WARNING: The descriptions in the following article may be disturbing to some. If sensitive, please read with caution. The following events, unfortunately, did take place in California in the late 20th century.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE ARE SPELLING ERRORS BELOW. THEY HAVE BEEN MADE ON PURPOSE, BECAUSE THE ZODIAC KILLER MISSPELLED SEVERAL WORDS IN HIS LETTERS TO THE PD AND NEWSPAPERS.
"I like killing, because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest, because man is the most dangerous animal of them all" (The Most Dangerous Game—The Zodiac Killer)
The Zodiac Killer (a self-proclaimed name nonetheless) was a serial killer who terrorized northern California in the late 1960's and early 1970's. In fact, some people even proclaim that the police sketch of the Zodiac Killer is eerily similar to Ted Cruz, but I can assure you that unless Ted Cruz can travel by time machine—he was just a child during these murders. But I can see where these theories come from. Below you can see the comparison of both men.
Enough of the fun, let's get down to business, because these serial killings are indeed horrific. The story of the Zodiac Killer is a long one, with so many suspects, evidence, and mishaps done by the police, but let's see if you can catch something that the police at the time couldn't. The Zodiac claimed he killed 37 people, but LAPD only confirmed seven from which two survived.
Attack #1 - Lake Herman Road, Vallejo, California - December 20th, 1968
The first attacks were the shootings of high school students, 16-year old Betty Lou Jensen and 17-year old David Faraday, on Lake Herman Road. They pair were a couple out on their first date, they had just visited a friend before parking on what was then known as "lover's lane. Only to realize they were not alone, and they were shot by the Zodiac. It was around 11:00 when their bodies were found. At the time, no one knew that this was the work of a serial killer. Gathering what evidence they could, investigators set out a possible timeline of what exactly went down. Prior to 11:00, a second car, the car of the killer, must have parked next to the lover's Rambler. LAPD were unsure at the time, but there is a possibility that the killer must have ordered the couple out of the car. This may have explained where the bodies were found. Betty possibly exited the car first, and Daniel was halfway out when he was shot in the head. Frightened, Betty began to run only to be shot five times in the back. She only made it twenty-eight feet from the car. The killer then drove off.
Attack #2 - Blue Rock Springs Park, Vallejo, California (4 mi away from the Lake Herman Murder Site) - July 4th, 1969
The second attack's victims were another unfortunate couple by the names of Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau. They were parked at Blue Rock Springs Park when almost immediately another car parked behind them. The car, though, later left, only to return once more—10 minutes later. The driver exited the car carrying a flashlight and a 9 mm Luger (gun). He approached the passenger side of the car where Darlene sat, shined the flashlight in their eyes and immediately shot both of them. Bullets passed through both victims. A total of five bullets were used at first, but when the killer walked away Michael moaned out in pain—the killer returned and shot both victims twice. Shockingly, Michael would still survive despite his wounds, but poor Darlene would die in the hospital. Michael would be able to give the first description of the man that tried to kill him. He described the killer as a young white male that looked about 26-30 years old, stocky, at least 200 lb. with a height of approximately of 5'8 with a large face and light curly brown hair.
It was late midnight when the Vallejo police received a call from a man at a gas station located less then a mile from Darlene's home. This would be the first of many indirect conversations between the killer, the police, and the newspapers. The man had called to take horrific responsibility for the killings of the high school students.
On August of 1969, the Vallejo Times Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner received almost identical letters from the Zodiac. In fact, this was the first time the killer identified himself as the Zodiac. Each letter contained a cryptogram in which the Zodiac claimed whoever could crack the code would know who the killer was; the killer demanded that the code be printed in front paper or he would strike again and take more lives. He boasted that he would "cruse around all weekend killing lone people in the night until [he] end[ed] up with over a dozen people over the weekend". The letters were signed off with the now-notorious and most infamous evil signature known in the history of serial killings. (below)
It was on August 8th, 1969 when a couple, Donald and Bettye Harden, cracked the code that was sent to the newspapers. The code was read and reread again and again, and there was nothing that said his name, but there was a reason behind his killings. He said that he was killing people to collect them as slaves for the afterlife. Yes apparently once you kill a person, they become your slave in the afterlife. He also mentioned that he would not tell the police his name otherwise they would only try and slow him down. Obviously. The message that was cracked is written below.
