The Unsolved Crimes of the Zodiac Killer

In Vallejo, California on the 20th of December, 1968, 17 year old David Arthur Faraday and 16 year old Betty Lou Jensen were sitting in a parked car on Lake Herman Road. At approximately 11 p.m., the Zodiac killer approached the vehicle and shot them both.

Once again the Zodiac called the police approximately an hour after the attack. This call was traced to a payphone located just a few minutes from the police station.

Betty’s lifeless body was found 30 feet from the car. David was found alive but died on route to the hospital.

6 months later on the 4th of July, 1969, 19 year old Michael Renault Mageau was on a date with 22 year old Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin.

The pair parked at Blue Rock Springs Park – a location just 7.5 miles from Lake Hernan Road. At approximately midnight the Zodiac approached the car from behind and shot them. Both were clinging to life when police arrived on the scene – Michael ultimately survived the attack, Darlene did not.

Michael provided the first description of the Zodiac; a white male around 26 – 30 years old, approximately 5 feet 8 inches – 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighed between 170 – 200 lbs, had curly light brown hair, wore glasses, and had a large, rounded face.

An hour after the shooting police dispatchers received a phone call from the Zodiac confessing to the recent murder of Darlene and the double murder of David and Betty.

Zodiac and the Press

On August 1st, 1969, 3 Newspapers (The Vallejo Times Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner) all received near-identical handwritten letters from the killer. All 3 were signed with a circle containing a cross – the symbol now universally known as the mark of the Zodiac.

Along with these letters came 3 sets of codes. The Zodiac demanded these codes be printed in the papers, or else he would kill again. Afraid of the outcome if they refused, all 3 papers printed the code.

3 days later on August 4th, another letter was received which in part stated,

This is the Zodiac speaking. In answer to your asking for more details about the good times I 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’ll have me.

Amazingly on August 8th a couple named Donald and Bettye Harden cracked one of the codes. The message stated,

“I like killing because it is so much fun, it is even more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill. Something gives me the most thrilling experience. It is more fun than getting your rocks off with a girl. The best part of it is that when I die I will be reborn in paradise and those I have killed will become my slaves. I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down or stop my collecting of slaves for the afterlife.”

On the 27th of September, 22 year old Cecelia Shepard and 20 year old Bryan Hartnell were having a picnic by Lake Berryessa. Cecelia spotted a man hiding behind a tree watching the pair. Moments later the Zodiac approach them.

He wore an executioner style mask and his symbol was brandished across his chest. He carried a knife, a gun, and rope. He proceeded to tie up the pair and stab them – Cecelia was stabbed approximately 10 times and Bryan was stabbed around 6 times. Cecelia died from her injuries 2 days later whilst in hospital. Bryan survived.

A note was left on Bryan’s car that read,

Vallejo
12 – 20 – 68
7 – 4 – 69
Sept 27 – 69 – 6:30
by knife.

The Zodiac sign was also written on the car.

Once again the Zodiac called the police approximately an hour after the attack. This call was traced to a payphone located just a few minutes from the police station.

On October 11th at around 9.50 p.m., a taxi driver named Paul Stein was shot once in the head by his passenger. The killer left behind a single bloody fingerprint.

When authorities arrived on scene a witness described seeing a white male with glasses exiting the taxi after the attack. Unfortunately, a miscommunication between officers lead some to believe the suspect was a black male with glasses.

Two officers on patrol near the scene spotted a white male and approached him. The officers asked if he had witnessed anything strange – he replied yes, a suspicious man ran past him waving a gun just moments ago. Police left in pursuit.

3 days later police received another letter from the Zodiac. This letter detailed Paul’s murder and confirmed that he was close to being caught that day. The letter in part read,

2 cops pulled a goof about 3 mins after I left the cab. I was walking down the hill to the park when this cop car pulled up and one of them called me over and asked if I saw anyone acting suspicious or strange in the last 5 to 10 mins and I said yes there was a man running by waving a gun and the cops peeled rubber and went around the corner as I directed them. I disappeared into the park a block and a half away never to be seen again.

In the same letter, the Zodiac stated he was leaving fake clues for the police to follow – leaving many to wonder if the bloody fingerprint left behind belonged to the Zodiac or if it was a carefully orchestrated rouse.

The following day the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter that horrifyingly read,

“The S.F. police could have caught me last night […]. 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.”

Included with this letter was potions of Paul’s shirt and several diagrams of homemade explosive devices.

