The Zodiac Killer Mysteries and Facts

The Mind-Blowing Truth about A Serial Killer Like The Zodiac Killer

                The prevalence of serial killings in the mid-nineteen hundreds is at large that many of the cases remain a mystery for investigators up to date. For one to be qualified or considered as a serial killer, he or she must have committed three or more murder cases in a period of thirty days with cooling off in between, and that the act must have been driven by a psychological gratification. Thus, every serial killer was and indeed proven a crazed person. And you would also notice that most serial killings by one person happen in a span of more than a year until they are captured and put behind bars. But lucky are the serial killers who are still out there, living no clues of who they are as they continue to prey on their next victim, such as the Zodiac Killer who until now, had not been identified.

                Despite the diligence and hard work of authorities to solve cases involving serial killings, there are mind-blowing characters in hardcore true crime that challenges the expertise of crime authorities who are in-charged of solving the crime. And seemingly, it is like a game-play that more and more young generations are becoming interested in studying and solving the case themselves.

                The Zodiac Killer is an incognito for the culprit of serial killings that happened in Northern California between the 1960s and 1970s. This case has been the interest of many detectives, crime investigators, practitioners, and even students over the years that passed, but the case remains a puzzle unsolved up to present.

                With extensive research and referencing to various official reports and ongoing progress of the investigation, here is what I have discovered so far in all fairness and in finding the truth about the Zodiac Killer.

General Information about the Zodiac Killer

                The Zodiac Killer, his ways of killing and elusiveness to authorities is one of the top interests of many mind-puzzling cipher decoders as this killer was so creative with how he plays with the authorities. He loves to write letters with cryptograms sent to the Local Bay Area Press such as the San Francisco Chronicles, the Vallejo Times-Herald, and the San Francisco Examiner, to claim responsibility over the crimes that recently happened in his time. His letters contain a self-proclaimed alias “Zodiac” and bear a logo sign that looks like an encircled cross.

                For the record, the zodiac killer had claimed thirty –seven killings as stated on his last letter sent to The Chronicles on January 24, 1974. But only seven were solved and have been confirmed by the authorities to be zodiac killer’s crimes of which, five were dead and two had survived. The interesting part of the zodiac killer’s letter was his scoring where he used his symbol then equals to the number of his victims and next to it is SFPD which stands for San Francisco Police Department equals zero, which clearly indicates a mockery towards the authorities’ failure to catch him or even identify him at the least.

                The Zodiac Killer’s mode of killing is with the use of either a gun or a stabbing weapon. And surprisingly with all his claims, that match the authorities’ investigation, he had used quite a variety of guns such as .38 caliber pistol, .45, and a 9mm Luger. His victims somehow are mostly dating couples, or young adults ages sixteen to thirty.

                Based on the investigations made with the earlier crimes committed by the zodiac killer, and what witnesses and survivors claim is that the killer was described as a white man approximately in his thirties who is around five foot and eight inches tall, weighing about one hundred ninety to two hundred pounds or more, with a light brown to almost blonde curly hair, and is wearing an eyeglasses.

Meet Zodiac Killer’s Victims (Confirmed)

                With the series of murders happening in California and nearby states in the 1960s, the police authorities are having a hard time to identify which victims really were in the hands of the zodiac killer, and to date, only seven victims were officially confirmed after a thorough investigation of collected evidence, despite zodiac claiming in his letter to have a total of thirty-seven killings.

December 20, 1968: The Lake Herman Road Assault

The first crime of murders attributed to the Zodiac Killer was the shootings of high school students Betty Lou Jensen, age 16, and David Faraday, age 17, on December 20, 1968, on Lake Herman Road, that was just within Benicia city limits. The teenager couple were on their first-ever date and planned to attend a Christmas concert at Hogan High School that was not far and just about three blocks from Jensen’s home. Faraday and Jensen were said to have visited a friend before they stopped by at a local restaurant and then went driving out on Lake Herman Road. At about 10:15 p.m., Faraday parked his mother’s car, which was a Rambler in a gravel turnout, a place that was well-known to the locals as lovers’ spot. Shortly after about an hour at around 11:00 p.m., a lady by the name of Stella Borges, who happened to live nearby the crime scene found their dead bodies and reported it to the Solano County Sheriff’s Department. The police immediately responded to the report and investigated the crime but found no leads.

