The San Francisco Serial Murderer
"This is the Zodiac Speaking"
One of the most elusive serial killers, the Zodiac is believed to be responsible for numerous murders throughout the San Francisco Bay area from 1968 until 1970. The Zodiac killer usually attacked courting couples at isolated areas, binding then stabbing or ambushing the victims and shooting them dead, leaving few survivors who could offer a description of a killer who enjoyed communicating with police and the press in order to gain recognition for his nefarious crimes.
Zodiac sent many letters and complex ciphers to the authorities, daring the authorities to crack his codes and discover his unclaimed victims. By 1974, the Zodiac had claimed 37 victims, but less murders were actually attributed to the killer, despite several earlier crimes dating back to 1963 which appeared strikingly similar to his modus operandi. Eventually the communications stopped and it was believed the Zodiac had either died or was incarcerated, and despite hundreds of potential suspects, his crimes have so far remained unsolved.
Death at Riverside
Several years before anyone would hear of the Zodiac and his crimes, the murder of a young woman went unsolved in Riverside on Sunday, October 30, 1966. 18-year-old Cheri-Jo Bates was brutally murdered near the parking lot of the Riverside City College’s library, just before Halloween. She had been slashed with a knife across her chest area three times, once on her back and seven times across her throat, which had been cut so deep she was nearly decapitated. The killer had managed to lure Bates by disabling her lime green Volkswagen, and then waited for her to return to her car.
Almost a month later the murderer apparently made contact with police. On November 29, 1966, two carbon copies of an anonymous letter were sent to the Riverside Enterprise and the Riverside Police claiming responsibility for death of Cheri-Jo Bates. The letters sent on April 30, 1967 to the Riverside Press and Police department contained a curious symbol which appeared to resemble the letter Z that began with a strange squiggle much like the number 3. The envelopes were mailed with excessive postage, similar to the later letters sent by the Zodiac. Is is possible that Cheri Jo Bates was the Zodiac’s first victim.
The Lake Herman Road Attack
The case of the Zodiac Killer began on December 20, 1968, when 17-year-old David Faraday picked up and his girlfriend, 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen from her home, telling her parents they were going to a Christmas concert. Instead, he drove them to a lover’s lane near Lake Herman Road, where they arrived at around 10:40pm. Before this time a witness later reported spotting a light-colored hardtop, possibly a four-door Chevrolet Impala which was parked near the gated entrance to the pumping station just off Lake Hermann Road at around 9:00pm.
Not long after this a young couple who were parked in the lover’s lane reported another which passed them heading west towards Vallejo, but then slowly backed up towards them. The driver stared at the young couple, and they felt so ill at-ease, they immediately drove off towards Benicia. The car proceeded to follow them until they took the first exit, while the driver continued east to Lake Herman Road. The same light-coloured Chevrolet Impala was seen again by another witness at around 10:00pm.
At approximately 11:10pm, half an hour after arriving at the same spot as the previous couple, Faraday and Jensen were shot to death. A car had pulled up alongside them, and the driver exited the vehicle and began firing at the couple. From the evidence left at the scene, investigators were able to determine from shell casings and footprints that the killer had likely used either a 22. rifle or a handgun loaded with .22 LR ammunition and walked up behind the victims car, shooting the right rear window and then the left near tire.
He then came around to the front left side and at this point the two teenagers were able to exit the passenger side door of Faraday’s brown Rambler in an attempt to escape. It’s believed Faraday was killed by a single shot to the head, while he was standing by the right rear wheel after scrambling out of the car, and although she managed to get out of the car alive, Jensen’s body was found 30 feet from the rear bumper. She had been struck by several bullets, five of which penetrated the right of her back, either as she was moving or as she lay wounded on the ground.
In total 10 bullets had been fired, with five hitting Jensen and two missing, one killing Faraday and the two fired into the car. The accuracy of the shots fired seemed to indicate the killer was somewhat competent in the use of firearms, but by no means a skilled marksman. According to the coroner, Jensen was hit from no more than 10 feet away. The gruesome murders would have taken less than afew seconds to commit, and the killer was back in his vehicle and driving away from the crime scene.
His escape may haven been witnessed by Stella Borges, who described a light-coloured Chevrolet Impala heading away from Lake Herman Road towards Benicia just before she discovered the victims bodies. Despite a thorough investigation by Solano County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Les Lundblad, police were unable to determine a motive for the crime, and with few witnesses to the actual murders and no suspects, the Solano County Sheriff’s Office Case #V-25564 hit a dead end. A reward set-up by students at the victim’s high school failed to garner any new information.
The Blue Rock Springs Attack
Just six months later another young couple was viciously attacked in the parking lot of the Blue Rock Springs Golf Course. On July 4, 1969, shortly after 12:00am, 19-year-old Michael Mageau and his friend, 22-year-old Darlene Ferrin were sat in Ferrin’s car when they were shot by an unidentified assailant. Mageau was able to describe the sequence of events to police in the days after the attack. Earlier in the evening Ferrin had picked him up from his house at around 11:30pm to get something to eat together.
But Ferrin said she wanted to talk to him about something, and so they then drove to the Blue Rock Springs Park in Benicia, which was a popular spot with teenagers. When they arrived Ferrin switched off the car’s headlights and engine, but left music playing on the radio. At this point several cars arrived at the parking lot with young revellers, hollering, laughing and throwing firecrackers before driving off soon afterwards.
The couple were now alone again in the parking lot, until around midnight when another car, a brown Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvair, drove in from the direction of Vallejo. The driver pulled up next to Ferrin’s car and turned the driver turned the headlights off and stayed idle for a moment. Then Mageau asked Ferrin if she knew the driver, and she replied, “Oh, never mind”.
Unsure what she meant by this, but before he could enquire further, the driver pulled away and sped off in the direction of Vallejo. Around 10 minutes later, the driver of the brown car returned and pulled up behind and to the right of Mageau and Ferrin, this time leaving his headlights on. The lone occupant then exited his vehicle and walked towards Ferrin’s car holding what appeared to be a flashlight, holding it at arms length so it obscured his face.
Walking up to the passengers side door, Mageau thought the man was an undercover policeman and began to reach for his ID, but as he did this the man raised the flashlight at arms length and began firing through the window with a handgun in his other hand. He fired five 9mm rounds at point blank range, hitting Mageau in the face and body, some of which tore through his body and hit Ferrin sitting across from him.
At this point Mageau kicked himself into the back seat, with another bullet hitting him in his left knee as he did so. The gunman continued to fire at Ferrin, hitting her several times in each arm and as she turned away, one struck her in the back. The attacker returned to his car, but then heard Mageau cry out in either pain or anger and returned to Ferrin’s car, firing two more shots into each victim before he got back into his own car and drove away.
Mageau believed the shots were quiet or muffled and that the gunman had used a silencer, however witness George Bryant overheard the earlier firecrackers and then the volley of shots, telling police the gunshots sounded much louder. Before the man drove away, Mageau, who was still conscious, managed to turn on the car’s blinker lights to summon help and then opened the passenger side door and fell out onto the pavement.
He saw as the attacker turned his car around and drove out of the parking lot towards Vallejo. He was able to catch a glimpse of the man’s profile and later described him to detectives as around 5’8″ tall, heavy-set but not overweight fat and at least 195 pounds, with a large prominent face. Some teenaged drivers in the area discovered the car and victims, but could offer little in the way of help and so alerted police who were soon on the scene with an ambulance.
Mageau was taken directly to surgery where doctors were able to save his life. He would remain in constant pain after the incident, and undergo medical treatment for his injuries. But help came too late for Darlene Ferrin, who died in the ambulance on the way to the Kaiser Foundation hospital where she was pronounced dead at 12:38 am. At around 12:40am, an unknown an made a call through the operator to the Vallejo Police Headquarters. The man told the dispatcher Nancy Slover, “I want to report a double murder.”
“If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway to the public park, you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Good bye”. At one point Slover asked the caller’s identity and location, but he continued uninterrupted. The call was later traced to a pay phone at Tuolumne Street and Springs Road, which was just a few blocks away from the Vallejo Sheriff’s Office.
The police dispatcher later told detectives that the man spoke in a calm, consistent and almost scripted fashion as if he was reading from notes, and that he sounded mature and without accent. The investigation of Vallejo Police Department Case #243146 focused heavily on Mageau’s eyewitness account of the attack, and his description of a gunman who walked up silently to the car and began firing. He maintained his version of events throughout all his recorded interviews.
Police worked on the assumption that Darlene Ferrin possibly knew her killer, basing this on the fact that several calls were made to Darlene’s home shortly after the murders, which were answer by her friends while the caller remained silent, and also reports made to police by her close friends, who claimed Darlene might have been stalked or that someone had made unwanted advances towards her in the months prior to her death. Some, including Robert Greysmith, who would later write his own account of the Zodiac murders, contends that Ferrin knew her killer.
However, many investigators believe this was never the case, and her own husband Dean Ferrin has stated that she showed no fearful behaviour or anxiety during the time leading up to her murder. The stalker in question was believed to be a local man from Vallejo who had shown a great amount of interest in Darlene but had been rebuffed several times by her and did not take the rejection well. He was eventually tracked down by detectives who confirmed the man was watching fireworks with his wife on the night of July 4th and was at home with her at the time of the murders.
The July 1969 Letters
Several weeks after the murder of Darlene Ferrin, the San Francisco Chronicle, Vallejo Times-Herald and San Francisco Examiner each received a letter on July 31, 1969. The author claimed responsibility for the Vallejo shootings of Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, as well as that of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen. Accompanying each letter was one-third of a cryptogram, which was to be, as instructed by the letter, published on the front page of each newspaper by August 1st.
Each letter was worded slightly different, but all contained the same facts and intimate knowledge of the crime scenes of both the Lake Herman Road attack and the shooting at Blue Rock Springs. The writer promised more murders if his demands were not fulfilled. Each letter ended with a symbol, that of a crossed circle, which would soon become the Zodiac’s distinctive signature. The first letter transcribed was the one sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald;
I am the killer of the 2 teen
agers last Christmass at Lake Herman
and the Girl last 4th of July. To
Prove this I shall state some facts
which only I + the police know.
1 Brand name of ammo Super X
2 10 shots fired
3 Boy was on back feet to car
4 Girl was lyeing on right side
feet to west
4th of July
1 Girl was wearing patterned
2 Boy was also shot in knee
3 Brand name of ammo was
Here is a cyipher or that is
part of one. The other 2 parts
have been mailed to the S.F.
Examiner + the S.F. Chronicle.
I want you to print this
cipher on your frunt page by
Fry Afternoon Aug 1-69, If you
do not do this I will go on a
kill rampage Fry night that
will last the whole week end.
I will cruse around and pick
off all stray people or coupples
that are alone then move on to
kill some more untill I have
killed over a dozen people.
(The letter ended with a crossed-circle design)
The weapon used by the killer was manufactured with an eight-round magazine, and the killer fired at least nine shots without reloading, which contradicted the killer’s subsequent claim that the attack was committed with a 9mm Luger. While a 32-round extended magazine for the Luger had been available for some time, Vallejo police believe the weapon was actually a 9 mm Browning High-Power, which carries thirteen rounds in its factory magazine, although the weapon could have been one of several 9-round 9 mm handguns available at the time.
