prone to being idiots when sober... it amazes me that MORE of them don't drown while in a drunken state. I'm more prone to believe that there is a roving band of super heroes saving these idiots from a wet death!
posted by HuronBob at 12:04 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, pods of sociopathic killers are believed to have been breaking into old people's houses, scaring them into having heart attacks, and then leaving without notice for the past hundred years.

There was that death cat. He was onto them.
posted by graventy at 12:07 PM on May 3, 2008


HICST--

Not to speak for the commenters, but I don't think they intend to make light of the tragic deaths of these young men. What is disturbing (and perhaps, being mocked) is the willingness of some (especially breathless reporters) to believe that these deaths are due to an improbable group of serial killers, rather than the impaired judgement caused by intoxication.
posted by Kibbutz at 12:08 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm going to be like the townsfolk in "Hot Fuzz".
They accidentally decapitated themselves driving too fast.
He was overcome by fire from the stove while frying bacon and eggs.
He just happened to be under the stone when it fell off the roof.
She tripped and fell on her shears. The confused witness mistook this for a masked figure stabbing her.

That "Murder" thing you keep talking about just doesn't happen around here.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:09 PM on May 3, 2008


We're talking abduction and murder.

OK, this is all new to me, I haven't heard about any of this, but I'm not seeing much evidence anyone has been abducted and murdered. Proof please? I didn't see any in the links, other than one case in Minneapolis. Until there is some evidence, I'm more likely to believe the cause of all this is the ongoing desire to fill the news hole.
posted by Mcable at 12:10 PM on May 3, 2008


Also, pods of sociopathic killers are believed to have been breaking into old people's houses, scaring them into having heart attacks, and then leaving without notice for the past hundred years.

Enough with your wacky conspiracy theories. Everyone knows it was the robots. They eat old peoples' medicine for food, you know.

Yeah, this is completely ridiculous, another moronic SRA-style scare. Drowned drunk college kids = frat boy binge drinking. Unfortunate, but not hard to explain. What's the angle here, though? The angle with SRA was to target a pretend "group" that no one could possibly sympathize with ("Satanists") as a first strike in the erosion of civil liberties. Now that that objective has been accomplished more thoroughly than anyone could have imagined in 1988, what's the point of this? It's probably just a fake scandal to sell InfoTainment, unless there's someone this clearly benefits.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:29 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is certain that one of these cases was murder, but to try to tie in the rest of these drownings is ridiculous.

One of the cases that they're trying to link to this is from where I live. I think the Chief of Police's comment sums up my opinion
If the deaths are linked, Mr. Mulkin said, it is not by a gang of serial killers but rather by things that are common in many college towns.

"What do all these communities have in common? Colleges, rivers and booze," the police chief said.


The student's parents seem to by buying into the story though, which is probably going to lead to nothing but heartache for them.
posted by saffry at 12:30 PM on May 3, 2008


Drunks don't injure themselves and others. Alcohol is a perfectly safe drug. Any death with alcohol use as a factor is actually just an illusion—it's something that serial killers use for cover.

Don't be fooled!
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:34 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Drunk college kids drowning is sad, but if we're going to talk about a mass unsolved, fucking ongoing string of murders, it would be nice if the media paid attention to the women of Ciudad Juarez, who continue to be victimized by serial killing--not just in the dozens, but in the hundreds.
posted by emjaybee at 12:38 PM on May 3, 2008 [19 favorites]


So what does the informant say? And what's the motive that the two have discovered? Until we know, it's kind of silly to say that these two cops are just idiots.

I wonder if people really read the links.
posted by Viomeda at 12:39 PM on May 3, 2008


When the cop says he hasn't taken a dime from the families, I'm skeptical.
posted by empath at 12:41 PM on May 3, 2008


The angle with SRA was to target a pretend "group" that no one could possibly sympathize with ("Satanists") as a first strike in the erosion of civil liberties.

So be sure not to fall for any other crazy conspiracy theories you might hear!

There is no "angle." A couple of cops got too far inside a large set of tragic events and started making dubious connections based on the scant, easily coincidental evidence. The media eats it up because it's extreme and grotesque, people eat up the media because our brains have all been turned too bizarre-violence-seeking whipped cheese by the likes of CSI, Se7en and Silence of the Lambs. The whole thing is pathetic and I'm disappointed that it ended up here.
posted by nanojath at 12:42 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I have to admit I'm a little intrigued. A similar thing happened to a family friend a couple of years back (I didn't know him aside from seeing him a couple times at weddings.) Very smart guy, Harvard med student, and this occurred while he was visiting friends in Ann Arbor, MI. He left a bar, then disappeared without a trace and his friends couldn't find him. Later he was found drowned. Everyone who knew him said he wasn't much of a drinker, and when he did drink he didn't get fall-down drunk. The investigators were quick to call it a drinking accident, but the facts were weird enough to leave me a little suspicious of what went on.

I had no clue this is such a common occurrence. Is there something about drunk people that makes them think they really need to go for a swim? (I'm guessing yes. But still. Harvard med students don't pull that kind of stuff, do they?)
posted by naju at 12:45 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I actually know someone who drowned while drunk, but he was in his 30s...he was out in a rowboat with several other friends that could not swim. He decided to go for a swim, and got tired/was passing out, couldn't find the boat in the pitch black darkness, and they couldn't jump in to save him because they couldn't swim.

Tragic yes, but no one assumed that someone murdered him...
posted by schyler523 at 12:46 PM on May 3, 2008


I would say that it's more likely that in most of the places this happens there are sidewalks along a riverbank or lake shore, naju. It's not a question of "going for a swim," it's a question of passing out into the water or tripping and falling into it and being unable to swim to safety. Swimming takes a great deal of coordination and energy--even treading water--and a drunk person doesn't have it. Heck, try swimming with a head cold. If you're not an extremely strong swimmer, even this is more difficult than swimming when you're feeling fine.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:49 PM on May 3, 2008


Sort of a double?
posted by salvia at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2008


Not a double, actually. So that link should read "previously on metafilter."
posted by salvia at 12:55 PM on May 3, 2008


I think some of the snark is a little unnecessary here. Could these two retired NYC detectives be fallible in their assumptions? Absolutely (and probably). But is it too hard to imagine that they have the experience to piece together enough evidence to somehow warrant a claim that some of these cases are related? Obviously all cases of drunk college kids drowning in bodies of water can’t be related. But it’s equally illogical to assume that just because all the cases involve a relatively easy equation of drunk college kid + body of water that all must be 100% unrelated. Another thing to consider (besides the consistent graffiti found at the crime scenes) is that many of these bodies of water where the men drowned are located MILES away from the bars they were last seen drinking at. I’m not saying these two detectives have an ipso facto case here – I’m saying there is enough relevance and similarity across many of these instances to imply a pattern. But no doubt, I'll bet many of these cases were simply accidents.

