Special Case File
The Zodiac Suspect
"Your daughter is dead"
The Zodiac killer is one of the most mysterious and deadly criminals to have emerged from the latter half of the 20th century. Over the years since his killing spree ended, many names have been put forward as possible leads in the case. One of the more promising suspects was Lawrence Kane, who has been linked to several different murders associated with the Zodiac case.
He has often been cited as a strong suspect for being the elusive serial killer and most of the information about Kane can be found in a report compiled by retired police officer Harvey Hines, who cites many similarities and traits between Kane and the Zodiac. However, with mostly circumstantial evidence pointing to his guilty, Kane was never charged with any crimes relating to the murders, but he has remained one of the prime suspects.
Born on April 29, 1924, in Brooklyn, New York, as Lawrence “Larry” Klein, the eldest of three sons to Morris Haim Klein and Sarah Benjamin. Both of his brothers would die in infancy, leaving him as an only child and he grew up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn’s Borough Park district. During his teenaged years his parents divorced and 13-year-old Klein went to live with his mother.
On September 13, 1941, at the age of 17 when he left New York he submitted an application to the Social Security Board requesting that his name be changed from Lawrence Klein to Lawrence Kaye. During the last weekend in March 1942, Kaye was arrested along with fourteen other young men, who were collectively described by Lakewood Police officers as “hotel workers and drifters”.
They were charged with drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Larry Kaye was fined $5 and costs. He formed a strong dependency on his mother and she was equally dependent upon him. His military record shows that he worked as a master of ceremonies for several hotels and night clubs before being admitted to the United States Naval Reserve.
He served for seven months in the U.S. Naval Reserve and his military records would indicate he had a strong attachment to his mother, which caused him to behave indifferently towards other women. Kaye was honourably discharged from the military in 1943 after a diagnosis of psychoneurosis hysteria was made. It was reported that his illness stemmed from a deep worry he felt over his unstable and often infirmed mother.
At the end of World War II, Kaye married Eileen Phylis Barton on July 7, 1945. Barton was an American singer who was best known for her 1950 hit song, “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” At the time of their marriage, she had her own radio program, “Teen Timers”, which was changed to “The Eileen Barton Show” in November 1945, and was broadcast Saturday mornings on NBC.
On August 5, 1945, Kaye was involved in a car accident along with four other Brooklyn residents. He told police he was driving south on Boulevard East and had been forced to the left side of the road by another car. His car was badly damaged and had only been saved from going over the cliff because of the guard rail.
It was reported in August 1946, that Kaye’s wife Eileen threatened to elope with him unless her family consented to the marriage. Later that year in October, Kaye was involved in another motoring incident when he was accused along with two other men of beating up two pedestrians who bawled at them. The victims were almost run down whilst crossing Vine Street in New York, and the three men were arrested and faced a $40,000 damage suit.
All three were released on $250 bail pending the trial. In September 1947, 23-year-old Kaye was arrested on charges of conspiracy and fraud in what was described as a sales defraudment. Both men would be acquitted of the charges. He faced further problems with the law when in August 1949, when he was charged with grand larceny in Albany after absconding with $600 paid on a siding contract. The charges were later dismissed.
In June 1952 he participated in the burlgary of a residence in Manhattan, in what was possibly his most high profile crime so far. At this time 28-year-old Kaye was living at 400 E. 57th St, as an unemployed shingle salesman. He was described by police as “a man-about-town”, who knew many people in show business.
One of these people was the singer Johnny Johnston who was engaged to marry divorcee Mrs. Shirley Carmel, who had a Manhattan apartment. Johnston had introduced Carmel to Kaye during Christmas 1951, and had seen him several times thereafter. She would later report the theft of $17,000 in jewellery from her apartment.
Witnesses reported seeing a flashy yellow convertible near the scene of the crime. This car belonged to Kaye and soon enough he surrendered himself at the E. 5th St Precinct, bringing with him $6,000 in stolen jewelry. He claimed her did so because he learned that detectives were closing in on him, but he refused to name his accomplice who he said was a tall blond stranger he met in an East side bar. 23-year-old Harold Leskowitz was later arrested in May 1953 for involvement in the burglary, and both would be tried for the crime, with Kaye being given a suspended sentence in January 1954.
Kaye remarried in December 1959 to Ethel Marie Brown in New Orleans. He was arrested in October 1961 on charge of voyeurism and being a peeping-tom under the California Lewd Vagrancy Act and fined $105. The following year, in May 1962, he was involved in a vehicle accident in San Mateo, California. He received extensive brain damage and began suffering from seizures from 1965 onwards, and was allegedly diagnosed by a psychologist as “losing the ability to control self-gratification.”