In a similar letter to the Chronicle, the killer added an additional motivation to publish the code, writing; “In this cipher is my identity”. By August 2, all three letters and ciphers had been published, and the police issued a statement with Vallejo Police Chief Jack Stiltz requesting another letter with more details to prove the authenticity of the communication.
Although the author claimed his identity was concealed within, the solved cipher did not contain any such a revelation. The police checked the letters for fingerprints, but none were found, however a possible usable print was lifted from one of the cipher blocks. The FBI was once again contacted to aid in the investigation, and it was the belief of the agency that extortion was a potential motive of the letter writer.
The August 1969 “Zodiac debut” Letter
A second letter was mailed to the San Francisco Examiner on 1 or 2 August, in response to Police Chief Stiltz’s request for additional information, and was received by August 4. It was a three-page handwritten letter in which the killer first referred to himself for the first time as “The Zodiac”.
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
having 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 frunt 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;
that’s how I shot him in the
knee. I did not leave the cene
of the killing with squealing
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 police
that my car was brown was a
negro about 40-45 rather shabbly
dressed. I was in this phone
booth having some fun with the
Vallejo cop when he was walking
by. When I hung the phone up
the damn thing began to
ring & that drew his attention
to me + my car.
In that epasode the police were
wondering how I could
shoot + hit my victims in the
dark. They did not openly state
this, but implied this by saying
it was a well lit night + I could
see 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 cover-
(The Zodiac added his crossed-circle design at the bottom of the letter)
The authenticity of this letter was initially called into question. Both Mageau and George Bryant recalled how the Zodiac drove off at high speed, despite his claim in this letter that he had calmly remained under the speed limit. Because the Vallejo police were mostly unsuccessful in developing fingerprints from the first three letters, they sent this latest letter directly to the FBI crime lab. Technicians determined the letter had been written on Woolworth’s “Fifth Avenue” brand paper, and several latent prints were found on the second and third pages.
But these prints have never been matched to a suspect. The three-part 408-symbol cryptogram was solved by North Salinas high school teacher Donald Harden and his wife Bettye, who submitted it to the Vallejo Police Department on August 8th. It was verified by the Cryptographic Unit at Skaggs Island Naval Communications Center and published the following day by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Vallejo Times-Herald.
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN
IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST
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 IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN
PARADICE AND ALL THE I HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES
I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI
DOWN OR STOP MY COLLECTING OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE
The cryptogram contained numerous mis-spellings similar to the letters, and ended with 18 symbols which could not be deciphered, their meaning remains unknown. By August 10, 1969, an anonymous individual mailed the key to the cryptogram to the Vallejo Police Department, the day after the Harden solution was made public. The letter containing the solution was sent to VPD Sergeant John Lynch, and contained a typewritten address postmarked San Francisco. The key was written on a white sheet of paper and was accompanied by a short typewritten note on a 3×5 index card which stated;
“Dear Sergeant Lynch
I hope the enclosed “key” will prove to be
beneficial to you in connection with the cipher
Working puzzles criptograms and word puzzles
is one of my pleasures. Please forgive the
absence of my signature or name as I do not
wish to have my name in the papers and it could
be mentioned by a slip of the tongue.
With best wishes. concerned citizen.”
The FBI expressed their opinion that the cipher key was “generally valid and substantially accurate”, but commented how the author could easily have read the description of the decryption in the newspaper provided by Donald Harden and his wife. It is entirely possible the author of the “concerned citizen” card had been unaware that the code had been solved. Only one usable palmprint was lifted from the envelope, but again this has never been matched to any individual or known suspect.
The Lake Berryessa Attack
On Saturday, September 27, 1969, three young women from Angwin arrived at Lake Berryessa, which was located about 60 miles north-east of San Francisco in Napa County. At around 3:00pm they pulled into the parking lot near the lake and noticed a man driving what looked like a 1966 model, light blue, two-door Chevrolet with California plates pull up beside them. He drove past them before stopping, then backed up so he was parked right next to their car. The man sat there looking down, as though he was reading something.
The women walked down to the lakeshore where they sunbathed for about 30 minutes, and noticed the man was watching them. He was later described as “clean cut and nice looking,” around 6 feet tall, over 200 pounds, with short dark hair parted on the side. He was wearing a black short-sleeved sweatshirt over a t-shirt and black or dark blue slacks. After 20 minutes of watching the women and smoking cigarettes, the man walked off. When the women returned to their own car at around 4:30pm, the stranger’s vehicle was gone.
Lake Berryessa was also visited that day by Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell, two Pacific Union student who made a spontaneous trip from Angwin. They young couple were picnicking at Twin Oak Ridge, which is a peninsula on the Western shore of the lake. At around twilight, they were approached by a man. Cecelia was the first to spot the stranger, who was wearing glasses, and Hartnell later described him as about 5’8″ to 6′ tall, with dark brown greasy combed hair, of a heavyset weight and wearing a dark jacket and dark clothing.
He said he initially thought the man was, “in his thirties and fairly unremarkable”, but once he got closer Hartnell said he was younger and larger. Before he got too close however, the man hid himself behind two nearby trees where he donned what appeared to be an unusual home-made four cornered hood and then emerged roughly 20 feet away from the couple. Hartnell later described the hood as well sewn, black in colour with holes cut for the mouth and eyes.
The man had attached a pair of dark sunglasses to further conceal his identity, and wore a belt with a long wooden sheathed knife and an empty leather holster. There was a bib section that fell down towards the man’s waistline that had an embroidered cross-circle design. This design was the same as the symbol on the three-part cryptogram and the cover letters which would be used as the Zodiac killer’s signature on all future letters.
As he approached the couple, the man was holding a large semi-automatic pistol in his right hand, pointing it as he spoke in a calm monotone voice. “I want your money and your car keys, I want your car to go to Mexico”, he told Hartnell, who handed him the keys to his Volkswagen as well as all the coins in his pockets. The man put the coins in his pocket and dropped the keys on top of the picnic basket, holstering his weapon.
At this point, Hartnell attempted to offer the man help as a way of getting out of the situation, but he responded, “No. Time’s running short”. He then told the couple he was an escaped convict from the Pacific Northwest, killing a guard in the process and that he had “a stolen car and nothing to lose. I’m flat broke.”. The killer mentioned the town he had escaped from, which generated some confusion, primarily because Hartnell was unable to recall if Montana or Colorado was mentioned.
It is generally believed the place was Deer Lodge, Montana, but the story is considered a ruse by the killer, because Hartnell recalled the man had a slight lilt or drawl but no accent and there were no reports of a jailbreak or murder ever having occurred at that time. Hartnell made another attempt to calm the situation, by talking to the man for several minutes about his car. This made little difference as the man removed some clothesline from his belt and demanded Shepherd hogtie Hartnell, and when he protested the man began to shout, “Get down!, Right now!”.
As Shepherd acquiesced to his demand, she removed her purse and threw it towards the man, who ignored it, and when she had finished binding her friend, the hooded man began to tie her up and tightened the knots on Hartnell. During this, he noticed the stranger seemed nervous because his hands were shaking. When he was finished the man told the couple, “I’m going to have to stab you people”. In an attempt to protect his friend, Hartnell said, “Stab me first”, to which the stranger replied, “I’ll do just that”.
The man used what appeared to be a foot long, doubled edged bayonet, which was later described as looking like it had been damaged, with rudimentary repairs made to the handle. The man stabbed Hartnell six times and Shepherd ten times, which in her case proved fatal. After leaving both for dead, the hooded attacker walked to Hartnell’s car parked nearby and scrawled a message on the door with a black magic marker, leaving the crossed circle signature of the Zodiac and the dates of his Bay Area attacks.
A little over an hour later the killer placed a call through to the operator of the local police, which went through to the Napa Police Department switchboard at 7:40 p.m. In a calm voice, the caller declared, “I want to report a murder… no, a double murder. They are two miles north of Park Headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Kharmann Ghia.” When the operator attempted to ask where he was calling from, the man said quietly, “I’m the one that did it.”. He then dropped the receiver and walked away.
Similar to the case in Vallejo, the call was traced to a pay phone outside a car wash at 1231 Main Street in Napa, which was in close proximity to the police station. Arriving at the crime scene, detectives found a set of clear footprints which led to and from the area of the attack. These shoe imprints were later determined to have been made by a pair of size 10 ½ Wing Walkers, a style of military boots worn by a heavyset man due, to the deep impressions left in the sand.
A clear palm-print was lifted off the receiver, however the evidence technician was so nervous when securing it, that he caused it to be smudged during the process, ruining what would have been important evidence. As part of Napa County Sheriff’s Department Case #105907, detectives investigated another encounter that same evening at the Lake. Around 6:30pm, a local dentist and his son recalled seeing a man walking nearby who matched the description given by the women from Angwin. They recalled how he turned and walked away when realising he had been noticed.
However, this area was further north from the crime scene and because no car was spotted, police believe this was not connected to the Zodiac attack as it would have been impossible for the man to arrive at Lake Berryessa within that timeframe. In subsequent years there has been considerable doubt cast upon the authenticity of the Lake Berryessa Attack as a Zodiac related incident. There was a significant deviation in the established pattern employed at the other Bay Area attacks, and there is little to no evidence which connects the Zodiac to this crime as there is for the Vallejo and San Francisco murders.
The handwriting left on Hartnell’s car does appear somewhat similar to the Zodiac’s letters, but due to the circumstances and posture of the killer it cannot be definitively linked. Furthermore, the Zodiac never claimed credit for this attack in any letters, as he had done for the Vallejo and San Francisco attacks. This attacked involved a significant exchange of words between the killer and victims. During this encounter he fabricated a story about escaping from prison in the northwest, telling the students he needed their money and car keys, but only took Hartnell’s pocket change and left the keys and Shepard’s wallet on the picnic blanket.
Unlike previous attacks he tied them up and used a knife rather than simply shooting them with the pistol he had used to subdue them. Despite these changes in MO, he signed the door with his distinctive and easily recognizable crossed-circle symbol and crime chronology. The details of an earlier Riverside murder was omitted from the chronology, leading many to believe this was evidence he was not responsible for that crime. In contrast, there are those who argue that the use of the knife rather than a pistol, and that wearing of the hood indicates the Berryessa Attack was of ritual significance to the killer.
The use of the hood has remained unexplained, but it was most probably utilised to instil fear and terror in his victims. Hartnell would later comment how the killer seemed to lose control during the what he described as a frenzied assault on Shepard. The use of the knife could also be explained away as a tactical decision, because the killer had chosen an open location at the lakeside, and used a more silent weapon which would not attract attention.
The use of the four cornered hood which the killer put on prior to approaching the couple is considered a curious factor. The design is unique, perhaps even rare and the killer made no attempts to explain it to his victims or subsequent to the press in any known communication. By employing such a hood, the killer had presumably wished to conceal his identity, given that the attack occurred in broad daylight, but the same effect could have been achieved by using a readily available ski-mask or other common item of clothing. The killer went to considerable effort in designing and making the hood himself.
