The Zodiac Killer

In the late 1960s, a man came forward, calling himself the Zodiac Killer, who claimed responsibility for at least five murders in Northern California. Still, there is a good chance that he was responsible for more. In one of his letters, Zodiac claimed that he had killed 37 victims. However, he has only been connected conclusively to eight victims.

The first confirmed victim was Cheri Josephine Bates. She was murdered Sunday, October 20, 1966. Bates had been at the library, and during her time inside, it is believed that Zodiac disabled her Volkswagen Beetle. His goal to force her to walk home worked. Her car was located about 100 yards from the alley where she was killed.

At sometime between 9:23 pm and 12:23 am, Bates was beaten and stabbed multiple times with a short-bladed knife in an alley on Riverside City College’s campus in Riverside, California. He also cut her throat. They found no evidence of sexual molestation or robbery, and there weren’t any witnesses. They found a man’s Timex watch at the crime scene, and the band suggested that the wearer had a seven-inch wrist. There was also a military-style heel print, indicating a shoe size of eight to ten. While the watch had stopped at 12:24, it’s unknown when exactly the crime happened.

The investigation found that Cheri put up quite a fight with her assailant. She had scratched her assailant’s arms, face, head and torn off his watch. They also found that the ignition wiring of her Beatle had been deliberately pulled loose, but the ignition key was in place, and both the passenger and driver’s side window were partly rolled down. There were three books about the U.S. government on the front seat, and several greasy, smeared palm and fingerprints were on the vehicle. The prints were determined to belong to the killer.

This murder was not connected to the Zodiac until October 1969, three years after it happened. The Riverside Police Department noticed some similarities between the Bates case Napa County’s Zodiac killing of September 27, 1969. Once the media got wind of this possible connection, they ran with it. That’s when the detectives from the cases came together and concluded that Zodiac was likely Cheri’s killer. Much like the other Zodiac cases, a letter was written to the newspaper to taunt the police. A confession letter had been anonymously mailed from Riverside on November 29, 1966, to both the Riverside Police and the Press-Enterprise newspaper. The author of the letter explained, in detail, how he had performed the murder, including information that had not been publicly revealed to the press. In December 1966, a desk with a morbid poem scratched into the surface was found in the college library. This writing was attributed to the Zodiac killer. Another letter was sent from Riverside on April 30, 1967, to the police, paper, and Cheri’s father.

The next attack by the Zodiac took two victims, David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen. They became the first confirmed victims of the Zodiac killer. On December 20, 1968, David, 17, and Betty Lou, 16, were on their first date. They had planned on going to a Christmas pageant, but at the last minute, they chose to skip the event, go to a diner, and then go to lover’s lane at Lake Herman Road. Several witnesses had driven by, and notice Faraday’s Rambler parked there at around 11 pm, and then another person said they saw a second car parked next to the Rambler at 11:10. At 11:20, another motorist came upon the scene and saw David laying by the car’s side, a bullet wound to the head. Betty Lou was about 11 feet away from the car in a pool of blood. The windows of the vehicle had been shot out.

The police figured that the assailant drove into the turn-out and parked beside the Rambler. He then fired two or three shots into the car’s rear windows, forcing Betty Lou and David to get out. After they got out, he shot David in the head, who would die en route to the hospital. Betty Lou tried to run for it, but he shot her five times in the back. She died on the scene. He had used a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Some witnesses had said they saw a car at the turn-out shortly before the crime took place, possibly a 1959 or 1960 white Chevy Impala.

When this killing took place, nobody knew who the Zodiac was. He would not make himself known until August 1969.

Then, on July 4, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were attacked. Mike and Darlene had driven to a parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park, just on the outskirts of Vallejo, to talk. Darlene was married, and Mike was a friend. A group of teens was setting off firecrackers nearby, but they left, and the lot was deserted except for Darlene and Mike.

Just after midnight, a car that Mike described as a light brown Mustang or Corvair pulled in, switched off its lights, waited momentarily, and then back up and left. Ten minutes later, the car came back and parked near Darlene.

The driver got out of the car and swung a heavy-duty police-type flashlight on the couple as he walked toward them. Believing that he was an officer, Mike got out his I.D. However, when the man got closer to the car, he opened fire with a 9mm Luger, shooting both of them several times. He went back to his car. When Mike cried out, he went back over to the car and shot a few more times. In the end, Darlene was shot five times and Mike four. Despite great work by the hospital workers and first responders, Darlene was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Despite his wounds, Mike survived and described the man who had attacked them. He said that the attacker was heavy set, blubbery, about 5’8″, with curly light brown hair and a large face. He said the man didn’t have any glasses on. After the initial shots were fired, Mike had been able to crawl into the back seat, and when the assailant left, he peeled out at a high rate of speed.

Almost an hour after the attack, Nancy Slover, a police dispatcher, got a call from a man at a gas station phone booth, claiming he was the shooter. He shared the victims’ location, and this was when he took responsibility for the murder of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen.

This call and both murders had not been connected to the Zodiac. His name was revealed a few weeks later when he sent his first letters and cipher to three-bay area newspapers. He shared that he was Zodiac and provided additional information about both murders that only the killer could have known in those letters. He also disagreed with Mike’s retelling of events in another letter he sent to the Examiner a few days later.

He said (this is written as Zodiac wrote it), “In answer to your asking for more details about the good times I have had in Vallejo, I shall be very happy to supply even more material. By the way, are the police having a good time with the code? If not, tell them to cheer up; when they do crack it, they will have me. On the 4th of July I did not open the car door. The window was rolled down all ready. The boy was originally sitting in the front seat when I began fireing. When I fired the first shot at his head, he leaped backwards at the same time, thus spoiling my aim. He ended up on the back seat then the floor in back thashing out very violently with his legs; that’s how I shot him in the knee. I did not leave the cene of the killing with squealing tires + raceing engine as described in the Vallejo paper. I drove away quite slowly so as not to draw attention to my car. The man who told police that my car was brown was a negro about 40-45 rather shabbly dressed. I was in this phone booth having some fun with the Vallejo cop when he was walking by. When I hung the phone up the damn thing began to ring & that drew his attention to me + my car.”

The last confirmed attack was that of Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell on September 27, 1969. Like the previous attack, only the woman died. Bryan and Cecelia were picnicking at Lake Berryessa, near Napa. As they were sitting on their blanket, Bryan heard something move in the bushes. Cecelia was facing the bushes and became frightened. Bryan didn’t think anything of it until she said that the noise was a person wearing a costume. Bryan turned around, and the three started to talk. The man asked for money, but Bryan laughed and said he only had some change, but he could have that if he wanted it. Figuring this was a simple robbery, Bryan tried to talk to the man. The man said that he was a convict on his way to Mexico and needed some money and a ride. Bryan offered to give him a check and his number. Bryan wanted to help the guy, but Cecelia was quiet and nervous during all of this.

Bryan then started to toy with the man, playing his game. The man asked Cecelia to tie Bryan to a tree, which she did, but loosely and with some hesitation. Of course, the man tightened the ropes and then tied Cecelia up to a tree. The couple faced each other.

From this point, the story gets a little chaotic. One source said that the man went to attack Cecelia first, but Bryan said he couldn’t stand to see her get hurt, and to hurt him first, which the attacker did. Another source said that Bryan didn’t know the attacker was going to attack until he was stabbed. Whichever way, Bryan was stabbed five times, and Cecelia was stabbed ten times. The attacker then left.

Bryan tried to get Cecelia to loosen her ropes, which were clothing lines, but she was too weak from blood loss. After some time, Bryan was able to move around and yell for help. Some people were passing by on a boat that the whole thing was a hoax, but one man did stop. For about 15 minutes, the man sat there and watched them. He didn’t want to get any closer to land. He said that he would get help. He left, and Bryan finally got himself untied and then untied Cecelia. Cecelia laid on their blanket while Bryan was able to crawl to the road. He blacked out several times during this, but he had almost made it to the road when the man from the boat came back in his truck.

The police had also received a phone call from a man claiming to have committed these attacks about an hour after the police got to Bryan and Cecelia. They traced the call to a phone booth in downtown Napa. There was a note left from the attacker on the door of Bryan’s care. It read, “Vallejo 12-20-1968 7-4-1969 Sept 27-67-6:30 By knife.”

He also inscribed the Zodiac’s symbol on the car. They found a size 10 ½ Wing Walker boot print at the scene. Cecelia died 48 hours after the attack. Bryan was taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa and survived.

