"This is the Zodiac Speaking"
The ominous calling card of the mysterious Zodiac, a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco Bay area during the 1960’s and 70’s, and who murdered five people, but claimed responsibility for as many as thirty-seven deaths during a year-long killing spree that is as much unexplained as it is unsolved.
The victims were often approached in parked cars at lover’s lanes and beauty spots, unaware that a stranger was lurking in the shadows. When the Zodiac did emerge, he attacked quickly, shooting the male and female victims with equal ferocity, leaving few survivors.
Just as quickly as he appeared, the Zodiac killer vanished from whence he came. There were few who could offer police an adequate description. At one crime scene the killer appeared wearing a bizarre home-made executioners hood with sunglasses attached to hide his identity.
In his later letters, which contained a cross-hair symbol that became as recognizable as the name Zodiac, the killer gave some insight into the motivation behind the murders he committed, by claiming those who were slain would serve him in the afterlife as his slaves.
"I am crack proof"
In an effort to gain recognition for his crimes, the Zodiac sent often threatening letters to the press, describing the murders he committed in rambling but minute detail, and promising to kill more people if his bizarre demands for publicity were not met.
The letters contained a significant number of misspellings, as well as punctuation mistakes, possibly something the killer deliberately imitated in a effort to appear uneducated. However, it is likely the Zodiac was far more intelligent, as his letters demonstrated both knowledge and an awareness of culture.
The letters were sometimes accompanied by complicated ciphers that contained hidden messages the killer taunted the authorities to decrypt and solved, as part of his challenge to catch him. Although some have been cracked, there are others that remain unsolved, including one that allegedly contains the killer’s name.
"stumbling across my riverside activity"
Because of the nature of the Zodiac, and his desire for public attention, it is likely the true number of victims will never be fully known. However, it is believed the killer was involved in other, similar crimes committed around the same time, for which he never claimed responsibility.
The Riverside murder of Cheri-Jo Bates is considered by some as a possible first crime, committed by a fledgling Zodiac killer, long before he coined his own well-known sobriquet. Bates’ killer sent the press and investigators notes, in what could be a chilling precursor of what was to come.
Similarly, the Gaviota Beach murders of two sweethearts committed several years before the Riverside slaying bore many of the hallmarks of the later Zodiac murders. A male and female victim, surprised by their attacker were shot both dead before the killer attempted to conceal the crime.
"you ache to know my name, and so i'll clue you in..."
The investigation into the Zodiac killer resulted in hundreds of suspects being questioned by police, some of whom have never been eliminated from the inquiry and remain favorites of both professionals and armchair enthusiasts. Other suspects put forward, such as Ted Kaczynski are considered unlikely candidates.
Rick Marshall, a film enthusiast was first suspected when his name was given to police by an anonymous informant, although the theory connecting him to the case is tenuous at best. A more dangerous suspect is Lawrence Kane, a career criminal suspected in at least one murder connected to the Zodiac.
Meanwhile, the prime suspect in the case, Arthur Leigh Allen was a convicted child molester who shared many of the same suspected characteristics with the Zodiac, such as an interest in guns, children and hunting. Allen even owned a Zodiac brand wristwatch.
A recent suspect in case, George Hodel, has been linked to other crimes, such as the high profile Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short. Dr. Hodel is also suspected in other crimes, such as the Red Lipstick murder, the murder of Jean Spangler and numerous other Sin City murders in post-war Los Angeles.
"I like killing people because it is so much fun"
As unique as the Zodiac is in the pantheon of serial killers, he is not the first criminal to communicate with the authorities in an attempt to garner publicity and recognition. It is likely the Zodiac gained a degree of influence from the perpetrator of New York’s 3-X murders, as well as the Mad bomber of New York.
Both of these criminals communicated with police and the press, by sending letters and notes that explained the reasoning behind their crime sprees. One point of influence for the Zodiac, and which the killer himself alluded to, was Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game, in which man hunts man for sport.
Meanwhile, the legacy of the Zodiac Killer has endured in the decades since his crimes, with many books written on the subject. Just as the Zodiac found inspiration for his deeds from the crimes of others, so too did at least two killers imitate their own crimes on those of the infamous Zodiac.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a gunman stalked the streets of New York, hunting victims in much the same way as the San Francisco Zodiac. Letters written by the killer replicated the style and iconography of the Zodiac’s work, but Heriberto Seda was not the original killer, but rather Zodiac II.
A third criminal, known as Zodiac III, started targeting school children in the Japanese city of Kobe. This copycat killer also wrote letters to police admitting to the thrill of murdering people. The killer identified himself as “Sakakibara,” but his real name was Shinichiro Azuma, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy.