The Elusive Zodiac Killer
In the late
1960's, the Zodiac Killer killed five people and severely injured two
others in Northern
California and taunted newspapers with coded
unidentified killer attacked seven victims in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake
Berryessa and San Francisco, California between December, 1968 and
October, 1969. Four men and three women between the ages of 16 and 29
were targeted. However, in the killer's letters to the Bay Area press,
he would claim to have killed 37 people.
20, 1968, he committed the first two murders, shooting and killing David
Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, just inside the Benecia
border. In his second attack on July 4, 1969, in Vallejo, he attempted
to kill two people, Michael Renault Mageau, 19, and Darlene Elizabeth
Ferrin, 22, but, Mageau survived despite gunshots to the head and neck.
Just forty minutes after the shooting, the police received an anonymous
phone call from a man claiming to be their killer and admitting to the
murders of the previous two victims.
On August 1,
1969, the self-proclaimed "Zodiac Killer" sent local newspapers a
three-part coded message explaining his motive for the killings. Six
days later, he sent a separate letter to the editor, suggesting that his
identity was buried within one of these ciphered messages.
rendition of the Zodiac Killer in 1969.
Of the four
cryptograms sent, only one has been definitively solved. It reads:
[sic] “I like killing people because it
is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forest
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” [sic]
eighteen letters have not been decrypted.
the letters, the killing continued. On September 27, 1969, Bryan Calvin
Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, were stabbed at Lake
Berryessa in Napa County. Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to the
back, but Shepard died as a result of her injuries on September 29,
1969. In the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, he shot and
killed 29 year-old Paul Stine.
other murder victims are suspected to be victims of Zodiac, though these
have not been confirmed. The killer himself claimed to have killed 37
The murders did
not fall under federal jurisdiction, so the FBI never opened an
investigation. However, local law enforcement agencies called on the FBI's
expertise in handwriting analysis, cryptanalysis, and fingerprints to aid
In the Zodiac
Killer case, correspondence between law enforcement agencies in Northern
California and forensic experts at the FBI's Laboratory shows that the FBI
made efforts to analyze handwriting samples and lift latent fingerprints
from the letters and envelopes sent by the purported killer. FBI
cryptanalysts, or code-breakers, were also enlisted to unravel a complex
cipher that used more than 50 shapes and symbols to represent the 26 letters
of the alphabet. Ultimately the code was made public and broken by two
have been named by law enforcement and amateur investigators, but no
conclusive evidence has surfaced. In April, 2004, the San Francisco Police
Department marked the case "inactive", yet re-opened the case at some point
prior to March, 2007. The case also remains open in the city of Vallejo, as
well as in Napa County and Solano County. The California Department of
Justice has maintained an open case file on the Zodiac murders since 1969.
nature of the murders and the Zodiac Killer's elaborate methods of
communicating with the public and his pursuers still captures the
imaginations of screenwriters, authors, true-crime buffs, forensic
scientists, and, of course, law enforcement.
of America, updated May, 2017.
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