With the use of gathered forensic data from the crime scene, Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist working for the Chronicles at that time and who became obsessed with decoding zodiac killer’s cryptogram ciphers, hypothesized that another car arrived and park beside the couple before 11:00 p.m. and that, the second car was the killers’ and he exited from the car and walked towards the rambler with a gun on his hand and ordered the couple to get out of the car. Jensen seemed to have moved out from the car first, and as Faraday was half-way out of the car, the zodiac killer shot him dead, giving a chance for Jensen to run as far as 28 feet away from the car before she was shot five times in the back. The zodiac killer then drove off after the crime.

July 4, 1969: The Blue Rock Springs Park Assault

                It was near midnight on the fourth of July 1969, when a young couple had their date and drove into the Blue Rock Springs Park located in Vallejo, about four miles away from the crime scene of the first murders attributed to the zodiac killer, the Lake Herman Road, and there they had the car parked. As the couple sat on the car and enjoying their moment, another car drove into the lot and parked for a while near them, then drove away. But within around ten minutes, that car came back and apparently parked behind them, then the driver of this car went out from his car and walk straight up to the couple, approaching the passenger’s side of the car where the couples are. Carrying a flashlight and a 9 mm Luger, the man from the second car directed the flashlight on the couple’s eyes and shoot them both, firing five times that hit the couples with bullets that passed through them. The killer then walked away but returned to fire two more on each of the victims as he heard the guy’s moaning of pain before finally driving off the place. The victims were identified to be Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22, and Michael Renault Mageau, 19.

                A day after the incident at Blue Rock Springs Park, July 5, 1969, at 12:40 a.m., a phone call to the Vallejo Police Department has been received and a man on the line claims responsibility for what happened with Ferrin and Mageau. It was with that call that the zodiac killer also identified himself as the one who was responsible for the murders of Faraday and Jensen that just happened six and a half months earlier. The Police traced the call to a phone booth located at a gas station at Springs Road and Tuolumne, just a few blocks away from the Vallejo Police Department, and about  500m from Ferrin’s home.

                Ferrin and Mageau were rushed to Kaiser Foundation Hospital. Unlike Ferrin who was declared dead on arrival at the hospital, Mageau managed to survive despite the shot on his chest, neck, and face, and when interviewed, he described their perpetrator as a white male with short light brown curly hair, around 26-to-30-year old, about 5’8” in height, and weighing at around 95-200 pounds or possibly even more.

September 27, 1969: The Lake Berryessa Assault

                On a small island connected by a sand spit to Twin Oak Ridge at Lake Berryessa is where Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, both students of Pacific Union College were picnicking on the area when a white man weighing more than 170 pounds, about 5 feet 11 inches in height with a combed greasy brown hair, and is wearing a black executioner’s type hood, with sunglasses and a bib-like device on his chest with approximately three by three print of a circled cross symbol on it, approached them. It is believed that the man was carrying a .45 gun and claimed to an escaped convict from Deer Lodge, Montana.

                       The zodiac killer then ordered Shepard to tie up Hartnell with the pre-cut lengths of clothesline he brought with him, after which he tied up Shepard too and he then checked and discovered that Shepard had bound Hartnell’s hand loosely, so he tightened the bond. After doing this, the killer drew a knife and repeatedly stabbed Hartnell and Shepard unceasingly. After stabbing his victims, the killer went on a hike to where Hartnell’s car was parked and with a black felt-tip pen, he drew the circled cross symbol on Hartnell’s car door, and wrote beneath it “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69-Sept 27-69-6:30/by knife.”

                      The victims, Hartnell and Shepard screamed for help and a man and his son were fishing on a nearby cove at that very moment, heard and discovered the victims’ miserable state and called for help by contacting the park rangers. Napa County Sheriff’s deputies Dave Collins and Ray Land were the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the crime scene to investigate. Shepard was conscious when Officer Dave Collins approached her, and she was able to give a detailed description of their attacker. The victims were rushed by an ambulance to Queen of the Valley Hospital, and on the way, Shepard went into a coma and never regained her consciousness and was declared dead two days after the incident. Hartnell on the other hand survived and when recovered and able, he told his tale to the press.

