Who are 'The Smiley Face Killers'?
The Smiley Face Killers, an investigation, from bestselling author Steph Young.
For the past 20 years, hundreds of college-aged men have disappeared, after a night of drinking. Silently, soundlessly, vanishing without trace, only to be found some time later, dead in the water, but with no water in their lungs. They did not drown.
Many are still missing...
Who are The Smiley Face Killers?
Who is abducting, torturing & murdering college-aged men in the US, UK and Canada?
These men are abducted, held for a period of time, murdered, then disposed of in bodies of water. The original investigators found graffiti near the scenes, frequently with the Smiley Face symbol...
In almost every case, the authorities have ruled the deaths 'accidental'... but something far darker is at work here....and it isn't stopping. A long history and a growing number of chilling unsolved disappearances and murders of young men in cities, who vanish for several days, or several weeks, and are later found in water.
The Smiley Face Killers: Who is Abducting, Torturing and Murdering College-Aged Men in the US, Canada and the UK?
The Secrets of the Smiley Face Serial Killers...
Creepy Unexplained Disappearances: Investigating The Smiley Face Killers. based on my 2014 book. Who’s abducting, torturing, and murdering college-aged men in the US, UK, and Canada....?
Scores of young men have vanished without a trace, only to be found dead weeks or months later, in remote rivers or creeks, shallow ponds or canals, in areas that search parties have searched multiple times before; then later their bodies are discovered there, as though they have been placed there deliberately to be found.
“They go directly into the shallow water. And then they are all gone….. no ghost, no memories.….as if they never lived in the first place. And then they stay there; awake and afraid.”
“The evil is rampant and deep and widespread. He was tortured, taken to the river and killed. Then his body was ‘positioned.’’
“Loaded in cargo van. Paid in dollars green.”
“We take what we need and leave. Understand this: This is necessary. Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on death feeds on life.”
“To murder a man was an act of the greatest devoutness.’
“This is what they did to my son. Someone killed my son. Before Henry died, he was pleading to someone who dropped him in the dark… Henry paid for you to learn the lesson… that morning, he had no idea that he was going to die…”
“If people knew the depth of this, they would be terrified to be outside at night, whether out in the country or in the city.”
There is something very sinister happening to college-age men. It has been going on since the early ’90’s, and quite probably since before then. It isn’t stopping; it appears to be escalating.
Young men attending college are going missing; the numbers are rising as they disappear in what can only be described as the most sinister and inexplicable circumstances. Then they are found dead; always in water, often very shallow water. Very often however, they have not drowned.
‘He is screaming, pleading and growling in raw, animalistic agony. In the background, a voice interrupts his screams and calmly tells him, in a cold, emotionless, detached voice, “Stop it.”
“I couldn’t get through to him. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t tell me where he was. 8 minutes into the call there was suddenly this ghastly screaming. I started crying.”
What is 'The Smiley Face Murder Theory.'
I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.
Letter from Congressman Sam Graves to the Honorable Robert Mueller concerning new evidence and a request that FBI reopen the Smiley Face Killings.
Letter provided by Mr. Bill Szostak, Josh Szostak's father;to militaryace via email.
'The Smiley Face Murder Theory -
Many don’t buy into 'The Smiley Face Killers.' Many don't believe in 'The Smiley Face Murder Theory.' Many don’t buy into the belief that there’s something strange going on. They say young men and drinking doesn’t go together very well and that accidents are inevitable. Of course, this is a possibility, but when taking a look at some of these cases individually, invariably there is an element of high strangeness about how and why they ended up dead in the water. When looking at them all as a whole there is a very clear set of commonalities and patterns which link them together. And these commonalities are terrifying.
How does a young man end up dead in water that is only a couple of feet deep? Why can’t he get out of that water, even though he is not drunk? Why can’t he be found in that water, often for weeks when it is searched multiple times? Why would he go to the most remote body of water, in the opposite direction to the one in which he was heading? Why did his cell phone suddenly go dead after he said something disturbing? Why do many of them make desperate phone calls just moments before something happens to them? Why are some of them in such a state of terror or horror when they phone their parents or friends?
Why does it always happen on a night out? How do they disappear from bars yet no-one sees them go? What are they seeing, in the final moments before their phone is cut off? Why are many missing one shoe? Why do few of them have any signs of injury or trauma on their body?
