Zodiac Killer - the crimes, victims, and suspects zodiac killer, mass murderer, serial killer, zodiac killings Zodiac Killer - An overview of the killings, victims, and suspects. Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California for ten months in the late 1960's. He coined his name in a series of taunting letters he sent to the press until 1974. His letters included four cryptograms, three of which have yet to be solved.

The Zodiac murdered five known victims in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa (near Napa), and San Francisco between December 1968 and October 1969. No substantial connection between the victims has been discovered; seven men and women between the ages of 16 and 29 were targeted. They appear to have been selected due to opportunity. Numerous others have been named as Zodiac victims, although the evidence is scanty at best.

The killer's identity remains unknown. The San Francisco Police Department marked its investigation "inactive" in April 2004 although the case remains open in other jurisdictions.

Canonical Victims

Although the Zodiac claimed in letters to the newspapers that he murdered as many as 37 people, investigators agree on only seven "canonical" victims, two of whom survived. They are:

Non-canonical Victims

Many others have been identified as potential Zodiac victims although the evidence is inconclusive. The more well known victims are:


The Jensen/Faraday homicides

The Zodiac Killer came to police attention for the apparently random murders of Betty Lou Jensen and David Arthur Faraday on December 20, 1968, just inside the Benicia city limits in a turnout on Lake Herman Road near Vallejo; it was their first date together, and Jensen's first date ever.

They were supposed to go to a Christmas concert that night at Hogan High (just a few blocks from Jensen's home), but visited a friend named Sharon instead, then stopped at Mr. Ed's - a local restaurant. Meanwhile on Lake Herman Road, a white Chevrolet was observed parked in a gravel turnout by two hunters, who approached it at one point, but the driver was nowhere to be seen.

At 9:30 p.m., Bill Crow and his girlfriend stopped in the turnout and saw a white Chevy drive past, heading towards Vallejo. It stopped and backed up, and Crow, who left the engine running, took off towards Benicia with the Chevy in hot pursuit. At Reservoir Road, Crow made a sharp right, but the much bigger Chevy could not follow them and stopped a short distance past the intersection, as did Crow. Crow then got out and shouted a challenge at the other driver, but the Chevy drove off. Faraday and Jensen parked in that same gravel turnout about 45 minutes later and were seen by several witnesses, and shortly after 11pm, the Zodiac pulled into the turnout and parked beside them. At least one witness drove by moments later and saw both cars, but curiously, he saw no one inside either one of them. Moments later and about a quarter mile away, he heard what he thought was a gunshot, but wasn't sure since his radio was on; with a .22 handgun, the Zodiac shot out the rear passenger window, shot through the roof of the car, then forced Jensen and Faraday out on the passenger side.

He shot Faraday once in the head and Jensen five times in the back as she was running away. Their bodies were found minutes later by Stella Borges, who lived nearby. She raced into Benicia and alerted Captain Daniel Pitta and Officer William T Warner, whom she found at an Enco station in town. Detective Sergeant Les Lundblad of the Solano County Sheriff's Department investigated the crime, but no solid leads developed.

The Ferrin/Mageau attack

Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin and Michael Renault Mageau were shot around midnight on July 4 - July 5, 1969 at the Blue Rock Springs Golf Course parking lot in Vallejo, four miles from the Lake Herman Road murder site. While they sat in Ferrin's car, another car drove into the lot and parked beside them, drove away almost immediately, then returned about ten minutes later. The Zodiac parked behind them to cut off escape and approached the passenger side door with a flashlight, which he used to blind them. He then shot them with a 9mm handgun.

At 12:40 AM, a man anonymously called the Vallejo Police Department and reported the attack. He also took credit for the murders of Jensen and Faraday six and a half months earlier. The police traced the call to a phone booth at a gas station at Springs and Tuolumne, about three tenths of a mile from Ferrin's home and only a few blocks from the Vallejo Sheriff's Department.

Ferrin was pronounced dead at the hospital. Mageau survived the attack despite being shot in the face, neck, and chest.

Ferrin was a popular waitress at Terry's Waffle House in Vallejo. In a popular book about the case seventeen years later, an unsubstantiated story was put forth that the Zodiac was a regular customer and one of her admirers. It is claimed she knew he was responsible for the Lake Herman Road (or other) murder(s) and that he killed her either to prevent her from turning him in to the police or because she was blackmailing him to stay quiet. None of these stories have any basis in fact, and can be traced back to the low-budget 1971 movie, The Zodiac Killer, the 1979 novel The Zodiac Killer by Jerry Weissman, and a May 4 1981 story by Bill Wallace that appeared in the Chronicle.. Detectives John Lynch and Ed Rust of the Vallejo Police Department initially investigated the crime. Detective Jack Mulanax took over the case in the 1970s.