Before we get into the ciphers and suspects, there was one possible victim of Zodiacs. This happened several years before the confirmed cases. Ray Davis was shot twice from behind in his own cab on April 10, 1962, with a .22 caliber. This is a possible Zodiac killing because Ray’s killer called the police in advance and warned them he would be committing a baffling crime. Soon after the shooting, the police got another call, this time threatening to target a bus driver. Amazingly, even though the Zodiac had made headlines throughout the country, no law enforcement agency noticed the similarities between this murder and the Zodiac killings. Other eerie similarities include:

  • Killing a cab driver in a wealthy neighborhood
  • Calling the police to take credit
  • Contacting police to warn of future murders
  • Openly stating his intent to baffle the police
  • Making a bus the subject of a death threat
  • Displaying no obvious motive
  • Using a .22 and long rifle ammunition

Over the years, there have been 18 letters sent by the Zodiac. The majority of the letters were sent to newspapers, but a few were sent to private citizens. The first letter was mailed on April 30, 1967. A letter was sent to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, Joseph Bates, the victim’s father, and the Riverside Police Department. It read, “Bates had to die. There will be more.”

The on July 31, 1969, he sent the first ciphers, along with a new letter. These were sent to the San Francisco Examiner, Vallejo Times-Herald, and the San Francisco Chronicle. The letter read, “Dear Editor, This is the murderer of the two teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman and the girl on the 4th of July near that golf course in Vallejo. To prove I killed them, I shall state some facts which only I that the police know. Christmas: brand name of the ammo Super X, ten shots were fired, the boy was on his back with his feet to the car, the girl was on her right side face to the west. July 4: the girl was wearing patterned pants, boy was also shot in knee, Western made ammo. Here is a cipher that is part of one. The other two parts are being mailed to the Vallejo Times and S.F Chronicle. I want you to print this cipher on the front page by fry afternoon August 1-69. If you do not print this cipher, I will go on a kill rampage Fry night. This will last the whole weekend, I will cruse around killing people who are alone at night until Sun night or until I kill a dozen people.”

The three ciphers he sent with the letters have been solved. The one to the Vallejo Times-Herald read “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 dangerous animal of all to kill something…”

The message in the cipher continued with the part sent to the San Francisco Chronicle “gives me the most thrilling experience it is even better than getter your rocks off with a girl the best part of it is that when I die I will be reborn in paradise and all…”

The message finishes with the section sent to the San Francisco Examiner “The I have killed will become my slaves. I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down or stop my collecting of slaves for my after life.”

Another letter was sent to the San Francisco Examiner on August 4, 1969. “Dear Editor, This is the Zodiac speaking. In answer to your asking for more details about the good times I have had in Vallejo, I shall be very happy to supply sum more material. By the way, are the police having a good time with the code? If not, tell them to cheer up; when they do crack it they will have me. On the 4th of July:

I did not open the car door. The window was rolled down already. The boy was originally sitting in the front seat when I began firing. When I fired the first shot at his head, he leaped backwards at the same time thus spoiling my aim. He ended up on the back seat then the floor in the back thashing very violently with his legs; that’s how I shot him in the knee. I didn’t leave the cene of the killing with squealing tires and racing engine as described in the Vallejo paper. I drove away quite slowly so as not to draw attention to my car. The man who told the police that my car was brown was a negro about 40 – 45 rather shabbly dressed. I was at this phone booth having some fun with the Vallejo cops when he was walking by. When I hung the phone up the dam thing began to ring and that drew his attention to me and my car.

Last Christmas:

In that episode the police were wondering as to how I could shoot and hit my victims in the dark. They did not openly state this, but implied this by saying it was a well lit night and I could see the silhouettes on the horizon. Bullshit that area is surrounded by high hills and tress. What I did was tape a small pencil flash light to the barrel of my gun. If you notice, in the center of the beam of light if you aim it at a wall or ceiling you will see a black or dark spot in the center of the circle of light approximately three to six inches across. When taped to a gun barrel, the bullet will strike exactly in the center of the black dot in the light. All I had to do was spray them as if it was a water…” the rest of the letter has not been photographically reproduced. This was the first letter that he gave his nickname of Zodiac.

On October 13, 1968, he also sent a letter to the Chronicle taking credit for the taxi driver’s murder.

Then, on November 8, 1969, he sent a short letter and the infamous 340 character cipher to the Chronicle. The letter read, “This is the Zodiac speaking; I thought you would need a good laugh before you hear the bad news you won’t get the news for a while yet. P.S. could you print this new cipher on your front page? I getawfully lonely when I am ignored, so lonely I could do my thing.”

Z-340 cipher remained unsolved for many years, until last year. Turns out, having to stay home all the time can be conducive for some amazing work. David Oranchak was one of the three men who cracked the message. The message reads:

“I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me that wasn’t me on the T.V. show which brings up a point about me. I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradise so they are afraid of the death I am not afraid because I know that my new life will be an easy one in paradise death.”