For anyone thinking there is not something very odd going on, for anyone thinking this is just an urban legend, perhaps this set of circumstances is a good example for contemplation. One mother says; “We almost lost Cullen on Sunday. It all started the night before. He and his friend Ryan had gone off to La Cross to the bars, with their friend Jay. My son drove and they all planned to stay the night at Jay’s. At 1.30a.m. they were at John’s Bar. At ‘bar time’ Cullen was no-where to be found. Ryan and Jay were trying to find him until 5.30 a.m. Cullen resurfaced at 7.00 a.m. in the Emergency Room of the hospital. He remembers being in the Bar. The next thing he remembers is being in the river. He fought his way out of the river and collapsed on the shore. He had no jacket or shoes.
He ran to the sound of the cars nearby, saw a sign for the hospital and ran to the emergency room in just his socks. He voluntarily gave urine and blood samples. I’m thinking he must have had way too much to drink. His results came back; he was not drunk, and yet, he cannot remember anything from 1.30 a.m. until he woke up in the water. What did someone put in his drink? I don’t think he realizes he almost died. I don’t think he realizes someone almost killed him. He somehow managed to get out of the water. I think that he was NOT drunk is a factor.”
Strangely, he is not the only boy in that area of La Crosse, Wisconsin, to have been in a desperate fight for his life. In the next case however, it ended in tragedy and untold suffering. Jeff Geesey was found drowned in the same river, in 1999. This case was investigated by Retired Detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte along with Professor Gilbertson of St Cloud University, a specialist in Gang Stalking and Domestic Terrorism. This young man too had disappeared during a night out in a Bar. He vanished on April 10th. His body was recovered on May 24th in the river.
A bloodhound privately brought in by this team had tracked the boy’s scent to the Niedbalski Bridge, Wisconsin, where it had then performed a ‘trauma roll,’ which was indicative of a physical altercation. It indicated that the boy had undergone a physical altercation of some type. The dog’s behavior then indicated that the boy had been placed into a vehicle and transported from the spot to where his body was recovered. He was found in a shallow gravel pit, drowned. He was missing one shoe, which strangely is often the case. The dog tracked away from the shallow pit however, indicating that someone who had been in physical contact with the boy, had walked away from the area after leaving the body.
Chillingly, Gannon and Gilbertson point out that this dog also picked up on another missing boy’s scent; the boy ‘Cullen,’ whose mother (in the previous account) had written of her son’s lucky escape after inexplicably finding himself in the river. Her son was the lucky one because for Jeff Gessey his fate was horrific. His body displayed signs that he had been held somewhere for an extended period of time, hanging upside down. His body had been drained of blood. In another case, a victim had been restrained by the neck and his face and body burnt to a char. Others have no signs of injury and yet no water in their lungs. How could they have drowned then? Others have simply never been seen again.
When I spoke to Professor Gilbertson about 3 years ago, he pointed out to me that he was concerned that the deaths appeared to have spread to the U.K. I had also spoken with former federal agent (name withheld). They too had been following the cases from the beginning and are still investigating them now. “Look at all the names here and we think we've only scratched the surface; that's what's really scary to me,’ he said. I had also spoken with several family members of the victims, who were of the opinion that these were not simple ‘accidents,’ or ‘misadventure.’
When I spoke to Professor Gilbertson in February 2016, he said they had spread to Ireland. How could this possibly be? Mystery enshrouds so many of these cases and on a side note, when I was first looking into these deaths I was contacted by a person who had a blog dedicated to charting and investigating these deaths. At their own request they asked for anonymity and warned me that they themselves had come “under attack” while looking into the deaths; so much so that they had been forced to stop. They now wanted nothing more to do with it. They were contacting me to give me a warning – this could happen to me. At the time, I thought they were crazy. In hindsight, I should have listened to them.
Award winning Kristi Piehl appeared on Coast to Coast A.M. radio years ago in an attempt to bring light to these mysterious disappearances and deaths. It was not long afterward that she too closed down her blog which was dedicated to investigating the deaths and refused to have any more involvement in the cases. One has to ask then, why people who get involved in this invariably end up distancing themselves from it? Of course, those who say it is just drunk men falling into water, who have not looked at the circumstances in which they were found, nor the autopsy or police reports, will say it is because they realized it was all something and nothing; that it was drunken accidents; but there are warning signs that keep flagging up for those who attempt to look into it, and this alone causes me to wonder why that would be?
On the other hand, with the continuation of ‘footsteps at the riversedge’ blog and Vance Holmes ‘Drowning in Coincidence’ blog on which he tracked the cases from the very beginning, it’s clear that many others have not stopped looking into it. Are all these people wrong in believing there is a lot more going on than people might realize?