Also, it’s a damn good story. This post gave me chills.
posted by tiger yang at 12:56 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Has anyone checked on Zuleika Dobson's whereabouts on the nights of the deaths?
posted by goatdog at 12:59 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Why, a "pod," which I typically associate with dolphins.

Killer whales also live in pods, and then routinely murder various things in various bodies of water.

Other names for groups of animals:
aerie, ambush, army, array, ascension, bale, band, barren, bed, bevy, bloat, bob, bouquet, brace, brood, building, bury, business, cartload, cast, catch, cete, chain, charm, chattering, chine, clamor, clan, clash, cloud, clowder, clutch, clutter, colony, company, congregation, congress, convocation, corps, cote, coteriedogs, cover, covey, crash, cry, crèche, culture, deceit, den, descent, destruction, dissimulation, dole, dout, down, dray, drift, drove, dule, exaltation, fall, family, farrow, fesnying, flange, flight, float, flock, flush, fold, gaggle, gam, gang, gaze, generation, glaring, glint, grist, grouppigs, harem, harras, haul, hedge, herd, hive, horde, host, hover, huddle, hurtle, husk, kendle, kennel, kettle, kindle, kine, knot, labor, lead, leap, leash, leep, lepe, litter, lodge, lounge, memory, mischief, mob, movement, murder, murmuration, muster, mustering, mute, nest, nide, nuisance, nursery, nye, ostentation, pace, pack, paddling, parade, parcel, parliament, party, passel, peep, pit, piteousness, plague, plump, pounce, prickle, pride, quiver, rabble, raft, rag, rake, rhumba, richness, romp, rookery, rout, route, run, sault, school, scold, scurry, sedge, shiver, shoal, shrewdness, siege, singular, skein, skulk, sleuth, sloth, smack, sneak, sord, sounder, sowse, span, span, spring, stable, storytelling, streak, string, stud, swarm, team, tidings, tower, trace, tribe, trip, troop, unkindness, volery, wake, walk, warren, watch, wedge, weyr, wing, wisp, wrack, yoke, or zeal

Personally, for this group of killers I would go with what you can call a group of gnus: an implausibility.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:00 PM on May 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'm certainly skeptical of the story (the M.O. of serial killers alone tends to refute this story), but the one tiny question I have is: What's up with the smiley faces? Are they truly consistent in every single case? If so, why the same rivers these bodies are showing up in? Are they also around other areas?

That's the only thing I don't understand.
posted by symbioid at 1:02 PM on May 3, 2008


i was with it up until the 'gang of serial killers'. Seriously, come the fuck on.
posted by empath at 1:05 PM on May 3, 2008


I’m saying there is enough relevance and similarity across many of these instances to imply a pattern.

Yes, they do imply a pattern; getting drunk and then going near a body of water alone is a bad idea. I think you are trying to say that they imply a pattern of wrongful death, in which case they answer is no. No they do not; humans are very bad at avoiding false positive pattern matching and this appears to be a case of it.

For similarities in deaths to be a suspicious pattern, the similarities has to be things that are unusual or rare. Drunk person drowns is neither unusual or rare.

So "drunk kid drowns" isn't unusual enough that a bunch of them raise red flags. "College kid disappears and is later found dead with tattoo of an Ace of Spades on the back of their left hand" might be the kind of thing to raise red flags if a bunch of them happened. Because a bunch of bodies with the same tattoo in the same location with no explanation is unusual.

A bunch of bodies with high blood alcohol content found in bodies of water is not unsual.
posted by Justinian at 1:06 PM on May 3, 2008


Also, how are these cops finding out where the kids went into the water? Are they just wandering up and down the mississippi looking for smiley faces?
posted by empath at 1:12 PM on May 3, 2008


Harvard med students don't pull that kind of stuff, do they?

Harvard students aren't immune from such things as accidental deaths and murder.
Harvard Med Student Falls to Death.

Intoxicated Harvard Grad Student Murders 18-year-old.

Harvard Student Stabs Roommate to Death.
posted by ericb at 1:15 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because a bunch of bodies with the same tattoo in the same location with no explanation is unusual. A bunch of bodies with high blood alcohol content found in bodies of water is not unsual.

Because the appearance of smiley face graffiti at the crime scenes is completely usual. As is the notion that many of the cases involve the killed person last being seen miles away from a body of water, without transportation.

The initial similarities in each (drunk kid + water) is understood by anyone with an IQ over 75 and yes, it does warrant skepticism. But that does not mean it negates meaning in all other occurrences of similar patterns.
posted by tiger yang at 1:17 PM on May 3, 2008


Because the appearance of smiley face graffiti at the crime scenes is completely usual.

It is not clear to me from the reading that smiley face graffiti appeared at the crime scenes. It appears to me that an occasional smiley face graffiti appeared somewhere in the general area of some of the crime scenes.
posted by Justinian at 1:20 PM on May 3, 2008


Clarification of my story: yes, he was found a few miles away, without transportation.
posted by naju at 1:24 PM on May 3, 2008


i was with it up until the 'gang of serial killers'. Seriously, come the fuck on.

But gangs of serial killers are the accepted theory for the ongoing Ciudad Juarez murders, so not only is there precedent, the precedent is current and on the border of this country.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 1:25 PM on May 3, 2008


It appears to me that an occasional smiley face graffiti appeared somewhere in the general area of some of the crime scenes.

"In Michigan, they found something strange among the group's graffiti: the word 'Sinsiniwa.' They couldn't figure out what it meant until a few months later when they arrived in Dubuque, Iowa to investigate the death of Matt Kruziki. His body was found on Sinsiniwa Avenue. Plus, they've discovered the nicknames of people in the group at more than one location."

I do think there's a lot of people being lumped into the "victims" category that are likely not victims, but this is ridiculously creepy.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:26 PM on May 3, 2008


This reminds me of how drunk Russians tend to drown in fountains on hot days and be found frozen on the street the morning after snowstorms. In a way, college is kinda like being temporarily Russian. (Kidding!)

But seriously, from this article: A shocking study reported in the Kommersant newspaper in May said two-thirds of Russian men die drunk - most of them suffering from extreme stages of intoxication. If true, I don't think there's someone necessarily murdering those guys. Abuse of alcohol is just kinda bad for life expectancy sometimes.
posted by miss lynnster at 1:30 PM on May 3, 2008


Black males are being murdered by "pods" in every major city in America in numbers which far exceed these. Drunken college kids getting themselves into trouble - which they can easily avoid - doesn't bother me so much.
posted by three blind mice at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


And emjaybee, there has been plenty of media coverage about the Ciudad Juarez killings. It comes up frequently on the news magazine shows, it's been covered in major papers all over the world, there are several books about it, at least one documentary, and there was even a movie -- starring Jennifer Lopez, no less -- about it. That qualifies as pretty substantial media coverage.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2008


Clearly it's all a plot by McNulty to get more funding for the po-lice!
posted by redbeard at 1:31 PM on May 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


The only reasonable explanation.
posted by mazola at 1:34 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed at how many of these kids were kicked out of the bar without their coats in the middle of winter. High alcohol content, cold weather, and a river to cross on the way home is a bad combination. I think these bars better rethink their policies.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:37 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This has been on my radar for a bit but I agree it appears to be sensationalism. In particular, it's indicative that they always seem to reuse the same picture of a happy face; it'd be a heck of a lot more convincing if they showed us a few dozen.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:40 PM on May 3, 2008


Ok, a more reasonable explanation:

It's a ploy by Anheuser-Busch to ensure college boys develop a lifelong aversion to water.
posted by mazola at 1:41 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Their beer basically IS water, so that's a bad move on their part.
posted by naju at 1:45 PM on May 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


In particular, it's indicative that they always seem to reuse the same picture of a happy face; it'd be a heck of a lot more convincing if they showed us a few dozen.

