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Who Was the Zodiac Killer?
At least five deaths in Northern California in 1968 and 1969 had a direct link to the self-described Zodiac Killer; there may have been more. His first three victims were isolated couples; two of them made it out alive.
A cab driver who was killed on October 11, 1969, in San Francisco was his last recorded victim. Zodiac gained attention and incited fear by communicating with authorities and the public through ciphers, letters, information, and threats both during and after his murderous rampage. Since October 1969, no murder has been officially connected to the Zodiac Killer, yet the case still fascinates.
Despite thorough investigations, no one has ever been taken into custody for the offenses, and the matter is still pending. Many novels and films have addressed the murders' mystery, notably filmmaker David Fincher's critically praised 2007 film Zodiac.
The Zodiac Killer Murdered Five People in A Year
Although there are five confirmed killings and two attempted murders that the Zodiac Killer is accountable for, there may be other crimes that he is also accountable for.
David Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, were shot on their first date on December 20, 1968, in Benicia, California, as they were parked in a lovers' lane.
At first, police had no notion that a serial killer was behind these murders. As a result, the inquiry took more conventional routes, such looking into Jensen's ex-boyfriend. Later, Jensen's close friend revealed to SF Weekly, "The detectives all agreed that drugs had to be involved. They objected to any additional information."
Less than seven months later, on July 5, 1969, early in the morning at the Blue Rock Springs Golf Club in Vallejo, California, Mike Mageau, 19, and Darlene Ferrin, 22, were shot numerous times while inside Ferrin's automobile. Mageau survived the injuries to his leg, shoulder, and jaw while Ferrin was fatally wounded.
Zodiac called the Vallejo police department to report the incident less than one hour after the attack. He said: "I also killed those kids last year," referring to Faraday and Jensen, during the call.
Bryan Hartnell, 20, and Cecilia Shepard, 22, were enjoying a picnic at Lake Berryessa in Napa County on September 27, 1969. A man with a cowl bearing the image of two intersecting lines in a circle approached them. After tying up Shepard and Hartnell and threatening them with a gun, the man stabbed the two of them.
When assistance arrived, Shepard and Hartnell were both still alive. Shepard eventually passed away from her injuries, but Hartnell survived.
On October 11, 1969, Zodiac boarded Paul Stine's 29-year-old taxi in San Francisco. Zodiac shot Stine in the head inside the cab.
Police arrived quickly because there were witnesses to Stine's murder. The murderer was characterized by the witnesses as Caucasian, between 25 and 30 years old, with crew-cut hair, glasses, and white skin. Officers saw a man who fit this description after assuming the murder to be a robbery, but a dispatcher had misinformed them that the culprit was Black. The Zodiac Killer was not apprehended, and the individual was permitted to escape.
Zodiac Killer Letters, Symbol & Cipher
A handwritten letter without a return address was delivered to the Vallejo Times-Herald, San Francisco Examiner, and San Francisco Chronicle on August 1, 1969. The letters contained information about the Zodiac Killer's crimes that only the killer could have known, and they all began, "Dear Editor: I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman." If the messages weren't printed on the front page of the newspapers, the killer threatened other attacks.
Each letter ended with a sign that would later become known as the Zodiac Killer's symbol, which was a circle with a cross across it. Also, he included one of a three-part cipher that he claimed contained his identity with each letter.
Another letter soon appeared at the San Francisco Examiner as Bay Area police forces and the FBI worked tirelessly to find the murderer. It began, "Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking," and went on to give a detailed account of the murders while mocking authorities for failing to decipher his code or apprehend him.
High school teacher Donald Harden and his wife, Bettye, were able to decipher the cipher a few days later. It read, "I enjoy killing people because it is so enjoyable. "Because man is the most deadly animal of all, it is more enjoyable than killing wild game in the forest."
The San Francisco Chronicle received a letter alleging the murder of cab driver Paul Stine in 1969, the fourth documented Zodiac slaying, three days later. It described Stine's murder in detail and was accompanied with a bloodied fragment of Stine's shirt in the same erratic print as the Zodiac's earlier letters.
According to biography.com, The Zodiac Killer resumed his sarcastic correspondence with Bay Area newspapers in which he added further ciphers, asserted responsibility for a number of other deaths, and made fun of the police for failing to apprehend him.
The letters ceased in 1974, but the probe has not.