In the 1960s, one man is believed to have brought about a reign of terror in northern California. The Zodiac Killer, whose identity remains unknown to this day, claimed seven victims in the ’60s and ’70s, and those are just the confirmed ones.
In addition to several suspected victims, the Zodiac Killer claims to have killed 37 people. Who were they, though? And who was the Zodiac Killer? Was his inspiration in the stars? There are theories, and even a few suspects, but no one really knows.
Let’s take a look at what is known, and even what is suspected, and find out everything we can about the Zodiac Killer.
Click ‘Start Slideshow’ to join me for a deep journey into the mind of a serial killer.
Lake Herman Road
It was just after 11 p.m. on December 20, 1968, when Stella Borges found the bodies of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen. The pair were on a date, their first, in fact, and had made a couple stops before parking on a lovers’ lane on Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California.
According to eyewitness accounts, the pair had parked at around 10:15 p.m. When looking it forensic evidence, it was determined that just before 11 p.m., someone pulled up alongside Faraday’s car and exited their vehicle. They walked toward the couple and, likely, asked them to exit the vehicle.
Jensen got out of the car, but as Faraday had begun to do the same, he was shot in the head and killed. Jensen took the opportunity to run, making it about 28 feet before she fell to the ground with five shots in her back.
Though both victims died in the Lake Herman Road killings, one of the killer’s next victims managed to pull through. More, next.
Blue Rock Springs
Not far from the site of the first attack, but about six and a half months later, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau made their way to Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, California. While they sat in Ferrin’s car around midnight on July 4, 2969, an unknown vehicle pulled up alongside them and parked, then quickly departed.
Blue Rock Springs in Better Days
Some 10 minutes later, the car returned, this time parking behind them. The driver exited the vehicle and approached the pair, carrying a flashlight and a gun. The driver then shined their light into the car, more specifically into the eyes of Ferrin and Mageau, then began to shoot into the car.
They fired five times, hitting both of the victims, with some bullets passing through Mageau and ending up in Ferrin. The shooter began to walk away, but heard Mageau still making noise, and returned to shoot each of them once more.
Ferrin was killed, but Mageau managed to survive, but had no information which would lead to any positive result.
Of all the attacks, the Zodiac Killer’s next one was likely the most bizarre. Learn more, next.
Two college students were enjoying a picnic on a small island on Lake Berryessa. It was September 27, 1969, and they were enjoying themselves when a strange man appeared. He was wearing a hood, much like an executioner would wear, but had clip-on sunglasses over the eyeholes.
On his chest was a bib of sorts. It was white with a 3-inch by 3-inch cross-circle symbol on it, akin to a celtic cross. He had a gun and told the pair, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, he had escaped from Deer Lodge, Montana, after killing a guard then stealing a car.
He forced Shepard to tie up Hartnell, then the killer tied her up before pulling out a knife and stabbing them multiple times. After the attack, the killer made his way to the couple’s car, drew the cross-circle symbol on the door, then wrote “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27-69-6:30/by knife.”
Those dates, of course, were the same dates as when the previous attacks occurred. Though Shepard ended up succumbing to her wounds, Hartnell lived to tell the tale after a man and his son heard cries for help and alerted park rangers.
It wasn’t long before the killer would strike again, and this time there were more witnesses. Find out more, next.
Paul Stine was a cab driver in San Francisco. On October 11, 1969, he picked up a passenger at the intersection of Mason and Geary Streets, not far from Union Square. Stine began to take the passenger to his requested destination, but ended up passing it by a street and stopping.
The passenger then pulled out a gun and fired, shooting Stine in the head, killing him. He took Stine’s wallet, keys and a piece of his blood-stained shirt.
Across the street, unseen by the killer, three teenagers saw everything that happened and called the police. They told them they saw a man wipe down the cab, then start walking north. An officer quickly responded, but may have driven past the suspect, not really noticing the white man walking up the block since dispatch had told him to be on the lookout for a black man.
This was the final confirmed killing of the Zodiac Killer, and the connections can all be made through communications with the killer. More, next.
Messages from the Killer
The first letter was received less than a month after the Blue Rock Springs killings of Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau. Three nearly identical letters were sent to the Vallejo Times Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner.
The letters took credit for the attacks on Lake Herman Road and in Blue Rock Springs, and included what appeared to be a cryptogram, a puzzle in which letters or symbols are substituted for other letters, hiding a message.
The killer claimed his identity would be revealed once the puzzle was solved, and each letter contained a third of the entire puzzle. The killer demanded each of the newspapers print it on their front page or he would kill “a dozen people over the weekend.”
Would the newspapers comply with what seemed to be the mad ravings of a killer? Find out, next.
Perhaps in an effort to appease the killer and stop any further killings, and at the same time perhaps to find a solution to the puzzle, the San Francisco Chronicle did publish the puzzle, though it was relegated to page four of the publication, with a note from the Vallejo Police chief questioning the validity of the letter.
The chief also asked the writer to send in a second letter providing more information. Eventually, all three parts of the cryptogram were published, and it was solved on August 8, 1969, by a couple in Salinas, California.
