Content warning: This story includes details of a violent crime.
Every week, ABC’s 20/20 covers an attention-grabbing case that offers something unique. On Nov. 5, we’re diving deep into the story of Laverne Pavlinac and her ex-boyfriend, John Sosnovske. Back in 1990, the murder of Taunja Bennett caught Pavlinac’s attention when she was trying to escape her abusive relationship with Sosnovske.
So, Pavlinac fabricated a story to implicate Sosnovske in Bennett’s murder. The story is unlike anything else law enforcement had seen before or since. But what actually happened to both Pavlinac and Sosnovske, and where are they today?
Laverne Pavlinac convinced authorities that John Sosnovske was guilty of killing Taunja Bennett.
In 1990, when authorities were trying to solve Bennett’s murder, Pavlinac came forward with a story implicating her boyfriend at the time, Sosnovske, in the crime. Using information provided by authorities to the press (as well as other clues provided to the public), Pavlinac was able to piece together a believable story and confession.
Reportedly, Pavlinac fabricated the story to escape her abusive relationship. Her daughter told ABC, “I think what happened to mother was she was in an abusive relationship, and she was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things. Not to say that it was right, but that's what I think happened.”
In telling her made-up story, Pavlinac also implicated herself as an accessory to rape and murder. Both Pavlinac and Sosnovske were sentenced to life in prison. A jury found Pavlinac guilty, whereas Sosnovske confessed “no contest” to the charges to avoid the death penalty, knowing that he was an innocent man.
The real killer turned himself in in 1995 and was dubbed the “Happy Face Killer.”
The “Happy Face Killer” turned himself in to authorities in 1995 and confessed to six murders. Keith Jesperson was called the “Happy Face Killer” because of a letter he sent to the Portland, Ore. authorities with smiley faces bragging about his 1990s killing spree. By 1995, he was done killing and decided to turn himself in. When he did, he confessed to Bennett’s murder.
He said he turned himself in “to come clean … get it all over, the record straight." He continued, "I had been worried about this for a long time. I wanted to get those two people out of prison.” That’s what makes this case truly unique; not only is there a wrongful confession, but the actual murderer decided to come forward after seemingly getting away with his crimes.
Today, John Sosnovske is no longer alive.
Sosnovske was released from prison when Jesperson came forward, and his life sentence was revoked. Pavlinac, on the other hand, did not have her conviction overturned (although she was released from prison).
“Pavlinac has selfishly engaged in an obsessive and persistent obstruction of justice which deflected the investigation at an early stage, causing it to focus on her boyfriend, Sosnovske, while the real killer remained free to kill again and again,” the judge insisted.
Since then, we don’t know exactly what happened to Sosnovske and Pavlinac. Pavlinac passed away in 2003, and Sosnovske died in 2013, although their causes of death are unknown.
Tune into 20/20 on ABC on Nov. 5 at 10 p.m. EST.