I've seen the various faces (I believe in this story). They were actually as dissimilar as several smiley faces could be (but then, if different crews were creating the smiley faces, well, that would explain it).
posted by Kibbutz at 1:48 PM on May 3, 2008


I'm going to be like the townsfolk in "Hot Fuzz".

I'm sure if we bashed your head in, all sorts of secrets would come tumbling out!
posted by katillathehun at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2008


My dead kids is not funny, but yours...
posted by Mick at 2:05 PM on May 3, 2008


One serial killer with an atypical profile - going after males, but vulnerable males weakened by drunkenness, possibly some specific college-related grudge or jealousy and smartly acting to conceal his actions by making it look like a common accident yet using a trademark to secretly boast of his actions - is unlikely but not totally improbable. A conspiracy of several diminishes the likelihood to a near vanishing point. But why do we assume that all (or even most of our serial killings have been identified as such? Does a rather inflexible "profile" give others a chance to remain undetected by being atypical?

Besides, anybody who increases the death rate of drunk frat boys is doing a public service, not a crime. You kids! Get off my river!
posted by wendell at 2:09 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]




From one of the links - an editorial somewhat plausibly debunking the "smileys":

First, how can something be a "trademark" if it was found at fewer than one-third of the alleged murder scenes? Police say no smiley faces were found in La Crosse or Eau Claire. And even if they were discovered elsewhere, the detectives were probably visiting the spots months or years after the incidents - plenty of time for one of the most popular doodles in the world to coincidentally pop up.

Veteran police officers are certainly not immune from the siren call of the professional "hunch". Brits will remember the copper-bottomed certainty of the officer in charge of the Yorkshire Ripper investigation that the tape-recorded taunts from the "perp" were unquestionably the real deal. They tuned out to be a total - possibly tragically time-wasting, fraud.

I agree with Justinian.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:11 PM on May 3, 2008


Pennywise: They all float down here. When you're down here with us, you'll float too!
posted by SPrintF at 2:47 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


A man who eats a large amount of fatty foods his entire life ends up dying of a heart attack. This is the disturbing path that all of the cases on this blog have taken. Since 1920, over 100 bazillion old men have had heart attacks in the Great Lakes area alone. Family and community member suspect a serial killer may be at work; police and local government blame eating like a fucking cow. Regardless of the cause, it is clear something needs to be done. This blog exists to help bring awareness to all of these cases and to chronicle new information when known.
posted by cellphone at 2:51 PM on May 3, 2008


Well, I have my doubts about this being any sort of conspiracy, but IF all of these things are related (beyond the obvious drunk and a danger to self connection), then the common graffiti motifs (IF they are in fact common to the actual "crime" scenes) might be explained by some sort of frat meme that's spreading around. I'm not sure what this might be - some sort of dare/ritual/hazing thing?

That seems far more likely than a conspiracy by geographically dispersed killers preying on young men for no apparent reason.
posted by Zinger at 2:57 PM on May 3, 2008


Has anyone checked on Zuleika Dobson's whereabouts on the nights of the deaths?

goatdog, you rule. So does Max.
posted by Faze at 3:22 PM on May 3, 2008


Besides, anybody who increases the death rate of drunk frat boys is doing a public service, not a crime.

You know, that's just an unbelievably shitty thing to say in this context. You really ought to be ashamed of yourself.
posted by nanojath at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2008


Stoner detectives?
posted by redteam at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


One of these kids disappeared from my campus when I was a sophmore in college. Never found the body. Of course, he had to go over a bridge that crossed a pair of lakes on his way home, blackout drunk from a party. I've got my doubts about a conspiracy.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:10 PM on May 3, 2008


I'm amazed at how many of these kids were kicked out of the bar without their coats in the middle of winter

When I lived in northern climes, people were frequently kicked out of bars in the winter with no money, no phone and no coat and without the staff telling the people they were with what had happened. Some of them died.

Cold weather and drinking + callous bar staff = hypothermia = clumsiness, poor judgement and disorientation. Add in a convenient body of water and, lets just say it's not too surprising that these cases are concentrated in cold areas.
posted by fshgrl at 4:31 PM on May 3, 2008


Besides, anybody who increases the death rate of drunk frat boys is doing a public service, not a crime.

You know, that's just an unbelievably shitty thing to say in this context. You really ought to be ashamed of yourself.


Yes, I know and I am, if only for not recognizing the absence of the sarcasm tag in html. Still, ever since my own college days a couple eons ago, drunken frat boys have been a natural predator to me, and, you know, the antelope doesn't cry when the lion gets hunted. (Yep, I'm digging myself in deeper here.)
posted by wendell at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2008


Okay, end of bad joking. When I'm serious I avoid generalizations and stereotyping like the plague. Just because George W. Bush is a former drunken frat boy doesn't mean all drunken frat boys are potential George W. Bushes. It's just that at least half of the dfb's I met in my college days DID have serious potential for massively hurting the world, yet, now that they're over 50, none of them I recall personally have publicly fulfilled that potential. So, call me bitter, Obama, just don't call me elitist. Then again, MetaFilter does have a larger-than-the-general-population representation of, if not drunken frat boys, certainly drunken college boys. If this is what trolling feels like, I'm enjoying it too much, and I am 100% NON-drunk. I'd personally lift the train back on the rails myself, but my back is out and nobody would notice anyway.
posted by wendell at 5:16 PM on May 3, 2008


Hey, awesome! People making fun of other people dying. I guess I should expect as much on SomethingAwful....wait...where am I?
posted by P.o.B. at 5:21 PM on May 3, 2008


Zuleika is my daughter's (middle) name.*

She tells me she was in Bristol all this time. Hmm, I've never liked that steely look in her eye.

*We're from Oxford. Oxford, UK, that is. If you got the Zuleika reference, well, you'll likely get the fact that Oxford is overstocked with alcohol distribution outlets & intersected by rivers at many points. I don't recall losing many of the tosspots recently, though.
posted by dash_slot- at 6:50 PM on May 3, 2008


Why are they all young men? Young women are just as vulnerable and dumb when drunk. Any serial killer with a thrill-seeking mindset would pick on single women too. Do they never walk along the rivers edge pissed up and alone?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2008


My brother once rescued a friend who decided to go swimming after a night out - only to remember once in the river that he didn't know how to swim.
posted by jacalata at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2008


Any serial killer with a thrill-seeking mindset would pick on single women too.