The T.V. show and gas chamber refers to a call that was made to a talk show on KGO-TV a month before the letter was sent. Somebody called in claiming to be the Zodiac and said, “I need help. I’m sick. I don’t want to go to the gas chamber.”

There are several other letters, but I won’t read through all of them as we will be here for awhile if I did. I will, though, read some that I find interesting. On December 20, 1969, he sent a letter to Melvin Belli. “This is the Zodiac speaking I wish you a happy Christmass. The one thing I ask of you is this, please help me. I cannot reach out for help because of this thing in me won’t let me. I am finding it extremely difficult to hold it in check. I am afraid I will lose control again and take my ninth and possibly tenth victim. Please help me I am drowning. At the moment the children are safe from the bomb because it is so massive to dig in and the trigger mechanism requires much work to get it adjusted just right. But if I hold back too long from no nine, I will lose all control of myself and set the bomb up. Please help me I cannot remain in control for much longer.”

In several of his letters, he complained that people wouldn’t start wearing buttons with the symbol he always signed his letters with, a circle with a cross through it.

His last known letter was sent on May 2, 1978, to Channel Nine News. “This is the Zodiac speaking. You people in L.A. are in for a treat. In the next three weeks you are finally gonna have something good to report. I have decided to begin killing again – please hold the applause! Nothing is going to happen until I do. You people just won’t to let me have it any other way. I plan to kill five people in the next three weeks. 1, chief piggy Darrel Gates. 2, 2nd Chief Piggy Ed Davis. 3, Pat Boone – his theocratic crap is an obscenity to the rest of the world! 4, Also Eldrige Cleaver. And Susan Atkins, the Judas of the Manson Family. She’s gonna get her’s now. Hey, you actors, this is you lucky break. Remember, whoever plays me has his work cut out for him. See you in the news.”

With that, let’s look at the suspects.

Richard Gaikowski was born in Watertown, SD, on March 14, 1936, and died April 30, 2004, from cancer in San Francisco. He served in the Army during the 1950s, so he fits the belief that Zodiac had a military background. He was also trained as a medic. Unfortunately, 80% of these records were destroyed by a fire in 1973, so not much more is known about his military time. He moved to San Francisco in 1963. By December 1964, he lived and worked in Marinez, just 45 minutes from San Francisco. His address was 1250 Escobar St, which was about five miles south of the first Zodiac killings. He worked a local newspaper, the News-Gazette, which was owned by the Vallejo Times-Herald newspaper.

The second suspect is Richard Marshall. He was born Joe Don Dickey on March 13, 1926. He alternated between those two names for most of his life. At 18, he joined the Navy. In the mid-1960s, he lived in Riverside, California, before settling into the San Francisco Bay Area. During the height of the Zodiac’s crimes, Marshall worked at a movie theater called Avenue. In 1976, he became a suspect after some suspicious comments he made on ham radio. He also agreed to be interviewed by Zodiac detective Ken Narlow but denied being the Zodiac killer. He died on September 8, 2008.

The third suspect is Lawrence Kane. He was born on April 29, 1924. He was known as Larry Kane. Kane had quite the rap sheet that dated back to the 1940s. Pam Huckaby, sister of Zodiac victim Darlene Farrin, claimed that Kane followed Darlene in the months leading up to her death. Plus, the possible Zodiac victim Kathleen Johns identified Kane as the person who had abducted her. At the peak of Zodiac’s activity, Kane was 45, stood 5’9″, and was about 160 pounds. A 1962 car accident caused massive brain damage, and Kane was diagnosed in 1965 as “losing the ability to control self-gratification.” He was arrested in Redwood City, California, in August 1968. This was only found months before the first San Francisco Bay Area murders. He died on May 20, 2010.

This last suspect is, in my opinion, the most likely person to have been the Zodiac.

Arthur Leigh Allen’s connection to the Zodiac killing started on October 30, 1966, after Cheri Jo Bates was killed. Allen was in Riverside the weekend Bates was killed. Later on, Allen hinted it was true, claiming he had been in the area, then telling others he was nearby in Pomona when he first heard of the Bates murder. He was an elementary school teacher in California’s Calaveras County when Bates’ murder took place. By the time his employment can to an end in March 1968, he had only used one of 19 sick days. He was out on November 1, 1966. Could he have needed a couple of extra days in Riverside to get more information to use in anonymous confessions, or had he killed Bakes and missed work on November 1 because of facial wounds? In 1991, when a warrant was executed, they seized a Royal typewriter with Elite type from his home, which was the same type of typewriter to used to write the confession letters.

