Between 1969 and 1970, a crime spree plagued the San Francisco bay area. Four victims were killed, two were wounded, and countless more were terrorized by the killer's correspondence... in which he took credit for dozens of additional crimes and threatened violence against anyone, at anytime & anywhere...
Part One: Vallejo
December 20th, 1968, was a cold night in the area of Benicia, California.
Benicia is located just southeast of Vallejo, California. It's a small town along the southern edge of Solona County, which extends from the area just north of San Francisco and Oakland, all the way to the southwestern tip of Sacramento - near Davis, California.
Solona County is almost the forgotten stepchild of the San Francisco Bay Area, with the surrounding counties and metropolitan areas constantly overshadowing it - in terms of not only popularity, but cultural impact. The area mainly consisted of military members and their families, most of whom worked at the nearby Mare Island Naval Shipyard, or at Travis Air Force Base, which was smack-dab in the center of Solona County.
It was on this night - December 20th, 1968 - that the temperature dipped down to nearly-twenty degrees. If you've ever lived in the Bay Area, you know that these type of lows aren't usual, so this was particularly cold for the roughly 7,000 souls that lived in Benicia at the time.
It was a brisk and chilly Friday night, which began with the simplest of circumstances: a young man preparing to take a young woman out on their very first date.
David Arthur Faraday was seventeen years old, and he was a senior at Vallejo High School. He had plans for the future, and hoped to become a teacher in the coming years.
Betty Lou Jensen was sixteen years old, a junior at Benicia's Hogan High School. She was a talented artist who was still trying to figure out her future goals. She was hoping to earn an art scholarship, which would allow her to go to a prestigious school where she could harness her creativity, but she still had a year-and-a-half to figure that out.
In the meantime, she was looking forward to her date with David.
The two had met a short time before the evening of December 20th, having met at a church function. They had been officially "dating" for less than two weeks; and by "dating," I mean in the high school way. David had apparently cut class a couple of times to spend time with Betty, and the two were beginning to grow inseparable.
By all indications, this was the night where the two were going to make their relationship status official. David had noticeably excited all day long, and had told his friends that he was going to be asking Betty if she wanted to "go steady" with him. He was also allegedly considering giving her his class ring; a type of juvenile engagement.
In the early evening, Betty was struggling to find the right outfit for her date, asking her sister for assistance, and tried on multiple combinations until she got it just right. She settled upon a purple dress, with a ruffled white collar, which both she and her sister, Melodie, really liked for the occasion.
In addition to this being her first date with David, it was Betty's first date in general.
A short time later, David came to pick up Betty. He told Betty's parents that he planned on taking her to a Christmas concert at Hogan High School, which was just three or so blocks away from the Jensen home. Betty's father, Verne - a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army - agreed... but only if they made it back by 11:00 PM.
David agreed, and off they went. David was driving his mother's 1961 Rambler station wagon, which he was only allowed to use when his mother wasn't working or going anywhere.
The young couple stopped by to visit with a friend for a short period of time, named Sharon, and then went out for a bite to eat at a nearby diner named Mr. Ed's.
At this point, when they were expected to head to the Christmas concert - at Betty's high school, which was close to her house - they decided to make a change to their evening's plans.
They headed down Lake Herman Road - a long, winding road that connects the small town of Benicia to the larger Vallejo area. The road itself is desolate - even now, fifty years later, it's a two-lane road surrounded by rolling California fields and trees.
At around 10:15 PM, David Faraday parked the beige-colored Rambler station wagon on a gravel turnout nearby Lake Herman itself. This was a pretty secluded "lover's lane," situated in front of a locked gate that led to a dirt road.
The two were there until about 11:00 or so, when a married couple drove by. The married couple, Homer and Peggy Your, saw the Rambler parked in the gravel turnout, with no noticeable differences. It seemed like David and Betty were sitting close to one another in the front seat of the Rambler, but that was all this couple could make out.
In a later police report, the statement from Peggy Your described this sighting:
"As they were driving west on Lake Herman Road at the turn off to the Benicia Water Pumping Station, she observed a Rambler station wagon parked with front end heading east, there were two Caucasians in the front seat, male and female, when the lights from the car upon the station wagon, the male sat up in the seat. Mrs. Your said it was a cold night and she noticed no frost on the station wagon."
"... the girl was resting her head against his shoulder. When the lights of the car flashed on the Rambler, the subject in the car put his hands on the wheel."
A short distance down the road, the Your's saw a red truck parked along Lake Herman Road.
The red Ford truck had been driven by two raccoon hunters, named Robert Connelly and Frank Gasser, who were beginning to trek back from the surrounding brush. They were both carrying rifles, and were noticed by the married couple.
At around 11:10 PM, the raccoon hunters got back to their red truck, and headed out. On their way out, they noticed the Rambler still parked in the gravel turnout off of the road, and did not see any other cars or people... nothing that set it apart from its surroundings.
It was around 11:14 PM, give-or-take a couple of minutes, that a man named James Owen was heading to work as an overnight shift supervisor at a nearby oil refinery in Benicia. Owen later recalled seeing a station wagon parked in the gravel turnout, and another, unfamiliar vehicle parked next to it. This vehicle wasn't unusual in any way, Owen just didn't get a good look at it.
He described the first vehicle as a "1955 or 1956 station wagon, boxy type, neutral color," but offered up very few details on the second vehicle.
However, one detail he included was that he didn't see any chrome on the vehicle. And it was parked roughly three-to-four feet away from the other.
James Owen later stated that he remembered this because it was unusual to see one car in that gravel turnout, let alone two cars. Despite that, though, he couldn't recall seeing anyone in or around the scene.
Days later, when questioned for a second time, he would say that he heard a gunshot in the distance behind him, after passing the gravel turnout. This would remain a point of contention moving forward.
At around 11:20 PM, a woman named Stella Borges was heading down Lake Herman Road from her nearby property, named the Borges Ranch. She had her mom in the car with her, and was heading out to pick up her teenage son.
As she traveled down the desolate, quiet Lake Herman Road, she rounded a corner, and her headlights illuminated the scene remaining at the gravel turnout, where David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen had been parked for about an hour.
"She states that no cars were going in either direction while she was on the road. When she arrived at the scene, headlights picked up the car and she observed a boy and he had looked like he had fallen out of the open door. The girl was lying on her side facing the road. She had a purple dress on and looked well-dressed. She saw only one car at the scene. It looked like a Rambler, grayish in color, it had a chrome rack on the top. She states she drove sixty or seventy miles an hour enroute to Benicia to report the incident. When she saw the police car, she honker her horn and blinked her lights to attract the attention of the police officers."
The two police officers - Captain Daniel Pitta and Officer William Warner - were at an Enco gas station a couple of miles away. In mixed horror and shock, she told them what she had seen, and they followed her back to the gravel turnout.
There, they would report on the origins of America's most sprawling unsolved mystery, an enduring legacy that has engulfed the lives of many; a story that has become synonymous with the San Francisco Bay Area in the transition from the 1960's to the 1970's.
This is the story of the Zodiac.
Captain Daniel Pitta and Officer William Warner had followed Stella Borges back to the gravel turnout, and arrived at the scene at approximately 11:25 PM. Within the next five or so minutes, they called in the scene, and tried their best to offer help to the two victims.
Officer Pierre Bidou, of the Benicia Police Department, was one of the first officers on the scene.
In a description gleaned from him in a 2007 documentary, he described how his night had unfolded:
"During that night we had served a search warrant at what we call The Cottage at Lake Herman, which was owned by the city of Benicia. A narcotics search warrant. My partner and I, we confiscated about a pound-and-a-half of marijuana, which in the 1960's was a big drugs bust; today, it wouldn't get very high on the Richter scale.
"We were heading back to the police department - to put the marijuana into evidence - and as we drove by, we did not see or observe anyone in that area, but it's a turn there and your headlights shine right in there as you go by. I was pulling into the lot in the police department, [when] we heard the Benicia Police Department dispatch about a call of a possible shooting and victims on Lake Herman Road, and described the location.
"My partner and I turned around at that time and responded to the call. We felt we were only minutes from the crime scene when it actually happened and for the best of my recollection, we did not pass any other vehicle or tragic. I'm pretty sure of that because that is one of the things we told the Sheriff's Office, that we did not see any other vehicles coming our way."
Officer Pierre Bidou and his partner, Officer Steve Armenta, responded to the call of gunshot victims, and arrived within minutes of Captain Pitta and Officer Warner.
The officers found David Faraday laying just outside of the light brown 1961 Rambler station wagon he had borrowed from his mother. He had been shot once behind the ear; a shot that appeared to be fired from close-range, due to a faint gunpowder burn on his ear.
These responding officers tried to offer first aid to David, waiting for paramedics to arrive. They detected a pulse; albeit, a faint one. The paramedics collected David into an ambulance and rushed him to a nearby hospital.
When David was originally examined, officers and paramedics noted that he was holding his class ring between the fingers of his left hand. He had most likely been in the process of handing it to Betty when they were interrupted.
The scene surrounding Betty Lou Jensen, on the other hand, was a different story altogether.
Her body had been found just under thirty feet away from the vehicle, face down. Stella Borges, the woman that originally discovered the bodies while driving down Lake Herman Road, had originally seen Betty's body lying on her side; this told investigators, later on, that Betty had still been alive when Stella drove by.
But roughly ten to fifteen minutes later, when police arrived and tried to offer first aid, Betty Lou Jensen had passed away.
A small trail of blood marked her path from the Rambler station wagon to where she currently lay, roughly twenty-eight feet away. She had been shot five times in total, all from behind. Three bullets had hit her upper back, and two hit her lower back.
An autopsy would later reveal that bullets had gone through her heart, liver, and right kidney; and her lungs were pierced by three separate gunshots.
Solona County Sheriff's Detective Sergeant Leslie Lundblad arrived to the scene at approximately 12:05 AM - a little over half-an-hour after the original four officers had been beckoned to the crime scene.
By the time he arrived, David Faraday had been rushed off to the hospital. The body of Betty Lou Jensen was still there, having been pronounced dead and covered up with a dark blanket by officers.
Chalk outlines detailed where the two bodies had been found, and a medical examiner would soon arrive to take away Betty's body for an autopsy.
Detective Sergeant Lundblad ordered an officer to head to the hospital to collect a statement from David as soon as possible. However, by the time the officer got there, they were told that it was too late; David had been pronounced dead-on-arrival.
Following the directive of Lundblad, police combed the area, looking for any evidence that could aid them in their investigation. They found Betty Lou's purse nearby the vehicle, and it hadn't been touched by the alleged culprit. Since nothing else seemed to be missing, robbery was eliminated as a motive almost immediately.
It seemed to detectives that neither of the bodies had been disturbed before or after their deaths, so that seemed to eliminate most motives altogether. It seemed to be a random shooting, perpetrated for unknown personal reasons.
In the following days, the surrounding area reacted in shock. This event, a seemingly random case of violent murder, pierced the perceived bubble of safety that surrounded Solona County. In particular, small town Benicia, California.
Several witnesses came forward to report their series of events from the night-in-question, where police learned about the happenings surrounding the gravel turnout that David Faraday had parked the Rambler station wagon.
They took down witness statement from the Your couple, who had driven down Lake Herman Road a couple of times that night, so that the husband, Homer, could inspect some work he had been doing at the nearby water pumping station. They also spoke to Robert Connelly and Frank Gasser - the raccoon hunters - who had left the area just minutes before the event that was now being called "the Lake Herman Murders." They described seeing the Rambler station wagon parked there when they left, but also stated that they had seen a white Chevy - perhaps an Impala - parked there when they arrived earlier that evening, at around 9:00 PM.
Investigators also spoke to a young man named William Crow, who had been out driving with his girlfriend in her sports car that evening. He told police that he had seen a white Chevy at around the area of the gravel turnout, in the vicinity of 9:30 PM.
This sighting of a white Chevy was confirmed by a local farmer, named Bingo Wesner, who was in the vicinity that evening:
"... he was checking his sheep at approximately 10:00 PM and he observed a white Chevrolet Impala Sedan parked by the south fence of the entrance to the pumping station."
Police had spoken to James Owen - the Humble Oil refinery worker - the day after the shooting. He had told them about the second vehicle parked just "three or four" feet away from the station wagon, at around 11:15 PM, but couldn't fill in any more details.
When they spoke to him again, just a few days later, he changed his statement, saying that the vehicle might have been parked up to ten feet away. And it was in this statement that he told police he heard a gunshot less-than-a-minute after passing the gravel turnout, which he didn't report to police in his original statement.
Police asked the two raccoon hunters - Robert Connelly and Frank Gasser - as well as James Owen to bring in their firearms for an inspection. They just wanted to compare their guns to the ballistics that they were currently testing, and see if any matched up. All three men complied, and the tests came back negative.
Police had discovered nine shells at the Lake Herman Road crime scene; of which, they only recovered eight bullets. However, they were able to determine that all of the bullets were of the same manufacturer and brand: they were Winchester Western Super X copper-coated .22-caliber Long Rifle bullets.
While investigating the scene, police had discovered that three of the shots fired had missed their targets, having gone through the vehicle. One, in particular, looked like it had gone through at an unusual angle, and ripped through the roof of the Rambler station wagon.
It looked, to police, like the shooter had been firing from several feet away. Perhaps, he had fired a couple of warning shots through the vehicle, in an effort to herd the victims through the passenger door.
After all, both of the victims had tried to escape through the passenger side. It seemed like Betty Lou, who had been the first out of the passenger door, had gotten the farthest: nearly thirty feet, while being shot multiple times in her escape.
David Faraday, on the other hand, had been shot almost instantly as he escaped through the passenger side door.
With the way the shots were grouped, it appeared that whoever was responsible was a marksman of sorts. Police began to suspect that he might have had some professional training; if not military or law enforcement, then perhaps ranching or hunting.
The investigation into the shooting deaths of David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen continued over the coming weeks and months.
Police had initially zeroed in on a romantic rival of David's, who had shown an increased interest in Betty in the weeks before her murder. This young man, who had a history of petty crime - such as burglary and vandalism - had shown himself willing to bend the rules to be close to Betty, and had butted heads with David on more than one occasion. However, this young man was eliminated as a suspect when he provided a solid alibi: which was further verified by a local police officer, who had been with him that evening.
Investigators then began looking into the possibility of the crime being drug-related, when it came to light that David had gotten into a bit of a tussle with a local drug dealer. This drug dealer was apparently involved in the drug bust from earlier that evening, which Officer Bidou had participated in.
However, Officer Bidou - who was helping out with both investigations - says that this lead led them nowhere.
"We even looked at the person who was involved. There was nothing to it. Nothing came of it."
Now, the Benicia Police Department and the Solona County Sheriff's Office was looking at a complete absence of leads; finding no resolution for a senseless killing.
Jean Faraday, David's mother that worked in the passenger reservations department at Travis Air Force Base, told a local reporter:
"It's one of those things that just leaves me speechless. I have been able to think of nothing that would point to David. He was easygoing and friendly, never seemed to have any trouble in school."
Investigations into Betty Lou Jensen's personal circle was just as fruitless.
Detective Sergeant Leslie Lundblad, who was in charge of the investigation for Solona County, stated:
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't work on it. I've got a case file about four inches thick - all the information I have been able to turn up - and I have a fairly sizable evidence locker."
Officer Pierre Bidou, who had been one of the responding officers, answered a question regarding the idea of this being a random killing:
"I don't believe personally that he was just passing by, and the kids were just here. I think, it was planned out, by him, for whatever sadistic reason, to some extent..."
Verne Jensen, Betty's father, who had spent twenty-years in the Army before retiring in 1963, held a steely demeanor as he spoke to the press about the loss of his sixteen-year-old daughter:
"I don't feel vindictive, but I am apprehensive. I feel some nut is on the loose."
Months passed, and the investigation to find out who had killed the two teenagers on Lake Herman Road continued to get nowhere.
Winter and spring both came to an end, and before long, summer was upon the San Francisco Bay Area.
On a particularly warm Fourth of July holiday - when thermostats began creeping upwards of 90-degrees - the city of Vallejo, California had forgotten about the unsolved shooting death of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen from seven months beforehand. Kids were in the street, playing with their friends, while neighborhoods prepared barbecues and cookouts, and teenagers would remain out until the early morning hours of the following day, setting off firecrackers and fireworks.
Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin - born Darlene Elizabeth Suenin - had requested this Friday off from Terry's Restaurant - also called Terry's Waffle Shop - a 24-hour diner she worked at. She would spend most of the day with her family and friends, while also taking care of her daughter, Deena - who was only about a year-and-a-half old at this point in July of 1969.
Throughout the day, Darlene didn't spend much time with her husband, Dean Ferrin, who worked at another restaurant in Vallejo. As far as anyone knew at the time, their relationship was just fine, but it would soon come to light that Darlene had a life of her own, which Dean was either unaware of or had no part in.
Needless to say, it was complicated.
One word that I've seen used to describe twenty-two year-old Darlene - who went by the nickname of "Dee" - is that she was a "free spirit." I think that descriptor fits her story perfectly.
In the months before Fourth Of July, Darlene had been keeping odd company, hanging out with people that her friends and family from Vallejo weren't familiar with. She would take small day-trips with these friends on her days off, to nearby cities and towns like San Francisco; but, by all indications, these were just new friends, and she was continuing to branch out in her life.
Several theories would later link this new group of friends to a drug scene, but very little information can be gleaned from that theory. It's possible, but very unlikely to know for sure nearly fifty years later.
Darlene had been married once before, to a man named James; but James was a figment of the past at this point in mid-1969.
Michael Renault Mageau, the flip side of the coin, was a quiet and unassuming young man who was three years Darlene's junior, being just nineteen at this point in 1969. He still lived at-home, and was a single young man who worked as a day laborer.
Mike, as he was known, had a twin brother named Steve, who had also been vying for Darlene - Dee's - affection the last few months. Mike seemed to have gained the edge on him, however, and was enjoying the time that he was able to spend with Dee in these summer months... when they could figure out the time to do so.