            On the night of the very same day of the assault on Lake Berryessa, the killer called the Napa County Sheriff’s office and reported his latest crime. The killer first stated to the operator on duty that he wished to “report a murder” then corrected himself saying “no – a double murder” then went on to claim that he was the perpetrator of the Lake Berryessa’s Assault. The call was traced from a pay telephone nearby and was discovered by Pat Stanley, a KVON radio reporter, minutes later. At the Napa Car Wash on Main Street in Napa, which, was only a few blocks away from the Napa County Sheriff’s office, the phone was found, still off the telephone hook, and the Detectives were able to lift a still-wet palm print from the telephone handle but were never able to find a match among the suspects.

October 11, 1969: The Presidio Heights Assault

            The last confirmed attack made by the zodiac killer was two weeks after the Lake Berryessa Assault. On October 11, 1969, at 9:55 p.m., the police received a call from three teenagers who witnessed a murder crime in Presidio Heights and reported as it happens, a white man wiping the cab down before walking away towards the Presidio, one block to the north. Patrol officer Don Fouke and Eric Zelms, responding to the call, observed a white man, walking along the sidewalk east on Jackson Street, and stepping onto a stairway leading up to the front yard of one of the homes on the north side of the street; the encounter lasted only five to ten seconds. Fouke estimated the white male pedestrian to be 35-to-45 years old, 5’10” tall and with a crew cut hair, somewhat similar but slightly older than the description of the teenagers who observed the killer in and out of the victim’s cab as a 25-to-30-year-old crew-cut white male at about 5-foot-8-inch to 5-foot-9-inch) tall. But to unknown reason, the police radio dispatcher mistakenly alerted the police on the field to look out for a black man, this mishap on the given description was one reason why officer Fouke and Zelms did not recognize this pedestrian they saw who matches some descriptions given because they thought their subject was a black man. There was a search ensued over the crime vicinity but no suspects were found.

            As investigation progress, it was found that before the murder happened, a white male passenger entered the cab driven by Paul Stine at the Mason and Geary Streets Intersection in San Francisco, and requested to be taken to Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights, and for unknown reason, the cab driver drove one block past Maple and Cherry Street and got shot once in the head by a 9mm. The culprit after shooting Stine took the victim’s wallet and car keys and tore away a section on the tail end of Stine’s bloodstained shirt.

            At first, the Presidio Heights Murder of Stine was initially thought to be a routine killing of cab drivers for robbery motives, which was an escalated crime at that time. But later on the thirteenth of October, two days after the assault, the San Francisco Chronicle received a new letter from the Zodiac Killer claiming the responsibility of Stine’s death as he attached a ripped piece of bloody shirt that was believed to be Stine’s.

            The police department, with their police sketch artist and with the help of the witnesses worked together to prepare a composite sketch of Stine’s killer, which was followed by a second composite sketch by the police artist who worked on it a few days later. Detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong were assigned to the case and have investigated an estimated two thousand five hundred suspects over a period of years, and Zodiac Killer was never found or identified.

The Zodiac Killer Attack Survivors

                With the confirmed four attacks of the Zodiac Killer, at Lake Herman Road, Blue Rock Springs Park, Lake Berryessa, and Presidio Heights, a total of three women and four men were his victims in a span of one year from December 1968 to October 1969. Two of which survived the fate of death in Zodiac Killer’s hand.

Michael Renault Mageau

        One of the victims on the Blue Rock Springs Park Assault on July 4, 1969, was Michael Renault Mageau, born on October 29, 1949. He was only 19 at the time of the assault, and he has incurred several shots including one on his face but amazingly was able to survive and recovered from his attack at Kaiser Foundation Hospital until August 1969. Following his release, he disappeared from the spotlight and appearing only a few times for interviews about his encounter with the zodiac killer. One of Mageau’s interview was for David Fincher’s Director’s cut DVD documentary entitled “This is the Zodiac Speaking”, which is a lengthy one, and where Mageau remembers how he was in love with Darlene and hoped to marry her, and that he regrets having not able to protect her at that time. He said in his interview, “Basically, I’m fine – officially, I feel fine – but mentally, emotionally… the scars are still there”.

Bryan Calvin Hartnell

            Another victim of the Zodiac killer was able to survive the assault on Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969. He was Bryan Calvin Hartnell who incurred multiple stab wounds from the Zodiac Killer and was rushed to Queens of Angels hospital in Napa where he recovered. After the incident, Hartnell stayed out of the limelight for years, got married, had children, and worked as a probate attorney in Southern California. Hartnell was silent until he appeared on David Fincher’s movie, Zodiac.