When Kristi Piehl first appeared on Coast to Coast radio back in 2008, she was joined by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Sikirica to discuss the tragic case of one of the victims, Todd Geib. On 12th June 2005 in Casnovia, Michigan, 22-year-old Todd was last seen at a bonfire party. It was a marshy rural area. He left the party to walk back alone to his cousin’s house, where he lived. He never made it back there. He called a friend at 12:51 a.m., but all he said was; "I'm in a field," before the phone call cut off. When the friend rang back, all the friend could hear was what sounded like the wind.
The area where he was last seen was thoroughly searched three times. During one of the searches, as many as 1,500 volunteers searched the area. He was not found.
When his body was discovered three weeks later in a remote bed of water, his death was ruled as ‘undetermined.’ When a new autopsy was carried out, he was discovered to have been dead only 2-5 days, despite being missing for 3 weeks. In other words, he had been kept somewhere, alive, for approximately two and a half weeks prior to his death. Where he was found had been thoroughly searched at least 3 times.
When independent pathologist Dr. Sikirica was allowed access to the autopsy files, he concluded through forensic analysis that Todd had been dead only between two to five days; and most crucially his body was not in the condition it would be expected to be in and he had no water in his lungs; so, he could not have drowned. He had not been in the water for the twenty or so days he had been missing; he had been held or kept alive somewhere for approximately three weeks, before being taken to the creek. He had been placed into the water to make it look like he had drowned. Where had he been before this was done to him? What was done to him when he was held somewhere, by someone?
According to the couple who found Todd, he was “standing upright” in Obenhall Lake. It was reported; ‘They remember it distinctly because “his head and shoulders were sticking out of the water.” This is not how a person drowns, and this is not the sort of position a person will die in. It is as though he had been put into that position, deliberately, like a raised flag, like someone leaving a message, like someone taunting those who would eventually have to retrieve his body. Said journalist Piehl at the time; "These drowning mysteries, they defy logic."
Dr. Sikirica’s opinion, that Todd did not die in the pond but was later placed into the pond, was backed up by 200 other forensic examiners when he presented the strange case at an international convention of Medical Examiners. There was no mistaking that this was not normal.
Piehl said of the cases she investigated, “A lot of people have asked me, who is doing this? Whoever had Todd is a sick individual. I think we’re going to find a dark human being, of a kind we haven’t met yet.” But the odds are, it’s more than one person. As the cases turn into a heavy pile of files, it will become very clear that this is not the work of one killer.
It all began when journalist Kristi Piehl joined forces with two retired NYPD detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, over 20 years ago. Gannon had investigated what he believed was the first case, and it was these two ex-detectives who first discovered what became known as ‘The Smiley Face Killers,’ a name they say was chosen by Piehl but which they now feel trivializes and sensationalizes the cases. What these two detectives discovered however was sensational, and it was sickening. 40 more cases could fall under the umbrella of ‘The Smiley Face Killers.’ Forty more boys had died at their hands, the detectives believed. The phrase ‘The Smiley Face Killers’ was derived from the claim by Gannon that graffiti was being found at or near the bodies, of a ‘smiley face’ sometimes with devil horns.
The first case they looked into occurred when Det. Gannon was still a serving officer with the NYPD (he gained bravery citations and after retiring, remortgaged his house to finance a deeper investigation onto many of these cases himself.) Patrick McNeill was 21 when he walked out of a bar in New York City on a cold night in February 1997. He told his friends he was taking the subway back to Fordham University where he was studying, but he never made it back there.
His body was found in the water at Owl’s Head Water Pollution Plant near a Brooklyn pier almost two months later. His body was found face-up, which is not the usual position for a person who has drowned. The Pathologist stated he was not drunk when he died of drowning, but some very concerning questions arose. According to Det. Gannon, as the young man exited the Bar he’d been drinking in, The Dapper Dog in uptown Manhattan, he appeared very drunk; so much so that he was bending over in the street as though he needed to vomit. He seemed very uncoordinated. He attempted to walk off down the street, stumbling along, and as he did so a double-parked car began to move beside him. Patrick stopped again as though he was about be sick, stumbled and fell over. The car beside him stopped. When Patrick managed to recover and pick himself back up, the car began to follow him again. He was found more than forty days later, dead in the river. He was found face-up and partially clothed.
Interestingly, ‘a couple’ were said to have been in the car following Patrick McNeill before he vanished. Of course, couples are less likely to arouse suspicion. And yet why would a woman be involved in this kind of thing? It’s interesting perhaps that in my book “Hunted in the Woods,” I described the well-known case in the U.K. of two young girls who were abducted and killed, and the alternative theories floating around about who the real perpetrators were. There was the suggestion that the perpetrator serving life was not really the one who did it. There were witness accounts of a man and woman intensely watching the children from afar as they sat in a car. In some of the 90 or so Manchester, U.K. “drowning” cases, as will later be described, a woman was actually convicted as being part of a gang who drowned a man. Women it seems may perhaps play a role in these horrific “drowning cases” then.
