Everything You Need to Know about the Smiley Face Killers Theory

For the past decade, hundreds of prominent men in college have been found unresponsive and floating in water surrounded by suspicious circumstances. In the years since, two retired New York Police Department detectives have come up with a theory claiming that these are murder cases.

1. Why is it being talked about now?

The theory has only gained traction over the past few years. However, Oxygen’s new docuseries about this theory seems to be a big reason why the theory is once again making headlines.

2. What is the theory?

The theory is that these individuals were well known in college, whether academically, athletically or both. The victims had all been reported missing and then discovered in a body of water following a night of drinking. It’s believed that they were kidnapped and held against their will between the time they were last seen and the discovery of their body. Near the location where each body is found, there has always been a mysterious drawing of a smiley face, hence the name “the Smiley Face Killers.”

Courtesy: Oxygen

3. Who came up with the theory?

Two retired detectives, Anthony Duarte and Kevin Gannon, have been investigating this theory for nearly 12 years. They believe the first victim was a Fordham University student discovered in 1997 by the name of Patrick McNeill.

4. Are these murder cases?

Officially no. Each of these men was labeled as a missing person and upon recovery of their body, the individual cases were closed. Their deaths were labeled as “accidental,” and the days or weeks they were missing were seemingly forgotten about.

5. How many victims are there?

There are potentially hundreds of victims who are believed to fall under this theory. However, the official number that the detectives have come up with is 45. 

Courtesy: Psychology of Crime in the News

6. Who could have done this?

The detectives believe that a group of people committed these crimes, rather than an individual. In 2008, Anthony Duarte explained to CNN “It's so widespread. We have so many different victims in so many different areas.”

7. Are there any recent victims?

It’s believed that the most recent victim was discovered in 2017. The Duquesne University student was last seen walking through Pittsburg on surveillance cameras. His body was found in the Ohio River in March, nearly 40 days after he was last seen or heard from. Upon discovery, the body displayed little to no damage, which contradicts investigators’ theory that Dakota’s body traveled miles down the river.

8. What is law enforcement’s official stance on this theory?

The FBI believes each of these cases is “alcohol-related drownings.” Each local agency involved in the individual cases also takes the same stance. Since the cases were labeled as “Missing Person,” they were closed upon discovery of the body seeing as it was believed the deaths were accidental.