The Zodiac Alleged Victims

            The Zodiac Killer was gaining his popularity on the press, of his works being on the front page of every newspaper in town, and many have been baffled to decoding his ciphers sent along with his letters claiming of his killing and stating threats. Other crimes have been reported to SFPD of which letters were also received claiming to be Zodiac Killer, but its authenticity was not proven to be one of Zodiac’s, hence, the following crimes were the alleged crimes associated with the Zodiac Killer where he remains a suspect, aside from the four murders that have been confirmed.

June 4, 1963: The Beach Assault near Gaviota

            A young couple by the name of Robert Domingo, 18, and Linda Edwards, 17, both high school students living in Lompoc was brutally shot to death with a .22 caliber weapon, possibly a rifle. Robert incurred 11 shots in the back and so is Linda with 8 shots.

Investigating the crime scene, the police officers assigned found that the killer after shooting the victims dragged the bodies to a makeshift shack and threw the victims inside. The killed collected the couple’s belongings and tossed them into the shack, too. He then tried to use matches to set fire to a blanket hanging on the shack in a failed attempt to destroy evidence. The fire went out and the man left the scene.

Detective Bill Baker was assigned to this case in 1970 in hopes to find clues and solve the case, he seeks information of similar cases to nearby jurisdiction, and later he was contacted by San Francisco Police Department Inspector William Armstrong with his partner Inspector David Toschi who was assigned to continue the Zodiac Investigation after the Presidio Heights Murder in 1969, and they all believed that because of the similarity on the murders of Robert and Linda with that of the zodiac’s infamous killing at the Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969, Zodiac Killer is definitely the culprit behind this crime.

October 30, 1966: The Riverside City College Attack

            On October 30, 1966, Cheri Jo Bates, an 18-year-old student at the Riverside Community College was at the campus library annex until it closed at 9 in the evening. Neighboring citizens reported to have heard a scream at around 10:30 p.m. and the next morning Bates was found dead and appeared to have been brutally beaten and stabbed to death, a short distance near the library, between two abandoned houses that were to be demolished for campus renovations. Investigation revealed that the wires in Bates Volkwagen’s distributor cap had been purposely pulled out. And a Timex watch with a torn wristband was found nearby and had its time stopped at 12:24, however, the police the crime had happened much earlier.

A month later, on November 29, 1966, nearly identical typewritten letters were mailed to the Riverside police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, titled “The Confession”. The author claimed responsibility for the Bates murder, providing details of the crime that were not released to the public. The author warned that Bates “is not the first and she will not be the last.” In December 1966, a poem was discovered carved into the bottom side of a desktop in the Riverside City College library. Titled “Sick of living/unwilling to die”, the poem’s language and handwriting resembled that of the Zodiac’s letters. It was signed with what were assumed to be the initials rh. During the 1970 investigation, Sherwood Morrill, California’s top “Questioned Documents” examiner, expressed his opinion that the poem was written by the Zodiac.

On April 30, 1967, exactly six months after the Bates murder, Bates’ father Joseph, the Press-Enterprise, and the Riverside police all received nearly identical letters: in a handwritten scrawl, the Press-Enterprise and police 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”, this time without the Z signature.

On March 13, 1971, five months after Avery’s article linking the Zodiac to the Riverside murder, the Zodiac mailed a letter to the Los Angeles Times. In the letter, he credited the police, instead of Avery, for discovering his “Riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there is a hell of a lot more down there.”

September 6, 1970: Donna Lass’s Disappearance

            Donna Lass, 25, was last seen on September 6, 1970, in Stateline, Nevada. A postcard with an advertisement from Forest Pines condominiums, pasted on the back was received at the Chronicle on March 22, 1971, by Paul Averly, and has been interpreted as the Zodiac claiming Lass’s disappearance as a victim. No evidence has been uncovered to connect Lass’s disappearance with the Zodiac Killer definitively.