Mike was also friends with Darlene's husband, Dean... thus further adding to the complicated relationship I was trying to describe a minute ago.
One thing I found really profound about Mike Mageau is that, even in the summer months, he was often wearing layers of clothing. Many people, including Dee, pointed this out and teased him about it; but the reason he would do so is that he was an incredibly skinny young man, and he wanted to look beefier to impress people, including Darlene.
So on the evening of July 4th, 1969, when Darlene - Dee - gave Mike a call, asking if he wanted to hang out with her, he jumped at the opportunity.
Dee and her friends were planning to have a late night get-together at her house, so she volunteered to go get some last-minute supplies. She was also told to pick up some fireworks if any stands were still selling them.
Darlene's brother, Leo, would later joke that he asked her to pick up some weed, if she could get it.
At around 11:45 PM, give-or-take a few minutes, Darlene pulled up to the curb of Mike Mageau's house in her brown 1963 Chevy Corvair. He apparently left the TV on inside, and rushed out to greet Dee, before getting it and they departed.
Dee told Mike that she had not eaten all evening, so she wanted to go get a bite to eat. Mike, who also hadn't eaten, agreed. They began heading to a nearby drive-in, named Mr. Ed's - the same place where David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen had gone for dinner months beforehand.
However, when they pulled into the parking lot of Mr. Ed's - which was still relatively busy, given the hour - Dee decided to change their plans. She drove out of the parking lot, and told Mike that she wanted to go someplace quiet, where they could talk.
At around midnight, the two pulled into a quiet parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park, where nobody was around. They proceeded to talk for a few minutes, getting close to one another in the process as fireworks continued to sporadically illuminate the summer sky.
Within a few minutes, their relative silence was interrupted by a group of teenagers, who drove into the lot to set off from firecrackers. The kids hooped and hollered for a minute or two, but then drove off into the night.
For the next few minutes, Dee and Mike continued to chat; just the two of them.
As they were talking, a car pulled into the near-vacant parking lot, pulling up behind Darlene's parked Chevy Corvair. It hovered for a moment, turning its headlights off for a handful of seconds, before its gears grinded into "drive" and sped off.
At one point, Mike asked Dee is she knew who that stranger was, and she told him:
"Don't worry about it."
Roughly ten or so minutes later, according to some estimates, the car returned. No other vehicles came in or out of the parking lot in that time span, but this car - described as a light-brown Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvair, similar to the one Darlene was driving - pulled in right behind the young man and woman.
With the headlights illuminating their rear-view and side mirrors, it was impossible for Darlene or Michael to make out who, exactly, this person was. Or what they wanted.
Both Dee and Mike suspected that it might be a police officer. When this strange person stepped out of the vehicle with a bright flashlight set directly on them, they began reaching for their driver's licenses.
The flashlight bore into the eyes of both Mike and Darlene, and they were barely able to keep their eyes open as this mysterious individual approached their parked vehicle on the passenger side. Mike prepared to say something to this unknown person, but was interrupted by a rapid succession of gunfire.
Five shots were fired into the brown Chevy, which belonged to Darlene Ferrin. Police would later learn that the five shots had been fired by a 9mm Luger pistol.
Both passengers of the vehicle were shot numerous times; in fact, many of the bullets that hit Mike Mageau, who was closest to the shooter on the passenger side, went through him and hit Darlene, as well.
After firing these five shots, the shooter then turned around and began walking back into their own vehicle.
Darlene had fallen silent; it was impossible to tell whether she was still alive or not. Michael, however, was still alive, but in a serious amount of pain. He was making sounds - audible cries of anguish that exist between a groan and a scream.
As he struggled to regain his bearings, and tried crawling into the backseat of the 1963 Chevy Corvair, the shooter seemed to hear his sounds and see the movement from within the car.
The gunman returned, and fired two more shots at each victim.
It was in this fleeting moment of pure terror - as Michael Mageau lay helpless in the backseat of the vehicle he was trapped in - that he got a momentary glance at the man behind the firearm, who was now returning to his own vehicle and speeding off into the night.
Mike was able to climb out of the open window, where he fell to the solid ground, experiencing the brunt of the fall on his now-open wounds.
As he lay on the ground, possibly dying, Michael Mageau looked to the getaway vehicle, which was now leaving the parking lot behind. And as he lay there, Michael Mageau began to consider the possibility that he was moments away from dying.
Three teenagers - two boys and a girl - pulled off of the freeway and entered the parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park. These three kids - named Jerry, Roger, and Debbie - were unaware of the scene that they were approaching.
"Both boys had to guess the time they were at the park as real close to midnight, possibly a little before midnight."
As they pulled into the parking lot, their attention was drawn to the only other thing in the parking lot. As the police report stated:
"... it was dark and they looked for any vehicles. The only one they saw was the victims brown Corvair."
They could hear sounds emanating from the vicinity of the lonely Chevy Corvair; and as they got closer, they saw the figure laying on the ground nearby.
It was Mike Mageau, still alive. He was calling out for help. He told the three teenagers to go and get help; he shouted out, as clearly as he could, that both he and the girl had been shot, and they needed a doctor.
The three teenagers sped off to get help, driving to the nearest of their homes, and a call went over the police radio at approximately 12:10 AM. Apparently, some of the neighbors had reported suspected gunfire in the vicinity, but police dispatchers were cautious to declare that a fact on an occasion like the Fourth of July.
Officer Richard Hoffman, a motorcycle cop who had just checked up on the Blue Rock Springs Park lot roughly twenty or so minutes beforehand, decided to circle around again. He suspected that this was nothing more than kids setting off firecrackers.
"I wasn't far away, so I turned around and went back out there and told dispatch I was going to go out there to check on that report."
As Richard Hoffman pulled into the parking lot, he saw the brown Chevy Corvair sitting alone. Mike Mageau was laying on his back, along the passenger side of the car, bleeding profusely from his wounds.
Officer Hoffman began tending to Michael's wounds, offering first aid. A couple of minutes after his arrival, he was joined by Detective Ed Rust, who had responded to the radio calls of two teenagers shot at Blue Rock Springs Park.
When Rust arrived at the scene, he saw Officer Hoffman trying to offer assistance to Michael. He rushed to the parked Chevy, and the body leaning against the driver's side door. Darlene Ferrin was barely clinging to life. Detective Rust tried to offer her some help, asking her questions about what had happened. She only responded in brief mumbles; none of which could be deciphered or distinguished by Detective Rust as they waited for paramedics.
When help finally arrived, Officer Richard Hoffman accompanied Darlene Ferrin in the ambulance. But by the time they arrived, at 12:38 AM, she had already passed away.
Michael Mageau would survive his several gunshots, but the mental and emotional damage caused by this shooting would haunt him for the rest of his life.
In the early morning of July 5th, 1969, the Vallejo Police Department received a call.
Nancy Slover, a 26-year old who worked as a police dispatcher for Vallejo, had a rather uneventful holiday evening. That is, until the flashing light on her switchboard indicated an incoming call, at around 12:40 AM.
Nancy answered with her standard greeting:
"Vallejo Police Department..."
And waited for the person on the other end to speak up.
It took a couple of seconds, but they responded in a slow, monotonous voice that send shivers up Nancy's spine.
"I want to report a murder. If you will go one mile east on Columbus Parkway you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Good. Bye."
As I said, the speaker was using a monotonous draw; Nancy Slover later said that the speaker might have been trying to mask or hide an accent, and adopted a villainous voice as some kind of overcompensation. Like he was trying to intentionally mock or taunt her for shock value.
However, as Nancy later stated:
"... it worked."
This caller was deemed as credible by investigators; not only because they had claimed responsibility for a crime before it was reported to the press, but because they identified the weapon used in the shooting: a 9mm Luger, which forensic testing would later confirm.
The can of worms that this phone call opened, though, was the inclusion of the crimes from the year before: the December 20th murder of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen. Police would have to begin investigating the crimes in tandem.
Because this was in 1969, the technology did not yet exist for police to record each and every incoming call. No recording of this call could be presented to investigators; just Nancy Slover's recollection of it.
However, police were able to trace the call to a nearby phone booth - at a gas station on Springs and Tuolumne Roads. This was just a few blocks away from the Vallejo Police Department, and roughly 3/10 of a mile from the home of Darlene Ferrin.
Police began investigating this shooting incident; their second such case in less than a year.
While the Solona County Sheriffs had handled the Lake Herman Road Murders - because that crime happened in unincorporated Solona County - the Vallejo Police Department were firmly in-control of this case.
Investigators found that nine shots had been fired at the scene. Seven shell casings were retrieved from the right side of the Corvair, along the ground. Two additional bullet casings were discovered on the back passenger floorboard of the vehicle; indicating that the killer had leaned into the vehicle to fire those shots, likely at Mike Mageau.
Mike had been shot four times, while Darlene had been shot five times. Some of the shots had gone through Mike and hit Darlene, as well.
The motive was initially listed as "Jealousy - Revenge," in a report filed by Detective Ed Rust. This was perhaps tied into Darlene's love life, as investigators tried to determine a cause for this senseless shooting.
Investigators began looking into Darlene's husband, Dean Ferrin. After all, an investigation almost always starts with a spouse or immediate family member and moves out from there. And since Darlene had been at a dark parking lot with another man in the late hours of July 4th, Dean made a prime suspect.
The two had been married since August of 1967, and had their first and only child, Deena, in January of 1968. Their relationship seemed to overlap with Darlene's first marriage, so that was a cause for concern for Vallejo investigators.
However, Dean - who worked as a cook for a nearby restaurant named Caesar's - had a rock-solid alibi. He had been working at the time of the shooting, which was verified by multiple witnesses.
So then police began looking into Darlene's ex-husband, a man named James Phillips Crabtree. By their interviews with Darlene's friends and family, it had seemed like their marriage ended poorly.
Darlene and James Crabtree had married in January of 1966, before moving to Albany, New York. There, had had worked as a writer for a newspaper, but their trip to New York was short-lived. They moved back to the West Coast, but would spend the next year-and-a-half or so moving throughout Nevada, Pennsylvania, and even the Virgin Islands.
Darlene moved to Nevada in 1967, and filed for divorce in June of that year. Her divorce filing was approved, and their relationship officially ended.
James was questioned by Vallejo detectives for possible involvement in this crime. However, he was able to provide an alibi, as well as fingerprint and handwriting samples, which he provided voluntarily.
Police continued pouring through Darlene's personal life, and found no shortage of quality suspects.
They stumbled upon a local man named George Waters - who was older than Darlene by a handful of years, but who had an odd obsession with Darlene. He often came in to visit Darlene during her work shifts, despite being married himself, and seemed to have an unhealthy adoration of the young woman. Darlene had turned him down on more than one occasion, and seemed to actively avoid the man.
One police report stated, flat-out, that:
"She was deathly afraid of George Waters."
George Waters was able to provide an alibi, and, ultimately, was cleared by detectives.
Police then turned their attention to another man, named Gordon Arthur Spence.
Gordon was a member of the US Navy, who had grown up in Fremont, California. Had had met Darlene in 1968, when she was working at Terry's Restaurant. They carried on a brief romantic relationship, which made police interested in Gordon as a person-of-interest.
Gordon was out-of-state until August of 1969, when he was told by acquaintances of Darlene's that police were looking for him. He went in to speak to investigators on September 1st, and told them about the affair he had carried on with Darlene.
Apparently, shortly before her death, she had written him a letter, stating her intentions to eventually leave her husband. She wanted to carry on a relationship with him, and she was actually worried that their little affair had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. That was the last he had heard from Darlene, before returning to the area in August.
Gordon was briefly considered a suspect, but eventually cleared. He had been out-of-state on military orders at the time of the Blue Rock Springs Park shooting; in fact, he had been on the other side of the country.
In addition to the incredibly perverse phone call received by Vallejo dispatchers just half-an-hour after the shooting, investigators began looking into other phone calls made in the same time frame.
Apparently, before Darlene's death had been reported to the media - or anyone, for that matter - Darlene's family told police that they had received some phone calls in the time period around 1:00 AM. The person on the other end had not said anything; rather, they had just heard heavy breathing.
To investigators, this implied some kind of personal connection; like the person responsible knew Darlene's social circle, and was calling them to gloat.
They eventually learned, from some of Darlene's friends, about another strange man that had been floating in her orbit in the time period before her death.
This man, described as being very average-looking, had apparently visited Darlene at her work numerous times. He had even visited her at her home to drop off packages once or twice, and had been seen by Darlene's babysitter sitting outside of her house. He had been driving a white Chevy of some kind, and would spend periods of time sitting outside of Darlene's house, just waiting.
The description of this man matched a description by Darlene's sisters of a strange man that showed up to a painting party she had thrown months before her passing. This man - who she claimed went by the name of "Lee," many months after the fact - had shown up incredibly over-dressed, and was apparently socially awkward to the point of invasive awkwardness.
This last story, about the painting party, has become a very contentious point of Darlene's story, because many details were only released months and years after the fact. So take that information with a grain of salt, but be aware that some incarnations of this strange man do exist in the early police reports, and men were trying to find him to speak to him.
Many of the details from the shooting itself - from the night of July 4th, 1969 - came from Michael Mageau in the days after the shooting, as he recovered in the hospital from his four gunshot wounds.
He spoke with Detective Ed Rust on July 6th, in which he provided police with many of the details that would become the official series-of-events from the evening in-question.
Mike told them all about the encounter with the mysterious shooter at Blue Rock Springs Park. He described the night in excruciating detail: everything from being picked up at his home by Darlene in her brown Chevy Corvair... to the final two gunshots being fired at him in the backseat of said car, and having to crawl out of the window and scream to teenagers minutes later for help.
He was able to describe the tactic used by the shooter to confuse him and Darlene in the front seat of the vehicle. He told police that the shooter had been using a:
"... high powered flashlight, the type you carry with a handle."
He spoke about how Darlene and he had been blinded by the mysterious man, who began shooting without any provocation and without saying a word.
Mike told police that the gunshots had sounded muted to him, as if they were being filtered through a silencer of sorts. This stood in clear contrast with what they had heard from another witness, who heard the shots from hundreds of yards away; but they wrote it down regardless.
He described the vehicle that the mystery man had been driving, describing it as a light-brown Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvair. In his statement, he said that it looked very similar to the car Darlene had been driving - a 1963 Chevy Corvair - only a lighter shade of brown. He also told police that the car had California plates.
One of the most important pieces of information that Michael Mageau would provide detectives was a physical description of the man who had shot both him and Darlene Ferrin. He described the man - who he saw briefly, for just a moment - as being a white male between twenty-six and thirty years old, who stood around five-feet-eight-inches, who weighed close to two-hundreds pounds (if not more), with short, curly hair that was either light brown or blond.
He was able to describe the man, whose facial characteristics remained mostly unknown to him, as having a "large and round" face.
Mike was also able to pin a specific character trait upon the shooter, as he was able to describe the man's walking motion. He described it as being a sort of lumbering gait: a slow walking motion with his head down. This would gain further credence as time went on.
After providing police with this large collection of information, Michael Mageau's life began to spiral downwards. While we often focus on these type of crimes from the physical perspective - who lives and who dies - we often forget the emotional and mental turmoil that these traumatic events can have on someone.
Mike Mageau left the area of Vallejo shortly after being released from the hospital, becoming a "street person" for a period of time. He fell into a spiral of drug and alcohol abuse, eventually becoming a delinquent of his own.
He wouldn't provide any further statements to police until 1991 - over twenty years later.
In that time, the man who had shot both him and Darlene Ferrin - as well as David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen - had become a larger-than-life supervillain.
Police continued to try and piece the cases together - both the Blue Rock Springs shooting and the Lake Herman Murders - but the pieces just wouldn't fit. The two crimes took place roughly four miles apart, and featured young couples at a lover's lane being shot at by an unknown assailant, but the similarities ended there. The couples had no known connections, the type of weapons differed, etc.
A few weeks later, though, the story would take a shocking turn.
Part Two: This Is The Zodiac
On July 31st, 1969, three separate letters were received by the mail centers of the following newspapers: the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner.
Each of the three letters were handwritten, and written in a slanted format. The three letters differed from one another in certain aspects, but included the same salutation, signature, and basic information.
Each letter began with "Dear Editor," and then proceeded to take credit for the two shootings: both the Lake Herman Road murders - which took place around "Last Christmass," with two S's at the end of the word - and the "girl" who was shot near the Vallejo golf course on the Fourth of July.
These letters than went on to detail facts of the separate crimes, which were only known by police and the persons responsible. These included details about the ammunition used in each shooting, the clothing that the victims had been wearing, and the location of their gunshot wounds.
Also included with each of these letters was a segment of a cipher, consisting of odd numbers, letters, and characters. Each newspaper was given a third of the whole cipher, which - when arranged and deciphered - was supposed to contain the identity of the person responsible.
The person who wrote the letters demanded that each portion of the cipher be put on the front page of their paper the following day - Friday, August the 1st. If not, the writer threatened to:
"... cruse around all weekend killing lone people in the night then move on to kill again, until I end up with a dozen people over the weekend."
At the bottom of the letter, the person identified themselves for the first time. Not with a nickname of any sorts, but a symbol: the infamous cross-haired circle.
The three newspapers - the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner - struggled with how to approach this threat. If they refused to cooperate, and simply handed over the letter and cipher to police, then they'd worry about blood being potentially on their hands. But if they gave in, they'd be giving a psychopath an outlet, and perhaps inspire copycats who would use the same brutal methods in the future.
The Vallejo Times-Herald was the first to give in, publishing their third of the cryptogram in the evening edition of their August 1st paper.
The San Francisco Chronicle didn't include the cipher in their August 1st issue, waiting to publish until the following day - Saturday, August 2nd. Even then, they didn't put it on the front page, relegating it to page four.
The Chronicle included quotes from Vallejo Police Chief Jack E. Stiltz, in an article printed alongside their version of the cipher. Stiltz was a proponent of the letters being a hoax, stating that he was:
"... still not convinced the letters and codes were written by the actual killer."
Chief Stiltz urged the writer to send in a second letter, with more information about the crimes in-question, to verify his credibility.
The San Francisco Examiner ran a similar story in the Sunday edition of their paper - August 3rd - and not only included their version of the cipher, but published all three sections of the cryptogram for people to try and decode. The Examiner's article also included more quotes from Vallejo Police Chief Jack E. Stiltz, who:
"... urged the writer to send more letters, with more facts to prove his connections to the crimes."
On August 7th, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner received a response to the article published on Sunday evening.
The response, which was post-marked the following day - Monday, August 4th - was a three-page diatribe in which the writer identified themselves for the first time, and included even more details about the two crimes from Solona County.
This is the Zodiac Speaking.
In answer to your asking for more details about the good times I have had in Vallejo, I shall be very happy to supply even more material. By the way, are the police haveing a good time with the code? If not, tell them to cheer up; when they do crack it they will have me.
On the 4th of July:
I did not open the car door. The window was rolled down all ready. The boy was origionaly sitting in the front seat when I began fireing. When I fired the first shot at his head, he leaped backwards at the same time thus spoiling my aim. He ended up on the back seat then the floor in back thashing out very violently with his legs; thats how I shot him in the knee. I did not leave the cene of the killing with squealling tires + raceing engine as described in the Vallejo paper,. I drove away quite slowly so as not to draw attention to my car. The man who told the police that my car was brown was a negro about 40-45 rather shabbly dressed. I was at this phone booth haveing some fun with the Vallejo cops when he was walking by. When I hung the phone up the damn X@ thing began to ring & that drew his attention to me + my car.
In that epasode the police were wondering as to how I could shoot + hit my victoms in the dark. They did not openly state this, but implied this by saying it was a well lit night + I could see the silowets on the horizon. Bullshit that area is srounded by high hills + trees. What I did was tape a small pencel flash light to the barrel of my gun. If you notice, in the center of the beam of light if you aim it at a wall or ceiling you will see a black or darck spot in the center of the circle of light about 3 to 6 inches across. When taped to a gun barrel, the bullet will strike exactly in the center of the black dot in the light. All I had to do was spray them as if it was a water hose; there was no need to use the gun sights. I was not happy to see that I did not get front page coverage."
The letter was then signed by the same cross-hair symbol from the previous three letters, and offered up no return address of any sort. The letter itself also featured a wealth of misspelled words, which provided an interesting glimpse into the killer's mind - whether the mistakes were intentional or not.
One of the words that was misspelled again and again was "Christmass," which the killer continued to spell with two S's at the end. That trend continued with this letter.
Police also began looking for the black male mentioned in the letter, described as "shabbly dressed" by the Zodiac. The description of the suspect's vehicle had actually come from Mike Mageau, the surviving victim of the second shooting, so this second witness could provide an interesting turn in the case. It was possible that he was homeless, and had been loitering outside of the gas station where the person responsible for the crime had phone the Vallejo police dispatcher roughly half-an-hour after the Blue Rock Springs shooting.
This letter also marked the first time that the name "Zodiac" would be included in any published material, and it was clear that the person responsible for these crimes - seemingly verified by the information provided - was enjoying this game of cat-and-mouse with law enforcement.
Police began offering up the cryptograms to anyone that would help out: universities, FBI analysts, military code-breakers, Naval intelligence, etc. After all, the person behind it - this mysterious Zodiac - had promised that when the code was cracked:
"... they will have me."
These experts were beginning to try and decipher the 408-characters, but an answer would present itself from the most unlikely of places.
When the San Francisco Examiner had published all three sections of the cipher on Sunday, August 3rd, a married couple from Salinas, California had become enamored with it.
Salinas is a short distance away from Monterey, California - about an hour-and-a-half south of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Donald Gene Harden lived in Salinas, and worked at North Salinas High School as a history and economics teacher. He had long enjoyed immersive puzzles and codes, finding them interesting to play around with.
This fascination was shared by his wife, Bettye June Harden, who enjoyed trying to break these kind of codes and puzzles for fun.
When the two saw the Zodiac cipher in the weekend's newspapers, they saw a fascinating challenge to take on. Over the week, they would spend an hour here and an hour there trying to play with the puzzle, substituting actual letters for the various symbols and characters used within.
This married couple - realizing that someone who sounded so self-important in the letters written to the newspapers - would likely start off any code or cipher with the most self-important letter available: I.
They also figured that this person would use the word "kill" in the letter, and they started their code-breaking effort from there.
"We felt that 'kill' would be used more than once."
By the following weekend, the pair had come up with a potential key for the cipher, and a translation that they shared with the local papers.
In full, the 408-character cryptogram was translated as:
"I like killing people because it is so much fun
it is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangeroue anamal of all
to kill something gives me the most thrilling experence
it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl
the best part of it is thae when i did I will be reborn in paradice and thei have killed will become my slaves
I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down or atop my collectiog of slaves for my afterlife. EBEORIETEMETHHPITI"
The cipher then includes eighteen letters at the end, which have gone un-deciphered in the decades since.
Donald Harden, the man responsible for the majority of the translation, stated about the message:
"As you can see, his spelling is rathe r poor and in some places he has made errors in the use of his own cipher."
Just like the previously-written letters from this mysterious Zodiac, the cryptogram featured numerous misspellings. The words "dangerous," "animal," "experience," "that," "die," "paradise," "they," "slow," "stop," and "collecting" were misspelled in that paragraph-long cipher. To experts, this was either an amateur attempting to make a cipher, or a highly-intelligent individual that enjoyed making the cipher as difficult as possible to crack. This indicated that the misspellings were intentional, to try and mislead analysts.
After all, within the cryptogram itself, it was noted that this individual - the Zodiac - had used twelve different symbols for the letter "e." They had also used a backwards "q" sixteen times, for whatever reason.
As police began to dig through this cipher, it was clear that the person behind it was not intending to give up anytime soon. After all, he or she had told authorities that this cipher held their personal identity. Now, after deciphering it - with the exception of the final eighteen characters - they were no further closer to identifying the Zodiac than they had been the week before.
On September 27th, 1969, a couple of young college students took a day trip to Lake Berryessa.
Lake Berryessa is the largest lake in Napa County - roughly an hour north of Vallejo and Benicia.
On this day in question - September 27th - the temperature exceeded ninety degrees, and two students from Pacific Union College were visited an isolated island off of this large body of water.
Twenty-two year-old Cecelia Ann Shepard and twenty year-old Bryan Calvin Hartnell were picnicking in a quiet area along Lake Berryessa, relaxing on a blanket in the late afternoon. The sun, not yet low enough to be setting, was beginning to lower as the afternoon edged closer into evening.
The area that these two college students were relaxing - on a small island connected by a sand pit to Twin Oak Ridge - was accessible by only one walking route.
As they were relaxing, they heard a noise in the near-distance. Bryan, who was laying on his back, asked Cecelia what it was. She said it looked like a man, who was anywhere between two-hundred and three-hundred yards away.
Bryan could hear a touch of worry in Cecelia's voice, but brushed it off. This wasn't a private lake, and there were bound to be more people in the vicinity than just them.
When the man got closer, Cecelia warned Bryan of his presence again. And again, he brushed it off.
He got closer - about seventy-five yards away - before disappearing behind a tree. When Cecelia, now slightly troubled by this strange man - who she described as leering at them - began to question his actions, Bryan joked: it was likely that, this far out from civilization, that the guy had stepped behind a tree to relieve his bladder.
However, at some point - around 6:30 PM - the man began lurching towards the young couple. He was now dressed all-in-black, and according to Cecelia:
"Oh my God, he's got a gun."
The man approached Bryan and Cecelia, pointing a pistol in their direction.
Most unusually, he was wearing a dark outfit, which stood out against the backdrop of the rolling California hills behind him. It looked like he was wearing a black executioner's hood, which had clip-on sunglasses over the eye holes.
The man with the gun was also wearing a bib-like device on his chest, which had an approximate three-inch-by-three-inch cross-hair symbol... which law enforcement and the media had begun to associate with the killer that had named himself Zodiac.
In a brief conversation that unfolded over the next few minutes, the masked man claimed to be an escaped convict from some prison with a two-word name. When pressed by Bryan to provide information, he said that it had either been in Colorado or Montana; and, at one point, he made mention of Deer Lodge, Montana.
Continuing to aim his gun in the direction of Bryan and Cecelia, the man stated that he had killed a guard during his prison break, and had then stolen a car... which was now, in his words, "too hot." So now, he needed their car keys and the money they had, so he could make his escape to Mexico.
Bryan and Cecelia replied, throwing over their wallets and car keys. Bryan offered to help the man even more: perhaps writing him a check, or helping him out in larger ways, such as mental or legal help. After all, Bryan was a pre-law sociology major, and was looking forward to a career as a lawyer. He offered the man anything he could need.
The man, wearing the dark hood and holding a gun, told Cecelia that he wanted her to tie up her boyfriend. He presented some pre-cut lengths of plastic clothesline, and ordered her - at gunpoint - to tie up Bryan. She cooperated.
Then the gunman came over to the young couple, and tied up Cecelia himself. He then double-checked the restraints that Cecelia had used upon Bryan, tightening them to the point of inducing pain.
As the gunman had grown closer, Bryan had asked him:
"Your hands are shaking. Are you nervous?"
The man behind the mask had chuckled softly to himself, before responding in a calm, casual manner.
"Yes, I guess so."
Trying to keep the mood light, Bryan asked another silly question. He asked the gunman if the weapon he carried was actually loaded; he wanted to know if this entire robbery was just for show.
The gunman responded by quietly pulling out the clip from the pistol, and showing the loaded bullets to both Bryan and Cecelia.
At this point, the young couple expected the strange man to take their belongings and be on his merry way. Instead, he pulled out a large knife from a holster on his belt, and leaned over the young couple.
Bryan was the first to be stabbed. The knife pierced his back six times in total; one wound was particularly close to his vital organs, coming just inches away from his heart.
Cecelia, who had to lie there and hear the attack being perpetrated upon Bryan, began to scream and thrash about. The masked man turned his attention towards her next, stabbing her five times in the back as she fought and tried to break free. As she struggled, she ended up rolling onto her back, and the other man continued stabbing her.
In the end, Cecelia was stabbed ten times in total; each side of her receiving half of the attack.
After being stabbed numerous times, Bryan had slowed his breathing, and was pretending to have died almost instantly. To his luck, it worked: the masked man put his knife back into its sheath, and began walking away in the direction he had approached the young couple.
Over the next several minutes, both Bryan and Cecelia - who were legitimately worried that they were going to die out here - began to struggle through pain and sheer terror. Through grit and determination, they were able to free each other from their bindings, using their teeth to rip through them.
Being bound by the plastic ties had caused their hands and fingers to go numb, and since they had each been stabbed numerous times, they were at serious risk of bleeding out in a short amount of time.
They continued trying to free themselves, screaming out for someone - anyone - to come and save them from this horrifying ordeal.
Ronald Fong was fishing in an alcove of Lake Berryessa, along with his son, when he heard screams in the near-distance. As he and his son quieted themselves, they could hear the screams intensify; this was clearly no group of teenagers playing around. These were people desperate for help.
Ronald and his son began heading to the nearest place to help: the Rancho Monticello Resort, where they would contact park rangers and let them know of the disturbance near Twin Oak Ridge.
Park Ranger Sergeant William White received this call for help, and began heading towards the Rancho Monticello Resort to find out what was going on.
At around the same time, Park Ranger Dennis Land was driving in the area around Lake Berryessa, when he came across a young man, who was bleeding from several wounds to his back. It was Bryan Hartnell, who had freed himself, along with Cecelia Shepard, and had climbed up towards the nearest road to get help.
Ranger Dennis Land helped Bryan into his truck, and then made a call at around 7:10 PM for police and paramedics to come to the scene.
It had been about half-an-hour since the crime took place, and it would be about another thirty minutes before any police officials would arrive at the scene.
Sergeant David Collins and Deputy Ray Land, of the Napa County Sheriff's Office, responded at around 7:40 PM. Collins stated in an interview years later:
"It took us a half-hour from Napa and/or St. Helena to arrive at the location. And we later found out, of course, that the crime had occurred at least half-an-hour before we were notified."
The two officers began speaking to the two victims, who were both still conscious at the time of their arrival.
Cecelia Shepard gave a detailed description of their attacker to Sergeant David Collins, stating that he stood about an inch or two taller than him - making him about 5'11" - weighing between 175 and 200 pounds, with combed, greasy brown hair.
Paramedics arrived at around 7:55 PM - close to an hour-and-a-half after both Bryan and Cecelia had been stabbed by this masked madman. It would take them around 10 minutes for the ambulance to work its way around the burgeoning crime scene, and another 45 minutes to make it to Queen of the Valley Hospital, in Napa, California.
By the time they arrived to the hospital - at 8:45 PM - Cecelia Shepard had fallen into a medical coma. She would remain in this coma for the next two days, until dying on September 29th from cerebral anoxia, as a result of her wounds.
As paramedics rushed the two young victims to the hospital, Sergeant David Collins and Deputy Ray Land began to scope out the crime scene to begin documenting everything they could find.
Sergeant Collins would later state:
"After the ambulance took the victims to the hospital in Napa, and while waiting for detectives from the Sheriff's Department to arrive, Deputy Land talked to the witnesses and obtained statements from them. I began a search for evidence and discovered a footprint that led from Berryessa-Knoxville Road to the victims and back again, which was totally separate from the shoes they were wearing. When I went to the roadway, I saw the white Karmann Ghia and I saw tracks leading away from it."
Sergeant Collins continued to scope out the crime scene, until his attention was drawn to the white Karmann Ghia parked alongside the road. The vehicle belonged to Bryan Hartnell, and the footprints from the man responsible seemed to lead straight to it. As he got closer, though, he realized that the criminal had left behind a calling card of sorts.
"I looked at the Karmann Ghia. And on the passenger door, the circle with the verticle and horizontal line through it, was displayed on the door. And there were several dates, and then it ended with 'September 27th, 1969, 6:30 PM, by knife,' which was our crime. So he had left his calling card, which is what he had done. I recognized the symbol on the door as being the same symbol she [Cecelia Shepard] had described on the hood."
The white Karmann Ghia, which was parked roughly five-hundred yards uphill off of Knoxville Road, had been written on in a black felt-tip pen.
The message read, in a series of squiggled handwriting and five separate lines:
The person responsible for the stabbing of Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard was taking credit for the Vallejo shootings, and later analysis would confirm that this message had been written by the same person who wrote the "Zodiac" letters.
In the following days and weeks, the police would omit the final line of the message - "by knife" - from all press releases. They wanted to withhold that information to see if the person responsible included it in their correspondence, and to suss out either copycats or hoaxers who claimed responsibility for the crime.
It was unknown if this person - now known as the Zodiac - had chosen a couple at-random, or if he had planned out his message, and intentionally targeted a light-colored vehicle.
Tire tracks would be found behind Bryan's white Karmann Ghia, indicating that their attacker had parked behind them before leaving.
Where he had gone after perpetrating this heinous crime would be the question on everyone's mind, but police would have an answer for that very shortly.
At around 7:40 that evening - at around the same time that Sergeant Collins and Deputy Land were responding to the crime scene - a call was received at the Napa County Sheriff's Office.
Officer David Slaight, who had been filling in on dispatch that evening, answered the call with a traditional:
"Napa Police Department, Officer Slaight..."
There was a very brief silence on the other end, before another man spoke.
"I want to report a murder - no, a double murder. They are two miles north of park headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagon Kharmann Ghia."
Officer Slaight later said that the voice of the other man sound young: "early twenties," in his opinion. The other man spoke calmly and clearly.
Slaight tried to inquire further, and asked the other man where he was. He didn't answer that question, instead responding in a voice that was barely audible.
"...I'm the one who did it."
Officer Slaight's attempts to further the conversation failed, and he could hear the man on the other end of the phone set the phone down. However, the call did not hang up, so Slaight continued to hear what he later described as "clatter" on the other end of the phone.
This might have been the culprit setting the phone down on a shelf below the receiver, where it would later be found. He could have left the phone booth calmly, got back into his vehicle, and sped off into the night.
Officer Slaight contacted his superior officer, and using the technology available to them at the time, were able to speak to the operator to trace the call to the Napa Car Wash on Main Street.
The car wash, where this phone booth was located, was just a few blocks away from the Napa County Sheriff's Office. It was approximately twenty-seven miles away from the crime scene at Lake Berryessa, meaning that the person responsible must have traveled directly there, and wouldn't have had a lot of time to stop elsewhere.
KVON radio reporter Pat Stanley found the phone off of the hook just moments later. Stanley had been the news director for KVON for just a few months, and overheard a call come over the radio for anybody in the area to be on the lookout for a suspicious man around a phone booth. A few people headed out, hoping to get the scoop on the story, and Stanley - at the last minute - decided to head out to try and look around.
He happened upon the phone booth, nearby the Napa Car Wash and Sam Key Laundry Building, just minutes after the Zodiac had been there. He found the receiver - off of the hook - and was told not to touch the phone or the booth itself.
When detectives arrived a short time later, they were able to lift a still-wet palm print from the receiver of the phone.
In the decades since, they have been unable to match that palm print with anyone.
Napa County Sheriff's Detectives Ken Narlow and Richard Lonergan were assigned the investigation into the assault on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard.
The two were contacted at approximately 8:20 PM, on the evening of the assault - September 27th, 1969.
They headed straight to the hospital, arriving at around 8:50 PM. By the time they arrived, both of the victims were in critical condition and receiving medical help. Cecelia Shepard had already fallen into a coma by the time they got to the hospital, where she would remain for the next two days.