"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 OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI"
A part of this cracked code was actually quoting the infamous book by Richard Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game" or as it was also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff". The book is about a man who becomes a prisoner of a hunter's game. The hunter hunts humans because according to him— "man is the most dangerous animal of all".
Attack #3 - Lake Berryessa - September 27th, 1969
A couple by the names of Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, students at Pacific Union College, were on a picnic when a man wearing a executioner-type hood approached them with a gun. The hood had small holes for the person to see through, and they were covered by clip-on glasses. In the center of his chest was a white cross circle symbol, just as the one below.
The Zodiac (which was unbeknowest to the unfortunate couple) claimed to be an escaped convict from a prison by the name of Deer Lodge Montana. He ordered Cecelia to tie up Bryan with rope, before tying Cecelia up himself. This was indeed an odd robbery. Only seconds later did they realize, this was not a robbery as the killer stabbed them multiple times. The Zodiac would then travel back to Bryan's car and engrave the Zodiac symbol on his car with a code written under it. Later, he would call Napa County's Sheriff's Office to report the assault.
Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27–69–6:30/by knife.
Only Bryan would live to tell his tale despite being stabbed six times, because Cecelia would die in the hospital. Now Hartnell described the man as 5'8-6 ft, heavy set with approximately a 225-250 lb weight, and dark brown hair seen through the holes of the mask. Now the code above states the dates of all three killings along with the phrase "by knife" written under the September 27th date.
Attack #4 - Presidio Heights Attack - October 11th, 1969
It was just before 10 PM in San Francisco, CA on the intersection between Washington and Cherry ST, a cab driver by the name of Paul Stine was shot in the head by his head passenger. (Wonder who that could be?) Now originally Paul had picked up his passenger on the intersection of Mason and Geary St and was asked to driver to Presidio Heights which fell on the intersection of Washington and Maple St. For unknown reasons, Paul drove an extra block letting his murder happen on the intersection of Cherry and Washington. A teenager and 2 other witnesses heard the gun shot and got a good look of the man as he wiped down the car and walked away.
The witnesses described the man as a white male, 25-30 years old, stocky with a 5'8-5'9 build, reddish-brown crew haircut and heavy rimmed glasses. Now wait for it—the chaos of the situation was SO bad, that the police accidentally got the description of a African American male. This would cause disastrous consequences.
Later on, a police car that was driven by Don Fouke and Eric Zelms would happen upon a white male walking on the sidewalk that fit the description of the witnesses. The policemen described him as a white male, 5'10 with a 170 lb build, 40 years old, glasses, and red-brown crew cut hair. But since the police were in the search of a AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE, they would ignore the most notorious criminal in American history. (*sigh...) Now how do we know this was the Zodiac? Well, in his next letter to the police, he would write and I quote, " PS 2 cops pulled a goof about 3 min after I left the cab".
Later on, a composite sketch would be drawn based on the two description told by the teenager and police. It became one of the most famous WANTED posters of all time (below).
Another piece of evidence that was left at the crime scene would be a bloody fingerprint, only to have the Zodiac mention that he left it there on purpose to throw off the police. The Zodiac also sent a piece of Paul Stine's bloodied shirt to prove he was his killer. To make it even worse, the Zodiac quoted that "school children make nice targets. I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tire and then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out". Later he included bomb diagrams that could be used on buses. As you can imagine, waves of terror swept the city.
On April 20th of 1970, another letter was sent in to the San Francisco Chronicle.
This cipher has yet to be solved. Now the letters to the media and police would continue until 1971, then stop abruptly. Once more in 1974, the Zodiac would send another letter claiming to kill 37 people.
But the mystery does not stop here. No, we still have to cover all the potential suspects as well more potential attacks done by the Zodiac...
Theory #1 from Gary Steward
Gary Steward believed that his father, Earl Van Best Jr. was the Zodiac. His first piece of evidence that proved this was the uncanny resemblance between his father and the composite sketch.
His name also matches the number of letters in the uncracked cipher from above. Also, Steward says that a handwriting expert is "virtually certain" that Best's handwriting from the marriage certificate matches the Zodiac's handwriting.
But, according to a admin from the Church where Best's certificate was approved, the handwriting is not of Best's, but of the priest. (PLOT TWIST) As well as the composite sketch, Best does not match the "heavy set" from the descriptions.
