ST. CLOUD, Minn. (FOX 9) - An old theory behind a series of Minnesota drownings ruled accidental by authorities will be back in the spotlight this weekend in the form of a television show.
Some people believe hundreds of the deaths are the work of organized serial killers known as the “Smiley Face Killers.”
Now, it’s the focus of a new special series on the Oxygen Network featuring a St. Cloud State University professor.
The theory is as disturbing as it is controversial. Hundreds of young men across the country mysteriously drowned after a night out drinking with friends. The question asked by some is, were their deaths all accidents, or is there something more sinister at play?
“It solidified our determination, our belief from the investigative team that these were homicides,” said St. Cloud State Criminal Justice Professor Lee Gilbertson.
Gilbertson is part of the new series on Oxygen called, “Smiley Faced Killers: The Hunt for Justice.”
Four of the six episodes are based on the book, “Case Studies in Drowning Forensics,” which Gilbertson wrote with a retired New York detective.
They believe someone was drugging, abducting and killing college-aged men and dumping their victims in bodies of water.
“The goal of the series is to try and get justice for these families,” said Gilbertson. “Whether or not they ever find out who the killers are remains to be seen.”
FOX 9 first reported on this theory back in 2006 when a couple of Dilbertson’s graduate students examined an urban legend that a serial killer was roaming the I-94 corridor from Fargo to Detroit, claiming possible victims like Chris Jenkins and Josh Guimond.
Gilbertson now believes there is more than one killer, as the deaths stretch nationwide and the killers leave smiley face graffiti nearby.
"The first thing I have for detractors is a question: How many autopsy reports, how many autopsy photographs have you seen? Usually the answer is none,” Gilbertson said.
According to the professor, the aim is to get local police departments to re-classify the cases featured in the series from accidental or undetermined causes of death to homicides so investigators can look at them with a new set of eyes and determine if they are connected.
"We've gotten to the point where we've got to take this to the public and if we can't get police to investigate, at least we can let people know these are homicides and hopefully the knowledge will give them power and these guys will look out for each other and have some prevention,” said Gilbertson.