“Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking,”
I first heard about this guy after watching the film “Awakening the Zodiac”, but I didn’t realise he was a real person until I began researching cases for this series. I couldn’t NOT write about this guy because he is so different from every other case I have researched, as his identity is still unknown to this day!
He operated in the 1960’s-70’s, when forensic science wasn’t very advanced, in and around the San Francisco Bay area, Northern California. He gave himself this nickname in cryptic letters he frequently taunted police and newspapers with, until his communication abruptly stopped in 1974. His case remains open.
“Dear Editor: I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman,”
He was directly linked to several separate murders in 1968 and 1969, yet it is widely suspected that he is responsible for many more. The first was in December 1968 when 17-year-old David Faraday and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Betty Lou Jensen who were shot to death near their car in a remote area. The following July, another couple were shot near their car. Darlene Ferrin, 22 and her boyfriend Mike age 19, were sitting in their car in a similarly remote area when a supposed man approached them with a torch and fired at them. Luckily, Mike wasn’t killed, but still seriously injured. This incident led many to assume the Zodiac killer was a lone man as within an hour of this happening, a male called police and told them what had happened, and also claimed responsibility. Mike described the attacker as a 26–30 years old, 195–200 lbs or more, 5’8″ white male with short, light brown curly hair.
A few months later, in September 1969, Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell were approached on an isolated part of the shoreline in Napa County by someone with sunglasses and their hood up, executioner style, the jacket featuring the now famous circle-cross symbol. The man told them he was an escaped convict who needed their car. They were tied up with pre-cut lengths of clothes line, and brutally stabbed them, laughing as he did so. The killer then drew his symbol in blood on their car for police to find. Napa Police Department received a call shortly after this, claiming responsibility, to “report a murder – no, a double murder,”. The couple were barely alive when police arrived, and Cecelia died shortly after. He has been linked to many others murders before this killing spree, such as the 1963 shooting of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards, the 1966 stabbing death of college student Cheri Jo Bates, and the disappearance of Donna Lass in 1970, yet the Zodiac letters and calls have never claimed responsibility for these.
Zodiac Killer had a thing for attention, and he was first heard of when three newspaper editors received identical, hand-written letter
s containing the details of his murders. The details were so precise that only the killer could have known them, and they threatened to do it again unless the letter was printed across the front page. Each letter featured what came to be known as the Zodiac symbol, a circle with a cross through it. They also had a three part cipher (like a complex code), part of a 408-symbol cryptogram that he claimed contained his identity. In further letters, they even taunted police for not being able to crack the code. In most theories and in popular culture, they are assumed to be a man, but even that is not known for sure as the Zodiac killer may not have been working alone.
Not long after this letter, teacher Donald Harden and Bettye, his wife, solved the cipher. It read, “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 dangerous animal of all.” Of the 4 ciphers ever sent, this is the only one that was successfully solved. It contained a misspelled message whereby the killer said he was murdering people to claim slaves for an afterlife. No name appears as the killer said that he would not give away his identity because it would slow down or stop him collecting slaves. “I will no
t give you my name because you will try to sloi down or atop my collectiog of slaves for my afterlife ebeorietemethhpiti”, this last section has never been decoded.
In 1969, taxi driver Paul Stine was murdered by a passenger, and a letter soon after claimed him as another one of the Zodiac’s victims. As this murder was so different from his others, it was initially assumed to be a robbery gone wrong. A couple of teenagers witnessed the attack, and watched a white man wipe the taxi down and calmly walk away. The San Francisco Chronicle received a letter detailing his death, and also accompanied a bloody scrap of his shirt. The letter prophesied that he would next target children on a school bus, shooting out the tyres and then “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” Thankfully, this didn’t happen.
For 5 more years, letters arrived that taunted police for their inability to crack the code and hinting at the ownership of more murders. In October 1969, a letter from the Zodiac demanded two high profile lawyers to appear on the television show A.M San Francisco. When one did, someone called in claiming to be the Zodiac, stating that his name was “Sam”, agreeing to meet with the lawyer but then never showing up. A further cryptogram was sent on a postcard in November 1969, which has never been deciphered. The day after this, a 7 page letter arrived, stating that two policemen had stopped him and spoken to him just minuted after he had shot Stine. All correspondence from the killer suddenly ceased in 1974.