Theory #2 from Robert Graysmith
This theory came from the 2002 movie "The Zodiac", in which actor Jake Gyllenhaal plays the young cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who actually was a political cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle during the Zodiac killings. Who did Robert Graysmith think was the Zodiac? A man named Arthur Leigh Allen. The day of the Lake Berryessa attacks, Allen told his family he was going scuba diving—at Lake Berryessa. When he came home that evening, it is reported that he was covered in blood and had a bloody knife in his car. Later on, one of his close friends, Don Cheney, reported that before the Zodiac was even publicly known as the Zodiac, Allen referred to himself as the Zodiac. Cheney also mentioned that Allen was planning on hunting PEOPLE with a gun and flashlight.
This would result in several police interviews. In the second interview, Allen would say that his favorite book was "The Most Dangerous Game". The exact book from where the "man is the most dangerous game of all" quote appeared from. During this interview, Allen was also wearing a Zodiac brand watch which contained the infamous Zodiac symbol used by the killer. Next the police scavenged Allen's trailer where they found diagrams and formulas for bombs, bloody knives, and other sexual devices. Which leads us to the next piece of evidence about Allen. Allen was put into jail for three years due to conviction of child molestation in 1974. During this time, the media and police DID NOT receive any letters from the Zodiac.
In fact in 1987, Allen's inmate, Ralph Spinelli, told the police that Allen admitted the fact he had killed Paul Stine. And to add to that, a detective interviewed the Zodiac's 2nd victim in 1991, Mageau. He showed Mageau a lineup of photographs of possible suspects of the Zodiac, Allen being one of them. Mageau picked Arthur Leigh Allen. But when the police interviewed Allen again, he denied these allegations.
A year later, Allen is found dead from a suspected heart attack. Now some reasons why Allen may not be the Zodiac— they took his DNA and tried to match it to some DNA extracted from the saliva from the back of the stamps he used on his post letters. They did not match. Along with the bloody fingerprint found on Stine's car, again it was not a match. He undergoed handwriting analysis, and once more it does not match the Zodiac's letters. He also looks nothing like the infamous WANTED poster sketch.
Another theory is that a man named Lawrence "Kane" Kaye was the Zodiac. The reasons are a bit of a stretch, but they can also not be a coincidence. You'll see what I mean. For one thing, Kane's name fit the 'My Name is ______' cipher. In the cipher, there are 3 "8" circles (circles that have the number 8 in them). 8 times 3 in 24, and coincidentally, Kane was born in 1924. Additionally, the Zodiac's 2nd victims, Darlene Ferrin, had a sister who told police that Kane was actually stalking Darlene weeks leading up to the murders. Adding to that, Don Fouke, one of the officers who actually came by the Zodiac only to dismiss him due to his skin color, said that in the hundreds of photos of suspects he had seen of the Zodiac—Kane's was the closest he could remember to the killer.
Kane also lived exactly six minutes away from where Paul Stine was picked up. Not to mention in 1970, he moved to Lake Tahoe. Now that year in that place, there was a possible Zodiac killing. I say possible, because detectives are still unsure if this was exactly a Zodiac murder or not. The person's name was Donna Lass. She disappeared that same year, and suspiciously she was working at the same South Lake Tahoe hotel as Kane was.
There is also one more piece of evidence, another possible interaction between the Zodiac and his victim. It was on the night of March 22, 1970 on HW 132 when Kathleen Johns and her baby were tricked into riding the Zodiac's car. After entering the car, the Zodiac sped off and told her that she was going to kill Kathleen and throw her baby after her. When the Zodiac was about to make a turn, Johns jumped out of the car with her child and ran into a nearby field. A letter from the Zodiac confirmed this incident quoting " So I now have a little list, starting with the woeman [Note: spelling mistakes are done on purpose] plus her baby that I gave a rather interesting ride." Johns was extremely important, because she had quite extended facetime with the Zodiac. So when shown a lineup of photos, she chose the picture of Kane.
Evidently, once more, there was some evidence against Kane. The DNA extracts did not match up with his nor with the fingerprints. Along with the handwriting analysis, they did not match as well as his face did not match up with the WANTED sketch.
And these were only some of the theories as the Zodiac to this day still remains as a unsolved story. He claims to have taken thirty-seven lives into the afterlife. Perhaps they were copycat killings, several people doing the same job. Who knows, maybe the PD left something out? This man (or men) is one of the most compelling serial killers of all time. The only question left is—Do you think you have solved the mystery of the Zodiac Killer?