The differences between the other Bay Area attacks and the lakeside incident include the weapon, time of day, lingering in the area and the absence of a follow-up letter offering confirmation of the author’s culpability, which have been outweighed by more circumstantial evidence such as the general description of the suspect, his weight, similar handwriting and unusual phone call made after the incident.
His behavioural change in MO and signature have also been explained as the developing boldness, opportunity and selfish needs of an escalating serial killer. Although the possibility of two killers operating independently of each other in the same general area is not within the realms of fantasy, but it cannot be denied that the Zodiac’s desire for publicity would compel him to either deny culpability or present a false confirmation as he would later potentially do for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates at Riverside.
Most investigators believe the Lake Berryessa attack to be the work of the Zodiac, because a copycat would have to have been of similar height, weight and an expert at forging the killer’s distinctive handwriting, along with possessing an understanding of the killer’s need for situational control. Meanwhile, the true killer would have had to suppress his most identifiable character trait, the desire to earn recognition for his crimes. While this theory has intrigued some armchair sleuths, it is generally considered far fetched given the number of coincidences available.
During the lengthy Zodiac investigation, detectives working the case received hundreds, possibly thousands of tips on potential suspects. One such tip provided to the Vallejo Police Department was that of a man who would go on to become the prime suspect in the case. On October 6, 1969, Vallejo detective John Lynch attended Elmer Cave Elementary School, where he spoke with Arthur Leigh Allen, who was questioned on his whereabouts during the attack at Lake Berryessa.
Allen claimed he was skin diving on Salt Point Ranch, and nothing further came from the interview. Because of the uncanny amount of circumstantial evidence pointing towards his guilt, coupled with his odd behaviour, Arthur Leigh Allen would remain a person of interest in the case for the rest of his life. It was known Allen owned several handguns, one of which he allegedly always kept in his car, and he apparently enjoyed the notoriety that came with his 1969 interview with Detective Lynch, and bragged openly that he was a Zodiac suspect.
The next day, October 7th, a letter arrived addressed to Sergeant John Lynch of the Vallejo Police Department. Postmarked San Mateo, the letter was signed by “A good citizen,” and when investigators came across the card years later, it contained a footnote from Sergeant Lynch, in which he states the writer claimed a strong feeling of ESP (Extrasensory perception) and while having these feelings, the author used a pencil to write. On one occasion, the pencil formed a sentence. “Go to 56 Beach Street. I get the name Jerry, perhaps he knows people or his name is XXXXXXX”. This lead came to nothing.
The Presidio Heights Attack
It wasn’t long before the Zodiac killer would choose his next victim. Just two weeks later on October 11, 1969, 29-year-old San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine picked up a male passenger at the corner of Mason and Geary Streets at Union Square. Stine called in the destination to the dispatcher and entered the details into his log, which was towards the corner of Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights. As the cab stopped at the intersection of Washington and Cheery Streets, the passenger pulled out a gun and shot Stine point blank in the right side of the head.
Witnesses recalled seeing the man remove Stine’s wallet and keys from his pockets and then proceed to cut a large piece from the back of his shirt, which he then soaked in the dead man’s blood, taking it with him. Teenaged siblings who witnessed the murder from the second floor of 3899 Washington, located directly across the street, immediately called the police, which was logged at 9:58pm.
They would later tell detectives that as the killer exited the vehicle, he wiped down part of the interior and exterior of the cab, momentarily leaning on the driver’s side door frame. He then walked slowly north towards Cherry Street. One glaring mistake by police would have significant consequences. When the police dispatcher broadcast the description of the killer, it was incorrectly given as a black male.
As a result, when responding patrolmen Eric Zelms and Donald Foukes noticed a heavyset white male walking east on Jackson Street, they did not believe he was a potential suspect. When the description was corrected and an intensive search began the killer was nowhere to be seen, most likely using a nearby vehicle to escape. In subsequent interviews, both Foukes and Zelms would state that the man they saw appeared to be in no hurry, walking along with a hunched gait with his head bent slightly forward.
Officer Foukes made a statement, dated November 12, 1969, in which he noted his recollection of the man as, “WMA 35-45-years-old, about 5’10”, 180-200 lbs. Medium heavy build, barrel chested, medium complexion with light-colored hair possibly greying in rear.” He added that the suspect was wearing, “Elastic cuffs and waistband zipped part way up, brown wool pants pleated type baggy in rear and may have been wearing low cut shoes.”
Foukes would later state, “Since we were looking for a negro male adult, we proceeded on Jackson Street toward Arguello, continuing our search. As we arrived at Arguello Street, the description was changed to a white male adult. Believing that this suspect was possibly the one involved in the shooting, we entered the Presidio of San Francisco and conducted a search on West Pacific Avenue on the opposite side of the wall in the last direction we observed the suspect going. We did not find the suspect.”
In his book, Zodiac, Robert Graysmith includes a passage detailing an exchange between the officers and the white male suspect seen on Jackson Street, where they ask the man if he had seen anything strange, however this conversation was never recorded in any police reports on the incident, and is possibly based on the subsequent letter sent to authorities in which the killer claims he spoke with the police.
If indeed the Zodiac spoke with officers, and then walked away from the scene of a crime, then SFPD Homicide Case #696314 would be a potentially embarrassing situation for the San Francisco Police Department, and one of the biggest missed opportunities to catch the Zodiac killer immediately in the aftermath of committing a crime.
At the crime scene forensic experts found numerous usable prints, including thirty finger, three palm and one palm or lower finger print found in and on the outside of the car. Technicians found the finger/palm print on the passenger side front door handle. This clear print was possibly left by the killer, but could also have been left by responding police, fire or forensic officers who arrived at the scene.
Several other prints were left in blood, which were believe to be left by the suspect, however none of these were clear. Subsequently none of the prints recovered were ever matched to any suspects held within the database of the FBI’s National Crime Identification Computer system. A pair of men’s leather gloves, size 7 were found inside the cab, but it was never established if they were left by the killer.
The bullet recovered from the crime scene was erroneously recorded as a .38, but would later be correctly identified after ballistic tests confirmed it to be a 9mm. However it was considered the same 9mm ammunition was that used during the Blue Rock Springs Attack on July 4, 1969 when Darlene Ferrin was killed and Michael Mageau wounded. Bill Armstrong and famed detective Dave Toschi were now assigned to the case.
The October 1969 “Stine” Letter
Two days after the Paul Stine murder, the SF Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac which claimed responsibility for the crime. The killer had drawn his now well-known crossed-circle design on the envelope in place of the return address. Inside was a note which read, “Please Rush to Editor”, and a swath of bloodsoaked material later confirmed as part of Paul Stine’s shirt which had been cut away and taken by the killer.
The Zodiac would sending three bloody swatches from Paul Stine’s shirt in future letters, however, 104 square inches of the material would remain unaccounted for, presumably kept by the killer as a gruesome trophy. Although three fingerprints were found on the paper, they have never been matched to any suspect. The letter also claimed responsibility for the other crimes attributed to the Zodiac, including the Lake Berryessa incident and also made a threat to target school children with his next attack.
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 targ-
ets, I think I shall wipe out
a school bus some morning. Just
shoot out the frunt tire + then
pick off the kiddies as they come
(The letter ends with the crossed-cirlce signature of the Zodiac.)
The murder of Paul Stine was different to the Zodiac’s previous victim choice, when previously he always targeted courting couples, the murder of a lone victim now caused significant panic among the citizens of San Francisco because the killer had broken his pattern, meaning anyone could now be a potential victim. He had also changed the time frame and geographic choice for his attacks. This time choosing to murder in downtown San Francisco during the evening when his previous attacks had taken place in remote suburban areas near water after sundown on weekends.
There was now a real fear the Zodiac’s would follow through with his threat to wipe out a bus full of school children, which would be something he would allude to in future communications, even going so far as to draw a diagram of his plan. The Chronicle suppressed the school bus threat for a week for fear of causing undue panic. The teenaged witnesses worked with police to create a composite of the suspect they saw exiting Paul Stine’s cab, which was then amended to incorporate the descriptions given by the patrolmen who saw the suspect as Cherry Street.
It was then released with the full content of the letter on October 18, 1969. During this time the Zodiac case would generate a greater level of press coverage and public interest as well as attention from other police forces along the West Coast, who now began to look at the their own cold case files, believing the Zodiac could be a potential suspect in their own unsolved crimes. The Chief of Riverside Police Kinkead sent a 3-page summary of the Bates murder case over to investigators in Solano, Napa and San Francisco. However, it would be lost for over a year.
The A.M. San Francisco Caller
A curious episode in the Zodiac case occurred at 2:00am on October 20, 1969 when a man who claimed to be the Zodiac contacted the Oakland Police Department and made a demand that a high profile lawyer appear on a local KGO-TV television show called A.M. San Francisco hosted by Jim Dunbar. The caller requested either F. Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli, and while Bailey was unavailable, Belli agreed to appear on the show.
Later that morning, Belli appeared on the show alongside host Jim Dunbar, who made a request to keep the line clear. Someone then called the station numerous times, telling Belli his name was “Sam” and that he was the Zodiac. Belli spoke briefly with the man, who said, “I want help”, but refused to reveal his identity, claiming that he was afraid of being sent to the gas chamber. Dunbar asked the caller if he had previously contacted the show.
“Did you attempt to call this program one other time when Mr. Belli was with us?,” he asked. This seems to indicate that the Zodiac killer had attempted to make contact with the San Francisco TV show, just a few days prior to the Presidio Heights murder of Paul Stine. It is also possible that caller was a crank, and had nothing to do with the Zodiac. Belli told Sam, “All of San Francisco wants to help you. The hand is out, you can feel the hands out.”
Over the course of 20 minutes and 13 abrupt conversations, during which he attempted to draw the caller into conversation, Belli was repeatedly cut short as the man gave one or two-word answers, so that police could not trace the call. He and “Sam” eventually agreed to set-up a meeting outside a shop on Mission Street in Daly City, but the caller never showed at the rendezvous. The calls were eventually traced back to Eric Weill, a patient at a mental institution. When the 340 cipher was decoded in December 2020, the Zodiac confirmed he was not the caller stating, “That wasn’t me on the TV show.”
The November 1969 “Dripping Pen Card” and 340 Cipher
The following month the Chronicle received another letter from the Zodiac in early November. The envelope was sent with the usual double postage and “Please Rush to Editor.” was written underneath the address. The contents included a “Jesters” brand greeting card, with a drawing of a “dripping pen” with the words “Sorry I haven’t written, but I just washed my pen”, while inside the card it continued “and I can’t do a thing with it!”. Along with the card was a long 340-character cipher and the usual misspelled message in the Zodiac’s own unique handwriting.
This letter was the first to contain what appeared to be a “body count”, kept by the killer of how many victims, or slaves as he referred to them, that he had claimed so far. This presented something of a conundrum for investigators, because so far the number of victims attributed to the killer was six, not seven as claimed in the latest letter. The letter also possibly included a swatch of bloody shirt from Paul Stine, dispelling any doubts the killer was the author of the letter, however there is uncertainty if it was sent with this or the following letter.
