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18.11.2014
Apart from the crimes themselves, the Zodiac killer is notable for two unusual characteristics. The second of the Zodiac killer's noteworthy characteristics was his penchant for ciphers - a type of cryptogram in which messages are concealed by replacing letters with symbols. The following sequence of events highlights the most important developments in the story of the Zodiac killer. What little hope there is for bringing some degree of closure to the case of the Zodiac lies with the small but intense contingent of people who remain active in the fight to identify the killer.
NewsletterGet special access to our Newspaper Archive when you sign up for Zodiac Revisited email list. Most high-concept serial killers are the product of a deranged Hollywood screenwriter, but the Zodiac Killer was the real deal. Zodiac played an extremely public cat-and-mouse game with the police, sending letters and postcards, some encoded in elaborate ciphers.
The earliest estimates point back to a 1963 murder, but the "official" first victims were David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, two Vallejo teenagers who were shot while parked in a secluded spot on December 20, 1968. Although this was the first attack that is conclusively linked to Zodiac, there were earlier killings which matched the M.O. Neither case has been conclusively tied to the Zodiac Killer, but there would eventually be ample reason to think they should. Whether or not the earlier cases were connected, the Zodiac was certainly building a portfolio back in 1969.
Shortly after the shootings, a man called police and provided enough details to convince them he was the killer. The killer did not identify himself, but signed his letters with a symbol -- a circle with a cross drawn through it. The cipher was quickly translated, but it apparently failed to disclose the identity of the killer.
Police tried to draw out the killer, saying that the first letters didn't provide enough detail to convince them the letter writer was who he claimed to be. Zodiac struck again in September 1969, assaulting on two young adults out on a date near Napa. Zodiac struck again just a couple weeks later, shooting a San Francisco cab driver in the head once. The new letter was ominous in its tone, mocking the police for walking right past him (due to a police dispatcher's misidentification of the suspect as black).
The school bus threat prompted an understandable outpouring of alarm, considering the Zodiac's track record.
Despite his newfound national celebrity, Zodiac followed the letter with a jokey postcard, including a new cipher and the ominous postscript, "could you print this new cipher on your frunt page? The next letter came just a few days later, including a diagram of a bomb he had designed to blow up school buses and the brazen taunt, "The police will never catch me, because I have been too clever for them." Clever he might have been, but a bomb-maker he was not. Zodiac remained more or less true to his promise that he would no longer announce his murders, making it difficult to assess how many more lives he claimed during his active career.
At the end of 1969, the killer sent a Christmas card to San Francisco personal injury attorney Melvin Belli, along with another piece of the cab driver's bloody shirt, in order to establish its veracity.
Although the letter was authenticated by the scrap of evidence, the content and format were markedly different than the previous Zodiac communiques. When San Fransciscans failed to comply with his request, he sent a follow-up letter in June that claimed to have shot a man as punishment (noting the number "12" as the apparent tally of his victims so far).
It went on for several more verses, mostly proving that Zodiac was a more gifted killer than he was a poet.
Without specific claims of responsibility, the Zodiac's continuing "rampage" was difficult to verify. Initially, investigators seized on the new case as part of the Zodiac canon, but they later backtracked.
The letter was not signed with the crossed circle, nor opened with the trademark phrase, "This is the Zodiac speaking," but it was authenticated by handwriting experts. After 1974, the correspondence came to a complete halt, with the exception of a couple of 1978 notes believed to be forgeries. Aside from the melodrama, there are many astonishing elements to the story of the Zodiac Killer, not least of which being the fact he was never caught or even identified, despite leaving a veritable mountain of physical evidence for investigators to work with. Dozens of fingerprints were lifted from Zodiac crime scenes and from the letters themselves, even though the killer had boasted of his precautions against such an eventuality. Despite the letters, despite the prints, despite the use of potentially traceable guns, despite numerous eyewitness sightings, despite several as-yet unsolved ciphers, Zodiac has slipped away into history like a ghost.
The most closely studied suspect was a Vallejo schoolteacher named Arthur Leigh Allen, who was quite the excellent suspect on the face of it.
Allen had been fired from one elementary school teaching job for bringing a loaded weapon to school and from another for molesting a young student (a crime which he would commit again). A surviving Zodiac victim picked Allen out of a line-up (about 20 years after the attack had taken place).
In 1991, a police search of Allen's home yielded a massive cache of weapons and bomb-making materials, including several weapons of the same caliber used in the Zodiac killings, as well as newspaper clippings related to Zodiac and the aforementioned watch. There's ample evidence that the investigation left much to be desired, but Allen was finally eliminated as a suspect based on two facts which are difficult to get around -- the most definitive Zodiac fingerprints, taken from the bloody cab in San Francisco, did not match Allen's fingerprints, and Allen's DNA did not match the DNA of whomever licked Zodiac's stamps. It's also possible to imagine scenarios in which Allen was somehow involved in the Zodiac killings without actually committing the murders, or not all of them at least.
For reasons clear only to them, police have long since closed the books on the Allen investigation. The most infamous Zodiac suspect was Theodore Kaczynski, better known by his supervillain name, the Unabomber. The question certainly seemed academic to the San Francisco Police Department, which closed its Zodiac investigation in April of 2004, under pressure to turn its attention to the city's burgeoning gang problem. As if on cue, in August 2004, police found a young couple shot to death on a Sonoma County beach, just 100 miles from the original Zodiac rampage. On the other hand, Zodiac would be about 70 now, and you don't see too many 70-year-old serial killers on the post office walls.
In my estimation, everyone on this list honestly believes (or believed) in his or her respective accusation.
So, if you are aware of an accuser or an accused person who is missing from our little list, or if you have suggestions in terms of updating an existing entry, please provide your input through a comment or by way of the contact page. If I agree, I will update the list.
When multiple people advocate for the guilt of a particular person - as is often the case - I will select one person as the representative accuser. If I have a question mark below, I would appreciate additional information from anyone who has knowledge of the accusation.
The fundamental premise of Horan's book challenges the most basic, seemingly self-evident, assumption in the case of the Zodiac: that the killer even existed.
While I appreciate the general idea of questioning all that is known and accepted, I must be honest and point out that I find little value in Horan's arguments. Add to this the argumentative and antagonistic style Horan uses when responding to legitimate questions about his positions (simply see the comments from this post), and my desire to do anything to help the author all but evaporates.
During the calls to police following the attacks at Blue Rock Springs and Lake Berryessa, the fact that the caller did not say "This is the Zodiac speaking" is strong evidence that the caller was not the Zodiac. The failure of Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard's assailant to verbally identify himself as the Zodiac suggests he was not the Zodiac. It's a reasonable possibility that a person who was not the attacker but was the letter writer wrote on Bryan Hartnell's car door following the attack at Lake Berryessa. The fact that the Stine letter describes the location of the crime scene as "by Washington St.


I have become so sick of all the agendas that I gave Horan credit for his theory but after reading your take I see why it is extremely unlikely. Had ZODIAC not mailed the letter with the bloody token, the murder of Paul Stine would appear as an ordinary, brutal cabbie robbery gone bad. What is most interesting is that except for a couple of words, he spells correctly, much better, in fact, than in his earlier letters. He declares himself, then makes sure that he presents the proof he is the killer, then ends with a threat— in this case, his famous threat to kill school kids. The Zodiac, also known as the Zodiac Killer, is an as-of-yet unidentified serial killer who was active in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
First, he sent numerous handwritten, taunting letters and greeting cards to newspapers in the Bay Area, especially the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Zodiac murders David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen on a remote lover's lane turnout of Lake Herman Road in Vallejo, California.
The killer next strikes just after midnight on the 4th of July when he attacks a couple as they are sitting and talking in a secluded Vallejo parking lot, approximately four miles from the previous murder site.
The Zodiac viciously attacks two college students, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, as they are enjoying each other's company in a secluded area of the Lake Berryessa shoreline.
A couple of days after Stine's murder, the Zodiac killer sends a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in he which takes credit for the recent crimes. Throughout the remainder of 1969 and 1970, the killer continues to communicate with law enforcement and the public by way of additional letters to the Chronicle and, in one case, famed defense attorney Melvin Belli.
Kathleen Johns is driving herself and her infant daughter from Southern California to Petaluma. Chronicle reporter Paul Avery discovers and reports on the possibility that the man who is the Zodiac killer was also responsible for the October 30, 1966 murder of a nineteen-year-old college coed, Cheri Jo Bates, in the Southern California city of Riverside. The killer sends a letter to the Los Angeles Times as well as his final pre-hiatus communique which takes the form of a cryptic postcard mailed to the Chronicle. After a silence of nearly three years, the killer re-emerges by way of a letter that he pens to the Chronicle in his standard cryptic fashion. Despite the best efforts of thousands of people - some professional, others not - the identity of the Zodiac remains unknown. In a killing spree that started no later than 1968 and ended no earlier than 1972, the Zodiac Killer murdered at least seven people, but in letters to San Francisco newspapers and criminal attorney Melvin Belli, he claimed the total was much higher -- it was just that the authorities hadn't identified all of his victims. Nobody really knows exactly when Zodiac launched his killing spree, because you can't find four out of five experts who agree on who the first victim was. The letters sent in Riverside certainly showed many elements of Zodiac's later style, although there were differences as well. He included a three-part cipher which supposedly contained the secret of his identity and demanded that each of the three newspapers publish one part on their respective front pages, threatening a dozen more murders if his request was not met. Once they were bound, he produced a knife and stabbed them repeatedly and with great enthusiasm, then scrawled a message on the car door -- signed with the crossed-circle -- before making his escape. In addition to the grisly trophy enclosed in the envelope, the letter contained a threat: "Schoolchildren make nice targets. The police urged the Chronicle to withhold the letter for a week, while they discreetly began coaching bus drivers on how to respond in the event of an attack.
But he didn't stop writing letters, and the notes that continued to emerge gave some insight into his twisted psyche. Earlier letters had been scrawled haphazardly across the page; this letter was carefully printed, although it contained the same erratic spelling and punctuation found in the earlier Zodiac notes. A Halloween card sent to a Chronicle reporter upped the victim tally to 14, and a subsequent letter to the L.A.
Police and many of the "Zodiac hobbyists" lurking on the Web and elsewhere now believe that the Riverside killings were not an authentic Zodiac case, but the similarities are hard to dismiss. Times (which some have assailed as a forgery), Zodiac went completely silent, for reasons unknown. After the receipt of this letter, a spate of follow-ups emerged, but none could be authenticated, and none of them seemed to reflect the earlier subject matter. The prints included several blood-spattered examples which almost certainly belonged to the killer.
A weapons nut who told acquaintances his favorite book was the people-hunting classic The Most Dangerous Game, and he reportedly wore a Zodiac-brand watch -- sporting the company's logo, a circle with a cross through it. Friends and acquaintances reported that Allen virtually confessed to being the Zodiac killer at different times, but always couching the confessions in the form of fantasies or the premise for a novel. And the confirmed Zodiac letters came to a crashing halt after Allen was arrested on a charge of child molestation in 1974 and spent a couple years in prison. Despite all this, no charges were ever filed, and even after Allen's death from natural causes in 1992, police declined to identify him as the killer. The police investigated Allen, and any given person's view of the investigation's completeness is highly dependent on whether that person believes Allen was the killer.
While these are not quite infallible indicators, they are fairly compelling, particularly the fingerprints. For instance, Allen may have committed some (but not all) of the murders attributed to Zodiac.
