The Zodiac – A killer who feared no one

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Written By grundhofers_z3i613

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Let’s get to know about the dreadful Killer who was never caught

The Zodiac’s exact words were, “I like killing people. It is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.” He put this belief into practice.

The terror of Zodiac begins

The Zodiac terrorized the San Francisco Bay area throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was neither caught nor identified. He disappeared without a trace. Fifty years of investigation had yielded only one solid suspect but not enough evidence to arrest him.

Similar to “Jack the Ripper”, the Zodiac seems to have guaranteed to remain one of the biggest question marks in criminal history. On December 16th 1968, a 17-year-old boy named David Arthur Faraday climbed into his Rambler station wagon and went to pick up a 16-year-old girl named Betty Lou Jensen. They had known each other for only a couple of weeks.

They went to different high schools and this was supposed to be their first date. David went by the Jenson home to meet Betty Lou’s parents.  Afterwards, the couple stopped by a friend’s house on their way to a concert.

Their last stop of the night was the secluded area along Long Lake Herman road, which was a popular lover’s lane for the local teens. The two of them were hoping for some privacy when another car soon pulled up alongside them. A dark figure walked out and approached Faraday’s Rambler. He pulled out a 22 calibre, semi-automatic weapon and shot the vehicle purportedly to get the high schoolers to exit. David Faraday was his first target.

The killer shot him first. Betty had time to run. But she didn’t get very far. Her body was found 28 feet from the car. She was shot five times in the back. Faraday was still alive when a passing motorist stumbled on to the crime scene. But he died before he reached the hospital. The Zodiac killer had claimed his very first victims.

However, nobody knew it at that point. The first detectives who were assigned to the case investigated it just like any other double homicide. Afterwards, Jenson’s best friend criticized the officers. He said that they had already made up their minds that the killings have been drug-related and refused to pursue any other areas of investigation.

They investigated one ex-boyfriend of Betty Lou, but he was at home watching a movie with his family on the day of the crime. They also investigated two local Seward who were hunting racoons. But their gun didn’t match the murder weapon. They also heard that two white men spent the night scaring teenagers by chasing them around in a blue Sedan. But they were never identified.

It wasn’t until after the holidays when the typical leads dried up and investigators concluded that the killings were the work of a murderous maniac who had no connection to the victims.  A few months later, a new hypothesis was confirmed when he killed again.

On July 4th 1969, a very similar scenario unfolded when the gunman pulled his car behind a couple of plots in another secluded area. It was the Blue Rock Springs golf course. The place was just a few miles away from the first crime scene. These victims were a little older. Michael Migeau was 19 years old, while his girlfriend Darlene Ferrin was 22.

The killer got out of his car and pointed a flashlight at the couple so that they couldn’t see him. At First, they thought he was a police officer. So, they got all their ids as he approached the car. However, he started to shoot as soon as he reached the driver’s side window. He fired five shots inside the car and then simply turned around and slowly made his way back to his vehicle. He realized that Michael was still alive.

So, he came back to shoot him again. Less than an hour later, the Vallejo police department received a call traced to a phone booth just a few blocks away from the station. The man on the line said “I wish to report a double murder.

If one of you go a mile east on Columbus Parkway to a public park, you will find the kids in a brown car. They have been shot by a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye.” The police were already aware of the shooting. A few teenagers found the couple just minutes after the killer left and this ended up saving one of the victim’s life. Darlene was pronounced dead.

However, Michael survived the attack. Michael not only survived the attack but also saw his attacker.  That’s because the shooter didn’t bother to hold up the flashlight when he came to shoot him the second time. Michael described the killer as a white man, who was in his late twenties or early thirties, short around five-eight or five-nine with a stocky build, brown hair and a round face.

The Zodiac speaks

It didn’t take long before the murderer made his presence known again. However, this time he didn’t kill more people. Instead, he reached out to the media. On 1st August, which was less than a month after the attack on Michael and Darlene, three newspapers from the bay area received letters from the killer. They were the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and the Vallejo Times-Herald. The letters were almost identical and the criminal used those to take credit for the shootings.

They differed in one way. The killer had created a 408-symbol cryptogram, which was a puzzle made using encrypted text. He split into three and sent each newspaper one part, telling them solving the cryptogram will reveal his identity. He also demanded that all the newspapers published their sections on the front page. Otherwise, he would cruise around all weekend killing lone people in the night and moving onto kill again until he ends with a dozen people over the weekend.

The chronicle did not obey its instructions. Instead of publishing their cryptogram on the paper, a quote was printed, where the Vallejo police chief said that they had not confirmed that the letters came from the real killer. The gunman did not act on his threat. Instead, he gave in to the request of the police chief and wrote another letter.

This time, to the examiner. In which he included details about the murders that were not in public knowledge. There was no doubt that this killer was also the author. However, there was something else notable about this particular letter.

The letter began with the chilling words, “Dear editor, This is the Zodiac speaking”. It was the first time, that he gave himself the name that would go onto become one of the most infamous words in criminal history. He accompanied it with a crosshair symbol which he often used as his signature. Thus, making Zodiac perhaps, the only serial killer who had his logo.

Deciphering the Cipher

Going back to the cryptogram, usually referred to as the Z 408 cipher. It didn’t take long for somebody to crack it. Less than a week after it was published, a couple of amateur cryptologists named Donald and Bettye Harden contacted the San Francisco Chronicle to tell them they have the solution.