It read like something no person in their right mind would write. It spoke of collecting slaves for the afterlife, and of the rush the killer got when they killed. It also was full of misspellings.
One has to wonder where some of these killers get the ideas which fuel their rampages. Read the message, next.
The Message: Solved
The cryptogram, when solved, read as follows:
“I like killing people because it is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangeroue anamal of all to kill something gives me the most thrilling experence it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl the best part of it is thae when I die I will be reborn in paradice and thei have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down or atop my collectiog of slaves for my afterlife ebeorietemethhpiti”
Apart from the more obvious misspellings, the letter is fairly straightforward. The final 18 letters, however, were never found to hold any sort of meaning.
More letters eventually came from the Zodiac killer, each offering information no one but the police should have, unless they were the killer. More, next.
Further Messages from the Killer
Just days after the publication of the first part of the cryptogram in the Chronicle, the writer responded with another letter, offering more details in the killings they claimed to have committed, as was requested by the Vallejo Police chief.
Something unique also was included in the letter. It began with “Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking,” marking the first time the name “Zodiac” had been used, giving a name to the killer.
Two months later, on October 14, 1969, three days following the murder of Paul Stine, the Chronicle received yet another letter, which included part of the piece of Paul Stine’s shirt the killer had taken. In the letter, he threatened to kill school children, though it never happened.
Though the confirmed killings had been completed, there were more which have been associated with the Zodiac, though never verified. More, next.
Several attacks happened over the years which bore some resemblance to the Zodiac’s previous killings. One, in fact, actually happened a few years before the first confirmed Zodiac killing: Cheri Jo Bates. One letter received by a reporter who had received what appeared to be a death threat from the Zodiac suggested a possible connection.
When the reporter, Paul Avery, looked into the case, he found many similarities, though the murder had taken place in Los Angeles, which was more than 400 miles away from San Francisco.
In that case, which had remained unsolved, Cheri Jo Bates had been found murdered on October 31, 1966. The previous night, people in the area had heard a scream at approximately 9 p.m., having apparently been brutally beaten and stabbed.
There appeared to be some premeditation, as the wires in the distributor cap of her Volkswagen seemed to have been pulled out. There was more strangeness to be seen.
What else could have linked this crime from years earlier to the Zodiac? Keep reading to find out. More, next.
As with the Zodiac killings which would come later, a letter was sent to the local police department and another to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the local newspaper. Unlike the Zodiac letters, these letters were typewritten.
The letters were titled “The Confession,” and included details of the crime on the killer, or someone on the investigative team, would have. The writer claimed to have committed the crime and stated it “is not the first and she will not be the last.”
Additionally, a poem was found carved under a desk in the Riverside City College library titled “Sick of living/unwilling to die.” The content wasn’t all that important, though the language and the handwriting seemed similar to that of the Zodiac. It was signed “rh.”
Were these things proof of a connection between this crime and the Zodiac Killer? Find out more, next.
Exactly six months after the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, one more letter was mailed to the police, the newspaper and, this time, to Bates’ father. The writer stated “Bates had to die there will be more” and signed it with what appeared to be a Z. Was the Z for Zodiac?
Regarding the poem written under the desk in the library, an examiner during an investigation in 1970 claimed he believed the poem was very likely written by the Zodiac Killer.
In a letter sent in 1971, following an article by Paul Avery on the case, the Zodiac claimed credit for the Bates killing, as well as others, though some believe he may have been falsely claiming them. “They are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there,” he wrote.
Another attack sometimes credited to the Zodiac killer involved a pregnant mother and her daughter. More, next.
This attack is like something straight out of a thriller. Kathleen Johns was driving on the night of March 22, 1970, with her 10-month-old daughter. She was also seven months pregnant. As she was driving, a car behind her began to flash its lights and honk its horn, obviously attempting to get her attention.
Johns pulled over, and the man exited the car and walked toward her, telling her that her rear right wheel was wobbly and that he would fix it. He grabbed his tools, went to work, then left after he was finished.
As soon as Johns moved back onto the road, the wheel fell off. The man then returned, offering to drive her to a nearby gas station so she could get some help. For some reason, she agreed.
What happened to Kathleen and her daughter? Find out more, next.
A Narrow Escape
As Kathleen Johns rode in the car with the stranger who had seemingly loosened the lugnuts on the wheel of her car, multiple gas stations were passed, each of which would have been fine to help her with her problem. The man drove back and forth for some 90 minutes.
Each time Johns would ask why the man wouldn’t stop, he would change the subject. Sensing danger, Johns saw the opportunity to escape once the man stopped at an intersection. She jumped out of the car with her daughter in tow and ran into a field to hide.
The man exited the vehicle and used a flashlight in an attempt to find them, claiming he wouldn’t hurt them. Johns continued to hide until the man left, at which point she hitched a ride and contacted police.
Seeing a sketch of the man who killed Paul Stine, she pointed at it and said it was the man who had attacked her. The police hid Johns until they could find her car. When they did, it was gutted and burned.