The detectives were able to speak with Bryan Hartnell in the following hours and days, and they tried to get as many statements from him as possible. They wanted to learn everything about the attack: the route the killer had taken before and after the assault, the cadence of his voice, his mannerisms, the weapons used, etc.
Bryan Hartnell cooperated to the best of his recollection. He tried to recreate the conversation that had taken place between him, Cecelia, and the masked man with the gun. There were a few moments where he couldn't remember what was said, exactly, because he had been fearing for his life and reacted automatically. However, he was able to describe the entire ordeal, from the first sighting of the man hundreds of feet away - by Cecelia - up to being rescued by a park ranger and being brought to the Queen of the Valley Hospital.
Bryan told detectives that the assailant had an odd voice, like he was trying to mask his speech. When asked if the attacker had a drawl of sorts, Bryan responded:
"Well, not a drawl; an accent."
Estimates by investigators - aided by the autopsy report of Cecelia's stab wounds - revealed that the knife used by the killer had been between ten and twelve inches long. Bryan was able to add that the knife looked like it had a wooden handle.
Detectives Narlow and Lonergan spoke to the police officers that had responded to the original crime scene - Sergeant Collins and Deputy Land. They viewed the crime scene itself, as well as the areas the officers had cordoned off. They were able to find shoe prints at the crime scene, which they would later determine were of a size 10.5 Wing Walker.
Wing Walkers were boots used primarily by paratroopers in the World War Two era, which could only typically be found on military post-exchanges. Investigators would later theorize that this was an indicator that the Zodiac was either current or former-military.
Naturally, this revelation about the shoe print led to an overall inquiry into the outfit worn by this masked madman. Cecelia had given an in-depth description to officers before slipping into her coma, and Bryan had also described this outfit at-length: a big black hood - similar to an executioner's - worn in conjecture with other dark clothing, and a dark bib that had the Zodiac's cross-hair symbol displayed on the front.
Some have since gone on to point out that this outfit looks very similar to the riot gear that Australian police in New South Wales would wear in the 1960's. If you look up the "Kelly Suits" from that time period, you'll see that this outfit was very similar.
Many have since gone on to state that this attack - which, despite happening at around 6:30 PM - still happened in broad daylight; and that in doing so, the Zodiac may have been trying to state to the world that he was for real.
Perhaps this costume: an exaggerated version of something a super-villain would be wearing in a comic book in the late 1960's, was indicative of that. It's almost like the Zodiac was trying to scream to the world that he could strike at anyone, anywhere, and that ultimately, nobody was safe.
During the course of the investigation, detectives were able to come across a witness sighting which had immediately piqued their interest.
On the day of the attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard - September 27th, 1969 - three young women had described a couple of odd encounters with a young man who was leering at them along Lake Berryessa.
The three young women - students at the same school that Bryan and Cecelia attended, Pacific Union College - said that they first saw the man at a nearby A&W restaurant, located a few miles away from the Lake, at Sugar Loaf Park, in St. Helena, California. They told police that the young man had seemed to follow them, in a two-door Chevy sedan, which could have been either silver or light blue in color. They stated, definitively, that it had California plates.
Some time later that afternoon - just a short time before the attack on Bryan and Cecelia took place - the girls were sunbathing along the lake, when they noticed the man leering at them. He seemed to want to avoid eye contact, but it was almost indisputable that he was peeping on them in some fashion.
They described him as being a white male, who was relatively good-looking, despite the inherent creepiness attached to his profile. He was somewhere in the range of 28 to 40 years old, standing around six feet tall, weighing between 200 - 225 pounds, with styled black hair, round eyes, thin lips, and a build that was either muscular or stocky.
These three young women were able to help police create a sketch, which is... unsettling, to say the least. That just may be my own personal bias creeping in, but the artist depiction created by the memory of these three young women has remained closely tied to the investigation in the decades since.
A short time after the violent attack took place - at around the same time Bryan and his friends began mourning the loss of Cecelia Shepard - investigators approached him once again to provide insight into the incident.
They were hoping that he would be able to identify the gun that the Zodiac had been carrying, as that could help them out significantly with their investigation.
Bryan was shown a variety of weapons, including different brands and models. Bryan was unable to differentiate between any of them, his recollection of the weapon brandished by the Zodiac too muddled to be of any help.
Police then showed him a variety of bullets, in the hopes that he could identify those, at least. After all, the Zodiac had taken out a bullet to showcase the gun was loaded, and shown it to Bryan.
Bryan couldn't be absolutely certain, but he identified a .45-caliber automatic bullet - with brass casing - as the one the masked man had shown him.
It wasn't a definitive lead, but it was something, and police would incorporate that into their case notes as a tentative lead.
Bryan Hartnell spoke to some media outlets about the crime that had taken place - perpetrated against him and his friend, Cecelia Shepard.
Cecelia's funeral took place that Fall, and all of her family and friends were in-attendance. She was buried at the St. Helena Cemetery, where she remains at-rest.
Bryan returned to class at Pacific Union College roughly three weeks after the violent incident, his physical wounds healing; it would take him years to overcome the emotional trauma of the terrifying ordeal, and the tragic loss of his friend.
He would later go on to become an attorney in Southern California, and while he often refuses to answer questions about the Zodiac attack at Lake Berryessa, he didn't shy away from it.
He spoke to Channel 7 KGO in the aftermath of the ordeal, and shared his thoughts about everything.
"My first thought was that he was a sluggish, slow, rather stupid individual. I have been able to see by the way he operates that he is neither of those. Not that he is a genius, but he is definitely not stupid. He's got plans. I cannot believe that anyone normal could do the things he is doing. I just wish that he knew his need. And if he could only realize his need and see some type of medical authority, he would be far better off."
Over the next week or so, police and the media struggled to come to terms with the newest attack on a young couple in the area surrounding San Francisco's Bay Area.
The first attack, which took place on Lake Herman Road - between Vallejo and Benicia, California - occurred on December 20th, 1968. The two victims, David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, became victims of a shooter utilizing a .22-caliber long rifle.
Several months passed, with no correspondence from the killer of that ordeal.
Then, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were shot at Blue Rock Springs Park, in Vallejo, on July 4th, 1969. The killer, who would later identify himself as "The Zodiac" in correspondence with police, used a 9mm Luger pistol throughout this attack. He later confessed to this crime; not only in correspondence with the media, but to police dispatcher Nancy Slover a short time after the shooting took place.
Now, another young couple - Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard - were attacked. This time, though, it wasn't in the middle of the night on a quiet lover's lane. It was out in the open - along scenic Lake Berryessa - at 6:30 PM on a late summer afternoon. This attack, which took place on September 27th, 1969, came just two-and-a-half months after the last assault, and the killer used a different weapon yet again: this time choosing to stab the two young victims.
So you had a serial killer, who was cognizant enough to use different weapons for each attack. So far, he had used a rifle, a pistol, and a hunting knife; and each time, the female victim had received much more violence than her male companion. Betty Lou Jensen and Darlene Ferrin were each shot more times than David Faraday or Mike Mageau; and in this last attack Cecelia Shepard had been stabbed twice as many times as Bryan Hartnell.
Many in the media didn't know what to make of this madman quite yet, but Napa County Sheriff's Captain Donald Townsend put it best, when responding to a reporter's inquiry:
"We've got a psychopathic killer."
Paul Lee Stine was born on December 18th, 1939, and spent his entire life in California.
Born in the town of Exeter, he had grown up in Modesto, before moving closer to the San Francisco Bay Area in his adult years.
In 1969, he was a twenty-nine year-old grad student, who worked evenings as a cab driver while attending San Francisco State University - where he was working towards his Doctorate's in English. He was also married, to a woman named Claudia, and the two were looking forward to a long life together.
These long nights - in which Paul would attend classes all day, selling insurance in his available daily hours, and then work on nights and weekends as a cabbie - were all a stepping stone to a much more comfortable life for Paul and Claudia Stine. They currently lived in a cheap apartment in the Mission District, but were looking forward to brighter, more leisurely times ahead.
On Saturday, October 11th, 1969 - roughly two weeks after the violent incident out at Lake Berryessa - Paul Stine reported for his cab duties at around 8:45 PM. This time is documented by his employer, Yellow Cab, who had records verifying this time.
Over the next hour or so, he would drive through San Francisco - eventually taking a customer out to San Francisco International Airport, before returning to the city itself. Wanting to make this a profitable evening, he decided to head out to Downtown San Francisco - the Theater District - where he'd be able to find customers quite easily.
At around 9:45 PM, Paul received a call to pick up a customer at 500 Ninth Avenue, which would take him upwards of ten minutes to make it to. As he headed out to this destination, he was hailed by a single customer on the corner of Mason and Geary Streets.
This customer - a man - entered the back seat of the cab. He asked - or told - Paul to drive him to the intersection of Washington and Maple Streets, near Presidio Heights.
Presidio Heights was the area of San Francisco closest to the San Francisco Presidio - which, at this point in 1969, was still an active military base, playing a supporting role in the Vietnam War.
For the next few minutes, these two men traveled west towards the Presidio, for a trip that is about three miles in length.
Despite the destination being designated as the corner of Washington and Maple Streets - as written in the fare book of Paul Stine - the two ended up a block further west, at the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets.
It was ten o'clock that the man in the backseat of Paul Stine's yellow taxicab used a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to shoot Paul once in the back of the head. The shot was fatal, and Paul's life - which was showing so much promise - ended that instant.
At the time that Paul Stine was shot, three teenagers - including two children of a noted surgeon, named Lindsey and Rebecca Robbins - rushed to the windows of their apartment, overlooking the street below.
The teenagers, who were about sixty feet away from the shooting, weren't even sure what they were seeing at first. But they would describe the following events happening, from their perspective, as they phoned the police at 9:58 PM:
The man from the backseat of the cab, who had presumably shot the driver, stepped out onto the pavement and then leaned into the front seat. He hovered over the driver for a moment, before using a rag - which he had brought with him, presumably - to wipe down the interior of the cab. Most likely, trying to get rid of any fingerprints.
Then, he began walking off in the direction of the Presidio, towards the Julius Kahn playground. These three teenagers described this man as having a noticeable walking style: almost like he was lurching forward, with his head down.
These three youngsters would become the only verifiable witnesses to have seen the Zodiac killer's face, and their experience has remained one of the sole breaks in the case that police would have over the next half-century.
After Paul Stine had been shot, the three teenagers across the street phoned the police.
Two separate sets of police officers were in the vicinity of the shooting, and would approach the scene from opposite directions.
San Francisco police officers Armond Pelissetti and Frank Peda were the first to arrive at the scene, just minutes after the call had been placed to police. As their police report later indicated, they arrived "red light and siren" to the crime scene.
They had been told to look for a black male, due to confusion with the police dispatcher and the call being made by the three youngsters, and they hadn't seen any suspects that warranted suspicion as they pulled up to the scene.
As they pulled up, nearby Yellow Cab #912, Officer Pelissetti noticed the three teenagers out on the street, approaching him in his squad car. He exited the vehicle, and tried to usher the three youngsters back to their home. He asked them what they had seen.
"... it was then I was told it was a white male. I couldn't get to the radio fast enough at that point to let everybody else know. The kids had told me whoever had done this crime had left the cab, went out the door, and seemed to be wiping the cab down and reach into the cab, and ambling or walking down Cherry Street in a northerly direction - kind of towards the Presidio. I walked that way myself, I did not run because there are unnumerable alcoves and parked cars, so I went down following every technique I knew so I didn't get my head blown off."
Officers Pelissetti and Peda took statements from the three teenagers, corrected the call going out on police dispatch - that it was a white male instead of a black male - and began walking down the street in the direction the man had gone.
While walking in that direction - up towards the Presidio, as well as the nearby golf course and Julius Kahn park - he was able to flag down another police cruiser coming from that direction.
That vehicle, which contained fellow San Francisco police officers Donald Fouke and Eric Zelms, had been covering the Eastern Richmond district of the city that night. Zelms wasn't Fouke's regular partner, just filling in on this evening. They had been traveling northbound on Presidio Avenue when they got the call of the shooting, and then changed their trajectory, where they ran into Officer Pelissetti.
After flagging down the other officers, Officer Pelissetti continued up towards Jackson Street, where he ran into a man who was out walking a dog. This man didn't match the suspect description at all, but also had no information to share.
The four officers converged at the crime scene, where Paul Stine remained slumped over in the front seat of the yellow cab.
An ambulance arrived to the scene at around 10:10 PM, and pronounced Paul Stine as deceased almost immediately.
Police officers helped tape off the scene for evidence collection, and spoke with the three young witnesses to help get a complete description of the suspect they had seen.
The case was soon handed off to investigators, who arrived at the scene, completely oblivious to what this case would eventually become.
Homicide detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong arrived to the scene that evening in their weathered gray Ford, amidst the stream of onlookers surrounding the crime scene. The two had just-so-happened to be assigned the case, as they were the homicide team on-call that weekend.
Toschi, who had only gotten a couple of hours of sleep, arrived to the scene with a burgeoning headache and a desire to go back to bed.
"I was exhausted. I went to bed around 8 o'clock. The phone rang at 10:15. I remember exactly what the dispatcher said: 'You've got a sloppy one near the Presidio. Cab driver shot in the head.' I got dressed and went to pick up Bill in Parkmerced."
The two arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, and began examining everything. Another detective had arranged for police dogs to try and track down a trace of the shooter, and Toschi and Armstrong would speak to the witnesses who described what had happened.
They heard it all: about the driver and the backseat passenger getting into a brief scuffle, which ended with a single gunshot, then the passenger got out and leaned into the frontseat for a brief period of time, before using a a rag to wipe down the scene and then, ultimately, simply walking away from the scene.
The meter which calculated the total for the cab far had been left running after his shooting.
Toschi and Armstrong found the 9mm shell casing on the front floorboard, which confirmed that the weapon used was indeed a nine-millimeter. They also found the glasses belonging to Paul Stine, which had been knocked off in either a brief scuffle or as a result of his fall across the seat.
As they observed Stine's body, they discovered that his car keys and his wallet were missing.
Most intriguing, though, was a section on the left side of Paul Stine's short-sleeved, striped, collared shirt, which had been torn off by the perpetrator. This didn't make it into any of the news reports, but would become relevant just a short time later.
They were also able to discover a bloody fingerprint within the cab, which would become one of the most important pieces of evidence moving forward. Since it didn't match up with Paul Stine, it provided only one possibility: that it had been left behind by the killer himself.
Detective Dave Toschi later told a reporter:
"There was blood everywhere. We thought it was a robbery from the beginning. We had witnesses, we had a description, we had fingernails - we just figured we're gonna get the guy. I will always wonder if he really was watching us, like he said in his letter."
You see, while detectives unanimously agreed that this was a robbery-gone-wrong, that would change just days later. That was when the Zodiac began corresponding with the media once again, and he took credit for this assault.
This time, he provided indisputable proof.
On October 14th, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received its first letter from the Zodiac since the letter containing a cipher was sent at the end of July.
The letter, which was postmarked from the day before - October 13th - contained a small piece of a bloody shirt, which would later be confirmed as belonging to recent murder victim Paul Stine.
The letter read, as follows:
"This is the Zodiac speaking.
"I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington St + Maple St last night, to prove this here is a blood stained piece of his shirt. I am the same man who did in the people in the north bay area.
"The S.F. police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motorcicles seeing who could make the most noise. The car drivers should have just parked their cars and sat there quietly waiting for me to come out of cover.
"School children make nice targets. I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tire + pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out."
The letter was then signed by the Zodiac's now-infamous cross-haired symbol.
Many point to this letter as the tipping point of the story, at least regarding the Zodiac himself. At this point, he had claimed credit for five murders - with two victims, Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell, surviving their wounds - and would begin to focus more on open threats and causing panic than anything else.
It was at this point that the Zodiac began to become more than just a man... he was now well on his way to becoming a myth. Many think that this last crime - the murder of Paul Stine - was his stepping stone to achieving that aspiration.
Because in all of the Zodiac's first three crimes - the attacks at Lake Herman Road, Blue Rock Springs Park, and Lake Berryessa - he had attacked in a quiet, isolated area. Two of the crimes had taken place in the brink of night, and another had happened at dusk.
This, the murder of Paul Stine, had involved a single, individual male. It had taken place at around 10:00 PM on a Saturday, and it had occurred in a wealthy neighborhood in northern San Francisco. This was no longer a story taking place in the perceived backwoods of the North Bay - this was now in the middle of the city itself.
The Zodiac, well-aware of how this crime would affect the people in the area, began to take full advantage of that. And this October letter, which threatened children on school buses, was just the debut of a new reign of terror.
Part Three: Legacy
Between December of 1968 and the following September, a menace plagued the San Francisco Bay Area. Emerging from the area of Vallejo, this unknown subject had struck on four separate occasions.
The first attack, which came with no warning and no follow-up correspondence, happened in unincorporated Solona County, and took the lives of teenagers David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen off of Lake Herman Road.
The second assault, which took place nearly seven months later, happened about four miles away - in the city of Vallejo itself. Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were each shot multiple times, and Darlene passed away on her way to the hospital. Mageau would survive, but left town shortly after being released from the hospital.
Later that month, a mysterious presence began to correspond with the area's newspapers, sending letters under the moniker of "The Zodiac." He or she claimed credit for the first two attacks, and began offering up cryptic ciphers and clues - which they alleged contained their identity.
In September, the unknown attacker struck again - this time, against another young couple relaxing along scenic Lake Berryessa - about an hour north of Vallejo, in Napa County. The young couple - Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard - were both able to provide police with information about the attack. However, two days later, Cecelia Shepard passed away after falling into a coma. Hartnell would survive.
Intriguing information left at the scene - which later confirmed the crime as another perpetrated by this mysterious "Zodiac" - presented police with a conundrum. This killer seemed to be escalating in his frequency of attacking, constantly going after young couples in isolated areas.
Just a couple of weeks later, though, the location and the victim profile of this madman changed.