At Patrick McNeill’s inquest the Pathologist stated he was not drunk but he did die of drowning. He noted a possible ligature mark around the man’s neck but this was not followed up by the police. Another renowned independent Forensic Pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht when reviewing the case for journalist Kristie Piehl stated, “There's no way this man is accidentally going to fall into a body of water, (and) the fly larvae (was found) to have been laid in the groin area. It's an indoor fly—not an outdoor fly. So, we have a body that was already dead before it was placed in the water…I would call it a homicide, yes.”
In other words, the young man had been kept alive for an extended period of time again, prior to being found in the water; long enough for indoor larvae to settle on his body. He had been kept alive somewhere, indoors. Then he had been taken to the river and placed in it. The city medical examiner had ruled Patrick’s death an ‘accidental drowning.’ Kevin Gannon, investigating the McNeill case since 1997 said, “He was stalked, abducted, held for an extended period of time, murdered, and disposed of. They’re psychopaths….they have no remorse.”
Gannon’s team believed that the black ‘decomposition’ noted in the city examiner’s report was in actuality ‘charring.’ Gannon believed McNeill had been burnt from the head down to mid-torso, with something like a blow-torch. Another retired Federal Agent I liaise with believes however that this could actually be from his body being placed in a freezer, as opposed to torture-by-blow torch, but either way, it is highly disturbing. From the possible ‘ligature mark,’ Gannon’s team suggested McNeill could have been bound in a chair, tied by the neck, restrained and tortured, as his back appeared to have no charring to it, only his front. His face was the most burnt part of his body. Clearly, his torment and suffering before being found in the river was absolutely horrific, if this is the case.
They put their findings in the Book - Case Studies in Drowning Forensics
When I spoke with Kevin Gannon’s supervisor at NYPD about these cases, he suggested I look into the disappearance of a boy called Larry Andrews. A few months before Patrick McNeill’s disappearance Larry Andrews had come into New York City by train with a large group of friends, from their home town in Westchester County. It was New Year’s Eve and they were excited to be joining the celebrations in the big city. However, Larry never made it to Times Square.
The group arrived at Grand Central Station and went to a Bar called Houlihan’s close-by. Then they began a bar-hop. At some point during this, one moment Larry was suddenly gone. He was last known to have been on 42nd Street. Then he simply vanished. 6 weeks later, on the 12th February 1997 he was found. His body was floating in the Bay Ridge River, off Owl’s Head Park. His body was not far from where Patrick McNeill’s body would later be found. He was still wearing the winter clothing he’d set out in. His wallet with money inside was still on his body.
“He disappeared off the face of the Earth,” his Father said. “Police said he went into the Hudson River and that tide carried him to Brooklyn. He disappeared after they left the Bar. There was no reason for him to walk to the water all the way on the West side. I think he met up with someone.”
His Father hired a Private Investigator called Gil Alba, a former Police Detective. Despite weeks of investigation he could not determine what happened to the young man. “I talked to people in Bars, all along the route, from river to river.” But he found no leads to follow. He looked into the boy’s private life, checked for any problems, debts, or cult or gang involvement. He found nothing. “I know this kid inside out now, and there’s nothing; I couldn’t find anything.”
His sister said, “He was last seen running in his T-shirt heading west away from the train station. He gave someone a Yankees cap - which he did not have when he left Brewster. And he was no longer wearing the black turtleneck, his sweatshirt or his jacket.”
Larry was found in the water off Owl’s Head Park. Patrick McNeill was found close-by at Owl’s Head Water Pollution Plant. Josh Szostak’s parents found a severed owl’s head on their doorstep.
Josh Szostak’s father has never stopped gathering evidence about the death of his son. His son’s death was ruled ‘accidental drowning,’ but his son was last seen alive outside of a bar, like Patrick, like Larry, and the circumstances of his disappearance were to go on to be replayed in chillingly similar scenarios for the next two decades, and is continuing now, as young men continue to disappear on a night out only to be later found dead in a body of water.
Josh Szostak had been spending the evening of December 22nd 2007 celebrating a friend’s birthday in a bar called the Bayou Cafe. Later his friends said there was nothing about Josh’s behavior that night which caused them any concern; nothing stood out or alerted them to what was to come.