Though the identity of the killer remains unknown, and may forever, there have been suspects, some more viable than others. Find out who, next.
Suspects and Other Oddities
Over the years, multiple fingers have been pointed and information has sprung up. In 2007, one man claimed his father was the Zodiac killer. DNA analysis proved inconclusive when compared to DNA taken from the stamps on the letters sent by the Zodiac.
A former California Highway Patrol officer said he knew who the killer was, stating it was a man who went by the name “George Russell Tucker,” though it wasn’t his real name. He also claimed a cover-up had happened involving various law enforcement officers.
Yet another man wrote a book titled The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father … and Finding the Zodiac Killer in which he writes that his biological father was the killer, though presents no confirmed evidence.
Onto more viable options, two stand out among the others. Learn more, next.
Arthur Leigh Allen
One of the most popular suspects is Arthur Leigh Allen, though evidence is purely circumstantial. A book, called Zodiac, lays it all out. The author, Robert Graysmith, suggests Allen was the best suspect, citing descriptions from several detectives. Others disagree.
In 1969, however, Allen was questioned by police after having been in the vicinity of the Lake Berryessa attack. He says, however, he was somewhere else SCUBA diving. In 1971, police again took a look at Allen when a friend of his told them Allen had said he wanted to kill people using the name “Zodiac.” He said he was told this in 1969.
A search warrant was executed on his home in 1972, and in 1974 he was arrested, and pleaded guilty, for committing lewd sex acts on a 12-year-old boy. Officers would twice more search Allen’s home, including one time after his death in 1992.
He had the same type of typewriter used in “The Confession” letter sent after Cheri Jo Bates’ death, he owned a Zodiac wristwatch and he lived near where some of the killings occurred. No hard evidence was ever found, however.
Another with far less evidence, but perhaps an interesting twist, is up next.
Louis Joseph Myers
A man named Randy Kenney told police in 2014 that his friend, Louis Joseph Myers, had confessed to him in 2001 that he was the Zodiac Killer. Myers had revealed this information upon learning he was dying, Kenney stated.
After Myers’ death, Kenney attempted to inform police, but had trouble with anyone believing his story. Interestingly, there are some connection. Myers went to the same high school as two of the victims, worked in the same restaurant as another, and had the same type of boot as a print found at one of the crime scenes.
Additionally, though Zodiac letters continued to arrive over the years, none came from 1971 through 1973, a period of time in which Myers was stationed overseas. There is some skepticism regarding the claims, but they are being looked into.
Now, onto less viable, and more humorous, possible suspects.
Right off the bat, I’m going to point out there is no way Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac killer as he was born after the confirmed killings took place, but that didn’t stop many people online from trying to pin it onto the senator from Texas during his presidential bid in 2016.
Citing similarities between the sketch of the Zodiac Killer and Cruz, the Internet decided quite firmly that the two were one and the same. They took to Twitter and reddit, looking for any possible obscure connection they could find.
There was even a poll done which showed a great many Florida voters, 38 percent, in fact, believed Ted Cruz could actually be the Zodiac. Absurd as it may have been, it sure made for a few laughs.
Speaking of things with entertainment value, as with most serial killers, the Zodiac Killer got some time in the limelight. More, next.
On the Silver Screen
The very first movie having anything to do with the Zodiac Killer was, perhaps not surprisingly, The Zodiac Killer, a film released on April 6, 1971. More famously, however, would be one which saw release at the end of the same year. You may have heard of it.
Dirty Harry, if you didn’t know, is loosely based on the Zodiac case, though the bad guy calls himself Scorpio. In the movie, the villain sends letters and kidnaps a school bus full of kids. Sound familiar?
The most recent Zodiac killer film, not counting a cameo in Seven Psychopaths, was 2007’s Zodiac, based on the books of Robert Graysmith. The film starred Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of the author.
Entertaining though the story may be, it seems some people may have taken a little to much inspiration. Learn more, next.
There have been two instances of Zodiac copycats over the years. Two that have been documented, anyway. The first was the New York City Zodiac, Heriberto Seda. From 1990 to 1993, Seda attacked multiple people, killing three. Each time, he would send messages to the police and media, much like the Zodiac.
According to the letters, he picked his victims using their Zodiac signs, and would only attack them when the stars were aligned just right. An astronomer was brought in on the case, and ended up being fairly accurate in predicting the attacks.
Seda was caught in 1996, sentenced in 1998 and is serving a sentence of 232 years in jail.
On the other side of the world, in 1997, two boys were killed in Japan. The murderer, a 14-year-old boy, had stuffed a note into the mouth of one of the victims.
It read: “This is the beginning of the game… Try to stop me if you can you stupid police… I desperately want to see people die, it is a thrill for me to commit murder. A bloody judgment is needed for my years of great bitterness.”
A letter was later sent to a local newspaper. It wasn’t long until he was caught and investigated. His diary revealed frightening information about what appeared to be experiments he performed on victims.
Do you have any thoughts on who the Zodiac killer may have been? Share them with us, and thanks for reading!