UnSubs Central

Your stop for killer book and film reviews about the world's most notorious serial murderers

The man who calls himself Zodiac stands as one of the most elusive serial killers in history. His identity still a mystery, the estimations on those he murdered vary. Confirmed are 5 dead, 2 wounded. In one of his correspondences, Zodiac claimed he killed 37 people.

Confirmed victims:
•  Betty Lou Jensen, 16
•  David Arthur Faraday, 17

Killed December 20, 1968 on Lake Herman Road, within the city limits of Benicia, California.

•  Darlene Ferrin, 22
•  Michael Renault Mageau, 19

Shot on July 4, 1969 in a parking lot at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, California. Mageau survived; Ferrin pronounced dead on arrival at Kaiser Foundation Hospital.

•  Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22
•  Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20

Stabbed on September 27, 1969 at Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to the back; Shepard died on September 29, 1969.

•  Paul Lee Stine, 29

Cab driver shot and killed on October 11, 1969 in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.

Unconfirmed or suspected:
•  Robert George Domingos, 18
•  Linda Faye Edwards, 17

Shot and killed June 4, 1963 on a beach near Gaviota in Santa Barbara County, California.
Why: similar to the Lake Herman and Lake Berryessa attacks.

•  Cheri Jo Bates, 18

Stabbed to death on October 20, 1966 at Riverside City College in Riverside, California.
Why: found months later in the Riverside City College Library where Bates had been shortly before her murder, was a poem etched on the underside of a desk. Questioned Documents Examiner, Sherwood Morrill claimed the desk, as well as letters sent to Riverside Police Department and the Riverside Press Enterprise entitled, “The Confession,” were the works of the Zodiac.

•  Donna Lass, 25

Last seen on September 6, 1970 in South Lake Tahoe after her shift as a nurse in the Sahara Hotel Casino.
Why: other than a postcard (known as “Peek Through the Pines”) received by Paul Avery at the San Francisco Chronicle in March 1971, that many suggest is the Zodiac claiming credit, there is no evidence to connect the Zodiac to Lass’s disappearance.

•  Kathleen Johns, 22

March 22, 1970 on Highway 22 near I-580, west of Modesto. Johns claimed that a man thought to be a Good Samaritan kidnapped her and her eight-month old daughter, driving them around for one and a half to two hours before she escaped to a nearby field, where she flagged down passersby for help.
Why: after seeing a Wanted Poster on the wall of the police station where she was taken after her kidnapping, Johns identified the Zodiac as her captor.

Ciphers and letters:

Boastful and taunting to the point of desperation, it’s believed the killer sent over twenty letters to various news outlets, police agencies, and possibly victim family members. In a July 31, 1969 letter to the San Francisco Examiner, the killer first used the Zodiac symbol of a circle with a cross through it. On August 4, 1969, in another letter to the Examiner, he coined his own moniker when he wrote, “This is the Zodiac speaking.” In total, Zodiac included four ciphers (or cryptograms) within his letters. The first cipher, sent in different parts to three newspapers, would come to be known as the 408 cipher, for the total number of symbols and letters it contained. After being published, a Salinas, California schoolteacher named Bettye Harden and her husband, Donald, solved it. This would be the only of the ciphers solved. On November 8, 1969, the Zodiac sent the “Dripping Pen” greeting card to the San Francisco Chronicle. In it was the 340 cipher. On April 20, 1970, the Chronicle received a letter containing a 13 character cipher, which the Zodiac claimed was his name. On June 20, 1970, in what is known as the “Button” letter, the Zodiac admonished Bay Area residents for not wearing buttons with the Zodiac symbol on it and also sent a 32 character cipher.

Often sited clues:

Ballistic evidence shows the killer used a .22 caliber semi-automatic with Super X copper-coated bullets and a 1935 Browning High Powered 9-mm; size 10 1/2 Wing Walker boot prints found at Lake Berryessa (the boots were government special issued and distributed to Air Force and Navy personnel along the West Coast); a partial palm print found on the “Exorcist” letter of January 29, 1974; bloodied fingerprints found near the exterior passenger side door of Paul Stine’s cab; descriptions of the subject (white male, heavy build with a lumbering walk, standing around 5’ 10”, wearing dark framed glasses and a crew cut).

Possible suspects:

Theories abound as to Zodiac’s identity and the pool of possible suspects is many. Often quoted are:
Arthur Leigh Allen
Ross Sullivan
Rick Marshall
Richard Gaikowski
Michael O’Hare
Bruce Davis

I’ll be filling in more details during the weeks to come. So please join me next week as I review Robert Graysmith’s books: Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked.

THANKS for reading!!


Further reading and resources:
Pratt, Fletcher. Secret and Urgent: The Story of Codes and Ciphers. Indianapolis, Indiana: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1939.
Zodiac Killer
Zodiac Ciphers
Zodiac Killer Facts
Zodiac Killer Site

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