But there are other suspects as well, some relatively anonymous figures who are compelling for one reason or another, including one of the lesser known members of the Manson family. Both were homicidal Bay Area residents, and both had a tendency to seek out front page news coverage.
After all, the killer would likely be in his 70s by now, if he's even alive, and no one has heard a peep from him in decades. In March 2004, the Zodiac-influenced "BTK" killer suddenly resurfaced in Kansas with a letter to the media. And if the killing really represents an ego-driven comeback by the one and only, it's hard to imagine Zodiac would not dash off a letter announcing his triumphant return. One of the key takeaways, however, is that only one of these people can possibly be correct. Your neighbor Joe who told you that his strange uncle is the Zodiac Killer one time after overindulging in his vice of choice does not qualify. The current version of the book is heavily redacted starting from, approximately, the two-thirds point.
However, it's impossible for me to conclude that doing so would amount to anything more than a waste of time.
If you agree with observations such as the ones below (all of which are taken from the book, in essence), you may find it worth reading. But, Horan has been screaming at the top of his lungs that he's the only one who's bothered to actually read the relevant documents (blah, blah, blah) and he's been insulting people who have made significant and meaningful contributions to the status of the case.
All they have to do is read the letters and PD files themselves, with or without my book as a guide.
It was his hasty August 4, 1969, letter that was noteworthy for being written on a different paper. He definitely murdered five people and seriously injured two others over a ten month period between December 20, 1968 and October 11, 1969.
In uncharacteristic fashion, he hails a cab in downtown San Francisco and rides to an upscale San Francisco neighborhood where he murders the driver, Paul Stine, by shooting him once in the head. Accompanying the missive is a piece of Paul Stine's bloody shirt thereby removing all doubt regarding the veracity of the author's claim. These letters include three additional ciphers (none of which have ever been solved), bizarre pleas for attention, unusual references to the Mikado (a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta), cryptic drawings and a revised threat in which the killer claims he will now blow up a school bus. The evidence in the case includes an eerie typewritten letter, entitled The Confession, that the murderer sent to police and the local newspaper.


The postcard seems to suggest that the killer is taking credit for the disappearance of a nurse, Donna Lass, who was last seen on September 6, 1970 in South Lake Tahoe. The ensuing few months see three additional communiques that authorities believe or suspect are authored by the killer, but, importantly, not under the persona of the Zodiac.
In many ways, society has evolved to a point where it is content to let the case of the Zodiac remain one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time.A Several of the people directly involved with the case - both from the perspective of law enforcement and also that of the victims' families - have departed this world without the satisfaction of any meaningful resolution. The killing had some unusual features, or rather it lacked the usual features associated with murder -- there was no sign of robbery, no trace of sexual assault, no particular mayhem beyond what typically results from a shooting. In 1963, two teenagers had been shot to death in Santa Barbara, several hundred miles to the south, with a small-caliber rifle.
According to the victims, the killer was decked out in a costume worthy of a supervillain, with a hood covering his face and sporting on his chest the crossed-circle emblem that Zodiac used to sign his letters.
Shepard survived long enough to provide a description of the costume to police, but died from her wounds. But in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle two days later, Zodiac claimed responsibility -- and enclosed a bloody scrap of the cab driver's shirt as proof. He also warned that he would no longer announce his murders, which would henceforth appear to be routine killings, robberies or even accidents.
A woman claimed that she and her baby were kidnapped by Zodiac, but her story was full of holes. I've got a little list, of society offenders who might well be underground who would never be missed who would never be missed.
Since the afterlife was outside the jurisdiction of the SFPD, no preventative action was taken. In 1974, he inexplicably resurfaced with a movie review of The Exorcist, which he described as the best "satirical comedy" he had ever seen. Some of the letters had similar handwriting characteristics but omitted the spelling errors, which suggested to some that Zodiac's bad spelling may have been a red herring designed to throw off any would-be profilers.
He might have been working with an accomplice, or he may have simply written the letters on behalf of the real killer.