This is the Zodiac speaking
I though you would need a
good laugh before you
get 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!!!!!!
Des July Aug
Sept Oct = 7
The November 1969 “Bus Bomb” Letter
Several days later another letter was sent to the Chronicle which was received the same day as the previous “dripping pen” card. The Chronicle made copies of both letters before passing them onto investigators. This letter contained the usual note with “Please Rush to Editor” written on it, along with a lengthy handwritten communication in the now distinctive Zodiac handwriting, along with a schematic drawing.
This was of something the Zodiac referred to as a “death machine”, which he claimed was rigged and ready to explode when driven over by a bus. According to a source at the SFPD, there were one or more latent prints that were possibly developed, but nothing definitive was ever made public. The 340-character cryptogram was considered undecipherable, the contents remaining a mystery for 51 years until December 2020.
This is the Zodiac speaking
up to the end of Oct I have
killed 7 people. I have grown
rather angry with the police
for their telling lies about me.
So I shall change the way the
collecting of slaves. I shall
no longer announce to anyone.
When I committ my murders,
they shall look like routine
robberies, killings of anger, +
a few fake accidents, etc.
The police shall never catch me,
because I have been too clever
1 I look like the description
passed out only when I do my
thing, the rest of the time I
look entirle different. I
shall not tell you what my
descise consists of when I kill
2 As of yet I have left no
fingerprints behind me contrary
to what the police say
in my killings I wear trans-
parent fingertip guards. All it
is is 2 coats of airplane cement
coated on my fingertips -quite
unnoticible + very efective
3 my killing tools have been bought
en through the mail order out-
fits before the ban went into
efect. Except one & it was
bought out of the state.
So as you can see the police don’t
have much to work on. If you
wonder why I was wipeing the
cab down I was leaving fake clews
for the police to run all over town
with, as one might say, I gave
the cops som bussy work to do to
keep them happy. I enjoy needling
the blue pigs. Hey blue pig I
was in the park -you were useing
fire trucks to mask the sound
of your cruzeing prowl cars. The
dogs never came with in 2
blocks of me + they were to
the west + there was only 2
groups of parking about 10 min
apart then the motor cicles
went by about 150 ft away
going from south to north west
(This part began the section which was highlighted by the killer as, “must print in paper”)
p.s. 2 cops pulled a goof abot 3
min after I left the cab. I was
walking down the hill to the
park when this cop car pulled up
+ one of them called me over
+ asked if I saw any one
acting suspicious or strange
in the last 5 to 10 min + I said
yes there was this man who
was runnig by waveing a gun
+ the cops peeled rubber +
went around the corner as
I directed them + I disap-
peared into the park a block +
a half away never to be seen
(This ended the section to be printed in the papers)
Hey pig doesnt it rile you up
to have your noze rubed in your
If you cops think I’m going to take
on a bus the way I stated I was,
you deserve to have holes in your
Take one bag of ammonium nitrate
fertilizer + 1 gal of stove oil +
dump a few bags of gravel on
top + then set the shit off
+ will positivily ventalate any
thing that should be in the way
of the blast.
The death machine is all ready
made. I would have sent you
pictures but you would be nasty
enough to trace them back to
developer + then to me, so I
shall describe my masterpiece
to you. The nice part of it is
all the parts can be bought on
the open market with no quest
1 bat. Pow clock — will run for
aprox 1 year
1 photoelectric switch
2 copper leaf springs
2 6V car bat
1 flash light bulb + reflector
2 18″ cardboard tubes black with
shoe polish inside + oute
(A schematic drawing of the “death machine” was then included)
the system checks out from
one end to the other in my
tests. What you do not know
is whether the death machine
is at the sight or whether
it is being stored in my
basement for future use.
I think you do not have the
man power to stop this one
by continually searching the
road sides looking for this
thing. + it wont do to re roat
+ re schedule the busses bec
ause the bomb can be adapted
to new conditions.
Have fun!! By the way
it could be rather messy
if you try to bluff me.
(The Zodiac added his crossed-circle, which had been modified with five X’s which were added along the left side of the circular symbol)
PS. Be shure to
print the part I
marked out on
page 3 or I shall
do my thing.
(Another Zodiac crossed-circle symbol was added at the end of this threat)
To prove that I am the
Zodiac, Ask the Vallejo
cop about my electric gun
sight which I used to start
my collecting of slaves.
It is unknown what the significance of the five X’s along the Zodiac’s crossed-circle symbol, but some have speculated it could denote victims, however the Zodiac had claimed 7 victims in his November 8th letter while the Bates murder had not been considered as a potential Zodiac crime yet, and there is still doubt the Zodiac’s responsibility for that murder as it differed from any subsequent known attacks. The schematic drawing of the “death machine” remained unpublished until 1996 when it was posted online by Michael Rusconi and Douglas Oswell.
The December 1969 “Belli” Letter
Towards the end of the year in late December, the Zodiac sent a Christmas card on the 20th, this time to lawyer Melvin Belli, who had been involved in the likely Zodiac hoax on Jim Dunbar’s morning show A.M. San Francisco. It had been forwarded to his office and was opened by his secretary, who found it contained a letter and another blood-soaked swatch of Paul Stine’s shirt. The back of the envelope contained the words, “Mery Xmass + New Year”, and the letter was an apparent plea from the killer who requested help from Belli.
This is the Zodiac speaking I
wish you a happy Christmass.
The one thing I ask of you is
this, please help me. I cannot
reach out because of
this thing in me won’t let me.
I am finding it extreamly dif-
icult to keep in check I am
afraid I will loose control
again and take my nineth +
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
trigger mech requires so much work
to get it adjusted just right. But
if I hold back too long from
no nine I will loose complet (crossed out) all
controol of my self + set the
bomb up. Please help me I can
not remain in control for much
Although the authenticity of the letter was never in question due to the author sending another swatch of blood-soaked shirt, the writing on this particular letter was somewhat different from all previous correspondence sent by the Zodiac. It appeared the killer had deliberately altered his handwriting, even though his previous writing style began to emerge towards the end of the letter and despite the apparent plea for help, the letter seemed too meticulously planned to be spontaneous.
The latest letter also alluded to an undisclosed eight victim, with the Zodiac threatening to claim his ninth and tenth if not helped. This would be the last time the Zodiac contacted Melvin Belli, despite several publicity events organised by the lawyer, and this would be the last letter of 1969, with nothing more was heard from the killer for three months. By 1970, the Zodiac case was being investigated for possible links to other crimes.
The killer had claimed upwards of eight victims so far and investigators and reporters were now attempting to discover the killer’s apparent unclaimed victims. One such reporter, Paul Avery of the San Francisco Chronicle, had been reporting on the Zodiac case ever the first murders and had stumbled upon the 1966 murder in Riverside of Cheri-Jo Bates, believing it could possibly be linked to the same killer.
While many suspect the Zodiac had limited his crimes to the Bay Area, others like Avery and Riverside detectives now suspected the Zodiac’s involvement. The similarities, such as the letters sent to the media and the victims family seemed to indicate someone of a similar mindset to the Zodiac was responsible, but there were also differences which garnered scepticism.
Riverside Captain Irwin Cross expressed his doubts the Zodiac was the culprit, and opinion was divided on whether it was the same person. The Zodiac’s involvement in Cheri-Jo Bates murder would remain in doubt, and there is little evidence to either implicate or exclude the Zodiac as the killer. Although the Zodiac never explicitly claimed Bates as a victim, he did allude to what he referred to as his “Riverside activity” in a future letter. But then it has been suggested the killer would often take credit for crimes he did not commit.
The San Joaquin Kidnapping
In the early evening hours of March 22, 1970, 23-year-old Kathleen Jones was driving with her infant daughter Jennifer on Highway 132 in San Joaquin County, when a man driving a light-coloured American car began blinking his lights and honking his horn in an attempt to gain her attention. He then drove alongside her, leaned out of his window and shouted that one of her wheels was loose and offered his assistance.
The man followed Johns as she pulled over at the turn off by Bird Road, just west of Interstate 5, which was several miles west of Modesto. He retrieved a lug wrench from his car and then pretended to tighten the nuts on the rear right-side wheel, however he actually removed them completely. When she drove off, the entire wheel came loose and once again the man offered to help by driving her to the nearest service station.
Accepting his hospitality, Johns and her baby rode up front with the man who drove westwards on the 132, eventually pulling into a station on Chrisman Road, which was closed. They then drove aimlessly around the city of Tracy in relative silence for over an hour and a half, passing several other service stations on the journey. When Johns asked why they didn’t stop at those stations, the driver replied cryptically that they were not the right ones.
At this point Johns became very scared of the man, but did not want to get out of the car or tell him to stop and let her out. She soon realised the man had no intention of taking her to a service station for help, and despite fearing for her own safety and that of her child she attempted to make conversation. When she asked him if he often helped people in need like this, he replied, “By the time I get through with them, they won’t need my help”.
The nightmare journey continued, with the driver appearing to slow down as if about to pull over before speeding up again. Eventually Johns decided she must escape and when the man stopped just short of a stop sign, she seized her opportunity and holding her baby tightly, she jumped from the car. Running across a nearby field and up the embankment, she hid herself in the darkness.
The man then turned off his headlights, moved some small distance before stopping, waiting silently in his car to see if she made another run for it. After waiting for five minutes he turned the car lights on and drove away. Kathleen Johns was rescued by a passing motorist who drove to the local police station in Patterson. As she sat waiting to be interviewed by officers, she saw a wanted poster with a composite sketch of a man on the wall and positively identified it as the stranger who had terrorised her and her infant daughter.
The sketch in question was that of the Zodiac Killer. The terrified desk sergeant had Johns wait alone in a nearby café to await the return of her car, the last known location of which was broadcast to officers in an attempt to locate it. The vehicle was eventually discovered near the Interstate intersection by a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy, who found it almost completely burnt out and still smouldering upon his arrival.
John’s abductor had apparently returned to her car and set it on fire, hoping to destroy any evidence that might be found within. Articles appeared in both the San Francisco Examiner and Modesto Bee which covered the terrifying evening Johns experienced, and which matched the eye witness statement in the police reports. Several months after the incident, the circumstances of Johns account was also published in a San Francisco Chronicle article written by Paul Avery.
This version is generally accepted as the correct version of events, despite Johns giving varied accounts of her ordeal in subsequent interviews over the years, and appears in Robert Graysmith’s ZODIAC. Johns would go on to identify two different men as the assailant who kidnapped her and her child, however she later admitted her memory was not to be trusted because she was unable to remember certain facts, most notably if she was even legally married at the time.
The incident where Kathleen Johns was abducted is believed to be the last time anyone saw the Zodiac, however, the elusive serial killer would continue his letter writing campaign for some considerable time, while claiming an ever growing number of victims that law enforcement had never been able to verify. In his letter dated November 9, 1969, the Zodiac wrote, “When I committ my murders, they shall look like routine robberies, killings of anger, + a few fake accidents, etc.” It is possible that he is responsible for other murders for which he never claimed credit.