The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders

            The Santa Rosa hitchhiker murders were a series of at least seven unsolved homicides involving female hitchhikers that took place in Sonoma County and Santa Rosa of the North Bay area of California in 1972 and 1973. All of the victims were found nude in rural areas near steep embankments or in creek beds near roads. It is believed that these homicides were also from Zodiac’s killings but have not been proven yet due to lack of evidence collected. Along with the suspects were Ted Bundy, Fredric Manalli, and Arthur Leigh Allen.

March 22, 1970: The Mother and Child Abduction

            On the night of March 22, 1970, Kathleen Johns, seven months pregnant and had her 10-year old daughter with her when she was driving from San Bernardino and head west on Highway 132 near Modesto to visit her mother at Petaluma, found herself and her daughter reporting at the police station claiming they escaped from an abduction by the Zodiac Killer which she identified during her interview as she saw the composite sketch of Zodiac posted on the wall.

            According to her report, while heading west on Highway 132 near Modesto, a car behind her began honking its horn and flashing its headlights. She then pulled off the road and stopped. The man in the car parked behind her, approached her car, stated that he observed that her right rear wheel was wobbling, and offered to tighten the lug nuts. After finishing his work, the man drove off; yet when Johns pulled forward to re-enter the highway the wheel almost immediately came off the car. The man returned, offering to drive her to the nearest gas station for help. She and her daughter climbed into his car. During the ride, the car passed several service stations but the man did not stop. For about 90 minutes he drove back and forth around the back roads near Tracy. When Johns asked why he was not stopping, he would change the subject. When the driver finally stopped at an intersection, Johns jumped out with her daughter and hid in a field. The driver searched for her using his flashlight telling her that he would not hurt her, before eventually giving up. Unable to find her, he got back into the car and drove off. Johns hitched a ride to the police station in Patterson.

The Zodiac Symbolism and the Quest for His Fascination in Killing

            The Zodiac Killer was known as the serial killer who sends letters along with symbols and cryptograms to the local press claiming his crimes. One of his cryptograms have been fully decoded and revealed by a high school teacher Donald Harden and his wife, Bettye, this is what they decoded from zodiac’s cipher “I like killing people because it is so much fun,” it read. “It is more fun than killing the wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.”

            On one of Zodiac’s letter was also an alleged indication of his belief in the practice of collecting slaves for the afterlife by killing people. This belief, somehow, can be related to an old practice in many regions, like in Asia, Europe, and some parts in America, where the head of their enemies, which was believed to house the human soul, are decapitated and hanged on their doorsteps, as the sign of their power. However, killings made by the zodiac had no presence of decapitation with his victims.

                Zodiac’s known symbol is a circled cross, which many relate to his possible fascination with comics killer characters, such as the Tim Holt that was published in 1952. This along with the (possible) Red Ryder cattle brand could show he was certainly “into” comics. Red Ryder was published in the S.F. Chronicle. They speculate that Zodiac’s symbol was derived from “the death wheel” and that his way of killings as well follows this design.

The Zodiac Cryptograph Puzzles (The letters, Cipher Codes, and Alleged Poem)

On August 1, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times-Herald each received an identical handwritten letter in an envelope without a return address. Beginning, “Dear Editor: I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman,” the letters contained details from the Zodiac Killer’s murders that only the killer could have known. The killer went on to threaten further attacks if the letters weren’t printed on the front page of the papers.

Each of the letters received was closed with a symbol consisting of a circled cross through it, in what would come to be known as the Zodiac Killer’s symbol. The letters were also each accompanied by one part of a three-part cipher that he claimed contained his identity.

While Bay Area police departments, with the support of the FBI, worked feverishly to track down the killer, another letter soon arrived at the San Francisco Examiner. Beginning, “Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking,” it also described the murders in detail and taunted police for not having been able to crack his code or catch him.

Several days later, high school teacher Donald Harden and his wife, Bettye, were able to solve the cipher.

Three days after the fourth known Zodiac killing, the 1969 murder of taxi driver Paul Stine, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter claiming the crime. Written in the same erratic print as the Zodiac’s previous letters, it gave the details of Stine’s murder and was accompanied by a bloody scrap of Stine’s shirt. At the end of the letter, the killer mused that he would next shoot out the tire of a school bus and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

The Zodiac Killer continued his taunting correspondence with Bay Area papers, in which he included more ciphers, claimed to have committed several more murders, and mocked the police for their inability to catch him. In 1974 the letters stopped, although the investigation has not.

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