I obviously don't believe this is a serial killer at work, but the above isn't true. Serial killers virtually always have a type of victim that they stick to. Ted Bundy killed college-aged women. Jeffery Dahmer killed boys and young men. And so on.
posted by Justinian at 7:04 PM on May 3, 2008


dash_slot - actually, I wouldn't be surprised if drunk girls are less likely to end up walking home alone, because of general fear for their safety. I habitually walk home alone from my local pub, and it freaks out lots of people: many people (especially guys) will offer me a taxi fare or a lift and will sometimes insist on taking me home themselves.
posted by jacalata at 7:17 PM on May 3, 2008


I suspect a mind parasite that hides in cheap beer and forces you to kill yourself by acting in a foolish manner.
posted by Artw at 7:19 PM on May 3, 2008


In Michigan, they found something strange among the group's graffiti: the word 'Sinsiniwa.' They couldn't figure out what it meant until a few months later when they arrived in Dubuque, Iowa to investigate the death of Matt Kruziki. His body was found on Sinsiniwa Avenue.

Is there an image of this particular graffito anywhere? I'd like to see how much they're squinting their eyes to read it as 'Sinsiniwa'. They're certainly squinting quite a bit to see any similarity between those smiley faces.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:29 PM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is there something about drunk people that makes them think they really need to go for a swim?

OK. I am not a frat boy. I am not even a boy. I am not a big partier and never was. And yet, throughout my college years and the years just after, there were any number of times I drank with friends and did some stupid stuff. Luck and prudence meant that for the most part, nothing bad ever happened -- oh, except for the time we fished a big guy out of the Gulf of Maine from a sailboat, because he had been on shore and we were sailing by and he thought he could swim out to us. Um, it was May. And he hadn't had anything to drink. He just felt young, strong, and healthy.

Other things we did after drinking: Walk across a frozen lake several times, until the final time when a series of gunshot-sounds went off, we all dropped to our bellies, and made it across by wigging spread-eagle. Skinny-dipped in the murky creek at my summer camp, and also in the chlorine pool. Off Martha's Vineyard, I once dove into ocean waves, in June, after midnight. Jumped into the river at Old Saybrook, CT, in May.

No one needs a conspiracy of "murder pods" to explain the accidental drowning of young people after drinking.

Drinking is funny: it makes people prone to grandiosity and ideas of invincibility. Especially when you're under 25. It doesn't take a lot; you can still be walking, talking, and joking and make what feels like a perfectly rational decision to celebrate the beauty and mystery of life, your own youth and exuberance and power, and defiance of authority and conformity to daily norms by jumping into the nearest body of water. Not even falling or being thrown - which must also happen from time to time - but willingly, alone or in the company of friends, choosing that moment to have a refreshing splash.

I don't mean to minimize the deaths of people at all. Instead, I agree with those who have mentioned that this is one of the things that happens when people drink. It's much easier to whisper about murder pods than to address, in the public health sense, some of the myths and misconceptions, risky habits and social norms, that give rise to unsafe behavior around drinking. But isn't drinking itself a more common contributing factor to death in this age group than murder?

Expect horses.
posted by Miko at 7:48 PM on May 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Oh, the guy in the Gulf of Maine survived, after a daylong warming program to bring him back from the edge of the hypothermia that had set in after he'd been in the water no more than 4 minutes. It doesn't take much. Good thing we were close enough to get the boat to him, or he would definitely have gone under. He could no longer move his arms or legs due to the cold.
posted by Miko at 7:51 PM on May 3, 2008


It's the American version of Fan Death!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:37 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Perfect Suspect Unsuspected by Police
Back in 1990, a man entered a police station in St. Charles, Missouri, and claimed to be the next Jeffrey Dahmer. The police ignored this man, but he finally got the attention of one detective when he shared his detailed fantasies about drowning young men (Conte, 2004). A well-known profiler, Pat Brown, got involved with the case and has been monitoring this man for years. Nicknamed John Doe to avoid revealing his identity, this man reportedly wanders from town to town (McGraw, 2005). Based on her interactions with Doe, Brown believes that it is very possible that Doe, or someone like him, could be behind many of these mysterious drownings (Conte; McGraw). . .

But what if a different type of serial killer existed? What if there was someone who felt a sense of power without raping and/ or torturing victims? What if there was a serial killer who felt empowered by drowning an immobilized and sedated victim or by watching a victim struggle to stay above water and eventually drown? It just so happens that Doe is a member of a website devoted to the fetish of drowning men. . . Brown posed as a 15-year-old boy who watched his brother drown and exchanged messages with Doe on a website devoted to gay men with underwater fetishes (Conte; McGraw). She reported that during their role-playing, Doe wasn't willing to be the drowning victim, but always wanted to do the drowning (McGraw). She also reported that he enjoyed watching his victims' eyes as they drowned (Conte). Brown was able to confirm that Doe experienced sexual gratification from "watching" his victims struggle and die (McGraw). Based on her Internet encounters with Doe, Brown concluded that he was a psychopath due to his lack of feelings for the victims and capable of committing the drownings.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:15 PM on May 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


>Veteran police officers are certainly not immune from the siren call of the professional "hunch".

This bears repeating. Mind you, these are the same types of cops who pay psychics for advice and testify about "ritual satanic murders" with a straight face. They need to start teaching skepticism and logic at cop school.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:53 PM on May 3, 2008


BLING BLING!
posted by Artw at 10:57 PM on May 3, 2008


I really have to wonder how educated the officers are about midwest graffitti and tagging culture. They appear to have formed their theories about the connections between the crimes and about the individuals involved based largely on the tags found at or near the putative murder scenes. But I have to wonder how prevalent the tags-of-interest are throughout the affected areas. If someone's busily initialling every unwatched piece of concrete in Minneapolis and St. Cloud, I wouldn't be the least bit suprised to find that person's handiwork at multiple murder scenes.

Cops as experienced as Duarte and Gannon couldn't be dumb enough not to have talked to the local cops about the identities of the area's taggers, and the distribution of the tags, right? Right?
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:07 PM on May 3, 2008


This is not the first time that wackos have been involved in the "case". Read about the bloodhound trainer who claimed her dog could follow a scent after two months of winter weather--and in previous cases, scents that were two years old. (Article is in the middle of this long page, scroll down.) Here's the meat of it:

Dogs often are used in searches, frequently on a volunteer basis, but some fire and rescue personnel familiar with Bell's work criticize her methods, training and motivation.

"The dog does not have a clue," said John Zautke, a battalion chief with the Milwaukee Fire Department. He has instructed police to keep her away from search scenes, where she shows up uninvited. He said she and Hoover contaminate sites.

"She wants to get her picture in the paper," said Zautke, previously director of Milwaukee's fire rescue team. "The more she sees her name in the paper or on the news, the bolder she gets."