He is thought to have committed one near-kidnapping of a mother and her baby. Kathleen Johns was flashed by the car behind on a motorway, she pulled over, and the man in the other car got out and told her that her back wheel looked wobbly so he tightened it for her. When she drove off, it completely fell off so he offered her and her child a ride to the nearest service station. After driving past several stations and refusing to say why, she managed to jump out with her baby and hide in a nearby field. The man chased her with a torch, shouting that he would not hurt them, yet was unable to find them so drove off. Kathleen managed to flag another car down and get a lift to the police station, and when she was giving her statement she recognised the composite sketch of the Zodiac killer as having a significant resemblance to the man who had kidnapped her. When they found her car, it had been gutted and torched.
There are countless theories as to the identity of this person, including claims he was the Unabomber, Charles Manson, even that they moved to Scotland and committed more murders. Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist, (inspiration for the Zodiac movie) did considerable amounts of research on the identity of the Zodiac, eventually concluding that they were most likely a man called Arthur Leigh Allen, who died in 1992 and could never be conclusively linked to any of the Zodiac cases. He wore a Zodiac watch, owned the same type writer as the ones that some of the letters were printed on, and was fired from numerous jobs for sexual misconduct with minors. Friends of his came forward claiming he had spoken of his desire to kill people, and lived and worked very near to where the first victims were murdered. Partial DNA on stamps of the letters came back as a negative match for Arthur, however it is not definitive that the initial DNA was in fact the Zodiac’s. His handwriting was also very different.
Newspaper editor Richard Gaikowski was also investigated after a police dispatcher claimed his voice and appearance was the same as the composite sketch and the phone calls by the Zodiac. In 2014, publishers Harper Collins released a book entitled The Most Dangerous Animal Of All by a man named Gary Stewart, who believed his own father was the Zodiac killer as he bore such a strong resemblance to the police sketch, even claiming he had a similar hoodie to the one the Zodiac wore.
The most recent theory was in 2014, when a man came forward claiming that his friend Louie Myers had confessed to being the killer before his death from cancer in 2002, asking his friend to go to the police with this information. A timeline of his life matched up to killings by the Zodiac, he attended the same school as some of the victims, worked in the same place as others, and was overseas with the military in 1971-3 when no letters were received. His friend claimed that Louie said he targeted women due to a bad break-up with his girlfriend, but again there was no conclusive proof.
Currently, some police believe it is a man called Ross Sullivan, who is now 76, and was questioned at the time the killer was active. He was a former English student who did a paper on Cryptology, and like Louie Myers, had some contact with the victims prior to their deaths.
The Zodiac wrote a letter to police stating he was not responsible for the 1970 bombing of a police station, yet included a diagram the bomb to blow up a school bus. Below this, it read: = 10, SFPD = 0. Similarly, he wrote a letter claiming he had planted a bomb that would go off later that same year. He ended the letter with = 12, SFPD = 0.
Four months after Kathleen Johns abduction, the Zodiac claimed responsibility. He ended the letter with “P.S. The Mt. Diablo code concerns Radians + # inches along the radians”, which points to the location of some unsolved murders.
A poster was received by Paul Averly, a detective on the case, that supposedly claimed responsibility for the disappearance of Donna Lass. It was a collage with cut out advertisements and magazine lettering, with a photo of Forest Pines apartments and and the text “Sierra Club”, “Sought Victim 12”,“peek through the pines”, “pass Lake Tahoe areas”, and “around in the snow”. Zodiac’s cross circle symbol was on the poster twice.
The final Zodiac letter claimed that the film The Exorcist was “the best satirical comedy that I have ever seen” and was signed off with the score “Me = 37, SFPD = 0”, and a new symbol that has never been explained.
Personally, I think it was Louie Myers, but I don’t think we will ever know for sure. The case is currently “inactive” and I think it will forever remain open. As twisted as this case is, it is almost admirable. We probably will never see such an intelligent and teasing serial killer of this kind again (not a bad thing), as no other can be compared to this case. With his complex ciphers, still unsolved even with today’s technology, and weird communication with the police, it is no wonder that he has been recreated so often in films and t.v shows. A Californian University professor created software that was designed to help crack Z340, the Zodiac killer’s famous cipher. This case continues to fascinate and infuriate people all over the world and will do until, and if, it ever gets solved.
“The police shall never catch me, because I have been too clever for them.”