In 1964 his drivers license was revoked due to unspecified traffic violations, but he was able to obtain one fraudulently throughout the subsequent years. Kaye, who was by now using the name Lawrence Kane, would be described as an egotist by acquainances and those knew him as well as a loner, deceitful and a con-artist.
His neighbours did not know what he did and described how he continuously kept his window blinds down. From 1968 until 1979, Kane changed his life around and was reportedly not arrested for any crimes during that time period. But given his history, it was unusual for him to abruptly stop committing petty crimes. It has been suggested that Kane was committing far more serious crimes and did not want his activity to come to the attention of law enforcement.
There is a wealth of evidence, both circumstantial and established fact that connects Lawrence Kane to the Zodiac crimes. His criminal records show he was arrested in August 1968 in Redwood City on peeping-tom charges, roughly four months before the first Bay Area killings. His general appearance at the peak of the Zodiac murders matched that of the killer.
45-year-old Kane stood at 5’9″, weighed approximately 160 pounds and had dark hair and wore glasses, which was similar to the description given by witnesses. The Zodiac once mentioned in one his letters that he looked different when he “did his thing”, and Kane possessed an uncanny ability of changing his appearance and looking different in his various known photographs. The images on two of his driving license’s appear to be different people but upon closer inspection they are clearly Kane.
Whilst in the military, Kane received training at the “Radio Materiel School”, where he would have learned a basic knowledge of coding messages. It has been strongly suspected the Zodiac may have also had training in military codes, because he employed them within his letters in the form of ciphers to encript his secret messages to the authorities. On 20 April 1970, the Zodiac sent a letter which contained a cipher that would apparently reveal the killers name if decoded. Hines has put forward his theory that the cipher contains the surname Kane, however without the key it is impossible to decode the cipher and know for certain if the Zodiac revealed his real name.
The Zodiac’s handwriting has been one clue that has remained consistent throughout his many letters to the media. If the killer were ever caught, it would be easy to match his distinctive handwriting to a potential suspect. Kane’s handwriting has been studied in an attempt to match it to Zodiac, but according to Hines report, experts were unable to eliminate Kane as a suspect. Similarly three handwriting experts in Oregon and Idaho could not rule out Kane as a Zodiac suspect because of his handwriting. Captain Roy Conway was told by one expert that Kane’s handwriting “looks good”, when compared to the Bay Area killer.
Numerous fingerprints were left by the Zodiac, on both letters and at some crime scenes, however none of these were ever linked to Lawrence Kane. These prints may not have been left by the killer, who possibly wore gloves to reduce the amount of evidence for police to find. His close attachment to his mother and his inability to maintain a normal relationship with any other women could be seen as a motive in his crimes against couples, and his anger at society as a whole.
Whilst his sudden lack of criminal activity during the years the Zodiac was killing leaves many unanswered questions considering his mental deterioration after his 1962 car accident and previous propensity for criminal activity. Kane has been linked to the murder of Darlene Ferrin, the Zodiac’s fifth victim. Her sisters, Pam Huckaby and Linda Bowman, both claim it was Kane who had been following 22-year-old Darlene in the months before her murder, and both identified him from a picture line-up as the older person who their sister was afraid of and told people she saw him kill someone.
Kane traded his car for a goldish-tan coloured 1969 Ambassador, five days after Darlene was murdered and Michael Mageau would have given his statement to investigators about the man who shot them. At the time of the murder of cab driver Paul Stine, Kane lived in San Francisco at 217 Eddy Street, which is the Clark Hotel located approximately 2 1/2 city blocks from where Stine picked up the Zodiac the night he was murdered.
That night the Zodiac fled from Cherry and Washington Streets into the Presidio in the direction of Letterman General Hospital, where Donna Lass had been working as a nurse. Kane himself has been suspected of involvement in the disappearance of Lass, who’s murder was alluded to in the alleged Zodiac’s postcard of March 22, 1971. At the time of her death, Lass lived in the 4400 block of Balboa Street which was around six blocks from where Stine was killed.
On March 23, 1970, 23-year-old Kathleen Jones and her infant daughter were given a ride by a stranger on on Highway 132 in San Joaquin County. The man sabotaged Johns car before offering to take her to the nearest gas station, but instead subjected her to a terrifying ordeal, during which she feared for her life and that of her child.
She described the suspect’s vehicle as a medium sized tan coloured sedan, similar to Kane’s. On January 24, 1992, Kathleen Johns identified Lawrence Kane from an 18 picture line-up as the man who abducted her and her daughter. The Zodiac would boast in one of his letters of taking a woman and her child on a terrifying two hour ride before burning her vehicle.