Bell disagreed. "I have never sought out the news," she said. Bell, a part-time data-entry technician, said she trained Hoover herself after attending about a week of seminars some years ago. She said she's also learned from television shows, including "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." Hoover has no accreditation.

posted by gimonca at 12:50 AM on May 4, 2008


Why are they all young men? Young women are just as vulnerable and dumb when drunk. Any serial killer with a thrill-seeking mindset would pick on single women too. Do they never walk along the rivers edge pissed up and alone?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:00 PM on May 3


One potential difference is that men can easily pee while standing. If you're a man, drunk, and need to urinate, a river without guardrails might seem like a good place to pee in. I don't know how different things are for women, but it's very easy to imagine a man trying to pee into a river and falling in.
posted by Jpfed at 12:55 AM on May 4, 2008


naju writes "I had no clue this is such a common occurrence. Is there something about drunk people that makes them think they really need to go for a swim? (I'm guessing yes. But still. Harvard med students don't pull that kind of stuff, do they?)"

Note that wisdom isn't correlated with intelligence.
posted by Mitheral at 1:17 AM on May 4, 2008


Back in 1990, a man entered a police station in St. Charles, Missouri, and claimed to be the next Jeffrey Dahmer.

Well that's pretty fucking horrifying.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:21 AM on May 4, 2008


Twenty three years ago, my not-quite-college-aged best friend got drunk at a party by a lake and disappeared. His body was found the next morning, drowned.

These serial killers have been at it a long time.

Correlation != Causation
posted by moonbiter at 3:22 AM on May 4, 2008


I just realized that that last might have been taken as some sort of defense of this ridiculous hypothesis of serial killers running around killing drunken young men by drowning. Please don't take it that way. On second thought, the correlation/causation argument is double edged and Occam's razor is a better guiding principle here.

There are many cases of drunken young men's bodies found drowned. Which is more simpler:
  1. Roving bands of serial killers are killing drunken young men by drowning, or
  2. Drunken young men do stupid things that get them killed.
posted by moonbiter at 3:29 AM on May 4, 2008


"More simpler"? Jeebus, I must be drunk myself. File all of the above under "Preview before Posting Comments."
posted by moonbiter at 3:33 AM on May 4, 2008


IMHO, This is how the idea of "The Devil" or some other mysterious embodied evil gets started (and eventually projected into the supernatural). The experience of an evil without that experience being attributable to a specific object or subject is too much to contemplate. Such an experience requires a cause. (All the other boys came home from the sorority party so "X" must have happened; or person "Y" must have intervened.)

It creates a meaning (in this case victimization) when the trauma and grief of sheer random meaninglessness is just too much to bear, and postulates that "someone" is responsible.
posted by MasonDixon at 3:36 AM on May 4, 2008


Parents are willing to believe that a murderer -- no, a secret gang of murderers! -- must have killed their darling boys, because the alternative is that their boys were dumb or drunk or clumsy enough, and the universe random enough, and God nonexistent enough, for these boys to have just fallen into a river and died for no damned reason but shots and suds.

Most retired detectives probably wish they had solved something big, and now they've got the time time on their hands to look into things that actual cops don't consider worth the time. It beats scratch tickets.

Thus the motivations to drag out this silly story.
posted by pracowity at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


[And I probably should have read the comment before mine.]
posted by pracowity at 6:46 AM on May 4, 2008


Check the link that rtha pointed to: According to the report, Miller told police, "You have no idea what's going on" before he moved further into the water.
Yep, we have no idea.
posted by dabitch at 7:18 AM on May 4, 2008


Killer whales also live in pods, and then routinely murder various things in various bodies of water.

Which is why they have to be incarcerated in Marineland until they've paid their debt to society.

Also, they killed my uncle. He was found floating in a pool when I was about 10 yo. According to my aunt, "the police suspect foul play". At 10, my first thought was, "Hmmm. Tommy likes to drink quite a bit, and he fell in the pool." Plus, in southern Manitoba, there are few pods of killer whales, so I think we can leave them out.
posted by sneebler at 7:19 AM on May 4, 2008


The lesson in all of this is clear:

Don't drink and dive.
posted by crazylegs at 7:33 AM on May 4, 2008


I highly doubt that all of these deaths are connected, but I think there is the possibility that a serial killer is involved in a small number of these cases if they're finding similar graffiti near the bodies. I grew up in Dubuque and was home for Christmas when Matthew Kruziki disappeared and died. I know that area. If he walked to the river to take a leak, he walked a long way out of his way, past a ton of other open bars (with bathrooms inside) and over a set of busy train tracks to do it. This was on a very cold evening, and he did this without a coat on. Since it was cold and in the middle of the winter, there was most likely a thick sheet of ice, at least on the edges of the river. What I'm saying is falling in would've taken some effort, and this is why the EDPD treated this as a suspicious death. The appearance of "Sinsinawa" miles away and near the scene of another death is also very creepy. Sinsinawa is the name of the street that all those bars are on, and it leads to the river. It's also a tiny town and a huge convent on a mound a few miles away in Wisconsin. The mound is visible from Dubuque That's it. I've never met anyone named Sinsinawa, nor have I ever heard that name mentioned outside of the Dubuque/SW Wisconsin area. I've never even heard it pronounced correctly by an out-of-towner. Why would anyone paint that on a wall so far away?
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:50 AM on May 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


I can't find even gallows humor in any of this.

One night about ten years ago, I was walking to a theater in Chicago to perform in a play on a Saturday night. My nightly route took me past a string of bars on Clark Street between Wellington and Diversey. It was a freezing cold evening in November, around six-thirty, and all of the bars were packed with college football fans who'd spent the afternoon watching football and drinking.

As I passed one of the bars on this strip, a young man ran out the door. He looked to be in his early twenties. Now, the temperature was well below freezing, and this man was wearing shorts, a mesh athletic jersey and tennis shoes without socks. He started to run in a zig-zag pattern up the sidewalk in front of me toward one of those gyros/pizza/hamburger stands that used to be rather common on the main drags in Chicago. As he fumbled along, he pulled something out of his pocket. As he did, the contents of the pocket scattered across the sidewalk behind him - he didn't notice and kept running. He crossed Clark Street against the light, barely missed being hit by a car, and got cussed by the obviously and justifiably peeved driver. He did not seem to notice or care, so desperate was he to tuck into a gyros or a basket of fries away from the blistering cold.

I followed along behind him and gathered up his belongings. All tolled, he had dropped almost a hundred dollars in cash, his driver's license, his bank card, and a couple of random receipts, one of which was from an ATM. When I caught up with him inside the restaurant, he was leaning up against a pay phone fumbling with his wallet, trying, I assume, to piece together in his addled brain where all of the money he knew he had just gotten out of an ATM not a few hours ago had disappeared to. It took me about five minutes to explain to him that I was handing him back his own belongings, not trying to give him something that didn't belong to him or steal something from him. He was so boiled his eyes couldn't focus and he could not formulate a full sentence. Finally, he recognized his driver's license and began sort of petting the top of my head and nodding in recognition and understanding.