While Josh was inside the bar on North Pearl Street in downtown Albany, New York, his evening was captured on security surveillance footage. He was enjoying his night, drinking beer, listening to music and having fun. It’s thought he had three beers; not an exceptional number, particularly for a young man his size. He was over 6 ft and not a lightweight. He was a fit young man and was enrolled as a student at the local college. That night, he certainly didn’t appear to be falling down drunk or stumbling around. Everything was normal, for a while.
None of Josh’s friends can explain what happened shortly after midnight, or why Josh and a friend went outside. The most logical explanation is that they wanted some fresh air; the bar inside was packed with young people. A street camera located adjacent to the bar captured him as he exited the bar with his friend. It’s not clear footage; the quality of it is quite grainy, and of course it’s old now, but it is available to watch on YouTube.
Josh and his friend stand outside directly in front of the bar for a couple of minutes talking, and then his friend leaves, presumably going home. His other friends are still inside the bar. The footage shows that Josh then suddenly appears to become very hot. It looks like he takes off not only his jacket but a jumper too. Some who have watched it also think he fumbles for and pulls out his cell phone. It would suggest that his phone perhaps was ringing or vibrating, or that he was going to call someone to summon help.
Outside the bar it’s busy with other people, some standing smoking or talking, others passing by, and there’s a range of people from young men to old, and some young women. No doubt many have tried to analyze what all of these other people are doing as they stand outside close to Josh. Perhaps they had something to do with what later happened to him. It’s very hard to determine, but perhaps someone will be able to find that elusive clue amid those people which will show that one or more of them were in some way involved in what happened to him.
Certainly, if a person does not willingly walk into the water, then someone and probably more than one, is playing a role to either lure or take that person to the water, or to hold them first somewhere else, for purposes and motive we would not wish to contemplate because it is so dark but contemplate it we must. Between the place of their disappearance, and the place of water they are later found in, there will often be an extended period of time in which their actual location remains unknown; a hidden place of dark intention, and as yet, a secret place where no-one would ever want to venture. A place of unspeakable torment, where the mind is tortured more so than the body; the mind is a delicate thing, and consciousness even more so. It is there that it’s fractured and broken. The torment of course permeates more than just the victim, it is the family of the victim too; the parents who are victims themselves to an unendurable lifetime of pain that no-one could imagine the depths of.
Josh then, appears to be suddenly very hot on a cold night in December, but it isn’t just that; he can be seen stumbling, and suddenly uncoordinated. He looks like he is struggling to sort out his jacket and jumpers. At one point he attempts to put his jacket back on and it looks as though he is about to put it on back to front, until he straightens it out and manages to get it on. He is glancing around at people and back toward the bar entrance, but he doesn’t appear to be worried or necessarily anxious or scared at all, he just looks really out of it. As the CCTV images continue, he walks from the left side of the screen, across in front of the bar, past the entrance door, and comes to a halt on the right-hand side of the screen.
Of course, he had been drinking, and as his Father later said, he enjoyed Guinness; but Guinness is very different to shots of tequila or cocktails. In other words, like most young men, he enjoyed beer or ale, but he hadn’t been knocking back shots of strong spirit that night. And yet he is hot, uncoordinated and stumbling. He is very disoriented. He looks drunk; very drunk. Or rather, that would be the natural assumption when watching his body’s reactions. However, there is another much more sinister reason why he could be in the state that he’s in; it is very possible he has been drugged. In fact, a retired federal agent who has followed these cases for over a decade (name withheld) told me that he has evidence on security footage inside the bar of Josh being injected with something.
Outside the bar, after getting his jacket back on, he now seems to gather himself together and begins to walk off. He exits from the screen on the right-hand side and disappears from view. The assumption has to be then that he’s already said “good night” to his friends inside the Bar, or, in his confused state, he thought he had, and was now heading back to his car, where he’d left it, a couple of blocks away. Of course, he was in no state to drive, but his mind wasn’t working properly anymore. Later, it would become apparent that he had not said “good night” to his friends at all; they had no idea he’d left.
He is seen one more time, very briefly, just over a minute away on a camera that was located on the street close to the Bar. Where he went after that is not known. His car was parked a couple of blocks away from the Bar but inexplicably, he was not seen on any more surveillance cameras. He should have been, if he continued walking, because there were other cameras on the sidewalks along his route, but it was as though he simply vanished. Of course, no-one knew he’d gone missing just yet.
Strangely, around the same time that Josh simply disappeared from the streets, on the outskirts of the City close to the Albany Port a different surveillance camera was picking up something else. This camera was situated at a Government facility, the Department of Environmental Conservation. A figure was captured on camera in the parking lot of the building stealing an SUV that belonged to the Department. The unknown person breaks into the car, starts it up and drives away, getting captured on two more surveillance cameras as the stolen car leaves the facility and drives off, ending up at a spot by the water not too far away but one that is more deserted.