On October 11th, 1969, Paul Stine was shot and killed in a wealthy suburb of northern San Francisco, the victim of what appeared to be a robbery-gone-wrong. The shot, which came from a passenger in the backseat of his taxi, was almost immediately fatal. Paul Stine perished at the scene, and the mysterious Zodiac claimed credit for the attack in a letter written to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In that same letter, the Zodiac threatened to begin targeting school buses and the children inside of them, causing police in the area to ramp up their patrols as they waited for this unknown killer to strike again.
Paul Avery, a man who wrote the crime columns for the San Francisco Chronicle, had been covering the Zodiac crimes for months at this point in 1969.
On October 18th, 1969, he wrote a piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, which seemed to take aim at the ego of the Zodiac himself.
The opening line of the piece really holds no punches:
"The killer of five who calls himself 'Zodiac' is a clumsy criminal, a liar, and possibly a latent homosexual."
The article goes on to describe the Zodiac as a liar, who takes credit for crimes he didn't commit. It also critiques the mistakes he made during the commission of his actual crimes, which include being seen by eyewitnesses, failing to kill those that could describe his voice and mannerisms, and - most recently - leaving behind a bloody fingerprint at the crime scene of Paul Stine's murder.
Avery continued on his personal vendetta against the Zodiac himself, in a series of paragraphs that took on the perceived fragility of the killer's ego:
"It is the knife attack [at Lake Berryessa] that leads investigators to consider that Zodiac may be a latent homosexual. His cryptic writings and hand-lettered boasts don't indicate this - but the way in which he weilded the knife does hint of it.
"The knife fell again and again and formed the mysterious symbol - like the crosshairs of a gun sight - that has come to be Zodiac's hallmark.
"Psychiatrists and criminologists have told investigators that such a modus operandi could mean Zodiac is unsure of his manhood."
This thinking - that the killings were some kind of sexual release - seemed to be directly tied to theories made about the movies of said killer. After all, these attacks made little sense if there was no direct motive, and since any ties between the victims seemed tenuous at best, that was what both psychologists and criminologists could come up with at the time.
Thomas C. Lynch, the Attorney General of California, was quoted in Paul Avery's article, and came across as much less combative than his journalistic counterpart:
"We will see that he [the Zodiac] gets help and that all his rights are protected. He is obviously an intelligent individual. He knows that eventually he will be taken into custody. So it would be best that he gives himself up before tragedy is written in blood."
On October 22nd, a police department in Oakland, California, received a call. The call came in at around two o'clock in the morning, and immediately raised alarms.
The person on the other end claimed to be the Zodiac Killer, and demanded that noted Boston attorney F. Lee Bailey appear on a local television program. However, if he couldn't make it, then another popular lawyer - named Melvin Belli - could fill in for him.
F. Lee Bailey, who lived in the other side of the country, was an up-and-coming attorney who had made waves for his handling of very important cases. Just a few years before, he had argued in front of the US Supreme Court that his client, Sam Sheppard, had been denied due process in his 1954 conviction for murdering his wife; later winning a "not guilty" verdict in a re-trial. He had also played a part in the Boston Strangler case, and hosted a TV show for a spell in 1967.
This is, of course, not mentioning the part he would play in future criminal proceedings like the trial of Patty Hearst and O.J. Simpson, among others.
However, because of timing and geographical issues - namely, being over 3,000 miles away - F. Lee Bailey was unable to make the program.
Thus, the onus fell upon Melvin Belli, an older attorney that had a flair for the dramatic.
Belli was known for being a flashy lawyer, who had dubbed himself "The King Of Torts," for his success rate of filing - and winning - civil claims against corporations and individuals. He had become known for firing a cannon on the roof of his Montgomery Street office whenever he won a tort settlement. He also hung a pirate flag on his office's flagpole.
However, Belli had gained most of his acclaim for defending Jack Ruby in the murder trial of Lee Harvey Oswald - a case he took on, pro bono, for the publicity.
After losing that trial, Belli's popularity had begun to wane, and many considered this entire ordeal a stunt... a theory that hasn't faded with time.
Melvin Belli agreed to cooperate with law enforcement, and was escorted in the early morning hours to the production offices of KGO - San Francisco's ABC affiliate.
That morning - October 22nd, 1969 - Melvin Belli appeared on the KGO-TV program "A.M. San Francisco," sitting along with host Jim Dunbar. The show had had to push back an interview with a movie producer to accommodate this urgent matter, and two San Francisco detectives were present for the taping of the morning's broadcast.
Early on, Dunbar asked for anyone other than the Zodiac to refrain from calling in. Then, just moments later, the phone began ringing.
As you can tell, the conversation didn't go as-smoothly as intended, as both host Jim Dunbar and attorney Melvin Belli tried to conduct the train-of-questioning, but often times spoke over one another.
Throughout the conversation, the man on the other end of the phone - named "Sam" - seemed to indicate that he was mentally ill, suffered from pain-inducing headaches, and had a compulsion to kill again. He ended one call with a threat to kill children, which seemed to echo the thoughts of the Zodiac in his last piece of correspondence.
Later in the day, both Melvin Belli and Jim Dunbar were asked by the media their thoughts on the caller, and whether or not they thought the call was legitimate.
Captain Martin Lee of the San Francisco Police Department's Homicide Division agreed with the decision that the caller was mentally ill, but that there was very little evidence that he was the Zodiac killer.
In total, this unknown "Sam" called over twelve times, although on multiple calls, he didn't say anything before hanging up. Attempts to trace his call failed, but he did eventually call once more to speak privately with attorney Melvin Belli, and the two made plans to meet up the following day in Daly City - a city south of San Francisco.
San Francisco District Attorney John J. Ferdon was asked if he had listened to the audio of the morning television program, and offered up some less-than-impressed thoughts.
Ferdon insisted that Melvin Belli didn't have the authority to make any calls regarding the so-called "Zodiac killer," and couldn't guarantee that the person responsible wouldn't get a death sentence. After all, he hadn't even been identified or charged, let alone had to face a jury of his own peers - so any such decision was immature, at the very least.
Ferdon told a reporter about attorney Melvin Belli:
"The man is crazier than a shithouse rat, and just as principled."
It came as no surprise then, the following day, when the man failed to show up to his pre-arranged meeting.
Local media flocked to the scene in Daly City, where Melvin Belli waited for the caller to meet up.
Belli had arrived at the prearranged location - a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Daly City - flocked by local reporters and media personalities. Their presence alone made it unlikely that the unknown "Sam" was going to show up, but the comments by District Attorney John J. Ferdon all but cemented that the Zodiac would never give himself up in such an environment.
Belli again spoke to reporters, and insisted that the man behind the phone calls needed help above all, and shouldn't refrain from making contact with him or the authorities.
The Oakland police dispatcher, who had first received the call from this mysterious "Sam" to arrange the TV broadcast, confirmed that the voice heard in the television program was the person they had spoken to.
Law enforcement arranged for past figures in the Zodiac story - Lake Berryessa survivor Bryan Hartnell, Vallejo police dispatcher Nancy Slover, and Napa County police officer David Slaight, to listen to a recording of the man who had called in to Jim Dunbar's "A.M. San Francisco" on that morning's broadcast. All three unanimously agreed that that person was not the Zodiac; at least, not the person that any of them had interacted with.
This lingering mysteries from this series of phone calls would hang over the overall story, even when the Zodiac began corresponding with the media once again.
On November 8th, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received another hand-written note from the self-proclaimed Zodiac. This one was written on the back of a card, and seemed to be written with a dripping pen - hence its nickname, in the assortment of Zodiac correspondence, as the "Dripping Pen" card.
The card read, in total, with no real punctuation to speak of:
"This is the Zodiac speaking
I thought you would need a good laugh before you hear the bad news
you won't get the news for a while yet
PS could you print this new cipher on your frunt page? I get awfully lonely when I am ignored, so lonely I could do my Thing!!!!!!"
The final word, "thing," was capitalized, underlined a dozen or so times, and given extra enthusiasm with six exclamation marks.
The bottom of the card contained a similar sight - the cross-hair symbol that the Zodiac had used for himself. And following that was a tally, containing the following formula:
"Des July Aug Sept Oct = 7"
It is assumed that these simply referred to the five months of the Zodiac attacks, and the "7" represented the seven total victims.
Along with this last piece of correspondence came a hand-written, hand-drawn cipher, much like the first three which had been mailed out to three different newspapers. This cipher, however, would prove much harder to crack than the other three.
This cipher, which contained 20 columns and 17 rows, held 340 characters, which have never been decoded. Some have claimed to have deciphered the hidden meaning, or somehow "cracked the code," but none of their attempts have been proven and verified by law enforcement agencies.
Many believe that this cipher, which was created months after the original 408-character cipher was cracked by Donald Harden and his wife, Bettye, was created as a direct response. And in creating this cipher, the Zodiac had tried to craft something that was impossibly hard to translate... perhaps even impossible. It's possible that the cipher itself is just pure gibberish, which was meant to never be solved, just a token left behind by the Zodiac to infuriate and distract investigators.
However, others can pinpoint letter frequency within the cipher, which - they allege - likely form actual words. They admit, though, that trying to crack this code without a key of any sort would prove impossible.
The following day - November 9th, 1969 - the San Francisco Chronicle received yet another letter from the Zodiac. This letter, which has been dubbed the "Death Machine" letter, was a seven-page diatribe from the Zodiac, in which he claimed and alleged various things, and escalated his threats against the populace at-large.
I won't read you the entire letter, as it would probably take me around twenty minutes to do so, but I'll try and touch on several of the topics presented throughout.
He began the letter by claiming credit for having killed seven people, not just attacking seven. He then says that he's going to begin changing the methods of his crimes so that they look like other "routine robberies, killings of anger, and a few fake accidents, etc."
He says that he looks like the official police description provided, but only when killing. And that he hasn't left behind any evidence, such as a fingerprint; something we know is blatantly false. However, he does claim to use two coats of airplane cement to coat his fingertips.
He then says that all of his weapons are purchased out-of-state, so they're hard to track. He also says that he was lurking in the area when police scoped out the neighborhood of Presidio Heights for Paul Stine's murder.
Then, he goes on to detail how a couple of police officers pulled him over to speak just minutes after leaving Paul Stine's taxicab. He describes this as a near-miss, but a total strikeout for police, saying:
"Hey pig doesnt it rile you up to have your noze rubed in your booboos?"
He demands that this near-miss with police be published in the paper.
After that, he goes on to describe a "death machine" he has constructed. Most people would consider it a bomb, built out of regular, run-of-the-mill items. This is what he says he will use to hunt and hurt school children, not by shooting.
Expert analysis later confirmed that this specific concoction could result in a bomb-like device, which could do damage or harm to something... or somebody.
The San Francisco Chronicle published a story about the Zodiac's most recent letter, and included the detail about the police officers that had allegedly stopped and spoken to him.
This is when a figure from the night-in-question came back into focus: San Francisco police officer Donald Fouke, who had been patrolling the area on the night of Paul Stine's murder: October 11th, 1969.
That night, Officer Fouke had been partnered with Officer Eric Zelms, who wasn't his usual partner. The two responded to the call of shots fired on Presidio Heights, and were there in just a few minutes, encountering Officer Armond Pelissetti.
However, right after this most recent letter from the Zodiac, Officer Fouke decided to admit that there was more to the story.
In a memo dated November 12th, 1969, Officer Fouke described how he and Officer Zelms had responded to the call, but had been told over police dispatch to be on the lookout for a black male. So on the way there, they did see a white male just a block or two away from the scene of the shooting, but didn't inquire any further because he didn't match the suspect description.
Of course, as we now know, Officer Pelissetti changed the description just after arriving at the scene; but Officers Fouke and Zelms wouldn't learn of that until they got there.
In this November 12th memo, Officer Fouke described that the white male they had seen roughly matched the suspect description later given to them, and that they had seen him walking east on Jackson Street - approximately the same path described by the three eyewitnesses, who saw the shooter leave the scene in that direction.
They had then seen him step into a stairway, which led to the front yard of a home along the north side of the street, before continuing on their way to the crime scene.
Officer Fouke's recounting of the events have been viewed as a grievous mistake, but are largely chalked up to as the ramification of poor communication. Nonetheless, they joined the official police record, and Officer Fouke was able to compliment the eyewitness sketch of the suspect created by the three young eyewitnesses. This ultimately became the Zodiac sketch that we are all familiar with.
The suspect was described as being a white male, between 35 and 45 years old, standing around 5'10" and weighing 180 to 200 pounds. He had a medium-to-heavy build, was barrel chested, with a medium complexion, wore glasses, and had light-colored hair - possibly graying in the rear - which was worn in a crew cut. He also walked in a hurried, shuffling lope, with his back and neck slightly bent, and his head facing down... a description that has crept into virtually all Zodiac eyewitness accounts.
With this most recent revelation, the spotlight was put upon Officer Fouke, who had seemingly waited over a month to come forward with this news. But the Zodiac must have been feeling good, having been able to humiliate and demean a police officer by barely lifting a finger.
The next month or so was relatively quiet, on the Zodiac front. There were no known letters sent to Bay Area media establishments, and police reported no crimes which pointed the finger at the killer himself.
Rumors surfaced that attorney Melvin Belli - who had entered the story in October, when he agreed to speak to the unknown caller on Jim Dunbar's "A.M. San Francisco" - had been receiving calls from a strange man that had the same cadence of voice.
One of these calls reportedly came in on December 18th, when Belli was away for business. According to allegations made by Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle who gained international acclaim for his involvement in the case, this call was answered by Melvin Belli's maid, who reported that he was gone. The person on the other end, allegedly, said that they couldn't wait to speak to Belli, and that it was their birthday.
This would become an important piece in allegations made by Robert Graysmith later on, but it is also noteworthy because December 18th was the birthday of murder victim Paul Stine.
We do know that these calls were happening, because Detective Bill Armstrong - who was handling the case alongside his partner, Dave Toschi - reported to the FBI that these calls had been made to Belli's residence. However, in his report - dated January 14th, 1970 - the dates the call or calls came in were never publicly verified.
The validity of these calls would be questioned over the years, especially when San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery summarized his coverage of the Zodiac. He would disclose that law enforcement had followed up on the phone call lead, and were actually able to trace the calls. That had taken them to a young man named Eric Weil, who was a mental patient with court-ordered access to a telephone.
Duffy Jennings, Paul Avery's successor as the homicide reporter for the Chronicle, shared the same information in his 1975 book, "Great Crimes Of San Francisco." He repeated the claim, that the phone calls which came in to Melvin Belli's home, were that of Weil - who was investigated as a suspect briefly, but then cleared.
This meant that the phone calls to Belli's home were most likely a hoax, but it was undetermined whether or not the calls that came in to Belli and Jim Dunbar at the KGO-TV station had been fake, as well.
Nonetheless, Melvin Belli would receive some legitimate correspondence from the Zodiac, and it came on the one-year anniversary of his first crime.
On December 20th, 1969, a letter would be received by Melvin Belli, which contained another bloody swatch of the shirt which Paul Stine had been wearing when he was murdered.
In this letter, which was confirmed to be written by the Zodiac himself, the killer plead with the attorney to help him.
This is the Zodiac speaking
I wish you a happy Christmass. The ony thing I ask of you is this, please help me. I cannot reach out for help because of this thing in me wont let me. I am finding it extreamly difficult to hold in in check I am afraid I will loose control again and take my nineth and posibly tenth victom. Please help me I am drownding. At the moment the children are safe from the bomb because it is so massive to dig in + the triger mech requires much work to get it adjusted just right. But if I hold back too long from no nine I will loose complet all control of my self + set the bomb up. Please help me I can not remain in control for much longer."
This letter contained many of the Zodiac's infamous misspellings, and a similar writing style. However, the clincher to confirm that this was written by the Zodiac was the bloody piece of shirt, which was later confirmed to have come from Paul Stine.
This letter also featured the word "Christmas" spelled like "Christmass" yet again.
On March 22nd, 1970, near the city of Modesto, twenty-two year-old Kathleen Johns was driving on Highway 132.
Johns, who worked at a mental hospital in the San Jose area, was driving from her home in San Bernadino to the city of Petaluma, to visit her ill mother. She had her ten-month-old daughter in the car with her, and was hoping the nearly five-hundred-mile road trip would go by quickly.
Night had already fallen when a car behind her began honking and flashing its lights. Fearing the worst, Kathleen pulled over to the side of the road, nervous to find out what was going on.
A man stepped out from the driver's seat of the following car, and approached her. He said that the right rear wheel on her vehicle was wobbling, and he offered to tighten up the lug nuts for her, to prevent some kind of accident from occurring.
Kathleen, who knew very little about cars, agreed. The man grabbed a tool, went to work, and minutes later, got back into his own vehicle and drove away.
Almost immediately, Kathleen knew something was wrong. The rear right wheel on her car fell off almost immediately, grinding her car into an unfortunate stop. The man who had helped her out had conveniently circled around, and offered to drive her to a nearby gas station.
Once again, she agreed.
Over the next ninety or so minutes, the slow realization that she had been abducted creeped into Kathleen's psyche. The man passed by several service stations, which were still open-for-business. Whenever she tried asking why he was passing them by, he would change the subject or simply refuse to answer.
Some news reports indicate that this man threatened her life, but there is no mention of that in the police reports.
However, that doesn't change the fact that for an hour-and-a-half, this man drove around the back roads of Tracy, California - an area just west of Modesto.
At one point, when the car lurched to a stop at an intersection, Kathleen decided to jump out, cradling her infant daughter in her arms as she did so. She ran off into a nearby field, where she hid for a matter of minutes.
The driver of the vehicle called out, and used a flashlight to search for her. Reports vary on whether or not he actually got out of the car or not, but he eventually drove off, frustrated and alone.
Kathleen Johns was able to hitchhike to a nearby police station in the city of Patterson, where she gave her statement to the sergeant on-duty.
