By: Monica Cai
During the late 1960s, a serial killer who still has yet to be identified surfaced in Northern California. Confirmed to have killed seven victims, the man garnered the nickname “Zodiac Killer” due to a series of letters sent to the press. Although the attacks ceased by the early 1970s, the case remains open in several cities and on file with the California Department of Justice, and is still well known today. “It happened before I was born but I’ve heard the name,” English teacher Kristen Owen said. “I watch a lot of crime TV shows and there are allusions to the Zodiac Killer.”
The murderer’s case began with the shooting of two high school students, Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on December 20, 1968 in the city of Benicia. The two students were parked in a car in an alley that was known to be a lovers’ lane around the area, when the killer pulled up in a car and shot both victims. The Solano County Sherriff’s Department investigated the case but had no leads. Six months later, on July 4, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau were both shot in a similar manner in Vallejo. The killer called the Vallejo Police Department, taking responsibility for the attack and for the murders of Jensen and Faraday. The call was traced to a phone booth at a gas station only a few blocks away from the Police Department. [pullquote]“I like killing people because it is so much fun…” the Zodiac Killer wrote.[/pullquote]
The first of many letters and postcards was sent to the Vallejo Time-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner on August 1, 1969. Each letter contained one-third of a cryptogram that the killer claimed would reveal his name. The killer also demanded each letter be printed or he would embark on a killing spree. A few days later, another letter was sent where the man first referred to himself as the “Zodiac Killer” and gave unknown details of the murder to prove he was the killer. The letters were eventually all printed, and a week later, the cryptogram was decoded, but with no mention of the killer’s name. “I like killing people because it is so much fun… man is the most dangerous animal of all to kill…the best part of it is thae [sic] when I die I will be reborn in paradise and thei [sic] have killed will become my slaves,” the killer said in the letter.
On September 27, 1969, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were approached by a man wearing a black executioner’s hood in Lake Berryessa. The two were tied up and then repeatedly stabbed. The man left his cross-circle symbol on the couple’s car, and then proceeded to call the Napa County Sheriff’s office from a pay telephone to report the crime. Hartnell survived the attack and gave a detailed account to the officials, but no leads were found. Two weeks later, the last of the Zodiac Killer’s attacks occurred on October 11, 1969 in San Francisco. Paul Stine, a cab driver, was shot in his car. The Zodiac Killer took his wallet, keys, and a strip of his bloodstained shirt before leaving. After the attack, the San Francisco Police Department investigated about 2,500 suspects.
The Zodiac Killer continued to send in threatening letters and postcards, signing each with his cross-circle symbol and keeping a tallying score between him and the San Francisco Police Department. “Every now and then when a similar murder happened, you’d read about it in the paper and people would be worried about it,” biology teacher Katherine Moser said, who was a teenager at the time. “People adjusted their behavior,” Moser said. “He had a particular pattern of locations and people, so people started avoiding lovers’ lanes and places like that.” The Killer tried to take blame for thirty other murders, none of which the police were able to confirm, and sent his last letter to the press in 1974. Thirty years later, the police are no closer to finding out who the Zodiac Killer is, and nothing is known about his current whereabouts.