The area the car was entering, though deserted, had a locked gate. The driver drove the car straight through the locked gate. Conveniently for the driver, this area had no surveillance cameras. It was later discovered through the subsequent police investigation, that the driver then abandoned the stolen car, yet apparently left neither forensic evidence nor any clues as to why they had taken it. Why would someone steal a car and then abandon it just minutes later nearby? Had they simply walked away from that remote riverside location? Or, given that there were no cameras at the exact location where the SUV was abandoned, had the driver gone for a detour somewhere else, before they abandoned it?
Had they made a quick detour into the City? Did another vehicle arrive at the scene to pick that person up? The driver couldn’t be identified due to there being no surveillance at the dark spot; or if they had been identified, certainly the police never revealed this. Although the actions at the desolate spot couldn’t be determined, there is the obvious implication that the car thief may have been fully aware that it was an ideal spot to choose to conduct an activity they did not want to be observed on camera. What could that activity be? A drug deal? Selling illegal guns perhaps? Or a transaction of an even darker nature; the selling of a human being, or at least, arranging the transportation of one.
Had another vehicle joined the SUV there? Had a package been handed over? A package being a human; still alive, snatched off the street just moments earlier?
If so, this would clearly show an obvious planning stage before-hand.
From the retired Federal agent I liaise with, he knows what happened to Josh inside the Bar. He knows that Josh’s drink wasn’t spiked. Instead, he was injected with something.
Police reports indicate that they became aware of the car theft and responded to the incident, arriving at the scene at approximately 1.40 a.m., which was well after Josh’s last sighting. Josh was last seen at just after midnight. The stolen car was examined and taken away. It had damage to the front of it from the impact with the locked gate. Also, rather oddly, Josh’s cell phone would later be found around the front of the Environmental Conservation Department building where the vehicle had been stolen from. There were no prints on the car and DNA evidence was inconclusive.
The department building itself had not been burglarized and there were no signs of forced entry into the building, so it did not appear that the car theft related to anyone trying to get into the building to steal anything from it. Why was Josh’s phone later found there? How could he have got to the building when he had last been seen outside the bar no-where near the building; and, he was in no state to have got there. He was also a student with no criminal record. The next day, when it was determined that Josh had gone missing, his car was found still parked in the same spot he’d left it in before going to the Bar. He clearly hadn’t driven to the Environmental building. And he had no reason to take a taxi there. He also had not looked capable of doing so when last seen in the surveillance footage outside the bar.
At that time, it wasn’t known that he’d disappeared. His parents had no idea that he’d seemingly vanished off the street somewhere between the last surveillance camera recording him, and where he’d left his car. In fact, the area could be narrowed down further than that, because there were several other camera’s dotted along the two - block walk back to his car but he was only captured on one of them, just a minute after walking away from the bar.
It would become clear then that between that last sighting and the next camera, something had happened to him that had caused him to disappear from sight. The most realistic suggestion as to what happened to him could only be that either he somehow entered a building in that small grid area, or he entered a vehicle. He couldn’t have been walking anymore at that point because he would have been seen on footage.
When Josh’s phone was found by the building, the police believed he had to be the same person who’d stolen the SUV and then rammed the gate to get into the isolated riverside location where it was then abandoned. In fact, when Josh’s parents reported their son missing the next day, the police told them he’d stolen the car and was now the suspect in the robbery. However, forensic analysis failed to find any fingerprint evidence of Josh having taken the car and he was subsequently ruled out as the perpetrator of the crime. Then he became officially a missing person.
His Father, an experienced arson investigator, was scathing of the police effort to find his missing son. His father drove out to the site of the Government building and the site where the car had been abandoned. He came across freshly painted smiley graffiti. He’d heard of the two retired NYPD Detectives, Gannon and Duarte, from their media appearances and he contacted them straight away. They had been telling anyone who would listen that young men were being abducted, held for an indeterminate length of time, tortured, killed and disposed of in rivers. They said that ‘Smiley Face Graffiti’ was often found at or near the scene. They had hired private pathologists to re-examine cases. They were convinced that a group was doing this.
The police themselves however were not convinced of the relevance or authenticity of the graffiti discovery and in fact they would later suggest that the young man’s father, the arson investigator, had sprayed it there himself. His father understandably was furious. He was also upset by what appeared to have been done to his son’s retrieved cell phone. It seemed that while his father said he had received police photographs of the cell phone clearly showing several unread text messages, when he then asked the police about the messages, they appeared to have been deleted, and this too was a major disappointment to him; he’d wondered if there could have been vital information in those texts which could have perhaps explained what had happened to his son.
