Dakota James Case (Smiley Face)
Updated: Apr 18
Dakota James, a 23 year old who attended Duquesne University as a graduate student decided to go out for some of the night with friends and coworkers. He ended up leaving the bar around 11:30p.m. on January 25, 2017 due to the bar telling him he had too much to drink. From there he planned to walk to his apartment that was not far. The last known footage of Dakota was on a camera that shown him walking into a dark alley.
When Dakota didn’t show up to work and no one had heard from him the next day his family filed a police report. This ended up incurring huge searches throughout the city, based mostly around the areas he was last seen. These searches, although very wide ranging and thorough, turned up nothing.
About 40 days later on March 6, 2017 his body was found in the Ohio river. There didn’t seem to be any damage to the body and it looked like it had not decomposed as expected after forty days. Never the less the law enforcement and the medical examiner ruled his death an accidental drowning. They theorized that Dakota had entered the river 10 miles upstream of where his body was found and floated down to this area in the 40 days he was missing. They said that Dakota most likely went to relieve himself in the river and fell due to being intoxicated.
The bar Dakota met others at decided to kick him out around 11:30p.m. The bar said that they kicked him out because he was too intoxicated. Those who were with him report that he was not overly intoxicated and was not acting as if. It seems very odd that the bar would say this when he was seemingly not intoxicated. This is a case where it is speculated that someone working at the bar was in on his disappearance and death just like in the Chris Jenkins case.
The last known whereabouts of Dakota James are from the camera that captured an image of him walking into a dark alley. Most people do not just walk into dark alleys so this portrays the idea that he was familiar with this alley and frequently walked home this way. This could mean that his abductors/killers could have studied him and found this out. The illogical thing to say is that even though there is no evidence of him leaving this alley his death was accidental.
In that last shot of Dakota James we can also see that he seems to be walking fine, not like a drunk person would be walking. To back this up he is also on his cell phone at the time. If you are drunk, drunk enough to accidently fall into a river and drown, you are not stable enough to walk looking at your phone. The phone also poses another important factor. Dakota being distracted could’ve made way for an easy abduction. It is much harder to kidnap someone who is fully aware of their surroundings.
In May of 2017 Dakota’s death was ruled an accidental drowning and the family had this to say,
“Today we are here to say that our son, Dakota, did not get drunk, cross four lanes of a highway, a cement barrier, walk down approximately 30 steps to urinate, to then accidently fall in the river.”
This ties in with the Nick Wilcox case in Milwaukee. They were both assumed to have gone to the river to relieve themselves in frigid temperatures. In both, getting to the river to do so would’ve been a hassle for them and the families say that was not their character. Dakota’s family believes that if he were drunk enough to fall into the river, like the medical examiner says, then he would not have been able to even make the trek down to the water. It also seems like a lot in order to just relieve himself. Why would he go to such lengths?
If he had done all of this and still fallen in the river then it is thought that the very large and extensive search parties would’ve seen the body long before 40 days passed. For there to be this large of a search, including along the river, and nothing turned up makes it seem likely that his body was not there the entire time. Posing the idea that someone had him, then placed his body there after death.
Further supporting this is the fact that law enforcement said Dakota’s body was in pristine condition for being in the river 40 days. If he actually had traveled 10 miles in the Ohio river, a very busy river, his body would be anything but. It is said that his body had even gone through a dam if the police theory was correct. When reviewed it was said that there was no way his body could’ve traveled through a dam and still be in this great of condition. It is said that based on evidence the body did not travel far at all. This means that either Dakota walked about 10 miles and then fell in, which if so then there would be more camera footage of him. Or someone dumped his body there.
In the initial autopsy the medical examiner, Dr. Williams, said that there was no evidence of foul play and it was simply a drunken accident. However, when Dr. Wecht reviewed the autopsy photos and report he stated this,
“Where do you come off signing this case off as an accident? There is no reasonable basis, no forensic scientific evidence that I am aware of that would suggest or imply let alone provide any concrete evidence that this was an accident.”
It was said that there is also no evidence of this case being a suicide.
Dr. Wecht also found what seems to be evidence of foul play. There are ‘external furrow markings’ or ligature markings around his neck that were not done post mortem. Although these markings are very visible there was no record of them on the autopsy report. That seems like somewhat of a cover-up, as any experienced medical examiner would’ve at least noted these marks. The night Dakota went missing friends did not spot these marks on his neck, neither did camera. Therefore, it had to have been done after he went missing but before he died. It seems very implausible to say that he could’ve accidently drown when he has these markings because he would’ve had to given them to himself before accidently falling in the river. That creates an illogical picture and a very short time frame. However, these marks are consistent with foul play in which the perpetrators held him before killing him. This links closely with Patrick McNiell’s case in which he had ligature marks that were not done post mortem either.
The discovery of these marks also identifies that Dakota’s body was not as badly decomposed as it should have been at this time. Like I have said many times after about 30 days of death the body starts to liquefy. In order to identify these ligature marks the body would’ve still needed to be in tact for the most part. For the body to be in almost pristine condition, like law enforcement described it, means that he could not have been dead for the entire 40 days and was definitely not in the river for long before he was found either.
This case seems to link itself more closely to other cases than any before. Dakota getting kicked out of the bar for seemingly no reason connects with Chris Jenkins having the same thing happen. Neither of these men were overly drunk and neither of them were causing problems according to reports. That has left way for online conspiracy theorists to speculate that the security at both of these bars had something to do with these men’s deaths. This is not that far fetched of an idea either. The ‘Smiley Face Killers’ theory states that there is a gang of serial killers that work together to get these men. Implanting themselves in a bar would be beneficial to them.
Dakota’s case also coincides with Nick Wilcox’s case. In both cases the medical examiner concluded that they most likely went down to the river to relieve themselves despite the freezing temps and the river being quite out of the way for them. Both families have negated this theory of events because it does not seem like something these men would do.
The last case that Dakota’s ties into is the one that started this theory, Patrick McNiell. Both victims were found with ligature marks around their necks that were concluded to happen before their death. And since neither had these marks the night they went missing we can safely assume that in the time between when they went missing and when their bodies were recovered someone caused these marks on them.
Although there really isn’t any toxicology report to be found on Dakota’s body we can still see how this case links in with the others. For an unknown reason he got kicked out of a bar only to walk a familiar way and never make it home. It seems very illogical that if the medical examiner was willing to say Dakota was drunk enough to fall into the river that he could assume Dakota was sober enough to get to the river. The theory is that security was working with the killers to kick him out and take him from that alley. From there they held him for a few weeks while giving him the ligature marks. After which they killed him and dumped him where they thought it would’ve floated to by then.