During late April 1967, three anonymous letters were sent out that referred to the Bates murder. In 1970, Sherwood Morrill, head of the Questioned Documents Section of California’s Criminal Identification and Investigation Bureau, figured out that they were Zodiac’s work. They had double the necessary postage, which was a trademark of the Zodiac. Two of the three were signed with an unusual symbol. Some think the symbol looks like a sloppy Z, while others believe it read 32. When Bates was killed, Allen was 32 years old, and his address was 32 Fresno St, in Vallejo. Also, the 1970 cipher contained 32 symbols.

There is a strong chase that Zodiac may not have murdered Bates, but Zodiac did have enough knowledge of the crime to produce the confessions. There is a strong case that Zodiac had ties to Riverside, and Allen definitely did. Also, while they did take Allen’s typewriter in 1991, they have not tried to match his typewriter to the confessions.

Ron, Allen’s brother, said their mother gave Allen a Zodiac watch as a Christmas gift. The logo was a cross-circle symbol, which became the Zodiac’s signature. According to police statements, after only days of receiving the watch, Allen alleged made these claims to his friend, Don Cheney:

Allen said that he would like to kill couples at random, would taunt the police with letters detailing the crimes, he would sign them with the cross-circle symbol from his watch, he would go by Zodiac, he would wear makeup to change his appearance, he would attach a flashlight to his gun to shoot at night, and he would fool women into stopping their cars in rural places by claiming they had problems with their tires, loosen the lug nuts, and then take them captive.

Don gave this info to the police in 1972, and the SFPD obtained a search warrant. Unfortunately, SFPD chose to search a trailer that Allen frequented in Santa Rosa instead of searching his home at 32 Fresno St. They found nothing incriminating.

In a 1971 police interrogation, Allen said that the book The Most Dangerous Game had a lasting impression on him. The book was about hunting a man “like an animal.” According to his family and friends, Allen was in possession of a code that had identical symbols to what was used by the Zodiac. He also spelled things like the Zodiac did. For instance, he spelled Merry Xmas as M-E-R-Y X-M-A-S-S. Allen intentionally misspelled words to be funny.

In late March 1968, Allen was fired from his teaching job for molesting a student. This was the second career failure for Allen. In 1958, he was less-than-honorably discharged from the Navy. He moved back in with his parents at 32 Fresno Sr. Allen did not have a good relationship with his parents, and coming back as a child molester didn’t help things. He started gaining weight and drinking and took a part-time job at a gas station. By winter, he was in a full downward spiral of depression, which was amplified by his birthday and Christmas. The Lake Herman Road murders occurred on December 20, 1968, between Allen’s birthday on December 18 and Christmas.

In the 1991 search, they found similar ammunition used in this murder.

The Blue Rock Springs murder took place only four minutes from Allen’s home. Major holidays have a tendency to bring some ugly behavior out in people, and Allen was still facing his alcohol abuse and unemployment troubles. The car was identified as a brown Corvair, and Allen had a friend who was trying to sell a brown Corvair. This Corvair had been parked in front of a gas station in Vallejo where Allen had been working, and the keys were kept in the office. His friend would occasionally let Allen drive the car.

There could have been a connection between Allen and Darlene Ferrin. Ferrin worked at IHOP close to Allen’s home from 66 to 67. Allen had told Don Cheney that he was fond of a waitress at the restaurant. A police report from 1992 says that Mageau picked Allen out of a VPD police lineup.

At the Lake Berryessa attack, a knife was used to attack a young couple. Allen was an outdoorsman and would often frequent areas like Berryessa. On October 6, 1969, Allen told Sgt. Lynch that the day of the attack, he had planned on going to Lake Berryessa but chose to go up the coast. He had originally used a mysterious couple from Treasure Island as an alibi but could never give their name or number. He then tried to use his deceased neighbor, William White, as his alibi. In the interrogation in 1971, Allen said he owned bloody knives, but he had used them to kill a chicken. According to Bryan Harnell, one of the Berryessa attack victims, Allen’s appearance and voice were the same as Zodiac’s. The footprint Zodiac left was 10.5, and Allen wore a 10.5.

During the 1991 search of Allen’s property, they found a foot-long knife with a sheath and rivets, but they have not tried to match it to the Berryessa victims’ wounds.

On August 26, 1992, Allen died of natural causes.

Since all of the possible suspects have died, does that mean the Zodiac killer’s mystery dies with them?

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