In June 1970, Kane left San Francisco and moved to South Lake Tahoe, around the same time as Donna Lass, who was murdered four months after moving to there. Lass was also working as the Hotel Nurse in the Sahara Tahoe Hotel Casino in South Lake Tahoe, at the same time Kane was working for Alan Dorfman selling Arizona real estate. His office was in the Sahara Tahoe Hotel Casino was down the hallway from Lass’ Nurse’s Station. Co-workers would confirm that Kane and Lass knew each other. Once again people who knew him claimed he was secretive and guarded in his dealings with other people and was incapable of forming a normal adult relationship, possibly even homosexual.
According to the Nevada Division of Real Estate, Kane moved to Las Vegas in 1971 and resided in the La Fonda Apartments on Spring Mountain Road. On April 27, 1974, 15-year-old Dana Lull, a Las Vegas high school sophomore and her 21-year-old boyfriend Roy Tophigh were parked up in a secluded scenic spot in the Red Rock Canyon area of Las Vegas. At some point another car drove up and the occupant approached the couple, ordering Dana out of the car at gunpoint and removing the keys from their car.
Lull’s male companion managed to escape, hiding in a nearby ravine and reported the abduction to police, describing the man as having short, curly dark hair, a round face, estimated to be mid-30’s to 40’s, approximately 5’9″ and neatly attired wearing a suit, shirt and tie, glasses and black driving gloves. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police conducted an extensive search of the area by helicopter and posse, but found nothing. During the night of the abduction, an anonymous caller contacted Dana’s parents and told them, “Your daughter is dead”.
It would be discovered that a suspect matching the description given by Roy Tophigh was stopped on the day of the abduction by Nevada Sheriff’s Deputy, Tom Hannah. The policeman observed the suspect’s sportscar being driving erratically on a lonely stretch of desert road at around 11:40pm. Hannah pursued and stopped the car, speaking with the driver who was wearing black driving gloves and produced a temporary California driver’s license.
The officer noticed a young sandy haired woman slumped in the front seat of the sportscar, who remained motionless during the entire encounter. He also noticed a bumper sticker on the back rear fender of the car which read, “Save the Puppy Fish”. Because Hannah was in the middle of the desert, out of radio range and had not been given an APB on the sportscar in connection with the abduction, he let the suspect go with just a warning.
Two weeks later, Dana Lull’s fully clothed body was found in an abandoned cinnabar mine shaft over 125 miles away on Mountain Springs Road, in San Bernadino California. She had been shot once in the head with a .22 long jacket bullet. Witness Roy Tophigh described the man’s vehicle as a white sports car, possibly a 1966-1968 Triumph convertible, with “old” California license plates, a black cloth top, wire spoked wheels, a chrome luggage rack on the trunk and a missing grill.
During this time Lawrence Kane drove a white 1966 MGB convertible sports car, with a black cloth top, wire spoked wheels and a chrome luggage rack on the trunk. A man who bought the car from Kane in December 1974 recalled the car had a bumper sticker of some kind, but could not remember what it was. Kane was apparently a lover of fish and kept a number of aquariums in his apartment.
Lull’s boyfriend Roy Tophigh reported to police that he saw his girlfriend’s killer in the Spring Inn a month after her abduction, but the man left before police arrived. According to his former employer Alan Dorfman, Kane was known to frequent the Spring Inn night club in Las Vegas. Both Nye County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Hannah and Roy Tophigh would pick Lawrence from the same photo ID line-up as the man they encountered the day Dana Lull was kidnapped. Without any evidence, Kane was never arrested for her abduction and murder.
Lawrence Kane is a favourite suspect amongst some law enforcement and armchair sleuths, but there is very little evidence connecting him to any of the known Zodiac crimes, and he has never been charged with involvement. Although a photograph of Kane does somewhat resemble the composite sketch of the Zodiac Killer at Berryessa, but other suspect more closely resemble to more famous composite given by SFPD officers Foukes and Zelms, who spoke with a suspect directly after the Paul Stine killing on October 11, 1969. A sample of Kane’s handwriting was voluntarily submitted to the SFPD in the late 1990’s, which does show some similarity to the Zodiac’s handwriting style, but not enough to definitively link him as the author of the letters.
Kane should however be considered a strong suspect in both the disappearance of Donna Lass and the abduction and murder of Dana Lull. Although the Zodiac postcard alludes to Donna Lass as a victim, there is nothing to indicate that communication was sent by the Zodiac, and if it was, he may have been claiming credit for a crime he did not commit.
Kane’s identification by Kathleen Johns as the man who abducted her would seem to indicate he was the Zodiac, as the killer alluded to this incident in one of his letters, but John’s identification came roughly 22 years after the event, and cannot be considered reliable. Kane was living under the name Lawrence Cane in Zephyr Cove, Nevada as of early 1999 and also maintained a property in South Lake Tahoe, CA, which he operated as a vacation rental during the summer. He passed away on May 20, 2010 at the age of 86.