Youth, alcohol, cold, water and solitude. Sometimes young people die and it's tragic and senseless. Personally, rather than an investigation into some sort of evil network of cell-based serial killers menacing young men all over the frozen tundra of the midwest in January, I'd like to invite the entire freshman class of every college or university to a huge kegger/overnight lock-in in the gymnasium during orientation. All the beer you can drink and pizza you can eat, and the whole proceeding is videotaped and audio recorded all night long. At seven o'clock the next morning, the revelers are awakened by the hammering of a two by four being rattled around inside a metal garbage can, followed by a screening of each and every ridiculous conversation, head-long spill into the bleachers, awkward hook-up, barfing on one's shoes or inside one's sleeping bag, fist-fight over nothing, etc. This is followed by a mile-run around the gym and culminates with having to clean up the previous night's mess with Christian rock blaring over the loudspeakers.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 9:23 AM on May 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


Personally, rather than an investigation into some sort of evil network of cell-based serial killers menacing young men all over the frozen tundra of the midwest in January, I'd like to invite the entire freshman class of every college or university to a huge kegger/overnight lock-in in the gymnasium during orientation. All the beer you can drink and pizza you can eat, and the whole proceeding is videotaped and audio recorded all night long.

My small, somewhat unorthodox undergrad put out beer for us, providing funds, including for kegs, and space for student groups to throw parties/events. Not all that often and not as orientation, but by Halloween of my freshman year I was drinking subsidized brews. (Age checks were very nominal.) No shitshows, in fact, occurred.

This approach seems to have worked better in terms of encouraging responsible behavior than the middle school sleepaway camp / state fair atmosphere large state college I go to now puts on and that I understand to be the more common college experience.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:54 AM on May 4, 2008


Addendum: I think another important factor was lax identification policies meaning that everyone could go to bars. Eventually the cops cracked down somewhat and you had to have a fake ID, though not one that would fool anyone.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:01 AM on May 4, 2008


I highly doubt that all of these deaths are connected, but I think there is the possibility that a serial killer is involved in a small number of these cases if they're finding similar graffiti near the bodies.

Yeah, most of these deaths can be chalked up to late-adolescent drunken idiocy. And I'm not convinced that there is some kind of tightly-knit cult of killers preying on people.

But the graffiti and the presence of a seriously sick dude who was quoted as saying that he would rather do his killings in a state without a death penalty lead me to believe that at least a few of these deaths might not be accidental.

From the link:

But there was also something calculating about the man, Brown noted. During one of their chats, for example, while fantasizing about murder by drowning, the man noted that he would take great pains not to kill in a state that had the death penalty. "He said he'd never kill in Missouri," Brown recalled, "because it's a death penalty state." Minnesota, where Chris Jenkins died, has no death penalty. Nor does Wisconsin.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:22 AM on May 4, 2008


Back in 1990, a man entered a police station in St. Charles, Missouri, and claimed to be the next Jeffrey Dahmer.

Well that's pretty fucking horrifying.


What's more frightening is that Dahmer wasn't even arrested until 1991, so this guy wanted to be Dahmer even before the rest of the world knew who Dahmer was. DUN-DUN-DUNNN!
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:27 AM on May 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


From the KSTP article: "Chris [Jenkins] was abducted in a cargo van," she said. "He was driven around Minneapolis for hours and tortured. He was taken down to the Mississippi River and he was murdered. And after that, his body was positioned and taken to a different spot and then to a different point in the Mississippi River," she said.

The blog suggests that Jenkins died in a robbery, but I'll trust the mother to know what's going on in her own son's case. Maybe I'm missing something, but if he was tortured for hours wouldn't there be some trace of it? And if it's indeed serial killers, wouldn't the other bodies show signs of being tortured? I'm sure the coroners didn't do a full-out autopsy if the deaths were ruled accidents, but wouldn't they notice signs of torture?
posted by lilac girl at 11:52 AM on May 4, 2008


From a Gladwell piece on theorizing about a crime that should be required reading:
We are now so familiar with crime stories told through the eyes of the profiler
that it is easy to lose sight of how audacious the genre is. The traditional detective story begins with the body and centers on the detective’s search for the culprit. Leads are pursued. A net is cast, widening to encompass a bewilderingly diverse pool of suspects: the butler, the spurned lover, the embittered nephew, the shadowy European. That’s a Whodunit. In the profiling genre, the net is narrowed. The crime scene doesn’t initiate our search for the killer. It defines the killer for us. The profiler sifts through the case materials, looks off into the distance, and knows. “Generally, a psychiatrist can study a man and make a few reasonable predictions about what the man may do in the future—how he will react to such-and-such a stimulus, how he will behave in such-and-such a situation,” Brussel writes. “What I have done is reverse the terms of the prophecy. By studying a man’s deeds, I have deduced what kind of man he might be.” Look for a middle-aged Slav in a double-breasted suit.
From :
At best, the detectives' "evidence" is shoddy. They acknowledged they are promoting their theory because they need money to pursue their investigation. They were on "Good Morning America" Monday; could a book deal be far behind?
Also:
the La Crosse Police Department noted that drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional death in the U.S., and that men make up 90 percent of those age 15 to 24 who drown. Furthermore, the La Crosse victims all had blood-alcohol levels between 0.2 and 0.44 percent - from two-and-a-half to five-and-a-half times the legal limit.
From
here:
The victims were all 19- to 23-year-old white males. They were high academic achievers and many played competitive sports, according to media accounts.
. Guess goes out to bars in college towns?

One thing I'm unclear on. Many of these links talk about the list Gannon and Duarte "compiled" of students whose deaths they think were caused by this mysterious ring of killers who somehow identify their victims (to make sure they're white, achievers, and play competitive sports), and yet, without being seen by anyone, get them to separate from their friends and wander off alone while drunk near the water. Okay, well and good. But from what information are they compiling these lists? Do they use data on the drownings of all people ages 19-23 nationwide? All men? All college students? All white men? All white male college students? Just white male college students in the Great Lakes states to which they are limiting their speculation? When compared with the number of all people who have drowned in those states in the last decade, what proportion of drownings do these make up? What proportion are white? Male? College-aged? What about compared with nationwide statistics?

And why doesn't this band of killers ever seem to operate during the warm months of the year?

And what's with including people who got drunk and wandered off, but whose bodies have never been recovered? How can you even argue their disappearance is part of the evidence?

One way to find a pattern is to start using only the evidence that fits your predetermined pattern. Then it's crystal-clear!

Given 40 deaths of the same cause pre-selected for a list based on age, race, student status, and region, there will be some obvious commonalities. I think it's quite possible that foul play may have been involved in one or two of them. It might even possible that some elements of some of the crimes are related, though beyond the smiley face (a symbol you have to admit is not uncommon - you have probably drawn one yourself somewhere in your life, and most of us could probably find one painted somewhere ourselves within a few minutes of where we're sitting). But to invent a serial killing society based on nothing but conjecture and imagination is a real stretch.The page title is right on: Fox News to the rescue. I was worried we didn't have enough fear to monger!