She told this sergeant that the man who had abducted her was a white man around thirty years old, who stood close to 5'9", wore around 160 pounds, with short dark hair, heavy-rimmed glasses, and who wore dark clothing.
During this initial round-of-questioning, Kathleen happened to notice a "Wanted" poster on the wall, which displayed a picture of the man who had killed Paul Stine in San Francisco. The sketch, which had been created by the descriptions presented by Officer Fouke and the three young eyewitnesses, matched the man that Kathleen had seen just a short time before. She pointed out the similarities to the sergeant, who noted it in the case file.
A short time later, when police ran out to inspect Kathleen's vehicle and hopefully help her recover it, she had to wait at a nearby restaurant named Mil's. Police eventually did find her car. It had been gutted and torched by an unknown individual.
A similar incident, on the same night, was reported by the sister of Paul Stine.
In the weeks after Paul's murder, his brother, Joe Stine, had seemingly challenged the Zodiac.
When questioned by local reporters about his thoughts on the case, he boasted:
"Come and get me! I don't carry weapon. I don't feel I need any. I was very close to Paul, and now I want a chance at his killer."
Now, months later, on the same night that Kathleen Johns was apparently abducted by a man matching the description of the Zodiac, Paul and Joe's sister, Carol, was similarly threatened by a man on the road.
The vehicle apparently pulled up close behind her, and flashed its headlights multiple times. When that hadn't worked, the driver pulled up alongside Carol, and pointed towards one of her tires.
Carol, who was understandably shaken after the brutal murder of her brother, decided not to play around with this man. When she was given the opportunity, she sped up and pulled away from the other driver... at which point, he seemed to change trajectory and headed for another target: Kathleen Johns.
On April 20th, 1970, the Zodiac wrote his first letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in over five months.
"This is the Zodiac speaking
By the way have you cracked the last cipher I sent you?
My name is ---"
The letter then includes thirteen characters, most likely a boast from the killer. He then went on to address the recent February 16th explosion out at Golden Gate Park, which had taken the life of San Francisco police Sergeant Brian McDonnell and wounded several other officers.
"I am mildly cerous as to how much money you have on my head now. I hope you do not think that I was the one who wiped out that blue meannie with a bomb at the cop station. Even though I talked about killing school children with one. It just wouldn't doo to move in on someone else's territory. But there is more glory in killing a cop than a cid because a cop can shoot back. I have killed ten people to date. It would have been a lot more except that my bus bomb was a dud. I was swamped out by the rain we had a while back.
The new bomb is set up like this"
The second page of the letter then contains a diagram, which lays out how exactly the Zodiac's "death machine" bomb is supposed to work.
At the very bottom of the diagram, the Zodiac signs off once again.
"PS I hope you have fun trying
to figgure out who I killed
[ZODIAC] = 10 SFPD = 0"
So, within the last few months, the Zodiac claimed to have taken three additional lives; but denied any involvement in the bombing of Sergeant Brian McDonnell from two months prior.
At this point, one thing was becoming clear: either the Zodiac enjoyed the spotlight more than anything, or he was a criminal mastermind.
That debate continues today.
The next several months would see a cavalcade of correspondence with the mysterious Zodiac, in which the tally at the bottom of the letters grew larger, but the amount of information continued to decrease and the threats continued to lose their impact.
On April 28th, 1970, the Zodiac sent a Jolly Roger greeting card to the San Francisco Chronicle. The front bore the following greeting:
"I hope you enjoy your selves when I have my blast."
He then signed the card with his cross-haired symbol, and then included as post-script to check the back. There, he stated that he wanted everyone to know about his plans for the bus bomb, and then people had to start wearing Zodiac buttons on their clothing.
Roughly two months later, on June 26th, the Chronicle received another letter.
"This is the Zodiac speaking.
I have become very upset with the people of San Fran Bay Area. They have not complied with my wishes for them to wear some nice [ZODIAC] buttons. I promiced to punish them if they did not comply, by anilating a full School Buss. But now school is out for the summer, so I punished them in another way. I shot a man sitting in a parked car with a .38.
[ZODIAC] - 12 SFPD - 0"
The man this letter might have been in reference to was San Francisco Police Officer Richard Radetich, who had been murdered the week before, on June 19th, 1970. He had pulled over a vehicle to write a traffic citation at around 5:25 AM, when another vehicle approached, and he was shot in the head with a .38 caliber pistol.
The San Francisco Police Department denied Zodiac involvement in the crime, but it remains unsolved to this day. However, it's worth noting that the Zodiac - who is usually quick to spill on details of the crimes he commits - gave no such details for this allegation.
Also included with this last letter was a Phillips 66 roadmap of the San Francisco Bay Area. Where Mount Diablo was, the Zodiac's cross-haired symbol had been drawn; and the numbers 0, 3, 6, and 9 were written.
The meaning of this map, and the 32-character cipher that came with it - which supposedly contained the location of a hidden bomb - were never figured out.
On July 24th, 1970, yet another letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle.
"This is the Zodiac Speaking.
I am rather unhappy because you people will not wear some nice [ZODIAC] buttons. So I now have a little list, starting with the woeman + her baby that I gave a rather intersting ride for a couple howers one evening a few months back that ended in my burning her car where I found them."
In this letter, again, the Zodiac continued to make repeated threats, and offered up no clues or details that hadn't been published in the press.
Just two days later - on July 26th, 1970 - another letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle. This letter ran over four pages in-length, so - again - I won't be reading the entire thing. However, this information didn't really include any vital details, but contained an interesting note for investigators to ponder.
In this letter, the Zodiac claimed to have killed thirteen, raising his tally, but paraphrased a song from "The Mikado" - a century-old comic opera. The Zodiac changed the lyrics to include a "little list" of ways he planned to torture his "slaves" in "paradice" - spelled again with a 'c', of course.
On October 5th, 1970, another card was received by the San Francisco Chronicle. Three inches by five inches in size, the card was initially deemed a hoax by media, but Detectives Bill Armstrong and Dave Toschi later agreed that it was "highly probable" the card came from the Zodiac.
You'll hate me, but I've got to tell you.
The pace isn't any slower! In fact it's just one big thirteenth
'Some of them fought it was horrible'
P.S. THERE ARE REPORTS city police pig cops are closeing in on me. Fk I'm crackproof, What is the price tag now?"
The card included thirteen hole punches, as if the Zodiac was worried his message wasn't being made clear enough.
Later that month, the Zodiac made his intentions known when he announced a person in his sights: the man who had been covering his stories in the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery.
On October 27th, 1970, Paul Avery received a Halloween card, which was signed with a letter "Z" and Zodiac's cross-haired symbol. Paul Avery's name was misspelled as Paul "Averly," but the message was clear.
On a blank section of the card, the word "SLAVES" was displayed horizontally, and the misspelled "PARADICE" made its appearance vertically. The Zodiac then included the following phrases in the four corners:
On the flip-side of the card, which bore a skeleton posed in an odd position, the Zodiac had included a number of his own.
He was making it clear that he had singled out Paul Avery as his next target.
The threat against Paul Avery became a story in its own right, eventually making its way to the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Members of the Chronicle staff began to wear buttons that read "I am NOT Paul Avery." Among those that wore the buttons was Paul Avery himself, who began to prepare himself for an eventual encounter with the Zodiac himself. For the next year or so, he carried a gun with him at all times, fearful for what may come.
However, as this story was unfolding in a very public forum, Paul Avery was investigating a potential lead that would predate all known Zodiac activity.
He would eventually publish his findings on November 16th, 1970.
Over two years before the Zodiac made his first appearance off of Lake Herman Road, another story was unfolding in Riverside, California.
This area, in Southern California, was home to Ramona High School. In 1966, a bright young woman named Cheri Jo Bates graduated from Ramona High, and looked forward to a long and fruitful future. That following Fall, she enrolled at nearby Riverside Community College, where she became an active student and community member.
On the night before Halloween - October 30th, 1966 - Cheri spent her evening at the campus library. The library closed at 9:00 PM, and she was there until closing. Everyone suspected that she had gone right home, but she wouldn't arrive home that evening.
Neighbors later told police that around 10:30 PM, they heard some screaming from the area around the library, but heard nothing of it.
The following morning - Halloween 1966 - the body of Cheri Jo Bates was found a short distance away from the library... between two abandoned houses that were set to be demolished.
Cheri had been brutally beaten and stabbed, but there was no evidence of any robbery or sexual assault having taken place.
A men's TimeX wristwatch was found nearby, with a torn wristband. The watch's time had stopped at 12:24, but police believed that the crime happened much earlier in the evening than that. The watch would eventually be traced back to a series of watches sold exclusively on military posts - with police theorizing that it might have been from a specific post in England.
A heel print was found at the scene, as well, which indicated a military-styled shoe, between sizes eight and ten.
Authorities also later determined that Cheri Jo Bates' vehicle had been tampered with. Whomever had done so had intentionally disabled the Volkswagen by pulling out the wires from the distributor cap.
Police settled upon a couple of suspects from Cheri's orbit, but the case continued to go cold... until the perpetrator made contact with investigators and the local press.
On November 29th, 1966 - a month after the murder - nearly-identical typewritten letters were mailed to Riverside police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise. The letters, which were each printed on a Royal Typewriter, were titled "The Confession." The author of the letters claimed responsibility for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, including several sickening, violent details that were not released to the public, and warning that Bates:
"... is not the first and she will not be the last."
These letters contained graphic details of Cheri Jo Bates' final moments, and included a possible motive: Cheri had presumably turned down the man that killed her, and instead of trying to better himself, he decided to take it out on her.
As if that wasn't enough, in December of 1966, another clue surfaced from Cheri's last known location.
A custodian at Riverside City College discovered a poem carved into the bottom of a desk at the library. Titled "Sick of living/unwilling to die," the poem utilized language that closely resembled the letters sent to Riverside Police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
At the bottom of the poem, the author had carved their initials into the wood of the desk.
Months continued to pass, and Cheri's case continued to fall farther and farther into "cold" territory.
Then, on April 30th, 1967, three nearly-identical handwritten letters were received by Riverside police, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, and now... the father of Cheri Jo Bates, Joseph.
In the letters to police and the newspaper, the person wrote in large, squiggled letters:
"Bates had to die there will be more."
In the letter to Joseph Bates, her surname is exchanged for a simple, less-honorary "She."
However, at the bottom of the two letters to the police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the killer seemed to sign the bottom of the pages with a nearly-identical symbol.
Almost everyone that has seen it has identified it as a squiggled, shaky-looking letter "Z."
Paul Avery brought this possible connection to light in his November 1970 article, and - while the murder of Cheri Jo Bates has never been confirmed to be connected to the Zodiac killer - it is one of the most likely candidates.
Five months after his article was published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Paul Avery traveled to Riverside to consult with the local PD about a possible connection to the Zodiac's crime spree.
Avery had the Riverside letters examined by Sherwood Morrill, a handwriting expert who worked as the Head of Questioned Documents for the California Department of Justice. Morrill, who had an exhaustive amount of experience with the Zodiac letters, determined the letters written by Cheri Jo Bates' killer to be "unquestionably" the work of the Zodiac.
Paul Avery published these findings in March of 1971, and earned a quick response from the Zodiac himself.
On March 13th, 1971, the Zodiac responded to Paul Avery's article by sending in a letter ot the Los Angeles Times - his first time communicating with a non-Chronicle media outlet since August of 1969.
"This is the Zodiac speaking
Like I have allways said, I am crack proof. If the Blue Meannies are evere going to catch me, they had best got off their fat asses + do something. Because the longer they fiddle + fart around, the more slaves I will collect for my after life. I do have to give them credit for stumbling upon my riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there. The reason I'm writing to the Times is this, They don't bury me on the back pages like some of the others.
SFPD - 0 [ZODIAC] - 17+"
In this letter, the Zodiac seemed to swipe directly at both the San Francisco Chronicle - for refusing to publish his letters on the front page - and at Paul Avery himself - by crediting the police for discovering this potential lead in Riverside.
However, many have pointed out that unlike some of his earlier letters, the Zodiac offered up no details or new evidence in the Cheri Jo Bates murder; instead, only taking vague responsibility for the crime, in an effort to perhaps bolster his reputation?
As we see, at the bottom tally, he increased his victim total to seventeen, but offered up no details on any of those.
To this date, the possibility of a connection between the murder of Cheri Jo Bates and the Zodiac remains uncertain. Both Riverside PD and Paul Avery maintain that the Bates homicide was not committed by Zodiac, but the letters were just an attempt to claim credit for the attack... just like the Zodiac's other attempts to steal credit for unrelated attacks and assaults.
However, in Paul Avery's digging, it came to light that Riverside PD developed a suspect in the months after the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, who has become one of the most widely-discussed Zodiac candidates.
Ross Sullivan was born on July 28th, 1941, in New York state.
He attended Glendale High School, where he graduated in 1959. He then went on to attend and work at Riverside City College, where he was noted for odd behavior. In fact, he had once written an odd poem that seemed to attract attention, and irked staff members of the library.
On the days after the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, Sullivan had failed to show up for work... some reports indicate that he was out for several days, but I can't find an official reporting of that.
The following year - 1967 - Sullivan transferred to a different college in Santa Cruz, California... hours north, nearby the San Francisco Bay Area.
On February 6th, 1968, twenty-six year old Sullivan was arrested for dancing naked in a "dazed trance," as quoted from a local paper. He was booked on indecent exposure and disorderly conduct charges, which wouldn't make a big deal in their own right.
But in the paper - which listed him as being 6'2" and weighing close to 300 pounds - it also describes him being taken to General Hospital for a 72-hour mental hold, where he would undergo a mental evaluation.
After this incident, he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and wouldn't have any more outbursts until 1973, when he would be held in a Santa Cruz mental ward. When this happened, correspondence with the Zodiac seemed to drop off for a period.
In some 1977 correspondence between San Francisco detective Dave Toschi and another law enforcement agent named David Peterson, Sullivan's name is brought up as a potential Zodiac suspect. They propose fingerprint comparison, but is unknown how far along in the process they were throughout that year.
You see, in September of 1977, Ross Sullivan passed away in his Santa Cruz home. The death certificate makes note of extreme obesity; and while his cause-of-death is unknown, it is listed as likely heart failure.
It is truly unknown how far along the investigation into Ross Sullivan as both a Zodiac suspect and for potential involvement in the Cheri Jo Bates murder when he passed away in 1977, but his name has remained at the top of the list for many Zodiac enthusiasts and researchers when it comes to noted suspects.
Even though the Riverside connection, and the potential involvement of Ross Sullivan, remained something juicy for investigators to pour over, it didn't stop the active state of the investigation.
Roughly a week after writing to the Los Angeles Times, a postcard was received by the San Francisco Chronicle. The card, which was received on March 22nd, 1971, was addressed personally to "Paul Averly."
The card, which consisted of words and phrases cut out of various advertisements and magazine lettering, seemed to point towards Lake Tahoe, and a potential twelfth victim.
Avery and the rest of the Chronicle reporters theorized that this might point to some involvement in the recent disappearance of a woman who worked in the Tahoe area.
Donna Lass (pronounced Loss) was a twenty-five year-old nurse, who lived in Stateline, California. She worked as a nurse at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel and Casino, nearby South Lake Tahoe - which is now a Hard Rock Cafe.
On the morning of September 6th, 1970, Donna worked until roughly 2:00 in the morning, treating her last patient at around 1:40 AM. She left work, and seemingly headed home.
However, later that day, both Donna's employer and her landlord had received phone calls from an unknown male individual - who falsely claimed that Donna had left town due to a family emergency. This would later be determined to be a complete fabrication.
Donna Lass was never found. Her car was left behind at her apartment complex - which, itself, was just a few blocks away from the scene of the Paul Stine murder from the year prior.
A potential grave site would later be found near Clair Tappaan Lodge, in Norden, California. However, an excavation there only found a pair of sunglasses, but no evidence or clues pointing towards the fate of Donna Lass.
To date, there has never been any confirmed involvement between this case the Zodiac crime spree... but that didn't stop investigators from trying to find clues where there weren't any to be found.
In November of 1972, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's officials tried to make a connection between one of their outstanding cold cases and the open Zodiac case.
Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards were seniors at Lompac High School, in the area around Santa Barbara, California.
Domingos, who was eighteen years old, decided to skip school for "Senior Ditch Day." His seventeen-year-old fiance, Linda, agreed to skip along with him.
Instead of going to school, they decided to head down to a beach near Lompoc, where they spent a chunk of the day doing nothing but sunbathing and frolicking in the water.
However, police later theorized that while they were sunbathing, an assailant had accosted the two teenagers, bringing along pre-cut lengths of narrow rope, insisting that one tie up the other. At some point, though, the two teenagers managed to free themselves from the situation, and attempted to make a run for it.
Both Robert and Linda were shot repeatedly in the back and the chest with a .22-caliber weapon. The close proximity of the shots indicated a high level of firearm expertise.
At that point, the bodies of the young couple were dragged approximately thirty feet, and placed in a small shack along the beach. Linda was placed on top of Robert, and it was later revealed that Linda's bathing suit top had been cut by a knife, exposing her for the killer's enjoyment.
When the two bodies had been piled into the wooden shack, it appeared that the assailant attempted to burn down the shack with wooden matches, but failed spectacularly.
Sheriff John Carpenter and Detective Bill Baker of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office tried to make the case that this crime bore many similarities to the Zodiac attacks, including a similar kind of .22-caliber ammunition used in the Lake Herman Road murders, and that this attack bore many striking similarities to the Lake Berryessa attack in Napa County.
However, no confirmation has ever been made that these cases are linked, although any confirmation would successfully link the Zodiac to Southern California, and predate any other known activity by at least three years.
There was no confirmed communication between the Zodiac and the media between March of 1971 and January of 1974, when a suspicious letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The letter, which arrived on January 29th, 1974, seemed rather innocuous at first. It seemed to address the topic of the recent hit film, "The Exorcist," but quickly took a dark turn.