The report from the Albany Police Department said; "The investigator found no text messages in his phone." His Father however says that Bethlehem’s report contradicts this; "The photograph of the cell phone said that it had eight new messages; somebody had to erase his messages."
In an eerily and chilling replication of the disappearance of Patrick McNeill, according to Cardinalpoints online Josh’s father said, “A vehicle was seen on camera several times driving past the Cafe my son was in, prior to his disappearance. Cameras then spotted the car later at two locations, after a vehicle was stolen from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation on the port. After this vehicle left the parking lot there, it drove to the most southern part of the port. This part of the port is the only area not covered by cameras. Two cameras spotted it during this time and the vehicle was seen driving past the Cafe. The vehicle that was following was abandoned by the driver.”
His mother described their son as a scholarly student and a responsible young man who always kept to his commitments; he never missed class and he never missed a shift at his part-time job. “This is totally out of character,” she said. “He’s obligated to his school work and his job.” His father added, “He never did drugs.”
Though the police were now investigating their son’s disappearance as a missing person, the parents felt that because they had initially treated him as a suspect the police had lost vital time in searching for him as a missing person, when the first few hours after someone disappears are the most vital.
The police department spoke out by saying that they had employed helicopters, K9’s and sonar search units as soon as they realized what had happened. Sadly however, despite this search effort over several ensuing days, no trace of Josh other than his cell phone could be found.
If he had been seen walking from the Bar, a distance of two miles from the Government building the car was stolen from, bearing in mind that at that time he had been stumbling and very disoriented, and was also not seen on any more CCTV cameras! is there any possible way he could have got to that building himself? and then managed to break into a government owned car, and drive it away? It would seem entirely impossible.
Had he been victim of a street robbery, and his cell phone taken from him? Possibly, but his wallet was later found still on his body. Had this street robber then got to the Government building, two miles away and stolen the car? But then, why would he abandon it just a very short drive away? It still didn’t explain where Josh was, unless he’d been killed in the street robbery and his body put in a dumpster or down a dark side alley; but then, why was his body not found in the search of that small grid between the surveillance cameras, despite using tracker dogs? There’s also the fact that when he was later found, he had no stab wounds or gunshot wounds. But that vehicle was seen, driving past the bar he was in. His father said, “The vehicle was seen driving past the Cafe. The vehicle that was following was abandoned by the driver.” Was Josh kidnapped off the street? It would seem highly possible.
The search for Josh continued for weeks, but there was no sign of him and no leads to follow. It was to be four long months until he was found, on April 22nd 2008, dead in the Hudson River in the Coxsackie area, about 20 miles away.
The police determined very quickly that he was the victim of an ‘accidental drowning’ and that there appeared to be no signs of foul play. Police Captain Wayne Olson said, “His body showed no signs of a struggle.”
He was wearing the same casual clothes he’d disappeared in and his wallet and i.d. were still on him. His father of course was not at all satisfied with this ruling of an ‘accidental drowning.’ He wanted another autopsy done and so he employed the services of an internationally renowned forensic examiner called Dr. M. Baden, who proceeded to carry it out. His findings however, fully corroborated the autopsy results of the first county coroner. In other words, he too found it to be a tragic case of ‘accidental drowning,’ consistent with those of the first autopsy (which had been performed by the State Police in Greene County.) Like the first autopsy, Dr. Baden found no evidence of any injury or any sign of a struggle or any violence. He did add however, that "the investigation as to whether he fell in or whether he was pushed in or thrown in by others is a police investigation matter; the autopsy findings would be the same in either case.”
In other words, the pathologist could find no suspicious signs because he was only looking at the body not at the circumstances surrounding how Josh came to be in the river, and his implication by making that statement is that the matter of how he ended up in the river would be for the police to investigate. His is saying that the cause of death does not explain why or how he ended up dying; whether he was led away by someone in a drugged state and held under the water perhaps.
The ruling of ‘accidental death’ also didn’t explain why, on the one-year anniversary of Josh’s death, when his parents returned from visiting his grave, they found a message on their ansaphone. When they listened to it, it was their son crying for his Mom. This was told to me by an ex-federal agent who has collected case files on this murder and has worked closely with the victim’s father. They are determined to end this.
The message had been pre-recorded, of course, because their son was now dead. Someone, perhaps more than one, had made that recording while their son was still alive; which would obviously mean that he did not walk away from that Bar and fall into the river on his own; that he was still alive when that recording was made, and that he had to have been held somewhere against his will, in the most horrifying circumstances. His killers took pleasure in making that recording. His killers enjoyed sending that recording to his parents. His killers have still not been caught.