The Zodiac Copycat Murder
On April 19, 1970, the body of Robert Salem was found in his upscale San Francisco apartment. The 40-year-old lamp designer had been repeatedly stabbed with a long-bladed knife, the killer apparently having tried to decapitate his victim, and when that failed, he cut off Salem’s left ear and carried it away from the scene of the crime. It was believed that Salem was murdered on April 15th, several days before the discovery of his body. Slogans were found painted on the wall of Salem’s apartment, written in blood were the words “Satan Saves” and “Zodiac”.
Several months later, on July 13, 1970, two men were arrested during an accident. One of the men made the shocking confession that he was a cannibal. Stanley Dean Baker and Harry Allen Stroup were both carrying human body parts when arrested, and they claimed to belong to a Satanic Cult. The remains belonged to James Michael Schlosser, who had been reported missing from the town of Roundup. Furthermore, Baker confessed to having committed the Salem murder on behalf of the cult’s leader, the Grand Chingon.
At the time, some suspected the slogans “Satan Saves” and “Zodiac” painted in blood on the wall of Salem’s home had been done in order to stir up panic during an already heightened and tense atmosphere caused by the revelations from the Manson murder trial. A suspect, Although Stanley Dean Baker, who was in the Bay Area during the time of the murder, had confessed to the crime, he was never charged with the death of Robert Salem. The case is still officially unsolved.
The April 1970 “My Name Is…” Letter and Cipher
The next communication from the killer was sent on April 20, 1970. It was sent to the Chronicle and a note inside was addressed to the editor. The letter included a small cipher of just 13 symbols, which apparently contained the Zodiac’s real name, along with a detailed diagram plan for what was described as a modified bus bomb.
This is the Zodiac Speaking
By the way have you cracked
the last cipher I sent you?
My name is —
(The Zodiac included a 13 symbol cipher)
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 teritory.
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 Zodiac included a detailed diagram of his bus bomb)
PS I hope you have fun trying
to figgure out who I killed
[crossed-circle] – 10 SFPD – 0
The 13-symbol cipher has never been solved, however numerous theories allude to the Zodiac’s real name. The use of the phrase “Blue meannie” is believed to be in reference to the Beatles 1968 animated film “The Yellow Submarine”, referring to the uniformed ogres, that would go on to become a popular euphemism for the police. The killer now claimed a official tally of 10 victims in total, however at this point only five were known to police and verified as confirmed Zodiac victims.
The April 1970 “Dragon” Card
The threat of bombing a bus went unreported by authorities until later in the month when a note arrived at the Chronicle which demanded publication. The note was postmarked, April 28, 1970 and was written on a “Jolly Roger” branded greeting card. The card featured a cartoon drawing of a prospector riding atop a dragon with the words, “Sorry to hear your ass is a dragon” printed next to it. The text was written in the Zodiac’s usual style and featured the now all too familiar crossed-circle symbol.
I hope you enjoy your selves when I have my Blast
P.S. on back
(On the rear side of the card, the Zodiac wrote a threatening message)
If you don’t want me to
have this blast you must
do two things. 1 Tell every
one about the bus bomb with
all the details. 2 I would like
to see some nice Zodiac butons
wandering about town. Every
one else has these buttons like,
(peace symbol), black power, Melvin eats
bluber, etc. Well it would cheer
me up considerably if I saw
a lot of people wearing my
buton. Please no nasty ones
(The Zodiac ended the message with the crossed-circle symbol)
This communication differed from most because it did no contain the usual introduction, “This is the Zodiac Speaking”, like almost every letter preceding it. In future letters the Zodiac would refer to “Zodiac Buttons” and his desire for people to wear them. An undisclosed number of latent fingerprints were found on the envelope and card by evidence technicians, however it is unknown if these were left by a mail carrier or the killer, but it was believed those on the card were left by the Zodiac. The authorities finally revealed the bomb threat to the public on April 29, 1970, however the schematics were not published until 1986 when they were included in Graysmith’s ZODIAC.
The June 1970 “Button” Letter and Cipher
The next communication was sent on June 26, to the Chronicle and contained another cipher, as well as a Phillips 66 road map of the Bay Area. The map was annotated with a custom clock face, drawn across the summit of Mount Diablo in the style of the Zodiac symbol, which consisted of a zero at the top, a six at the bottom, a numeral three on the right side and a nine on the left. A written note next to the annotation indicated the zero, “is to be set to Mag. N.” The letter was back to the old style introduction of previous Zodiac letter;
This is the Zodiac Speaking
I have become very angry with
the people of the San Fran Bay
Area. They have not (underlined) complied
with my wishes for them to
wear some nice (crossed-circle) 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.
[crossed-circle] – 12 SFPD – 0
The Map coupled with this
code will tell you where the
bomb is set. You have untill
next Fall to dig it up.
(The Zodiac then added a 32-symbol cipher, the meaning of which was undisclosed)
The Zodiac now claimed another 2 victims since his April 20, 1970 letter, bringing his alleged total up to 12. In this latest letter the killer confesses to having shot a man sitting in a parked car with a .38 pistol. Six days before the letter was mailed, SFPD Officer Richard Radetich was shot to death with a .38 calibre weapon while sitting in his vehicle writing out a traffic ticket. The area of the crime scene, in the Lower Haight District of San Francisco, is located just 450 feet from the home of Zodiac suspect Rick Marshall, who resided at 143 Scott Street.
It appeared the Zodiac was taking credit for the murder of Officer Radetich, however a witness to the crime would go on to identify an ex-convict by the name of Joseph Wesley Johnson, a black man who looked nothing like any of the witness descriptions of the Zodiac. The SFPD believed the letter’s claim was false and that most investigators agree the Zodiac was attempting to claim credit for a murder he did not commit to further instil fear in the residents of San Francisco, and suspected the killer did not learn the police had already identified a suspect.
The July 1970 “Kathleen Johns” Letter
Several months later on July 24, a short note was sent to the Chronicle which apparently claimed credit for the kidnapping of Kathleen Johns. Despite some press coverage of the attempted abduction, only the Modesto Bee reported the detail that her car had been burned by the assailant, which many believed was proof that the man who accosted Johns was indeed the Zodiac. The note was composed along similar lines as previous Zodiac communications and made another reference to people wearing Zodiac buttons.
This is the Zodiac speaking
I am rather unhappy because
you people will not wear some
nice (crossed-circle) buttons. So I now
have a little list, starting with
that woeman + her baby that I
gave a rather interesting ride
for a coupple howers one
evening a few months back that
ended in my burning her car
where I found them.
The July 1970 “Little List” Letter
Two days later on July 27, another letter from the Zodiac arrived at the Chronicle. Postmarked the previous day, the author once again talked about people wearing Zodiac buttons and threatened to torture his 13 victims, who he referred to as his slaves in the afterlife if his demand was not fulfilled. He then went on to describe in detail some of the torture these alleged victims would suffer.
This is the Zodiac Speaking
Being that you will not wear
some nice (crossed-circle) buttons, how about
wearing some nast (crossed cirlce) buttons.
Or any type of (crossed cirlce) buttons that
you can think up. If you do
not wear any type of (crossed-circle)
buttons I shall (on top of every
thing else) torture all 13
of my slaves that I have
wateing for me in Paradice.
Some I shall tie over ant hills
and watch them scream + twitch
and squirm. Others shall have
pine splinters driven under their
nails + then burned. Others shall
be placed in cages + fed salt
beef until they are gorged then
I shall listen to their pleass
for water and I shall laugh at
them. Others will hang by
their thumbs + burn in the
sun then I will rub them down
with deep head to warm
them up. Others I shall
skin them alive + let them
run around screaming. And
all billiard players I shall
have them play in a dark
ened dungeon all with crooked
cues + Twisted Shoes.
Yes I shall have great
fun inflicting the most
delicious of pain to my
(A large crossed-cirlce = 13)
SFDP = 0
Accompanying the letter was a lengthy distortion of the song, “I’ve Got a Little List” from the Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical, The Mikado. The post-script referenced the June letter and the unsolved 32-character cipher, the directions of which the Zodiac intended to help police find the bomb he buried.
As someday it may hapen
that a victom must be found.
I’ve got a little list. I’ve
got a little list, of society
offenders who might well be
underground who would never
be missed who would never be
missed. There is the pest-
ulentual nucences who whrite
for autographs, all people who
have flabby hands and irritat-
ing laughs. All children who
are up in dates and implore
you with im platt. All people
who are shaking hands shake
hands like that. And all third
persons who with unspoiling
take thos who insist. They’d
none of them be missed. They’d
none of them be missed. There’s
the banjo seranader and
the others of his race and
the piano orginast I got him
on the list. All people who
eat pepermint and phomphit
in your face, they would
never be missed. They would
never be missed And the
Idiout who phraises with in-
thusiastic tone of centuries
but this and every country but
his own. And the lady from
the provences who dress like
a guy who doesn’t cry and
the singurly abnomily the
girl who never kissed. I don’t
think she would be missed
Im shure she wouldn’t be
missed. And that nice impriest
that is rather rife the judic-
ial hummerist I’ve got him on
the list All funny fellows, com-
mic men and clowns of private
life. They’d none of them be
missed. They’d none of them be
missed. And uncompromising
kind such as wachamacallit,
thingmebob, and like wise, well-
nevermind, and tut tut tut tut,
and whatshisname, and you know
who, but the task of filling
up the blanks I rather leave
up to you. But it really does
n’t matter whom you place
upon the list, for none of
them be missed, none of
them be missed.
(Another giant crossed-circle, taking up more than half the page)
PS. The Mt. Diablo Code concerns
Radians + inches along the radians
The October 1970 “13 Holes” Postcard
After several months of silence, the Zodiac sent two cards in October 1970. This first postcard was addressed to “San Francisco Chronicle, S.F.” and contained a collage of words and letters cut from newspapers and magazines and oddly with 13 holes punched along the side. It was postmarked October 5, 1970 and read;
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?
Zodiac (Crossed-circle symbol)
This first postcard was originally considered to be a hoax, however investigators came to believe it genuine because of the declaration of 13 victims, something the killer had alluded to in previous communications, including the last letter, which had not been made public. Several phrases from the card were also to be repeated in future Zodiac letters, including the word “crackproof”, which would be mentioned in a letter sent five months later to the Los Angeles Times.
The October 1970 “Halloween” Card
The second postcard arrived on October 27, in the form of a customised Halloween greeting card which was addressed personally to Chronicle reporter Paul Avery but was misspelled as “Averly”. The envelope also contained a symbol in the top left hand corner which consisted of a v-shaped drawing, with four dots and Z underneath. The envelope contained a note with “Sorry no cipher” written in the shape of a X and the Halloween card, which had text and images on both sides.
The front depicted a skeleton holding a pumpkin around his mid-section with the words, “FROM YOUR SECRET PAL” at the top and towards the left side of the skeleton were the words, “I feel it in my bones, you ache to know my name, and so i’ll clue you in…”. In a white section to the left of the image were the words, “Paradice” and “Slaves” which overlapped in the form of a cross and in each corner the Zodiac had presumably written the methods he acquired his victims. In the top left corner was written, “By Fire”, the top right, “By Gun”, the bottom left “By Knife” and bottom right, “By Rope”.