On March 22nd, 1970, Kathleen Jones and her baby were driving down a San Francisco highway. A car pulled up beside her and motioned for her to pull over. She complied.

The Zodiac approached her by claiming he spotted a problem with her tire. He offered to fix it and she accepted. After tampering with Kathleen’s tire he motioned for her to drive on. When she did so her tire almost immediately fell off.

The Zodiac then offered to accompany Kathleen to the mechanic. Once again, she agreed. When they were in the car together he began threating her with death. When the car was at a stop Kathleen grabbed her baby, jumped out of the car, and lay face down in an open field. The Zodiac looked for her but was unsuccessful. He then drove off and vanished into the traffic.

Shortly after another letter arrived at the police station. In part, it read,

“[There was a] woman plus her baby I gave a rather interesting ride.”

On April 20th of the same year, another letter arrived to police. This on simply stated, “my name is –” followed by 13 characters of code.

The Zodiac letters stopped in 1971. Three years later, they began again. On January 29th, 1974. The Zodiac sent a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle that in part read,

Me – 37, SFPD – 0.

6 months later, the Zodiac once again disappeared…

The Suspects:

1) Ted Cruz

Around 2015 – 2016, a hoax conspiracy theory pointed to US Senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz as the culprit due to his resemblance to the police composite sketch.

This theory is easily discredit with basic math – the first confirmed murder committed by the Zodiac was 1968, Cruz was born in 1970.

2) Lawrence Kane

There are 3 pieces of evidence linking Kane to the killings. Firstly, Kane worked in the navy and part of his duties included deciphering codes.

Secondly, he was identified by both Darlene’s sister and Kathleen – Darlene’s sister pointed him out as the man Darlene had repeatedly seen and was frightened of and Kathleen selected him during a police line-up. And thirdly, Kane lived near multiple victims / crime scenes.

3) Louis Joseph Myers

Upon learning he was dying of a terminal illness, Myers confessed to a friend that he was the Zodiac killer. Myers was known to have links to many of the victims – he attended the same high school as David and Betty Lou and it suspected he worked in a restaurant with Darlene at some point.

4) Earl Van Best Jr

Gary Stewart wrote a book titled The Most Dangerous Animal Of All which detailed his theory – his father was the Zodiac.

His evidence includes Best’s resemblance to the police sketch, his name containing the correct amount of letters to correlate with the Zodiac’s code (13), and a handwriting expert claiming he was, “virtually certain” Best’s sample was a match to the Zodiac letters.

Unfortunately, the tested handwriting sample came from Best’s marriage certificate. Many skeptics argue that the handwriting analysed was not Best’s – it was the writing of the priest who conducted the ceremony.

5) Richard Gaikowski

Gaikowski’s voice was identified to be that of the killer by Nancy Slover, the Vallejo police dispatcher who took the Zodiac’s call on the 4th of July.

6) Arthur Lee Allen

Allen is perhaps the name most commonly associated with the case for a number of reasons…

  • One of Allen’s friends confirmed to police that he gave himself the nickname ‘Zodiac’ before the killings began. Another friend alleged that Allen expressed a desire to hunt and kill humans.
  • Allen was confirmed to be at Lake Berryessa on the 27th of September, 1969. He allegedly came home that night covered in blood.
  • Michael identified Allen during a police line-up.
  • Whilst under interrogation, Allen expressed his love for the book The Most Dangerous Game, which is about a man who hunts couples using a gun and a knife. The phrase ‘the most dangerous game’ was also used by the Zodiac in one of his letters.
  • Allen wore a brand of watch called Zodiac. The watches logo just so happened to be the sign of the killer.
  • When police searched his property, dissected animals were found in his freezer and blueprints for homemade bombs were discovered.
  • Allen was imprisoned for child molestation in 1971 – 1974, the same years the letters stopped and began again.
  • His former cellmate claimed that Allen confided in him that he killed Paul Stein.

However, there is also evidence to suggest Allen was not involved – his DNA, palm print, and the handwriting was compared to the Zodiac. It was not a match.

Will The Zodiac Ever Be Caught?

In 2018, the Vallejo Police Department began the process of extracting DNA from the stamps of the Zodiac letters in an effort to subject the sample to modern testing.

With the technological advances in the field of forensic DNA testing in mind, one cannot say with certainty that the identity of the Zodiac will forever remain a mystery – for hope, look at the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo (otherwise known as the Golden State Killer) 40+ years after his killing spree.

Only time will tell if the identity of the Zodiac will be revealed.

Today, the Zodiac murders remain unsolved.

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