No unsolved serial murder case is as strange as the Zodiac Killer!
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Zodiac Killer terrorized Northern California, killing at least five people and claiming to have killed 37 people in total.
Due to his high profile in the media, The Zodiac has spawned at least two copy cat killers: Heriberto Seda in New York and the 14 year old Japanese butcher who was given the fictitious name of “Seito Sakakibara” as he was too young to be formally identified in the press.
The Zodiac, who, to this day remains unidentified, terrorised the San Francisco Bay area during the late 1960s. The number of victims attributed to the zodiac killer varies – it could be anything from 5 to 37 (being confirmed kills as agreed upon by case investigators agains the the number of kills claimed by The Zodiac himself).
December 20th 1968 saw the start of the reign of terror with the murders of Betty Lou Jansen and David Faraday. The young couple was attacked by a lone gunman while they were sitting in their parked car on Lake Herman Road just inside the Benicia city limits and both of them were killed. There were no witnesses, and not much evidence for the police to base an investigation on. All was quiet until early July 1969, which brought the killer’s attack on Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau in Vallejo. Ferrin died after receiving multiple gunshot wounds but Mageau survived. The next attack took place on September 27th 1969 on the shores of Lake Berryessa and it left Cecilia Shepard dead and her boyfriend, Bryan Hartnell, badly wounded. Paul Lee Stine was the next to die; shot to death in his cab in San Francisco on October 11th 1969. He is possibly The Zodiac’s final victim and no further deaths have been attributed to this killer since then.
The first three Zodiac letters were received by three leading newspapers in San Francisco on August 1st 1969. These letters contained a cryptogram, which The Zodiac said, would reveal his identity if solved (it was solved and it did not reveal anything of importance beyond the killer’s twisted frame of mind). It was in the fourth letter, received by the papers on August 7th 1969, that the killer named himself by coining his notorious “This is The Zodiac Speaking” phrase. The correspondence continued in October 1969 and this time, just for jollies, the killer sent a piece of Paul Stine’s shirt to the newspapers along with his letter. Another cryptogram joined the growing file on November 8th 1969 (this one has never been solved) along with a seven page letter on November 9th 1969 and, on December 20th 1969, another letter on December 20th 1969, another letter enclosing a further piece of Stine’s shirt.
At least six letters and greeting cards were sent by The Zodiac to the press during 1970. Each one contained tantalizing hints about the killer’s past accomplishments and future plans but none had enough information to provide the police with a firm lead or even a potential suspect. The Zodiac continued writing until 1978 and investigators also found evidence that suggested that he could have been responsible for unsolved killings in Riverside, Lake Tahoe and Santa Barbara.
It is now more than thirty years since the last letter was received from The Zodiac Killer and the police are, perhaps, finally a little closer to identifying the killer. Recent developments in technology have enabled them to send saliva and other specimens taken from the letters for DNA testing. But the killer has not yet been identified and the legend of The Zodiac will therefore continue to exist and to grow…at least for now.