It's pretty sad that these young guys died in an awful way and I'm really sad for their families. I just can't see any merit to the idea of its being the kind of activity the detectives think it is.
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eight college-age men have drowned in alcohol-related incidents in the city of La Crosse, Wis., in the past nine years, but local leaders are unsure what to do about a drinking culture that's as deeply ingrained as it is deadly.
The city also lies where the Black and La Crosse rivers empty into the Mississippi....the waterfront can be deadly. Investigators believe Dion fell off a levee that doubles as a pedestrian walkway and a dock for visiting paddlewheel boats. The levee had no railing, allowing him to tumble 10 feet into the frigid Mississippi.

His death brought to a head years of fears that a serial killer was stalking drunks. Police held a town meeting to reassure people, explaining that none of the victims was attacked. Investigators said the students had been drinking heavily and noted that Riverside Park is just two blocks from downtown bars.
Gannon explained, "Right now really, we're out of finances and really can't do any more on the cases.
In fact, we looked at 89 cases in totality. We knocked out 30 right away and there was 19 cases that we haven't even done yet -- and out of those 19, it looks like at least 10 or 15 of those could be connected." posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on May 4, 2008


I want to know more about the smiley faces. Everyone is saying smiley face graffiti is so common, and I guess I'll take their word for it -- honestly, I almost never see smiley face graffiti, but maybe I haven't been paying attention -- but the one shown in the picture is quite distinctive from your normal smiley face. It has large, oval eyes, an open, filled-in mouth and smile lines protruding from it, and then that "x" or whatever it is on its forehead. If they were all painted with the same quirks as that one, then it seems worth considering that there's a connection in those twelve or so drownings. If they're just random, generic smiley faces, then I'm more inclined to believe it's just a coincidence.

All the article says, though, is "The paint color and size of the face varies." I don't know if that then means all the same quirks are always present.

And either way, even if it's the same smiley face, I think an above commenter might have a point that it might be some sort of frat thing, part of a hazing ritual or other. Also, it might just be a picture that's caught on with taggers; I live in Austin, TX and you see the same precise tag, over and over. (Our taggers are funny; one guy tagged everything with a small picture of a watermelon for a while.) I wouldn't make the mental jump to "serial killer" immediately, but still... it would be worth investigating.

The Sinsiniwa thing seems pretty obviously worth investigating. I very much doubt all the kids involved were murdered, but the snarkrage that police are even investigating it baffles me. If you find two drownings connected by graffiti that says Sinsiniwa, it makes sense to examine the accompanying graffiti and see if there might be more connections elsewhere. It would be foolish not to. If it turns out there's no connection then there's no connection, but that's why you investigate these things.

Granted, it would be weird if there was more than one person involved, but according to the link posted by an above commenter, there are websites devoted to the fetish of drowning men. The easiest men to drown are probably drunk ones. If it turned out something like that was responsible, how weird would it be, really? This sort of thing would be less likely to happen before the internet, so of course it would seem weird. It doesn't mean that is what's happening, but I wouldn't dismiss it so quickly, either.
posted by Nattie at 1:26 PM on May 4, 2008


What's more frightening is that Dahmer wasn't even arrested until 1991, so this guy wanted to be Dahmer even before the rest of the world knew who Dahmer was. DUN-DUN-DUNNN!

That's a typo. Here's the actual quote:
The man first came to Brown's attention in the late 1990s, she said, when authorities in St. Charles, Missouri, contacted her. "They had this guy coming into their police station and he was extremely annoying," Brown said. "He had come in... telling them that he was going to be the next Jeffrey Dahmer."
Have you folks read the link that jason's planet suggested? I don't know if "crimelibrary.com" or "encylcopedia.com" are reliable, but they are focusing on a single suspect who works in a funeral home, bragged to police about drowning young white men, is in a chat room for drowning fetishists, and recently served a year in prison for threatening the family of a young hit he hit on, after the dad told him to back off. He also travels around the Midwest a lot, which eliminates the silly "pods of serial killers" theory.
posted by msalt at 1:33 PM on May 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


oops, "young man he hit on", not "young hit he hit on."
posted by msalt at 1:37 PM on May 4, 2008


Wow, I had no idea such a fetish even existed (all NSFW): scuba/drowning fetish at aquatapes.com -- RubAquaGirl.com -- Underwaterfetish.com
posted by msalt at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2008


Based on analysis of data taken from his hard drive, I suspect msalt.
posted by Kibbutz at 2:22 PM on May 4, 2008


Some discussion boards are claiming that the suspect mentioned in the links I referenced above uses the aliases Richard Blake Lilly and John Blake Lilly III.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:24 PM on May 4, 2008


If they were all painted with the same quirks as that one,

They weren't. The first link in the FPP contains images of the 5 smiley faces they seem to have found - no two alike, and a couple of them pretty hard to see at all. Another pic.

f you find two drownings connected by graffiti that says Sinsiniwa,

They didn't find two examples of graffiti saying "Sinsiniwa." They found the word "Sinsiniwa" at one site, and much later, while investigating another death, they used bloodhounds to trace the victim's scent to a point blocks away from the place on the river at which they "believe" killers put a body into the water. That point was at a street called Sinsiniwa Avenue.

Sinsinawa is a Chippewa place-name that shows up across the Midwest. It's also a town in Wisconsin, an Indian mound in Wisconsin, a creek that is a tributary of the Mississippi River, a women's Christian group, and more - Google Maps shows a bunch of Sinsinawa somethings-or-other across the Upper Midwest.

I don't have any problem with police investigating this, but it looks currently employed police have indeed investigated it, and did not find substantial reason to continue investigating. The FBI also declined to take up the case. I'm not saying there's nothing at all to it time will tell. Some elements of the narrative given by the retired detectives do spark the imagination, but certainly some evidence that is not totally circumstantial would be necessary to indicate that there is any actual connection between what seems by all accounts to be a fairly common form of accidental death in college towns. If (when, obviously, given the drowning statistics) other white college guys show up drowned, the police will obviously investigate those deaths, too, probably with a sharper eye due to the sensational coverage.

The existence of the fetish sites is no sort of confirmation for me. There is every kind of nasty disgusting cruel creepy fetish out there, with websites to go with. In the absence of any actual reason to suspect an organized group of people acting out this fantasy, I don't think we can extrapolate quite this far from the existence of some sites to the fact that people actually do drown sometimes.

What's amazing is to watch the stories start to spin, as everyone projects their own thoughts onto the tale. White supremacy blogs seem to be loving it, since the detectives are only focusing on drownings of white students (even though the statistics indicate that black people in the same age group drown accidentally nearly twice as often as whites). Look at just the comments on this news site, where person after person chimes in with "OMG a young college guy drowned at a college near ME so it's happening everywhere!!": "Makes you wonder if this isn’t happening in all 50 states on some scale. Chilling." According to this gang of sleuths, there's evidence that the ring may be operating in Edmonton, CA, MIddlebury, VT, Ocean City, MD, Coxackie, NY, Tampa, FL, Charlotte, NC, Lowell, MA, Canton, NY, and Omaha, NE.