"I saw and think 'The Exorcist' was the best saterical comedy that I have ever seen. Signed, yours truley:
He plunged himself into the billowy wave and an echo arose from the suicide's grave
titwillo titwillo titwillo
PS. If I do not see this note in your paper, I will do something nasty, which you know I'm capable of doing.
Me - 37
SFPD - 0"
The letter, which contained another snippet of a verse from "The Mikado," also featured an unusual symbol at the bottom, which is unexplained to this day. However, it was placed at the same spot where the Zodiac usually left his notorious cross-hairs.
This was followed up by a letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle a few weeks letter, on February 14th. In this letter, someone named "a friend" informed the editor that the initials for the Symbionese Liberation Army, an active left wing terrorist group, spelled "sla" - a Norwegian word meaning kill.
Despite the handwriting looking very similar, this letter was not confirmed to belong to the Zodiac.
Then, on May 8th, 1974, the Chronicle received yet another unrelated letter, addressed to the paper's editors. This letter was largely a complaint that the movie "Badlands" was being advertised in the paper, and the author - who identified themselves only as "a citizen" - felt that the film was "murder-glorification." They therefore asked the paper to cut advertising for the flick.
It would later be determined that the handwriting, tone, and surface irony were all eerily similar to the earlier Zodiac letters.
There was another letter sent in July of that year, 1974, which seemed similar in-tone and complained about the Chronicle publishing the writings of anti-feminist Marco Spinelli. The letter was signed "the Red Phantom" and in parenthesis, "red with rage." But the handwriting and messaging seemed off, even for a Zodiac letter, so this has never been confirmed to be his handiwork.
However, while many argue over which of these 1974 were authentic or not, it is almost undisputed that the Zodiac himself was still enjoying his time in the spotlight, and now - five years removed from any actual murders - was hoping to keep that active in some fashion.
But it was at this point, the Zodiac seemed to fade away from any correspondence with the media.
Or did he?
By the mid-1970's, San Francisco homicide detective Dave Toschi had become a bit of a cultural icon, inspiring fictional heroes such as Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry Callahan" and Steve McQueen's "Lieutenant Frank Bullitt." In fact, George Lucas would name a fictional landmark in the original "Star Wars" film after Toschi: in the form of Toschi Station.
He had become known for his exuberant dress code, constantly wearing bow ties and an exaggerated trench coat.
However, he was most well-known as the lead investigator of the Zodiac Killer - a case he had somehow lucked into while working on-call on a fateful October weekend in 1969.
In 1976, Detective Toschi spoke to a reporter about the active state of the investigation, which had consumed countless nights and hours of his life. He stated that he personally believed that the Zodiac Killer had - and still currently - lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"He has a personal box-score of 37. We know for sure he killed at least six and wounded two in the late 1960s, but there are many unsolved homicides. He hasn't taken credit for any specific killings in the last few years, yet whenever we get a new letter or postcard from him, the score goes up."
Toschi also stated that he believed the letters had become a bit of a game for the Zodiac's ego, and that his regular life was likely not that thrilling... hence, the Zodiac escapades.
"He's a weekend killer. Why can't he get away Monday through Thursday? Does his job keep him close to home? I would speculate he maybe has a menial job, is well thought of and blends into the crowd... I think he's quite intelligent and better educated than someone who misspells words as frequently as he does in his letters."
Eventually, Detective Toschi was asked the question that anyone would ask: do you think you are going to catch the Zodiac Killer?
"To be honest, I'm no closer now to solving the case. It's been a paper chase for me. My files are getting larger, but I doubt I'll get him unless he makes a mistake or strikes again. I don't know who or where he is."
As the years continued to pass, the odds of detectives stumbling upon the path of the Zodiac became less and less likely.
Eventually, the 70's were coming to an end, and the decade anniversary of the Zodiac's assorted murders began to look like a benchmark for the case.
But then - in April of 1978 - the Zodiac killer entered the news once again.
The letter received by the San Francisco Chronicle on April 24th, 1978, read as follows:
This is the Zodiac speaking
I am back with you. Tell herb caen I am here, I have always been here. That city pig toschi is good ' but I am smarter and better he will get tired then leave me alone.I am waiting for a good movie about me. who will play me. I am now in control of all things.
SFPD - 0"
The letter was initially deemed authentic, but trouble arose just months later when the news of this 1978 letter made it to the mainstream news, and author Armistead Maupin - who had worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and wrote an ongoing book series about a detective in San Francisco - picked up similarities between this most recent Zodiac letter... and fan letters written to him in 1976... which he believed to be written by none other than Detective Dave Toschi.
Dave Toschi found himself in extremely hot water for this incident, as it appeared to his superiors - and to the press - that he had perhaps been writing some of, if not most of, the most recent Zodiac letters. If so, investigators would have to move the point of their last Zodiac correspondence to 1971, when he professed some involvement in the Cheri Jo Bates murder from Riverside, California.
Toschi admitted to writing the fan mail to Armistead Maupin, professing his adoration of the series, and saying that it was a goofy, childish thing that he did for fun. However, he explicitly stated:
"I wrote no Zodiac letter. I don't need another letter, it only brings me tons of extra work. It's strain enough being in homicide."
Toschi was later cleared of any involvement in the letter writing, when handwriting samples determined that he didn't write them. However, the stain on his record remained there, permanently, and even though he seemed poised to replace Charles Gain as San Francisco Police Chief, this scandal ultimately ended those dreams.
The authenticity of this 1978 letter remains unverified, with some experts pointing out that the handwriting seems to match the Zodiac's style, while others point out the formatting and other issues with tone. Some have even theorized that the letter may have been written by other parties that wanted to drum up interest in the Zodiac story once again, but ultimately, nothing has been ultimately determined. The 1978 letter remains a mystery.
Over the years, there has been some alleged correspondence with the Zodiac, but none of it has been confirmed.
In 1981, a letter was received by Atlanta television station, WXIA-TV, on the other side of the country. The letter, which was postmarked March 8th, 1981, was received just days later. It read:
"Hello it's me. Haven't you people figured out who is killing these little peopleyet. I'll give you a hint, I used to be in San Francisco. I used to stalk women, but I like to kill children now. At all my victims bodies I have left certain clues, but I guess it's too much for you Rebels to handle. So I guess I'll have to tell you. I'll try to kill children because they are so easy to "pick off": Buy the way, if you still have letters from the other murders, I am not writing in the same hand writing."
The letter is then signed "Zodiac," and given the same cross-hair logo as the original Zodiac correspondence.
As you may have guessed, the handwriting in this letter differed noticeable from the original Zodiac letters. However, it seemed to be taking credit for the recent rash of child murders in the Atlanta area, which would later be attributed to Wayne Williams.
This letter was forwarded to the FBI, who conducted their own analysis, which ultimate came up undetermined.
Robert Graysmith, a man who had spent years working as a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had long held a fascination with the story of the Zodiac Killer. When the letters began arriving at the Chronicle, he began documenting everything he could find, including newspaper clippings and various pieces of evidence he could get his hands on.
Eventually, the idea of a book entered his mind. He doubted whether or not anyone would read it, but viewed the story as one that needed to be preserved.
"I saw it going into obscurity. Nobody is sharing all the different jurisdictions, and all this information. What if I as a private citizen went around and got this information?"
After over a decade of exhaustive research, and nearly losing himself in his quest to find the Zodiac killer, he published his book "Zodiac" in 1986. It immediately became a bestseller, and rejuvenated interested in the story.
The book contained much of the public knowledge of the Zodiac himself - in fact, many have credited this book for keeping the case in the spotlight, and for turning a relatively-forgettable series of events into America's most infamous criminal cold case.
However, many also critique Robert Graysmith's "fast and loose" approach to journalism, where he seemed to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. Several people who held supposed conversations within the book recall things unfolding in a much different way, and go against Graysmith's own recollection of events.
Richard Harnett, who reviewed "Zodiac" for the Los Angeles Times in February of 1986, weighed in with his thoughts about the book, stating that a:
"... good account of all the facts in the Zodiac affair would have been a valuable contribution... but Graysmith, a newspaper cartoonist, took on the role of amateur sleuth rather than historian... He neglects those parts of the historical record that don't fit into his scenario."
Graysmith's book focused a large portion of its pages on a suspect Graysmith personally suspected, who he used the name "Bob Hall Starr" to describe. This name was just an alias, but would become pertinent very soon.
However, one angle that was taken by some in the press was that this book perhaps overly-glorified the actions of the Zodiac, and would perhaps inspire copycats.
Armistead Maupin, the Chronicle columnist and author who had gotten dragged into the 1978 letter scandal, weighed in with his thoughts about the publication of "Zodiac":
"I think the public has already been terrified far too much by this boogeyman story."
It comes as no surprise when, just a few months after the publication of Robert Graysmith's "Zodiac," another letter was received by the San Francisco Chronicle... its first in nearly a decade.
The postmark was unclear, but it seemed to have been sent on May 6th, 1986, and read as follows:
"This is the Zodiac speaking I am still out here an crack proof. I want you to know about my latest slaves that I have collected about two weeks ago up by Sacramento Ca I will give you clue to help you with the mystry. They were killed by a freeway. The Blue Meannies almost caught me. The body count is growing now 100+ all over the state of Ca and Na.
SFPD - 0 [ZODIAC] - 100+"
The letter, which seemed legitimate, featured some similar grammatical and spelling errors that the Zodiac was most known for, but also included many scribbled-out words and formatting issues, such as the Zodiac trying to squeeze in a word above another. I also only assume that he meant the state of Nevada at the end, because he used the abbreviation "Na," which doesn't indicate any one specific state.
The author of the letter seemed to be addressed the recent double-murder of Koy len Saechao and Choy Fow Salee, a Laotian couple that had been shot repeatedly near Highway 99 and I-5, up near Sacramento, in April of 1986.
The two had been visiting their hospitalized son, in Merced, California, when they stopped to take a break alongside the highway. Then, an unknown attacker shot them over fifteen times, leaving their bodies to be discovered by the police some time later.
This letter has never been verified as belonging to the Zodiac, despite containing similar handwriting and the Zodiac symbol signature. This is because Robert Graysmith's book, "Zodiac," had basically informed the readers - through its reproductions of the original Zodiac letters - how to recreate them.
As such, this letter was deemed a hoax and not given any credence in law enforcement.
Another such issue arose in the early 1990s, just a handful of years after Robert Graysmith's book was published.
Between March of 1990 and October of 1993, eight people were shot in New York City. Five of these shooting victims survived, but the other three - two men and one women - suffered terrible injuries. In the case of the lone female murder victim, Patricia Fonti, she had been shot once in the back and then stabbed over a hundred times.
The brutality and sudden violence of the crimes invoked fears of Son of Sam - but when the killer began corresponding with the media and police, they claimed to be the infamous Zodiac Killer.
This person seemed to be targeting their victims based on their astrological sign, and made that clear in their correspondence.
However, any fears that these crimes were being perpetrated by California's infamous Zodiac were deflated when twenty-six year old Heriberto "Eddie" Seda - an unemployed high school dropout - was arrested and charged with the crimes in 1996.
He had apparently been a big fan of the Zodiac Killer's methods, having only been a year old when the Lake Herman Road murders took place. He, as everyone feared, was nothing more than a Zodiac copycat, who ended up getting sentenced to 232-years for his shooting offenses.
The case of the Zodiac Killer remained open throughout the 1990s, but was no longer being actively investigated by detectives. Too much time had passed for there to be any real inroads made, so law enforcement kept it open should any new details surfaced.
The case has remained in this unusual stasis, most particularly in Napa County and the city of Riverside, where the Lake Berryessa Attack and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates remain high priorities for cold case investigators.
However, the San Francisco Police Department - who got involved with the case following the shooting death of Paul Stine - officially marked the case "inactive" in April of 2004.
But by March of 2007, they had reopened the case, due to an unusual detail that had somehow slipped past them.
On March 3rd, 2007, it was discovered that an American Greeting Christmas Card had been sent to the San Francisco Chronicle nearly two decades beforehand. This Christmas Card, which was postmarked in Eureka in 1990, was re-discovered in photo files by the Chronicle's editorial assistant Daniel King.
They were able to dig up the card, and gave it up to experts for examination. Inside of the envelope, along with the card, was a photocopy of two U.S. postal keys on a magnet key-chain. Along with that intriguing find, an initial analysis ruled that the handwriting from this Christmas card resembled the handwriting of the Zodiac.
Lloyd Cunningham, a forensic document examiner, declared this card inauthentic, but other experts and researchers have gone on-the-record to disagree with his finding.
This Christmas Card would push back the date of the Zodiac's correspondence to 1990 - almost two decades after his last authenticated letter. However, it still remains a point of contention among Zodiac researchers and enthusiasts.
Speaking of a point of contention, right around that same time - March of 2007 - the story of the "Zodiac" would be brought to the big screen.
On March 2nd, 2007 - just days before this big announcement - David Fincher's film "Zodiac" would be released to the world.
Based on the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Robert Graysmith, the film also included some details from Graysmith's follow-up book, which had been published a few years beforehand.
To step off of my host pedestal for a moment, I just want to say - this movie is legitimately one of my favorites. I'm a huge fan of Fincher's style of filmmaking, and this movie is really the golden standard of true crime or mystery stories being given the Hollywood treatment. If you haven't yet seen it, even over a decade later, you absolutely should.
Despite drawing much of its premise from the novel of the same name, the movie tried to cling close to realism as much as possible, and the filmmakers were given access to legitimate case files and were able to interview the investigators, eyewitnesses, and survivors of the Zodiac attacks.
Bryan Hartnell, the survivor of the Lake Berryessa Attack, gave the film an incredible amount of credit.
"What they've captured on the film that you see when Cecelia is being stabbed, that's the flash I saw happening.
"It's an eerie reproduction of what happened in my vision. I couldn't have scripted it better."
As was the case with Robert Graysmith's book, the film earned some demerits from hardcore Zodiac researchers or enthusiasts, who nit-picked the finer details of the film... but even they had to begrudgingly admit that the film was incredibly well-made.
However, this movie focused on the suspect that Robert Graysmith - the former cartoonist of the San Francisco Chronicle-turned-Zodiac expert - had spent over two decades building a case around: Arthur Leigh Allen.
Arthur Leigh Allen was born on December 18th, 1933 - exactly six years before the Zodiac's fifth and final murder victim, Paul Stine.
His father was an established military man, and Arthur - who went by his middle name of "Leigh" - grew up in the area of Vallejo, California.
Leigh enlisted in the United States Navy in 1956, hoping to live up to his father's legacy. However, his service was short-lived, and he was honorably discharged in 1958.
From there, he moved back to his parent's home in Vallejo, where he worked a number of on-again-off-again jobs over the next few years. He went back to school, and eventually became a school-teacher.
He moved to an area just south of Sacramento in 1966, and began working as a teacher shortly thereafter. However, he was fired from his job - as an elementary school teacher - in March of 1968. The reason was there were allegations of sexual misconduct with his students: in other words, child molestation.
It began to come to light that Leigh - who had been mostly well-regarded by those in his life - had been described as being fixated on young children. Others described him as harboring an anger towards women, and both friends and family struggled to recall any romantic relationships that Leigh held with anyone.
On October 4th, 1969, Leigh was interviewed by Detective John Lynch, of the Vallejo Police Department. This was roughly a week before the shooting of Paul Stine, and just a week or so after the attack out on Lake Berryessa. Detective Lynch told Leigh that he had been reported out in the vicinity of the attack at around the same time, and Leigh told him that he had indeed been out there - at Salt Point - scuba diving on the same day that the attack took place.
This eventually became a note in a case file, but went mostly unfollowed-up-on for a couple of years.
That is, until 1971, when a man named Donald Cheney reported Leigh to authorities.
At this point, Zodiac fever had taken over, and authorities were desperate to make any progress in the case. They listened to Cheney, and he told them things that they found incredibly interesting: including details such as Arthur Leigh Allen had spoke about his desire to kill people... that he wanted to use the nickname "Zodiac"... that he was going to secure a flashlight to a firearm for visibility at-night.
Cheney told police that this conversation had taken place no later than January 1st, 1969 - roughly a week after the Zodiac began attacking couples at lover's lanes.
On August 4th, 1971, Arthur Leigh Allen was questioned at his place of work, in Pinole, California. This is where Leigh became one of the most intriguing suspects for detectives, as they noticed he wore a "Zodiac" brand wristwatch, made reference to a book titled "The Most Dangerous Game," and embodied many of the characteristics that investigators had come to associate with the Zodiac.
Through the next several months, investigators tried to work out the case against Allen, eventually culminating in a search warrant of his residence in 1972. This brought them many interesting clues, but nothing definitive. There was no handwriting match, no fingerprint match, nothing.
So, investigators had to drop Arthur Leigh Allen as a suspect.
He wouldn't stay out of trouble for long, though... in 1974, Leigh was arrested for committing lewd acts with a twelve-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty to the charge, and was given a two-year sentence... eventually being released in 1977.
Over the next decade or so, Leigh continued to work a number of odd jobs, moving out on his own and living a quiet, isolated life.
That all changed in 1986, however, when Robert Graysmith published his book, "Zodiac." In it, a man matching all of Leigh's characteristics - named Bob Hall Starr - is maligned as the unfortunate result of police not having enough evidence to press charges.
The media, who were able to piece two-and-two together, were quickly able to determine that Robert Hall Starr was just an alias for Arthur Leigh Allen, and soon, he found himself hounded by reporters and journalists that wanted the scoop on his life's story.
Over the next few years, he managed to avoid the limelight... but then the police began digging into his stories and alibis once again.
In February of 1991, Vallejo police conducted another search of his property. They found many things that they found suspicious - including firearms, which could not legally be possessed by a felon - but no charges were filed.
Arthur Leigh Allen decided to break his media silence, and spoke about his most recent encounters with law enforcement. He even spoke out about his property, which had been taken by the search warrant.