On the reverse side was a drawing of what appeared to be a tree with thirteen eyes, around one of which was written the message, “Peek-a-boo, you are doomed.” The eyes all face another drawing of a skeleton above which was written “4-teen” and then the message, “But then why spoil the game” was written underneath and behind the body of the skeleton. “Happy Halloween” appeared at the legs and underneath was the same unusual symbol which appeared on the envelope, along with the Zodiac’s crossed-circle symbol.
The Riverside Connection
Kathleen Johns, the woman who was kidnapped along with her baby by the Zodiac would later state in interviews that she also received a similar Halloween card around the same time from the killer. She would also claim she forwarded the card onto Paul Avery, however there has never been any evidence of a second Halloween card in any published works on the Zodiac. The words, “Peek-a-boo, you are doomed.” were perceived as a threat to Avery’s life.
As a result the Chronicle subsequently published a front page story about the incident on October 31, which resulted in numerous replies from the public. Amongst these was an anonymous letter sent from Riverside which urged Paul Avery to begin an investigation into a potential link between the Zodiac case and the still unsolved murder of Cheri-Jo Bates on October 30, 1966. Robert Graysmith published a transcription of the letter in his book Zodiac which read;
Please forward the contents of this letter to the detective in charge of ‘The Zodiac Murder Case.’ I hope this information will also help you, as we would both like to see this case solved. As for myself, I wish to remain anonymous and I know that you will understand why!
A few years ago in Riverside, California, a young girl was murdered, just about, I believe, on “Halloween” evening! I could write a much longer letter, citing the similarities between Zodiac’s case and this murder, which occurred in Riverside but if the police department cannot see said comparative similarities between these two cases, then I will take a “slow boat to China,” even if these two crimes were committed by two different people! I think, after all the facts are studied, regarding both of these cases, if police have not already investigated these possibilities and are not already aware of the “Riverside case,” then, even so perhaps they should look into it….
Letters to newspapers, “similar erratic printing” find out about these two different cases ….Give Captain Cross a call on the phone, he knows that “I do not quit.”
Mr. Avery, I will give you a call in the near future, please look into the case, the Riverside police have a wealth of information, so does San Francisco, let us hope that they are not too proud to work together, and if they already are, let us hope that there has been an exchange of information….
Avery began his investigation by visiting Riverside and reviewing their evidence, locating the year-old letter from the Chief of the Riverside Police to a Napa County Detective in which he presented his opinions on the similarity between the Bates murder and the crimes committed by the Zodiac. Avery studied the many letters sent to both the Riverside police and press, which included some with what appeared to be a “Z” used as a signature.
On his insistence, a meeting was arranged and detectives from San Francisco, Solano and Napa Counties were invited to compare notes on the Bates murder and the known Zodiac murders committed in their respective jurisdictions. It was the opinion of SFPD Inspector Bill Armstrong that the link between the Riverside Murder and the Zodiac crimes was strong enough to believe they were committed by the same person.
The handwriting left on the desk at the Riverside City College’s library was compared to the handwriting in the Zodiac letters by State handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill, who professed his professional opinion that they were written by the same man. The detectives from Riverside were less convinced of the connection, primarily due to the number of stab wounds received by Bates, something which had not been revealed to the other Counties, which had suggested it was perhaps a “Crime of Passion” or “Rage Killing”, something which was not evident in the Zodiac crimes.
Avery published his story in the Chronicle about the Riverside connection on November 16, 1970. Opinion on the Riverside connection has divided investigators. The two Vallejo attacks attributed to the Zodiac showed a well-planned blitz-style attack with a handgun, followed by a quick well controlled exit from the crime scene. It appears the person responsible for the Riverside murder did not actively plan to kill Cheri Jo Bates, because he conversed with her for over an hour before losing control and stabbing her.
Bate’s killer was actually ill-prepared for the attack, using only a small pocketknife against a young woman who fought furiously for her own life. The only pre-planning involved sabotaging Bate’s vehicle, which was more a means to and end in rendering her dependent on the killer’s offer of help. In a slight contrast, the Zodiac went to great lengths to subdue his victims at the Lakeside, but this attack was closer in style to the Riverside murder than those in Vallejo.
The Zodiac engaged in some verbal exchange with his victims, before launching a brutal knife attack, and there could be little doubt about his intentions given the weapons he brought to the scene. This has been argued why the Riverside murder could be considered the first committed by the Zodiac, who would become more audacious and better prepared during his future crimes.
The Gaviota Beach Murders
Detective Bill Baker, of the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department had been assigned to a cold case involving the murder of a young couple in June 1963. 18-year-old Robert Domingos and 17-year-old Linda Edwards were high school students living in Lompoc, near Santa Barbara, who both decided to spend the senior “ditch day” at a secluded spot on Gaviota Beach instead of going to the school’s official party. At some point during their time there someone confronted the couple and opened fire, with Robert shot eleven times and Linda eight. The bodies were then placed inside a makeshift shack where the killer attempted to set a fire to remove evidence.
In 1970, Detective Baker examined the case evidence and sent out a teletype press release to other jurisdictions seeking any information on similar cases. He was then contacted by Inspector Bill Armstrong of the San Francisco Police Department. Armstrong and his partner Inspector Dave Toschi shared their suspicions that the Zodiac may have been responsible for the murders of Domingos and Edwards, because it contained many similar elements.
Another individual was considered the prime suspect, and who was also believed to have committed another murder, that of Vernon C. Smith in Lompoc the previous day. This individual known only as “Sandy” has never been apprehended and his identity remains as much of a mystery as the Zodiac. At first glance it appeared the murder exhibited only afew of the hallmarks associated with a Zodiac attack, but when investigators revealed the killer used some pre-cut lengths of rope to tie the victims, it became all too eerily familiar.
Detectives believed the man had ordered Linda to tie-up Robert’s hands, and afterwards when he attempted to bind Linda, Robert somehow managed to free himself and fought back. It was at this moment that the killer shot both the victims to prevent their possible escape. It bore a striking similarity to the events which transpired at Lake Berryessa, including the targeting of a young couple at an isolated spot, the use pre-cut bindings and a gun with .22 calibre ammunition, which was similar to that used by the Zodiac.
There were also numerous differences between this crime and those of the Zodiac, such as the handling of the bodies and the killer remaining in the area after the murders, in a failed attempt to obliterate traces of evidence. The Zodiac lingered only momentarily at the scenes of his crimes, and would make no such efforts in removing evidence, leaving the bodies where they were.
The only time the killer made a concerted effort to remove evidence was during the Stine murder, when he wiped down in and outside of the cab for fingerprints. The Zodiac never claimed credit for the murders of Domingos and Edwards, which predated the Riverside murder of Cheri Jo Bates, which many suspect was the Zodiac’s first crime. If the Gaviota Beach murders was the work of Zodiac, then it would have been his very first crime.
Other crimes considered similar to those committed by the Zodiac have been suggested as possible murders for which the killer never claimed credit. The November 1960 murders of couple Larry Peyton and Beverly Allan bore many of the hallmarks of a Zodiac slaying. Three men were arrested for this crime and two were subsequently jailed, however their culpability has been questioned. The crime is believed to have been the work of serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards, who investigators proposed as a potential Zodiac suspect, however in the opinion of law enforcement Edwards has never been a serious suspect.
The March 1971 “Los Angeles Times” Letter
After a long period with no communication, the Zodiac finally ended his five-month long silence by sending a letter on March 22, 1971, this time to the Los Angeles Times, something the killer had never done before. The letter was also the first to be sent from an area outside of San Francisco, being postmarked from Pleasanton, which was 15 miles east of the Bay.
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 get 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 across
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.
There were some suspicions that this letter was a fake, with some of those involved in the case, such as RPD Detective Mike Butterfield, suggesting it might have been authored by the same individual who sent the anonymous postcard to Paul Avery on October 27, 1970, which presented the link between the Zodiac and the Riverside murder. There were some who suspected SFPD Inspector Dave Toschi of having authored the letter, however there was not enough evidence to suggest either theory was correct.
The March 1971 “Sierra Club” Postcard
A week later on March 22, another postcard was sent by the Zodiac, however this one was intercepted by a worker of the US Postal Service who recognized the unique style before it was delivered. There was some confusion over the intended recipient, with the envelope containing Paul Avery’s name, once more misspelled as “Averly”, while the return side contained no specific address. Instead the Zodiac had glued newspaper cut-outs of various newspapers such as, San Francisco Chronicle, “The Times” and “S.F. Examiner” which had been cut from each respective paper.
The author added the Zodiac’s crossed-circle design, which consisted of a hole punched in the top left hand corner along with four lines drawn in place which represented the Zodiac’s well known symbol and the word “Zodiac” written above. Additioal holes had also been notched along the entire perimeter of the card by use of a hole-punch, and consisted of a sketch of a condominium complex known as “Sierra Club” which had been under development at Incline Village which was near Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
This same picture had appeared several days prior when the Chronicle ran an advertisement three day earlier for the “Sierra Club” complex, which was known as Forest Pines between 1967 and 1970. There were several phrases typed on the card, such as “Sought victim 12”, “around in the snow” and “peek through the pines” as well as the Zodiac’s crossed-circle symbol in the bottom right hand corner. The authorship of this postcard is also called into question, despite the handwriting being similar to that of previous Zodiac communications and the use of the misspelling of Avery as “Averly” and the use of a hole-punch.
This card would be the last confirmed communication from the Zodiac, who went almost three years without sending the police or press anymore letters. The meaning of the Lake Tahoe “Sierra Club” postcard has never been fully explained, and neither has the identity of “victim 12”, whilst it’s authenticity as a Zodiac communication is also debated. One potential incident has been linked to this postcard as a possible resolution.
On September 6, 1970, Donna Lass disappeared from Sahara Tahoe in South Lake Tahoe, at approximately 2 am. The 25-year-old nurse worked at the Letterman General Hospital in the Presidio and was assigned to the graveyard shift, but was working that day at the Sahara Casino. The last entry in her nurse’s log book was at 1:50 am, and curiously she wasn’t seen leaving the Sahara, even though officers found her car parked at her apartment complex in nearby Stateline.
The following day an unknown male caller contacted both her employer and landlord, stating that Lass wouldn’t be returning because of a family emergency. This call was later revealed to be a hoax, but police were unable to determine who the mystery caller was or what happened to Lass. It was suspected she had been abducted shortly after arriving at her apartment, but there was no evidence as to her whereabouts. Her case was considered to be possibly linked to the disappearance and death of Sacramento nurse Judith Ann Harki which occurred in March 1969.
On January 24, 1992, Kathleen Johns would identify Lawrence Kane from an 18 picture line-up as the man who abducted her and her daughter. Although Kane is considered a suspect in the Zodiac murders, there is little evidence to connect him to the crimes. There is only circumstantial evidence that he was responsible for the disappearance of Donna Lass, who was claimed as a victim of the Zodiac, however, he is a prime suspect in the murder of Dana Lull, who was abducted and later killed by an unknown man on April 27, 1974.
