“Embarrassing,” says detective
Jasper Lee Holling is one of the most wanted men in America. For the last four years, he has been a suspect in more than seventeen robberies, thirty auto thefts, and four murders stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the Upper Midwest.
“Bad guy,” says Lance Vickers, the detective who has been on Holling’s trail ever since Holling killed his first victim, a deliveryman. “A real jerk.”
While at the time Vickers thought he was looking into only one killing, over the years it became clear that Holling was the perpetrator in more and more crimes. “He had the same M.O.,” said Vickers. “He located victims, knocked them out, and then buried them alive.”
Not only did Holling bury his victims alive, but he left his signature on the ooffin. “He carved a little message on the top of the lid in the form of a crude smiley face.” That gave Holling his gruesome nickname, the Happy Gravedigger.
After claiming his first victim in 2017, Holling killed two more men in 2018 and another last year. His targets were consistent, if unusual. “Serial killers often target women,” said Vickers. “Hollins targeted only men, and specifically other criminals. He would team up with a guy and then knock him out and bury him alive.” Hollins moved from town to town, robbing stores, stealing cars, and killing his partners in crime.
Last year, after the fourth Happy Gravedigger victim was discovered outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, Vickers caught a break. “We had security footage of him driving into the cemetery and taking something heavy out of his car,” said Vickers. “We couldn’t read the plate fully, but we got a partial, which helped us to narrow down ownership records.”
Holling’s name came up almost immediately, along with an outstanding burglary warrant. Vickers went to see him at his last known residence, only to be told by his landlady that he had moved to Boise, Idaho. “We found his new address and I caught a flight,” said Vickers.
When Vickers drove up to Holling’s property, his heart sank. “There was a pit in the back yard,” said Vickers, “and a coffin in the pit. And on that coffin was a smiley face. We were sure that we had a fifth victim.”
But when police pried open the coffin, what they found shocked them: it was Holling. “We thought that maybe he had done it to hide from us, until we realized how stupid that was,” said Vickers.
It turns out that the real explanation was much stupider. Holling had accidentally buried himself. “Embarrassing,” said Vickers.
Police were puzzled. “We wondered how you even do that,” said Vickers. “As it turned out, he had been itching for another kill, but he couldn’t find a partner to be his victim, and he somehow got confused and got into the coffin himself. He managed to fasten the lid, but not to cover it up with dirt. He had been in there for four hours or so when we arrived.”
Holling was glad to see the police: “Happy, you might even say,” said Vickers. “Until we told him that he’d be spending the rest of his life in prison.”
Vickers is thrilled that he finally managed to apprehend the serial killer he has pursued for years. “Though I do wish that he hadn’t turned out to be such a bumbler,” said Vickers. “I hate to say it, but it does devalue my work just a tiny bit.”