The police for their part were firm in the opinion that it was simply a tragic accident. Spokesman for the Albany Police Department at the time, Detective James Miller said that from interviews with ‘independent witnesses’ the possibility that the ‘smiley face’ graffiti was drawn by anyone connected with Szostak's death had been ruled out. The graffiti had been found at the scene of the car theft; coincidentally the same place that Josh’s phone was also found. It was Josh’s father who found it, and he was aware of the significance, having followed other cases that had come to light in the media, that had similar graffiti.
"We don't believe it's related at all,” said Detective Miller; yet he also appears to contradict this by saying, “More than likely, it was just a cruel hoax on someone's part." Cruel yes, but probably not a hoax…
How likely is it that someone, at this early stage of the ‘smiley face killers’ killing spree, would someone perpetuate a hoax? At this point in time, was the phenomenon even well enough known to have encouraged a copy-cat to have spray painted it? How would they know to paint a ‘Smiley Face’ for the father to find unless they themselves knew that Josh’s phone would be found at the scene?
The retired Federal Agent (name withheld) who has worked with Josh’s father unrelentingly ever since the death of his son, told me that he traced the telephone call made to his parents on the one-year anniversary of their son’s death to a trucking company in the Heartlands. Who was behind it? – the is keeping this to himself for now, but there is a very strong possibility that his killers will be hunted down. We will get to the cases in the Mid-west shortly.
Larry Andrews was found off Owl’s head. Patrick McNeill was found at Owl’s head water pollution plant, close to Larry. Josh’s parents were sent a severed Owl’s head after their son was found dead. It was left on their doorstep.
Owls have always held an Occult significance. They are associated with secrets, mystery, mysticism, and a connection to the Underworld. They are known as the Keeper of Secrets. The owl is a nocturnal bird of prey. Some say that perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Owl serves as a symbol of the secret society that meets at Bohemian Grove. The Native Americans see owls as the keeper of secret knowledge and they are said to call upon the owl during ceremonies when they require a vision of secret knowledge. They are messengers of secrets. In the Aboriginal tribes they were the messenger of the sorcerer and those who work in the magical arts.
The demon goddess Lilith throughout history has been represented as the Owl. Lilith appears as a succubus in Aleister Crowley’s De Arte Magica which also contains early O.T.O. rituals including the summoning of Lilith. Lilith has been described in ancient texts as a child killer, and as biting Adam and drinking his blood.
The Owl is also believed to be a satanic symbol for Satan. The ‘Horned Hand’ or the ‘Mano Cornuto’ is a common hand sign given by those who proclaim themselves to be Satanists.
The Owl is representative of Death and the Underworld. It was a guardian of death and the Underworld to the ancient Celts and Egyptians. One of the earliest secret societies known as the Minerval Academy, or the Academy of Illusionism had as it’s emblem an Owl. In Western mediaeval beliefs, the Owl was associated with Wizards. Owls are a predatory bird and have an ability to see in the dark. They can see what we cannot see. They are silent watchers and wait quietly in the night to strike. They are silent in flight, stealth like. According to J.E. Cirlot’s ‘A Dictionary of Symbols,’ “In the Egyptian system of hieroglyphics, the Owl symbolizes death, cold, night, and passivity, and the realm of the dead sun which has set and is crossing the lake or sea of darkness...’
The New York Daily News featured 3 deaths in 1998 in which the young men were all ruled to have “drowned.” ‘They are cases tinged with mystery that captured the sympathy of a City. When each vanished, their parents conducted highly publicized searches for them. Three were found floating in the river, with no apparent signs of trauma. How each entered the water, has not been determined.’ “My boy was murdered. It wasn’t an accident,” said Gitty Bender. Her son, Joshua, was found in the Hudson River, nearly two weeks after he had left his Yeshiva University Dorm. At the time, Robert Martin the Deputy Inspector of Police did admit that he found the circumstances strange. “It is a little unusual to have three males in the river of the same age,” but he also said they had found no overlapping commonalities other than that, although they would, “continue to work it.”
While the Newspaper did contact the F.B.I., a spokesman was quoted as saying that they would not be involved in any of the investigations because, “There is no evidence of a serial killer at work here.” It would seem then at this stage, no-one yet was considering it could be the work of a group.
I mentioned earlier that Josh’s father and his partner, the retired ex- agent who stands in the shadows but holds an astonishing amount of information about the perpetrators, traced a truck to the Mid-West.