Zodiac Killer biography
In the late 1960s and early '70s, an unknown assailant who called himself "Zodiac" terrorized the San Francisco area, attacking couples in secluded areas. The Zodiac Killer is believed to be responsible for at least five killings between 1968 and 1969, during which time he sent letters about the killings to a local newspaper. Suspects have surfaced, but the killer has never been apprehended.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, an unknown assailant terrorized the San Francisco area. The Zodiac Killer, as he came to be known (he called himself "Zodiac" in several letters sent to the police and media), is believed to be responsible for at least five killings between 1968 and 1969. While the police have had several suspects over the years, the killer has never been apprehended.
It is believed that the Zodiac Killer's first victim may have been Cheri Jo Bates, a college student in Riverside, California, who was murdered outside her school's library on October 30, 1966. There were reports of a white male driving old car in the area at the time of the murder and police found a man's watch at the scene. A month after the attack, a letter was sent to a local newspaper allegedly written by the killer. Months later, letters were sent to the media, the police and the victim's father by the killer, all with the same chilling message: "Bates had to die. There will be more."
More Killings and Coded Messages
On the evening of December 20, 1968, the killer made good on his threat. He shot a teenage couple out on a date in Vallejo, California. They parked at a local lover's lane when the killer shot David Faraday in the head while he sat in the car and Betty Lou Jensen in the back five times outside of the vehicle.
On July 4, 1969, the Zodiac Killer is believed to have attacked another young couple, Mike Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, in Vallejo. Mageau survived the shooting, but Ferrin died at the scene. Also around this time, the killer wrote letters to three area newspapers with details of the crime. He also wrote a cipher, or coded message, and each newspaper received one part of the message. In the letter, he told them that if they didn't print the cipher in the newspaper, he would kill again. The letter also featured a strange symbol that would become part of the killer's calling card—a circle with two intersecting lines running through it.
The Zodiac's code was cracked by a high school teacher from Salinas. While the killer failed to reveal his name in his message, as he'd promised earlier, the note did provide some disturbing insights into his personality: "I like killing people because it is so much fun," the message read in part. He also stated that all of the people he killed would be his slaves in the afterlife.
Zodiac Killer Strikes Again
The killer began calling himself "Zodiac" in August 1969, in a letter to the San Francisco Examiner. On September 27, 1969, the Zodiac Killer struck again, choosing yet another young couple out in a remote area at the night.
Rather than shooting them, the killer stabbed them repeatedly. Bryan Hartnell survived the attack, but his girlfriend Cecelia Shepard died two days later. The killer left a message on Hartnell's car door, which included the dates of the two earlier assaults and murders.
From the survivors, a sketch of the killer was created. He was described as a heavyset, white male in his late twenties or thirties with short brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses. During the attacks, he wore a large hood, like those worn by executioners.
Breaking from his usual pattern, the Zodiac Killer shot a taxi driver on October 11, only a few weeks after the Hartnell-Shepard attack. Two days later, he wrote another letter taking credit for the murder and made threats about attacking a school bus and killing schoolchildren.
Case Remains Unsolved
With the case remaining unsolved, it has been the subject of much discussion and speculation. Numerous books have been written on the Zodiac Killer with authors providing a bevy of possible suspects. Proposed suspects have included a follower of Charles Manson and the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Arthur Leigh Allen was a popular candidate for the Zodiac Killer, having been identified by Hartnell and Mageau as their attacker. But later DNA testing failed to link Allen to the crimes. In 2004, a representative from the San Francisco Police stated that "the case is being placed inactive."
In 2007, a producer for the feature film Zodiac (2007), about the notorious killer, discovered letters in police files that had not been tested for DNA, according to an article in Newsweek. Investigators hope that this new discovery may lead to a new break in the case.