However, this is generally considered a long shot, and forensic testing has reportedly ruled out everyone's favorite serial bomber as a Zodiac suspect. Furthermore, the killer may already be in prison for some other crime, which no one has happened to connect with Zodiac's spree. There was no sign of robbery or sexual assault -- just what you might expect from a serial killer whose ego had been bruised by police indifference and a copycat grabbing all the headlines. Note that I'm purposefully avoiding the label "Zodiac Killer Suspects" because a large number of them are not suspects in any real sense of the word.
A more likely situation, in my humble assessment, is that none of these accusations are correct. Great thing is, a lot of these names aren’t well known to many people, so it gives people some alternatives. Supposedly, a less-redacted and otherwise augmented version of the book will be made available in the future.
Clearly, as is the case with so many other Zodiac-Killer theorists, there is nothing I (or anyone else) can say that would change Horan's mind regarding his beliefs. This just happens to support my own personal view that this is where he killed the cab driver and then seized the wheel and guided the cab to the next intersection. But without this San Francisco killing, his reign of publicity terror would probably never have come about. There is also evidence to suggest that the same man is responsible for: additional murders in Southern California, the abduction of a young mother and her infant daughter near Modesto and the disappearance of a nurse in South Lake Tahoe. One is currently unsolved but substantial enough that it may eventually be solved (the 340). A In the letters, he takes credit for the attacks, providing information about the crimes that police have not disclosed to the public. After gaining control of the situation with a gun, he hogties both victims and proceeds to stab first Bryan and then Cecelia.
He ends the letter by threatening to kill school children "as they come bouncing out" of the bus. The integrity of the Zodiac investigation is dealt a significant blow when some speculate that San Francisco's lead Zodiac investigator, Dave Toschi, may have written the letter.
Furthermore, those charged with overseeing the investigation are expending little substantive effort toward the goal of bringing the fugitive to justice. In 1968, a Riverside teen was stabbed to death by a killer who subsequently sent taunting letters to local police and newspapers. Ferrin was killed, but Mageau survived (despite taking several bullets) and provided a description which was used to produce a police sketch. Zodiac later claimed credit for the attack, but he neglected to provide the sort of confirming details that he had offered in previous attacks.
There is the pestulentual nucences who whrite for autographs, all people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs.
Around the end of 1970, the Chronicle received a letter suggesting they look into the 1968 Riverside murder, with its collection of letters and taunts. Another notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, was considered a suspect in at least one of the Zodiac killings, but was similarly cleared.
Furthermore, I don't know of a single person besides Horan who finds his theory compelling (if you are someone who is swayed by Horan's arguments, please say so in the comments). But he didn’t swallow the Zodiac baloney, either, so no one even notices that he did almost all the work on the Shepard case. To some extent this indicates he realized that Napa sheriff (or police) jurisdictions would contact the other jurisdictions where he had already struck and get copies of his letters in order to compare the handwriting. Not content to merely write, the killer includes with each letter one third of a 408-character cipher. Three teenagers and two San Francisco police officers observe the killer before he disappears into the heavily wooded area of the Presidio. Instead, he drives the mother and daughter around the back roads of Tracy for nearly two hours before they manage to escape. And honestly, the practicality of such a position is difficult to argue against at a time when the financial realities of so many law-enforcement agencies are highly constrained.
The killer claimed he would cancel the bus bombing if the people of San Francisco wore buttons with his crossed-circle emblem. Roughly 45 minutes after the attack, the killer phones the Vallejo Police Department and recites an apparently scripted, taunting message. The cipher is solved in short order by a husband and wife team a few days after all three sections are published. Cecelia is stabbed somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 times and succumbs to her wounds two days later. Kathleen identifies the Zodiac as her abductor and months later the Zodiac appears to claim responsibility in a letter.
Similar to the previous attack, the Zodiac telephones the Napa Police Department in order to recite a taunting message.



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