That's one widespread wacko sex-fetish murder ring, or one really well-travelled killer.

The comments also pick up every other American fear-mongering trope you'd expect, including speculation that it's a Mexican satanic cult, a "black or Hispanic gang," (because they are violent), that the victims were force-fed alcohol intravenously or through an enema(!) and that young female accomplices are probably used to lure the men away. One guy who woke up in a field after a night of drinking with "no memory" of how he got there is offered as a possible survivor of an attack by the gang.

Another commenter:
In 5 of the 40 cases, bodies have not been found. This can also be said for the Charlotte, NC case of Kyle Fleischmann and a similar case in Duluth, GA of Justin Gaines. Both are not considered part of the 40 smiley face murders, but you have to wonder, both of them were young, good looking men who disappeared. Both had been out drinking at bars, and neither has been heard from since. I wouldn’t doubt if this goes far beyond the 40 cases and covers all states. Such a sad world we live in…
People are so ready to believe and to spin out their own stories, matching exactly their own fears and agendas. In this comment on that news site, which links to one of the NY drowning news stories, the police chief's remark sums up my reaction: "“What do all these communities have in common? Colleges, rivers and booze."

I'd rather approach stories like this with skepticism than hysteria, and research rather than speculation. If it's true, that will become clear. If not, then geez, I'm not going to fan the flames of baseless speculation.

Snopes discussion.
posted by Miko at 3:01 PM on May 4, 2008


The comments also pick up every other American fear-mongering trope you'd expect

Oh, I also forgot another mention that gays are "known to" abduct and abuse young men, according to some webvestigators. Something for everyone!
posted by Miko at 3:15 PM on May 4, 2008


I blame wi-fi. And vaccinations.
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on May 4, 2008


They didn't find two examples of graffiti saying "Sinsiniwa." They found the word "Sinsiniwa" at one site...

I don't even believe they found that. My guess would be that they found an indistinct graffito unto which they were able to project the word "Sinsiniwa" ex post facto. It's striking that they haven't released a photograph of this "chilling" evidence.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:36 PM on May 4, 2008


One of the guys who drowned around here, Chris Jenkins, was a very-white-looking guy who was last seen wearing a stereotypically "Indian" Halloween costume and getting thrown out of a bar in a neighborhood where there are a lot of Native people. We all figured that he had just pissed off the wrong guy.
posted by streetdreams at 3:53 PM on May 4, 2008


I don't even believe they found that. My guess would be that they found an indistinct graffito unto which they were able to project the word "Sinsiniwa" ex post facto. It's striking that they haven't released a photograph of this "chilling" evidence.

Agreed. There is one frame of the Channel 5 report that supposedly shows this graffito - to me, it looks like a completely illegible scrawl which was deciphered as Sinsiniwa after the fact.

It's natural to want to want to make sense of this horrible sort of accident. After my 80 year old grandmother died in her very own bed after being bedridden for almost 12 years, my mother went through an odd phase of questioning every pill or linen change or insulin injection noted in the home health care nursing records, and even went so far as to accuse an appraiser of stealing several pieces of my grandmother's jewelry. It turned out my mother had forgotten that she'd buried her mother wearing those particular, dear things, and it wasn't until a year later that she realized it and called the appraiser to apologize.

It's surely statistically possible that a fraction of these cases may have involved a shove, an opportunistic attack on a defenseless young man, or a prank gone awry for which no one will step forward and assume responsibility. All of those things are possible. But, as Miko rather thoroughly points out upthread, to extrapolate from all of the particulars of each of these individual cases that there is, in fact, some terrible threat out there to our young, athletic, intelligent men greater than the combination of alcohol, youthful folly and terrible luck is a stretch. We are all rather obsessed with the fragile nature of our existence to begin with and when this sort of lonely, unjust death occurs, we start looking to blame. What saddens and, indeed, angers me is that we are getting farther afield of assuming responsibility for our own choices and these sorts of sensationalist, opportunistic "reports" only serve to emphasize how horrible and dangerous our world is while simultaneously de-emphasizing the obvious preventability of leaving ourselves open to certain types of victimization. How about this - let's stop glamorizing the consumption of alcohol every five minutes during televised sporting events or in the pages of every magazine. Let's not offer drink specials that involve a fishbowl and a fifth of rum at bars frequented by college kids. Let's expose our kids to a drink every now and again - a glass of wine at dinner, a beer at a bbq - while they're still in our care as parents. Perhaps, when we stop fetishizing alcohol as a culture, our kids won't fetishize it to the point that they abandon all sense the minute they're out of their cage at college. And maybe fewer of them will die alone in freezing lakes and rivers and streams.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:10 PM on May 4, 2008 [5 favorites]


I don't even believe they found that. My guess would be that they found an indistinct graffito

I think you're right, mr_roboto. The only image of the graffiti I have seen has been on the broadcast news, and they only show a blurred, incomplete black-and-white photo of some graffiti that looks like anything but "Sinsiniwa" - in fact, it looks like something with a lot of big loopy Ps in it. Perhaps this is among the crucial case information the detectives are saying they are holding back in order to build a case.

The more I read about this (Slow Sunday) the more appalled I am that these news outlets are indulging in this groundless speculation. The Good Morning America tele-host accepts the story at face value, no challenge at all.
posted by Miko at 4:22 PM on May 4, 2008


So, did these serial killers murder Jeff Buckley, or not?
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2008


Oh. crap. I had to use a porta potty today and I'll be damned if there wasn't a smiley face with an x through the forehead scrawled on the inside of the thing... some poor guy was drowned in that thing? Now that's a horrible way to die.
posted by incongruity at 10:14 PM on May 4, 2008


Probably better than surviving down there.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:59 PM on May 4, 2008


Fiends don't let friends dive drunk.
posted by crazylegs at 12:41 AM on May 5, 2008


Call Mulder and Scully!

Did they find cigarette butts anywhere?
posted by asok at 2:52 AM on May 5, 2008


I heard they all watched this videotape, right? And then, seven days later....
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:36 AM on May 5, 2008


Occam's Razor would have it that most of these young men got drunk and screwed up in some way that resulted in death. I have no problem believing that. Some of them may have been victimized by evil-minded assholes, true enough. But "pods" of murderers?

I don't think so. Sociopaths could never work together like that. They're too selfish.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:30 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I see the usage of the word 'pod' as making sense for a group of aquatic killers. But wouldn't it sound better alliteratively to say "a kelpie of killers"?
posted by FatherDagon at 2:19 PM on May 5, 2008


Ooh! Or "a morgen of murderers"! Or "a selkie of slayers"! The list could go on and on...
posted by FatherDagon at 2:27 PM on May 5, 2008


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