Recent television news reports on the unsolved Halloween night death of Chris Jenkins in Minneapolis more than five years ago prompted police today to say that they "can neither confirm nor endorse" the latest suspicions about the University of Minnesota college student's drowning.
In its statement, the Minneapolis Police Department said that "there simply is not sufficient, demonstrable evidence to support a criminal prosecution."
Last August, the Hennepin County attorney's office announced that charges would not be filed in the death of Jenkins, 21, who left a downtown bar and was found dead in the Mississippi River four months later. The case was returned to police at that time and described as remaining open.
KSTP-TV, Channel 5, has run a series of segments on Jenkins' drowning in recent days, connecting it to other "mysterious river deaths of young men around the country."
The report adds that two New York detectives "say they've discovered a link between Jenkins' death and the drownings of at least 40 other men in 25 cities in 11 different states."
The detectives added that in one city after another, "when they'd find the spot where the body went in, they would find something else: The symbol of a smiley face."
Minneapolis homicide investigators have been investigating Jenkins' disappearance and death since 2002, the police statement noted. "Although we have collaborated with investigators from the FBI and communicated with other jurisdictions in which similar drownings have occurred, we can neither confirm nor endorse the 'Smiley Face Murders' theory currently being publicized."
The statement adds that the department's investigation remains open and investigators will pursue "any credible leads."
"It is our goal not only to uncover the facts" surrounding Jenkins' death, the statement continued, "but to identify evidence which objectively proves those facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Until the day when those facts may be proven, our investigation will remain active."
KSTP assistant news director Sam Zeff acknowledged Tuesday that the Jenkins reports were aired to coincide with the industry's ratings sweeps period, a valuable time for TV stations as viewership numbers affect advertising rates. Still, Zeff said, "We stand by the story and we stand by all the reporting that we have done."
Zeff went on to add that he anticipates some law-enforcement agencies "will reevaluate" their death investigations among these cases across the country, but he declined to specify at this time which ones those might be.
FBI supervisory special agent Richard Kolko issued a statement that said in part: "We have not developed any evidence to support links between these tragic deaths or any evidence substantiating the theory that these deaths are the work of a serial killer or killers. The vast majority ... appear to be alcohol-related drownings."
Eight months before the county attorney's statement declining to pursue charges at that time, Police Chief Tim Dolan stood before Jenkins' parents, Steve and Jan, and apologized for the department's assumption in 2002 that Jenkins had jumped into the river from the Hennepin Avenue Bridge and killed himself.
The county medical examiner's office ruled that he drowned but didn't determine whether it was an accident, suicide or homicide.
In 2005, a now-retired homicide detective heard a "faint rumor" about someone with involvement in the case and also wanted to talk to a second man about the 21-year-old's death. That led to the department's change of position in the death and Dolan's public apology.
Jenkins was reported missing after being escorted out of a downtown bar. He was wearing an American Indian costume, with a fringed shirt, and left a half-hour before closing time without his wallet or cell phone on a cold night. Four months later, his body was found in the river below the 3rd Avenue Bridge.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482