Harden solved the cipher by finding a few cribs. Bettye reasoned that since this was for attention, the message will begin with the one-word letter I. She was also certain that the word “kill” or “killing” had to appear somewhere perhaps even the phrase “I like killing”. Bettye was right. ”I like killing” were the first three words in the cipher.

Once she knew that, deciphering the rest of the message was just a matter of time. As far as the matter was concerned, it wasn’t the big breakthrough that the investigators were hoping for, despite his promise. The Zodiac was not foolish enough to include his identity in the message. Instead, he talked about how he enjoyed killing and that he would continue to do so.

The little exchange he had with the media did not hold him for long. In the following month, he was ready to claim more victims. On September 27th 1969, he attacked a college couple who went on a picnic by Lake Berryessa in Napa County California. 22-year-old Cecelia Shepard and 20-year-old Bryan Hartnell were approached by a man who matched the description given by Michael. As he made his way towards the couple with a gun in his hand, he put on a strange black hood. 

It also had the Zodiac crosshair symbol on the front. He told the couple that he was an escaped convict, and he intended to simply rob them and steal their car. This might have allowed them somewhat to have lowered their guard. As they were tied up and immobilised, the Zodiac pulled out a knife and stabbed them both multiple times.

Afterwards, he went up to where he parked his car and wrote down on the door, “Vallejo 12-20-68, 7-4-69, September 27-69-6:30 by knife”. Those were the dates of his murders. Even if he used a knife instead of a gun this time, he did not want to think that somebody else did these murders.

This wasn’t even enough that on the same day he called the police and said, “I want to report a murder. No, a double murder. They are two miles north of park headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Karmann. I am the one who did it”. Again, he made the call from a nearby phone booth. It was becoming pretty clear that taunting the authorities and showing them that he was smarter was almost as important as the killings themselves.

Just like before, one of the victims survived the attack. Both Shepard and Hartnell were still alive when they were discovered. They were taken to the hospital but Shepard succumbed to her injuries while Hartnell made a recovery.

The last known Zodiac murder took place two weeks later in the middle of San Francisco. On October 11th, the cab driver Paul Stine was killed on the job. A white man who matched the previous descriptions of the Zodiac got into his cab and asked to go near Presidio Park. Once they reached their destination, the passenger shot Stine once in the head. Afterwards, he took the victim’s keys and wallet and cut off a piece of his shirt.

The killer was seen by multiple witnesses as he walked away. They were able to give a description. The murder was a bit different from the rest of his murders. So, nobody initially suspected that the Zodiac was the culprit. They thought that it was just a regular robbery that escalated to homicide. However, like before, the killer took steps to ensure that nobody else gets credit for his work.

The Zodiac Speaks again

Paul Stine was the last murder definitively attributed to the Zodiac. However, as soon as the killings stopped, the Zodiac’s communication with the media increased. He sent over two dozen letters in the following years.

His next one arrived at the San Francisco Chronicle, just a few days after Stine’s death, alongside a piece of the shirt that belonged to the cab driver, to prove that he was the killer. Zodiac also mocked the San Francisco police department for its inability to catch him and ended the letter with an obvious threat.

He said that schoolchildren make nice targets. He would wipe out a school bus one morning. Fortunately, the Zodiac never followed up on his threat. It was becoming more and more clear to the people investigating his murders that the Zodiac enjoyed the most was feeding off the public fear and attention. Perhaps, he might have enjoyed that more than the killing. He went to a great length and even risked getting caught, just to make sure everyone knew that it was him.

A very strange thing occurred the following week when someone alleging to be the Zodiac called the police again and demanded that either F Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli, two of the most famous lawyers in the country appear on a talk show called AM San Francisco, which was hosted by Jin Dunbar.

Belli went on the show and waited eagerly alongside Dunbar for the Zodiac to call. The suspect called. He called 54 times in two hours. Every time he called, he would only say a few words and hang up and then call back again.

He even agreed to turn himself in and arranged for a surrender location in Daly Citi. But he never showed up. It was never discovered if the caller was the actual killer and not just some random guy. The real Zodiac got in touch soon after. However, this time the letter contained another cipher referred to as Z 340. While the first cipher took 20 hrs to decode, this one remains unsolved till today.

Similar to other serial killers, investigators had to consider that Zodiac had other victims. They have suspected that he might have started killing in early 1963 and continued after the death of Paul Stine. In the last ever letter he sent to the media on January 29th 1974, the Zodiac bragged about having 37 victims. It is known as the “exorcist letter”.

Because in the letter the killer started by praising the movie exorcist as the best satirical comedy that he had ever seen and ends it by writing ”Me-37, SFPD-0”. The first murders that caught the police’s attention, took place in 1973.

The high school couple Robert Domingo and Linda Edwards was shot to death on a remote beach near the town of Gaviota. Another case was the murder of Cherri Jo Bates in 1966. She was stabbed to death on the campus of Riverside city college.

Who was Zodiac?In the decades following his murders, over 2500 suspects have been investigated. Yet, none of them had ever been arrested or charged with anything. The biggest one of them was Arthur Leigh Allen.

He was a convicted child molester who lived in Vallejo. To this day, he remains the only suspect ever named publicly by the police. There were obvious reasons to make him the suspect. He wore the same pair of boots like the killer’s and his watch had a similar crosshair symbol. He was also identified by one of the survivors out of a photo line-up. However, it was never proved that he was the real Zodiac. The real Zodiac could not be captured.