Zodiac Killer: True Crime Background
Where: San Francisco, CA
Alias: The Zodiac
Victims: 7 confirmed (37 Possible)
Between the years 1969-1970 the Zodiac Killer ravaged the San Francisco Bay area. The Zodiac is credited with 7 victims although there are 37 possible. What is unusual about this serial killer is that he was never caught, although there were many suspects. The case remains open in
Vallejo, Napa county and Solano county. Although it was closed in 2004, the case was reopened in 2007 in San Francisco.
Timeline of the Murders:
- Betty Jensen and David Faraday
- Dec 20, 1968 Lake Herman Road
- Both victims were shot, Faraday at point blank range and Jensen as she fled the scene.
- Darleen Ferrin and Michael Mageau
- July 4, 1969 Blue Rock Springs
- July 5, 1969, 12:40am: a man phones Vallejo police to report and claim responsibility for the attack. Caller also took credit for murders of Jensen and Faraday (6 and a half months ealier).
**Mageau survived attack despite being shot in the face, neck and chest. Described attacker as a 26-30 year old male, 195-200lbs or more, 5’8” white with short light brown curly hair.
- Bryan Harnell and Cecelia Shepard
- Sept 27, 1969 Lake Berryessa
- Both stabbed repeatedly
- Cross-circle symbol on Harnell’s car door, beneath it “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept-27-69-6:30/by knife”
- At 7:40pm, killer calls Napa County sheriff’s office from a pay phone to report the crime.
- Paul Stine
- Oct 11, 1969 Presidio Heights
- Shot in the head with a 9mm, stole his wallet and car keys, tore off a piece of his shirt.
3 teenagers witness the murder and call 911. Detectives Bill Armstrong and Dave Toschi of the San Francisco Police Department are assigned to the case.
After December of 1969, there is no confirmation of anymore Zodiac murders.
- Kathleen Johns
- March 22, 1970 Highway 132 Modesto
- A car driving behind her pulls her over and states that he saw her rear tire wobbling and offered to tighten the lug nuts for her. Johns re-entered the highway only to have her tire fall off almost immediately. The man returned and offered to drive her to the nearest gas station. Johns and her 10-month old daughter got in.
- The man passed several service stations on the ride. The drive lasted about 90 minutes. At an intersection. Johns jumped out with her daughter and hid in the field. The driver searched for her with a flashlight but could not find her. Unable to find her, he got into his car and drove off.
- Johns hitched a ride to the Patterson police station where she gave her statement. She recognized the sketch of Stine’s killer as the man who abducted her.
- When police found her car, it had been gutted and torched.
This abduction was never confirmed nor denied as the Zodiac’s doing. Although in later letters, the Zodiac does claim responsibility for it, there is no new information given in the letters that was not already published in the papers before the letter arrived. The letters that follow begin to “keep score” of the murders done by the Zodiac in comparison to the San Francisco Police Department. There are no new findings in the case until October of 1970 when crime reporter Paul Avery directly receives a letter from Zodiac.
- Cheri Jo Bates
- Oct 30, 1966 Riverside
- Student at Riverside Community College, she was in the campus library unitl closing at 9pm.
- Bates was found dead the next morning, short distance from the library, between 2 abandoned houses slated to be demolished for campus renovations. She was brutally beaten and stabbed to death.
- A man’s timex with a torn wristband was found nearby. The watched was stopped at 12:24 but police believe the attack was much earlier
Cheri Jo Bates information was investigated. There is no confirmation or denial on Zodiac involvement in her murder.
Aug 1, 1969: Vallejo Times Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner. Letters take credit for shootings at Lake Herman Rd and Blue Rock Springs. Each letter contained cryptogram which the killer claimed held his identity. Cryptogram was cracked by Donald and Bettye Harden. It did not contain the author’s name.
Aug 7, 1969: Letter #2 received at San Francisco Examiner “This is the Zodiac speaking”. In this letter, the killer includes details that had not yet been released to the public.
Oct 14, 1969: The Chronicle receives another letter from the zodiac. This letter contains the piece of Stine’s shirt.
Oct 20, 1969: Zodiac calls the Oakland police department. His demands were that one of two prominent lawyers, F. Lee Bailey or Marvin Belli, appear on a prominent daytime television show A.M. San Francisco with Jim Dunbar. Someone claiming to be the zodiac calls and said his name was Sam. Belli set up a meet with this person in Daly City but the suspect never showed.
Nov 8, 1969: Letter 340-character cryptogram was sent. Never decoded.
Dec 20, 1969: Letter mailed directly to Belli with another swatch of Stine’s shirt asking Belli for help.
Oct 27, 1970: A Halloween card signed with a letter 'Z’ and the zodiac’s symbol. Handwritten on the card was the note “Peek-a-boo, you are doomed”
Nov 1970: Avery received an anonymous letter alerting him to the similarities between the Zodiac’s activities and the unsolved murder of Cheri Jo Bates, 4 years earlier at the city college in Riverside, 400 miles south of san Francisco.
Nov 29, 1966: Nearly identical typewritten letters were mailed to the Riverside Police and the Riverside Press-enterprise titled “The Confession”. Author claimed responsibility for Bates’ murder which provided details of the murder that had not been released to the public. Author warns that Bates “is not the first and she will not be the last”
Dec 1966: Poem discovered carved into the bottom side of a desk in riverside city library. “Sick of living/unwilling to die”. Language and handwriting resembled zodiac. Initials rh
April 30, 1967: 6 months after Bates murder, her father, the Press-enterprise and the Riverside Police al received nearly identical letters. Police and Press-Enterprise copies read “Bates had to die there will be more” with a small scribble at the bottom that resembled the letter Z. Joseph Bates copy read “She had to die there will be more” without the Z signature
March 31, 1971: LA Times Letter credits the police, not Avery, for discovering his “Riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there.”. Avery and Riverside police maintain that Bates’ homicide was not committed by the zodiac; letters may have been his work to claim credit falsely.
Jan 29, 1974: The Chronicle received a letter praising The Exorcist as “The best satirical comidy that I have ever seen”. Concluded the letter with a new score “Me = 37 SFPD = 0”
Voight, Tom. Zodiac Killer, 20 March 1998, http://www.zodiackiller.com/index.htm. Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.
Wikipedia contributors. "Zodiac Killer." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Dec. 2017. Web. 7 Dec. 2017.
Grinell, Richard. Zodiac Ciphers, http://www.zodiacciphers.com/. Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.