But there is little to connect the abduction of Donna Lass with the Zodiac case. At the time of her disappearance, she was living just a few blocks away from the scene of the Zodiac’s murder of Paul Stine on October 11, 1969. The postcard seemed to heavily imply that Lass was a victim of the killer, however there was never any proof, unlike the Stine case in which the Zodiac sent swatches of his bloodied shirt. Although the Zodiac allegedly kidnapped Kathleen Johns, he always left the bodies of his victims where they could be discovered. It was been suspected the communication is fake, and in 1999, a former investigator admitted to forging the postcard.
Zodiac, the Cinematic Villain
The Zodiac Killer was released in cinemas on April 7, 1971, starring Hal Reed, Bob Jones, Ray Lynch and Tom Pittman, with Reed played the Zodiac. Although the plot of the film is based on the San Francisco murders, the writers and director decided to give the unidentified killer a name and back story, in a heavily fictionalized portrayal. The story focuses on a month in the life of the Zodiac Killer, with the third act of the film attempting to provide a motive the series of crimes.
During the film’s opening night screening at San Francisco’s RKO Golden Gate Theatre in April 1971, audience members were encouraged to write their answers to the question, “I think the Zodiac kills because…” and drop their suggestions into a large box in an effort to win a motorcycle donated by Kawasaki. Unbeknown to the unsuspecting film attendees, a volunteer was positioned inside the box and compared handrwiting on the cards with samples of the Zodiac’s. There were also goons made up from the film’s cast waiting in the wings and ready to apprehend and interrogate anyone whose writing was deemed suspiciously similar to the Zodiac.
Later that same year, on December 23, 1971, the American Neo-Noir action thriller ‘Dirty Harry’ was released in cinemas. The film, starring Clint Eastwood as the titular detective Harry Callahan, drew heavily on the crimes of the Zodiac killer, while the villainous character of Scorpio, played by Andrew Robinson, was based loosely on the Zodiac. Set in San Francisco, the Scorpio shoots a woman and leaves behind a blackmail letter demanding $100,000 or he will kill more people.
He later kidnaps a teenager and demands more money, but is thwarted and forced to escape. In one particularly memorable scene from the film, Scorpio hijacks a school bus, in much the same way as the Zodiac threatened to do in some of his letters. The screenwriters R.M. Fink and Harry Julian Fink explained how they based the main character Harry Callahan, portrayed by Eastwood, on San Francisco Police Department detective David Toschi.
On August 4, 1971, detectives Mulanax, Toschi and Armstrong interviewed Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen at his place of work, informing him that they had received information from an unnamed informant about certain statements he had allegedly made in January 1968. During the interview Allen would prove he was extremely knowledgeable about the Zodiac case, and had humorously decided to run circles around the detectives interrogating him. He displayed a distinct understanding of the pop culture references used by the Zodiac, and although he had clearly been reading the media reports about the killer, appeared he knew nothing about the actual crimes.
The January 1974 “Exorcist” Letter
Throughout the first seven months of 1974, a series of letters arrived addressed to the Chronicle, all with postmarks from within the Bay Area and all handwritten in a similar style to the Zodiac’s previous communications. All have been identified through handwriting analysis as being authentic letters written by the Zodiac. However these letters were different, in that the author now dispensed with the usual introduction of “This is the Zodiac Speaking” and there was no additional use of the signature crossed-circle symbol.
The first of these letters, which has been referred to as the “Exorcist Letter”, was sent on January 29, 1974, and was believed to have been sent from either Santa Clara or San Mateo, just south of San Francisco. The letter made reference to the recently released horror movie, “The Exorcist” and included a quote from the Mikado, along with a mysterious hieroglyph, the meaning of which has never been fully explained.
I saw and think “The Exorcist”
was the best saterical com-
idy that I have ever seen.
Signed, yours truley:
He plunged himself into
the billowy wave
and an echo arose from
the suicide’s grave
PS. If I do not see this
note in your paper, I
will do something nasty,
which you know I’m capable of
The envelope contained a single 8-cent stamp featuring President Eisenhower along with two UPS stickers, one of which featured a clock set to a specific time (either 11:05 or 12:55), along with the words “mail early in the day”, whilst the second was a reminder to use the recently introduced ZIP code for the area. Underneath these stamps the Zodiac affixed two short typed paragraphs about the stamps and packaging;
“Stamps in this book have
been gummed with a matte
finish adhesive which per-
mits the elimination of the
“This book contains 25–
8-cent stamps — four on this
pane and seven each on
three additional panes.
Selling price $2.00.”
This letter was initially considered a fabrication until mid-1978, when it would be proved genuine after analysis by handwriting experts who confirmed it to be written by the same individual as previous confirmed Zodiac communications. The meaning of the hieroglyph added to the bottom of the letter has never been explained. However several sleuths have attributed it’s meaning to numerous suspects connected with the case.
The February 1974 “SLA” Letter
The following month another letter was received, with a similar Eisenhower stamp, and this time the postmark was determined by the FBI to have originated from San Rafael. It arrived on February 14, 1974, exactly seven days after Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Dear Mr. Editor,
Did you know that the
initials SLAY (Symbionese
Liberation Army) spell “sla,” (the word “sla” is written in script)
an old Norse word
It was transcribed in August 1976 by the Chronicle and there was much debate about the terminology used by the author in regards to the use of the term, “Old Norse”, with some experts believing the term, “Old Icelandic” to be a more commonly used phrase. There is equally as much debate about the authenticity of the letter as a genuine Zodiac communication. Despite that fact there is clear familiarity in the handwriting style, it is the belief of the FBI that the author was not the Zodiac killer.
The May 1974 “Citizen” Card
Three months later on May 8, 1974, a postcard arrived at the Chronicle postmarked from Fremont, situated around 25 miles southeast of San Francisco. The written message expressed the authors distaste for a newspaper advertisement for the movie Badlands, the plot of which was based on the Spree Murders perpetrated by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Once again the handwriting bore a similarity to previous Zodiac communications, but it has never been definitively proven to be a letter from the Zodiac.
Sirs- I would like to
your poor taste + lack of
sympathy for the public, as
evidenced by your running
of the ads for the movie
“Badlands,” featuring the
blurb – “In 1959 most people
were killing time. Kit + Holly
were killing people.” In
light of recent events, this
kind of murder-glorification
can only be deplorable at
best (not that glorification of
violence was ever justifiable)
why don’t you show some
concern for public sensibilities
+ cut the ad?
The July 1974 “Red Phantom” Letter
The final letter of the 1974 arrived on July 8th, and was postmarked from San Rafael. The added return address on the envelope bore the initials, “RP” which stood for “Red Phantom”, the supposed author of the letter. The handwriting on this final letter was significantly different to previous letters, with some effort by the author to disguise his handwriting, using elongated C’s, M’s, F’s and R’s. But the same style can be seen which links it to the Zodiac.
Put Marco back in the, hell-hole
from whence it came — he has
a serious psychological disorder —
always needs to feel superior. I
suggest you refer him to a shrink.
Meanwhile, cancel the Count Marco
column. Since the Count can
write anonymously, so can I —
The Red Phantom
(red with rage)
The contents of the letter was an apparent attack on Count Marco Spinelli, the conservative Chronicle columnist. While the media considered the last two communications, the Citizen Postcard and Red Phantom Letter to be genuine, it was the opinion of some law enforcement that these were fakes. It was SFPD Inspector David Toschi who privately advised the FBI of his doubts as to their authenticity.
An examination by FBI handwriting experts reported that both the Citizen postcard and Red Phantom Letter had characteristics which were consistent with previously confirmed Zodiac communications, however there were also inconsistencies which made it difficult to neither confirm or rule out the Zodiac as the author. It was the general consensus that the communications were most probably composed by the Zodiac killer.
The April 1978 “Toschi” Letter
By 1978, Paul Avery had moved on from the Chronicle and was working at the San Francisco Examiner, his replacement, Journalist Duffy Jennings had taken over the coverage of the now cold Zodiac case. On April 24, 1978, a letter arrived at the Chronicle, postmarked from either San Mateo or Santa Clara. The handwriting on the envelope was recognised, and then forwarded to Jennings, who photographed the contents of the letter and envelope.
He then contacted Inspector Toschi, who was by that time the only officer working the Zodiac case. Because Toschi was busy serving subpoenas, Jennings took the letter to the Hall of Justice, where it was handed to Clem DeAmicis, Deputy Chief of Police. It was similar to previous confirmed Zodiac letters and had been composed by someone very familiar with the case and the Zodiac killers terminology.
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 bu (crossed out) 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
(crossed circle) – guess
SFPD – 0
Upon his arrival at police headquarters, Toschi was summoned before Deputy Chief DeAmicis and the two men conversed about the letter’s contents, which was then assigned to Toschi’s custody. Because the former state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill had retired in late 1973, Robert Prouty was the current chief of the state’s questioned documents section.
However, Toschi unusually chose to convey the letter to John Shimoda of the US Postal Service crime lab, rather than Prouty, in order to confirm the documents authenticity. Shimoda went on to confirm the letter as a genuine Zodiac communication and Toschi then delivered it to a fingerprint expert at the SFPD crime lab, who found no useful prints or any other evidence on either the letter or envelope.
Although it was initially considered a genuine Zodiac letter and the last one the killer would send to the media and law enforcement of the Bay Area, it would eventually be considered by most detectives and researchers to be a fake. Some would even come to suspect that David Toschi himself had authored the letter, possibly in order to reignite interest in the cold case, of which he was the sole remaining investigator.
There has also been speculation that the person responsible for the authorship of the letter was none other than Robert Graysmith, who possessed extensive knowledge of the Zodiac literature in order to produce such a forgery. He also had a motive, in the form of publicity for his own book which he had been promoting for the previous two years, but which would not be printed until nine years later.
At some point during his time as a cartoonist for the Chronicle, Graysmith was reportedly disciplined for plagiarism. When his book was released, he included a description of a photo enlarger setup, which he claims could have been used to write the original Zodiac letters, and adds it would have been adequately utilised to forge the latest one.
Incidentally, Graysmith has been quite voiceful in his support for Toschi, maintaining in his book, and subsequent interviews, that it was his belief that Toschi was innocent of fabricating the letter. The San Francisco Police Department has remained silent on the issue, stating in 1999 that, “The Police Department has never made a statement on (accusations that Toschi may have faked a Zodiac letter) one way or another. We will confirm that not all the Zodiac letters are authentic”.
The May 1978 “Channel 9” Letter
Just eight days after the “I am back with you” letter, another communcation was sent to Channel 9 at KHJ-TV Studios 5616 Melrose Ave, in Los Angeles, California. Much like the previous letter, it carried the Symbols of American stamps of the 13c Liberty Bell, 13c Eagle and Shield and the 15c American Flag from the Americana series. In the top left hand corner of the envelope, which is usually reserved for the senders name and address, the author had written a series of numbers and letters backwards.
The 1234567, A.G.C.G.T.H.!, is believed to be an abbreviation of All Good Children Go To Heaven, from the Beatles ‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ lyrics. In the bottom left had corner there was a drawing of an apple, the logo from their record label. In a boxed off section in the top left hand corner was written the acronym AIC, backwards, which is believed to be a reference to the often quoted Zodiac claim that he is “Always in control”. The contents of the letter read:
Dear Channel Nine
This is the Zodiac speaking. You people
in LA are in for a treat. In the next three
weeks you finally gona have something
good to report. I have decided to begin
killing again – PLEASE hold the app
lause! Nothing is going to happen until
I do. You people just wont let me have it
any other way. I plan to kill five people
in the next three weeks (1) Chief piggy
Darrel Gates (2) Ex Chief piggy Ed Davis
(3) Pat Boone – his theocratic crap is a
obscenity to the rest of the world! (4) Also
Eldrige Cleaver – the niggers gotta get their
20% quota – after all. And Susan Atkins –
The Judas of the Manson Family. Shes gona
get hers now. Hey — you actors – this
is your lucky break. Remember – whoever plays
me has to (crossed out) his work cut out for him. See you
in the News!
(At the end of the letter is the Zodiac’s crossed circle symbol.)
The letter mentions Manson family member Susan Atkins, along with former Los Angeles police Chief Ed Davis, who gain fame internationally when he held a press conference announcing the arrests of Charles Manson and his followers for what were known as the Tate and LaBianca murders. Davis was also in charge of the L.A. police department during the shootout with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group that was mentioned in the anonymous letter sent on February 14, 1974, that is believed to have been authored by the Zodiac.
The March 1981 “Atlanta” Letter
A letter purportedly from the Zodiac Killer was mailed in Atlanta on March 8, 1981, taking credit for the series of murders committed against children and young adults. The author of the letter claimed that his passion for murdering young women had now changed to that of killing children. The letter writer was clearly hoping to convince authorities that the Zodiac was responsible for the Atlanta Child Murders, for which Wayne William would eventually be convicted on February 27, 1982. Although the author states that he was not writing in the same hand, the letter is generally considered a fake.
The Route 99 Murders
On April 22, 1986, a double murder was committed along the interchange of Highway 99 and Interstate 5 in Sacramento. 48-year-old Koy len Saechao and 40-year-old Choy Fow Saelee had previously left their residence in Dorman Avenue, Yuba City, located approximately 39 miles north of Sacramento, and journey to Merced County to visit their son in hospital. Later that day, the Loatian couple started their return three-hour journey home, but would never make it. At some point during their drive, they were brutally murdered.
Their vehicle had been intercepted only 45-50 minutes away from their home, by someone who shot fifteen bullets into the driver side window of the car, causing both front side windows to shatter, in what must have been a relentless barrage of gunfire. It is possible the couple had stopped to rest during their long journey, and were ambushed by their killer. A short time later, a hitchhiker reported to an East Nicolaus Highway Patrol officer that an accident had occurred at the location of the crime.
These murders occurred just four months after the release of Robert Graysmith’s first edition of his book Zodiac, and were similar in execution to the previous attacks at Lake Herman Road in December 1968 and Blue Rock Springs in July 1969, in which the killer approached the victim’s car and began firing his weapon. Police eventually made a break in the case when Devon Stuart Olsen confessed to the murder of the Yuba couple, and provided details to investigators. However, with little evidence connecting him, he was never charged.
The May 1986 “Blue Meannies” Letter
A letter mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle and postmarked May 6, 1986, was believed to be written by the Zodiac, and although the style of handwriting appeared to match that of previously confirmed Zodiac letters, there was no way of verifying if this latest communication from the killer was genuine, given that it had been many years since his last official letter.
This is the Zodiac speaking I
am still out here an crack proof. I want you
to known 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
(Zodiac symbol) -100+
Although it has never been independently verified as a genuine Zodiac communication, the letter does make reference to the Sacramento murders of Loatian couple Koy len Saechao and Choy Fow Saelee, that was committed the previous month. The author makes mention of the police almost catching him, something that could be in reference to the hitchiker who reported the murder of the Loatian couple to police, describing the crime to officers as an accident. It could also be a case of the Zodiac taking credit for someone else’s crime.
The following year, another Zodiac letter was received shortly before Halloween, arriving at the Vallejo Times-Herald and postmarked from San Francisco. The letter makes reference to the death machine mentioned in the Zodiac’s previous November 1969 “Bus Bomb” Letter, and threatens to run over children who are out trick-or-treating. The letter also uses the “pigs” insult when referring to police, something he used in previous communications. The last line stands out because it makes mention of SFPD Inspector Toschi, something that it has in common with the April 1978 letter, that was deemed a fake by experts.
The October 1987 “Halloween” Letter
The following year, on Wednesday, October 28, 1987, another letter arrived at the Vallejo Times-Herald, purportedly from the Zodiac killer. It was postmarked Tuesday from San Francisco, and arrived several days before Halloween. It appeared from the first few lines that this letter was also word-for-word verbatim of the April 24, 1978 letter that led to Inspector Toschi’s demotion. Fred Shirasago, a criminal intelligence specialist with the state Department of Justice said that a handwriting expert would analyse the letter and dust it for fingerprints. Police Lt. Gerald Greenhouse added, “we’ll know if it’s authentic.”
This the Zodiac speaking I am
crack proof. Tell herb caen that I
am still here. I have always been here.
Tell the blue pigs if want me I will
be out driving around on Halloween in my
death machine looking for some kiddies to
run over. Cars make nice weapons. The
pigs can catch me if they can find
me out there. Just like in the
movie The car. Tell the kiddies
watch before they coss the street
on halloween nite. Tell Toschi my
(Crossed-circle) – guess
VPD – 0
Vallejo Captain Roy Conway soon announced that this latest letter was a forgery. “It’s a fake. It’s a hoax,” he said of the Halloween letter. He added the letter, “was not authored by the authentic Zodiac, but that is is a simulation of a hoax letter written in 1978.” Robert Prouty, chief of the state’s questioned documents section, said “My very firm opinion is that they (1987 letters) were not written by the authentic Zodiac. They appear to be composed of previous letters which have since been made public.”
Melinda Stehr of the Attorney General’s office announced that handwriting experts had confirmed the October 1987 was a simulation of a letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle a decade ago. “Someone saw the letter and was using it as a copy,” Stehr said. It appeared the author of the 1987 letter, someone pretending to be the Zodiac, had used the April 1978 letter, that was confirmed as a fake, in order to compose his fake letter and pass it off as genuine.
Beginning in March 1990, a series of shootings occurred in New York City, in what appeared to be random attacks. The first and second victims survived, but the third died later in hospital after being shot in May 1990. Letters sent to the New York Post and 60 Minutes strengthened a theory that some detectives already suspected about the killer, that he was the San Francisco Zodiac. The letters were written in a bizarre style, and contained the phrase “This is the Zodiac,” in a similar but not identical calling-card of the original Zodiac. But it soon became apparent that this was not the same criminal.
But this did not stop the media from sensationalising this latest string of Zodiac killer crimes, something that caused fear to New Yorkers who believed they were now subject to the Zodiac’s killing spree. After his fourth victim survived, the New York Zodiac wrote to the Post claiming “In San Francisco killed a man in the park with a gun and killed a women with a knife and killed a man in the taxi cab with gun”. The killer was attempting to connect his crimes with those of the original Zodiac, but few were fooled.
A further six people were shot by the New York Zodiac, two of whom died from their wounds. Much like his San Francisco counter-part, Zodiac II also sent coded messages to the police and press, and much like the original, this killer went long periods without killing. Then, in 1993, the Zodiac’s reign of terror appeared to have ended. It would take several years before the perpetrator was caught, during a chance encounter at the Zodiac II’s family home, where a domestic disturbance call would lead to his arrest.
The Prime Suspect
In December 1990, career criminal Ralph Spinelli agrees to divulge the real identity of the Zodiac killer. At the time he had recently been arrested as a suspect in at least nine armed robberies of restaurants, and was facing a thirty year stretch. In exchange for revealing the name of Zodiac, Spinelli wanted the charges dropped. In January 1991, Spinelli’s lawyer agreed to provide the name of the Zodiac to police. He said “It’s Leigh Allen, Arthur Leigh Allen.”
Spinelli went on to reveal details of conversations he had with Allen, in which the prime suspect had incriminated himself in the crimes. Acting on this latest information, Vallejo police executed a warrant on Allen’s residence. During this search, a Royal typewriter was found, similar to the one used to type out the letter sent to the Riverside Police Department in November 1966, which claimed to be from the killer, and which police strongly suspect was the Zodiac.
Besides this, there was little evidence linking Allen to the crimes of the Zodiac. On August 26, 1992, Arthur Leigh Allen died of arteriosclerotic heart failure. With the death of Allen, the investigation was effectively stalled and would soon became a cold case. Although detectives were never able to find incriminating evidence that unmasked him as the Zodiac, Allen would remain the prime suspect and favourite of many professional and amateur sleuths owing to the wealth of circumstantial evidence. In 1998, survivor Mike Mageau picked Allen out of a police line-up as the man he believed attacked him, while survivor Bryan Hartnell identified Allen’s voice and physical appearance as being similar to that of the Zodiac Killer.
In 2002, a partial DNA profile was developed from the saliva from stamps and envelopes used on the Zodiac’s letters. This was compared to the DNA of Arthur Leigh Allen, as well as his former friend Don Cheney, who had first proposed Allen’s name to law enforcement as a possible suspect. Neither test result returned a match, and both Allen and Cheney were excluded as the contributors of the DNA. Allen’s handwriting was also examined in an attempt to confirm his authorship of the Zodiac letters. Experts believe Allen’s handwriting does not match the Zodiac’s, however, he was known be ambidextrous, so cannot be ruled out completely.
On May 27, 1997, just before pupils arrived at the Tainohata Elementary School in the Suma ward of Kobe, Japan, the head of student Jun Hase was found in front of the school gates. The victim had been beheaded with a handsaw, and the remains left for students to discover when they arrived that morning. A note, written in red pen, was found stuff in his mouth. The letter identified the killer as “Sakakibara,” and read in part “This is the beginning of the game… try and stop me if you can stupid police.”
Due to the symbolism used and the style of the letter, it was clear that the author was influenced by the Zodiac murders of San Francisco. Several more attacks were committed by the same killer, and a young girl, Ayaka Yamashita was murdered. On June 28, a fourteen-year-old high school student was arrested for the crimes. Known as “Boy A” in the media, his real name was not officially released due to Japanese law, however he was eventually identified as Shinichiro Azuma.
During the course of the investigation there have been numerous developments including the solution to one of the Zodiac ciphers, as well as promising suspects that have been proposed as recently as October 2021, however none have been officially accepted by law enforcement and investigators as a definitive resolution to the case. The only way the Zodiac case will ever be solved now is with a breakthrough in DNA, much in the same way the Golden State Killer was apprehended, or if evidence or a confession is left by the perpetrator after their death. Until then, the case will remain one of the high profile unsolved serial murder investigations.