There were a couple of typewriters taken from Allen's residence in this 1991 search, including a Royal Typewriter with an Elite type - the same model that had been used to type out the letters sent to Riverside police and the Riverside Press-Herald following the 1966 murder of Cheri Jo bates.
However, it is unknown whether any tests were conducted to confirm if this was the same exact model.
Arthur Leigh Allen, who continued to speak to the press, argued that the harassment he was receiving for the Zodiac crimes had ruined his life.
As I said, no charges were filed following this 1991 search, even though Allen was legally not allowed to own or possess firearms, as a convicted felon. That is because, perhaps, the responsible parties took pity on his current situation.
Arthur Leigh Allen had been struggling with heart problems and diabetes for some time, and that eventually led to his death just a short time later, in 1992.
Just two days after his death, authorities conducted yet another search of his home, and seized several items that they noted were "interesting." It is unknown what these items were, as they have never been released, and it is unknown whether or not any of the jurisdictions with open Zodiac cases are ever going to label Arthur Leigh Allen as the Zodiac Killer.
There are a lot of points of evidence both for and against Arthur Leigh Allen as a Zodiac suspect, so I'll just try to run through them briefly.
As I've already said, there was a typewriter taken during a 1991 search that was consistent with a model needed to type letters pertaining to the Cheri Jo Bates murder in Riverside, California.
Arthur Leigh Allen, as it has been noted in other documentaries and books, might have had some kind of connection to Riverside, but... that is mostly undetermined.
As I also said, Leigh Allen wore a Zodiac-brand wristwatch, which contained the same symbol used by the Zodiac in his correspondence with the Bay Area media.
Allen lived in Vallejo, California, and many law enforcement experts consider the area to be the home of the Zodiac himself.
It's also worth noting that he worked just minutes away from where Darlene Ferrin lived, and - at times - was just miles away from where the Zodiac Killer had been hunting.
Allen had the same physical characteristics of the Zodiac - he stood about six feet tall, weighed around 250 pounds, and had light, thinning brown hair. He also had a unique style of walking, which the Zodiac was noted for having, as well.
In 1991, surviving Zodiac victim Mike Mageau was shown a photo lineup by George Bawart of the Vallejo Police Department. This was the first time that Mageau had looked at photos of suspects, and in his first go of it, he identified Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who had shot both Darlene Ferrin and him in the summer of 1969.
However, this is questioned by Mageau's own testimony, which admitted that he had been blinded by a high-powered flashlight and flashes of gunshots, and didn't get a decent look at the shooter. He described his own eyewitness sighting as "more of an outline" than an outright description.
This is where we start to get into some of the evidence on the side of Arthur Leigh Allen's innocence.
Fingerprints tested from the crime scene of Paul Stine and Cecelia Shepard's murders - from San Francisco and Napa County, respectively - were both tested against Arthur Leigh Allen's fingerprints. Both came back negative.
Then, multiple fingerprint samples and a palm print from the Zodiac letters were compared to Arthur Leigh Allen. Again, all came back negative.
As if that wasn't enough, in 2002, the San Francisco Police Department developed a partial DNA profile from the saliva on the Zodiac letter's stamps and envelopes. This was compared to Allen's DNA, and came back negative.
However... Tom Voigt, the curator of the website zodiackiller.com, later stated that this method of DNA testing wasn't effective.
"It turns out the DNA obtained from a Zodiac correspondence back in 2002 was taken from the outside of a stamp, meaning it might well belong to the mailman and not the Zodiac killer."
Nonetheless, it was another negative result for anything that proved Arthur Leigh Allen's guilty.
Lloyd Cunningham, an forensic document expert, has even gone on-the-record to state:
"... they gave me banana boxes full of Allen's writing, and none of his writing even came close to the Zodiac. Nor did DNA extracted from the envelopes (on the Zodiac letters) come close to Arthur Leigh Allen."
Statements like this were combated by enthusiasts and researchers like Robert Graysmith, who have argued that Arthur Leigh Allen being ambidextrous circumvents this argument. Since Allen could write with both hands, it was possible that that explained why none of the letters matched his own writings.
However, that too, is a flawed argument... as the lack of any evidence is still not close to proving Arthur Leigh Allen's guilt.
Dave Toschi, the San Francisco detective who handled the Zodiac case for many years, stated that all evidence against Arthur Leigh Allen, ultimately:
"... turned out to be negative."
Authorities, for a time, even considered looking into Donald Cheney as a suspect.
Don Cheney, who was a former friend of Arthur Leigh Allen, actually contacted police in 1971 to report him as a Zodiac suspect. However, as time went on, some of the details that Cheney shared about Allen made police view him somewhat cryptically.
As one Zodiac detective stated:
"... sometimes I wonder if he had more involvement with Zodiac than he's let on."
During an initial round of questioning by investigators, Cheney had told them that he had once gone to Arthur Leigh Allen's house, as a friend, and noticed a stack of letters which the other man had been meaning to send out. Allen then allegedly asked Cheney to help him finish up by licking the stamps and putting the envelopes together.
Police viewed this almost as a soft admission of some involvement in whatever Arthur Leigh Allen had been up to... as if Cheney viewed this as getting ahead of curve by admitting to his fingerprints or other forensic evidence being on the Zodiac letters.
However, all of this is null, because Cheney was never named a suspect. And when Arthur Leigh Allen's DNA was tested against the partial Zodiac DNA profile in 2002, authorities submitted a sample of Cheney, as well.
Just like Allen, it came back negative.
Over time, many have tried to link the Zodiac crime spree to that of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
These were a series of shootings that took place in Texarkana, Texas, between February and May of 1946. In an eerie coincidence, that crime spree also resulted in five people being killed, with three others wounded in the aftermath.
The killer was later given the nickname "The Phantom" - or "The Phantom Killer" - because of the time he struck and his ability to quickly disappear.
The first victims of Texarkana's Phantom Killer - named Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey - had been parked along a quiet lover's lane when they were attacked. The Phantom - as he would later be known - utilized tactics that the Zodiac would later perfect. He used a flashlight to blind his victims, and then told them to run off while he tried to subdue and shoot at them.
Jimmy Hollis described the shooter, who was wearing a pillow-case-looking mask over his head, as being a white man around thirty years old. Mary Jeanne Larey, who got a better look at the killer, described him as being an African American male. They ended up splitting the difference, and saying that he might have been a young, dark-tanned man under the age of thirty, who stood around six feet tall. He also might have been a light-skinned African American.
The Phantom Killer attacked in similar circumstances as the Zodiac - primarily sticking to lover's lanes, before attacking a couple in their mid-thirties in their home. He used a .32 caliber weapon for most of his assaults, but used a .22-caliber weapon in a later attack.
Police described him as being "shrewd," but also incredibly "lucky" in his attacks. A psychological profile said that he might have been a sadist who enjoyed killing as a sport, and would most likely act out again.
When the crime spree came to an end in May of 1946, many believed that the Phantom simply moved on to a new area... however, they perhaps thought this because the idea of living among someone that caused so much terror, in such a short period of time, is a terrifying proposition.
The case remained embedded in the town's memory, but was given notoriety when the 1976 film "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" was released. Immediately, the story drew many correlations to the Zodiac Killer - who had struck just a handful of years beforehand along the west coast - and ever since then, many have considered the possibility that Texarkana's Phantom might have moved west some time after 1946.
Over the years, many have come forward with their own idea on Zodiac suspects. Most of the time, these people usually have something to sell - like an upcoming tell-all novel, or a documentary based on their life's story.
In 2007, a man named Dennis Kaufman claimed that his stepfather - a man named Jack Tarrance - was the Zodiac. He turned over several items to the FBI, including a hood that was allegedly similar to the one worn by the Zodiac.
DNA analysis conducted by the FBI in 2010 was deemed inconclusive.
In 2009, a former lawyer named Robert Tarbox claimed that a merchant mariner had come to him for help in the early 1970's, and confessed to being the Zodiac.
Tarbox, who had since been disbarred by the California Supreme Court for failing to pay his own clients, said that he could not reveal the name of this seaman, but that the young man's description of the crimes convinced him. Tarbox said that the young man was trying to stop before he lashed out again; but after making an appointment, the young man never came back to see him.
Eventually, Robert Tarbox took out a full-page ad in the Vallejo Times-Herald, in an effort to clear the name of Arthur Leigh Allen. Roberty Graysmith, who had spent years trying to point to Allen as the Zodiac killer, even described Tarbox's story as "entirely plausible."
However, Tarbox has never revealed the name of the merchant mariner, and nothing has come of this alleged confession.
Steve Hodel, a detective-turned-author who wrote the book "Black Dahlia Avenger," has made allegations that his own father, George Hill Hodel, was the Zodiac. In his original novel, he theorized that George Hodel was the killer behind the Black Dahlia, and made similar allegations about the Zodiac crimes based on his father's handwriting.
He also says that his father matches the description of the Zodiac Killer, but - again - nothing has come of this allegation.
This constant stream of suspects has continued even to the last few years.
Just a few years ago, a man named Randy Kenney came forward to announce that his friend, Louis Joseph Myers, had confessed to him twice about being the Zodiac: once in the 1970s, and then again in 2001, when Myers was dying from cirrhosis of the liver.
For what it's worth, Myers had a personal connection to some of the crimes. He attended the same high schools as David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, and even allegedly worked in the same restaurant as Darlene Ferrin. Also, he had access to the same kind of military boot found at the Lake Berryessa crime scene, due to his military service.
In fact, between 1971 and 1973 - when the Zodiac stopped corresponding with the media - Myers was stationed overseas in Germany.
As I said just a moment ago, Myers died in 2001, and allegedly confessed to his friend, Randy Kenny. He wanted the other man to come forward with the information after his death. When asked why he had gone through the effort to kill all of these people, Myers said he had done so because of a bad breakup with an old girlfriend.
Despite the circumstantial evidence pointing towards Myers, police have not indicated that he has ever been considered a serious suspect.
Another suspect developed primarily over the internet - by Tom Voigt and the rest of the researchers at zodiackiller.com - was Richard Joseph Gaikowski.
Richard Gaikowski was born in 1936, and was drafted into the US Army as a youth. He served as a medic, before leaving the service and moving to the Bay Area.
He lived in Martinez for a time, nearby Vallejo, and began working for Good Times - a San Francisco counter-culture newspaper.
In addition to resembling the composite sketch of the Zodiac, he also seemed to have a close, personal relationship with Darlene Ferrin. In fact, he happened to move to New York at around the same time as Darlene, and worked in the same building as her first husband, James Crabtree. Crabtree worked for the Times-Union newspaper; while Gaikowski worked for the rival Knickerbocker News.
He then moved back to the Bay Area at around the same time as Darlene, and lived in California until his death from lung cancer in 2004.
Nancy Slover, the Vallejo police dispatcher who received a call from the Zodiac shortly after the Blue Rock Springs shooting, listened to recordings of Gaikowski's voice and identified him as the same man she had heard all of those years before. However, many point out that it had been decades since Slover had heard from the Zodiac, so that's hardly definitive proof.
Plus, Gaikowski seemed to have documented out-of-country travel for the time period of at least one of the Zodiac attacks, which would rule him out as a suspect entirely.
Just like all of the other leads, Richard Gaikowski's name has gotten nowhere in the Zodiac case file.
Another lead developed by websleuths centers around a mysterious man named "Waterson," who zodiackiller.com has been working on since December of 2017.
This man, who was a commercial airline pilot, had ties to multiple locations from the Zodiac case. He resided at Travis Air Force Base - in Fairfield, California - and his wife attended both high school and college in Vallejo. When he divorced from his wife - at around the same time that the Zodiac began striking - he often took his children to Lake Berryessa for day trips.
Waterson also seemed to have a history of violence, which was by these websleuths during some document-digging. It was discovered that his wife originally tried filing for divorce in 1964, citing mental cruelty, before the two reconciled. They would stay together until 1969, until officially divorcing.
At the time of their first marriage speed bump - in September of 1964 - "Waterson" was questioned by police after a woman was abducted near Sahara Tahoe. The woman wasn't killed, but this location alone would point to another one of the crimes Zodiac alleged to have involvement in: the disappearance of Donna Lass, from Lake Tahoe.
He also happened to later live in Los Angeles, at around the time that the Zodiac sent his letter to the LA Times in 1971.
This suspect bore a strong physical resemblance to the suspect sketches, standing 5'11", weighing in at around 190 pounds, with a stocky build, and a military-style haircut.
This lead is still being actively developed, so there isn't much more to say about it until more details surface. But it's something, at least.
One theory that I've seen thrown around on the internet a lot is that theory that the killings perpetrated by the Zodiac were, themselves, unrelated. This theory hinges on the idea that one man - or several people - tried to take credit for the various attacks in an effort to cause confusion and chaos within law enforcement and the Bay Area community.
This theory seems to be partially pushed by a man named Tom Horan, who published a book based on this subject, titled "The Great Zodiac Killer Hoax Of 1969." Horan believes that the entire Zodiac case was created by someone who wanted to connect various crimes for the publicity, and to inspire panic.
Without getting too preachy or nitpicky, this isn't a theory that I agree with; namely, because it in itself tries to argue the basic facts of the case as multiple police jurisdictions and the FBI have come to understand them.
In fact, many of the law enforcement agencies who have handled the Zodiac case dismiss this theory offhand, because it has no credence.
What we know about the Zodiac hinges on some important pieces of information:
First, that the two crimes - the Lake Herman Road murders of 1968 and the Blue Rock Springs attack of1969 - were linked because the killer provided police and media with details that only the perpetrator would know. These were details that were not published by the media at the time, so they would have been known by the detectives that handled the case, and the culprit himself.
Then, following the Lake Berryessa attack, the killer left behind his handwriting on the side of Bryan Hartnell's white Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. That writing has been confirmed to match the Zodiac letters - which we know contained insider information that only the killer would know.
Then, following the murder of Paul Stine on Presidio Heights, the same letter-writer - who called himself the Zodiac - mailed pieces of Stine's bloody shirt to the San Francisco Chronicle and attorney Melvin Belli. Unless the forensic evidence, which confirmed the shirt as belonging to Paul Stine, was wrong, then I don't see how that can be faked.
So, at the very least, we have four connected crimes belonging to the Zodiac killer... four crimes linked through heartache and tragedy, where forensic testing, expert handwriting analysis, and impossible-to-know details linked them together.
From there, it is fair to argue whether or not any of the possibly related crimes hold any connection. This includes the Riverside murder of Cheri Jo Bates, the disappearance of Donna Lass, etc.
But the idea that the four crimes linked to the Zodiac were perpetrated by a genius mastermind, that was able to learn details about crimes without actually being there, participate in the letter-writing process in a time before computing existed, and mail pieces of Paul Stine's bloody shirt, is just silly to me. In fact, I almost find this idea offensive - on behalf of the various figures that dedicated months and years of their lives investigating the Zodiac case for various law enforcement agencies.
That's why I personally dismiss the Zodiac "hoax" theory without a second thought.
Over the years, countless people have come forward to allege that someone they knew - a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a coworker - harbored some secret... some secret so massive that it may finally solve America's most infamous cold case.
Most of the time, these people are pushing something to sell, and try to twist the facts to fit their own personalized theory. In my opinion, it only tarnished the hard work that investigators dedicate their lives to, and has done nothing more than contribute to a story which is already confusing, and crowded with facts, details, timelines, and a cavalcade of suspects - each more terrifying than the last.
Nowadays, the Zodiac exists in the American zeitgeist - not as a perpetrator of violent acts, but as more of a myth. An urban legend. Every so often, you hear about these allegations being made by an inspiring author or documentarian, and it triggers discussion of the Zodiac once again.
Every now and then, a joke or a meme will even bring life back to the tale of the Zodiac Killer - such as the idea that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac.
In February of 2011, "America's Most Wanted" helped trigger one of these momentary relapses in the public consciousness, when they included a picture that had surfaced the year before.
The picture shows Zodiac murder victim Darlene Ferrin standing next to an innocuous-looking young man. He's pretty handsome, has dark hair, glasses, and looks pretty similar to the suspect sketches of the Zodiac Killer.
The man has become known as "The Unknown Man" in Zodiac websleuth circles, because nobody has been able to pinpoint his identity: not police, not the media, not even the internet enthusiasts who have dedicated their free time to trying to solve the Zodiac puzzle. The man remains frozen in time - in a picture that authorities believe was taken in San Francisco in either 1966 or 1967.
I only mention this because the odds of capturing the Zodiac alive are basically slim-to-none... the Zodiac was described as being around thirty years old back in 1969, which would make him right around eighty years old today. If not older.
It's most likely that he's passed on, and took his secrets to the grave. But, thanks to forensic testing, truth and justice have been given a second lease on life.
Utilizing the same DNA testing methods that led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer, authorities are hoping that they'll be able to track down the Zodiac Killer.
Now, this process is pretty thorough and complicated, but - at the moment - experts are trying to use innovative new ways to obtain DNA from evidence. The hope is that they'll be able to get DNA from the underside of the stamps used on the Zodiac correspondence. This is an innovative way to try and track down the infamous killer, as it's utilizing new technology which separates the potential killer's DNA from the glue used on postage stamps.
From there, investigators are hoping to use the same type of DNA testing that nabbed the Golden State Killer - also known as the Original Night Stalker or East Area Rapist - but they're currently focusing on the task at-hand. And the current step requires patience, innovation, and will undoubtedly rely on the evidence-storage procedures used by law enforcement throughout the years.
The FBI has revealed, due to information redacted from public record, that there are Zodiac letters and much more information that has not been released to the public, so only time will tell whether that information gets released. One can only hope that the innovative new DNA techniques will be able to track down the Zodiac in due time.
Until that happens, the stories of David Faraday, Betty Lou Jensen, Darlene Ferrin, Mike Mageau, Cecelia Shepard, Bryan Hartnell, Paul Stine - and everyone else whose life was taken over or consumed by the mysterious Zodiac - remain unresolved.