The Zodiac letters

On August 1, 1969, three letters prepared by Zodiac were received at the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner. The nearly identically written letters took credit for the three murders and also included one third of a cryptogram with a total of 408 characters in which, he claimed, was his identity; Zodiac demanded they be printed on the front page or he would go on a rampage and kill a dozen people that weekend. The threatened murders did not happen, and all three parts were eventually published.

On August 4, 1969, another letter was received at the San Francisco Examiner, and it started: "Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking." The Zodiac had finally given himself the name by which he is now known, and the letter was in response to Chief Stiltz of Vallejo asking him to write again with more details as proof that he was really the killer of Faraday, Jensen and Ferrin.

On August 8, 1969, Donald and Bettye Harden of Salinas, California cracked the code, but it was more of a mission statement than anything else and did not include his name. The letter read "I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST 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 THAT WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND ALL THE I HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR STOP MY COLLECTING OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI" The final eighteen symbols were apparently random letters, which some believe can be rearranged to spell "Robert Emmet the Hippie" (a solution that can be obtained only by adding three more letters).

The Hartnell/Shepard attack

On September 27, 1969, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were picnicking on the shores of Lake Berryessa, on a small island connected by a sand spit to Twin Oak Ridge. Zodiac, wearing a black executioner's type hood (but square on top like a paper bag) with clip-on sunglasses over the eyeholes and a biblike device on his chest that had a white 3"x3" version of his cross-circle symbol on it, approached them with a gun; Hartnell thought it was a .45. He claimed to be an escaped convict from Deer Lodge, Montana, where he had killed a guard and stolen a car; he told his victims he needed their car and money to go to Mexico. He had brought pre-cut lengths of plastic clothesline and told Shepard to tie Hartnell up, then he tied her up. The Zodiac checked Hartnell's bonds and found she tied him loosely, and so he tightened them. Hartnell initially thought it was only a weird robbery, but Zodiac drew a knife and stabbed them both, then hiked the 500 yards back up to Knoxville Road, drew his cross circle symbol on Hartnell's car door and wrote beneath it: Vallejo 12-20-68, 7-4-69, Sept 27-69-6:30 by knife.

At 7:40 PM, the Zodiac called Napa, California PD to report his crime, and officer David Slaight took the call; the phone booth was found minutes later at the Napa Car Wash, only a few blocks from the police station and 27 miles from the crime scene. Meanwhile, passing fisherman Ronald Fong had already discovered the victims and summoned help, and Hartnell and Shepard were taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa. Shepard lapsed into a coma and died two days later, but Hartnell survived to tell the bizarre story; he went on to become a successful lawyer in Southern California, and even ran into Mike Mageau at one point in the 1990's. The island (in the present day Oak Shores Recreation Area) on which the attack took place is even referred to locally as Zodiac Island; it has changed a lot over the years, since the three trees present at the time are now gone, and even the picnic table that in later years sat right by the spot where Hartnell and Shepard were attacked has been removed. Sergeant Ken Narlow of the Napa County Sheriff's Department investigated the stabbing; his best suspect was Rick Marshall, but there was not enough evidence for an arrest.

The Stine murder

Just two weeks later on October 11, 1969, the Zodiac entered Paul Stine's cab at the intersection of Mason and Geary Streets in San Francisco and requested to be taken to Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights. For reasons unknown, Stine drove one block further to Cherry Street; the Zodiac shot him once in the head with a 9mm (a different weapon than the one used at Blue Rock Springs three months earlier), then took his wallet and car keys and tore off his shirt tail. He was observed by three teenagers across the street, who called the police as the crime was in progress, but did not realize Stine was dead; they thought he had been stabbed, since they heard no gunshot. They observed the Zodiac wiping the cab down, either eliminating fingerprints or sopping up blood with the shirt tail, and then he simply walked away towards the Presidio, just one block to the north. The police arrived minutes later, with Armand Pelissetti first on the scene; the Zodiac was only a block north at Cherry and Jackson when he arrived, and the teen witnesses lost sight of him as they tried to explain to Pelissetti that the killer was still nearby. Only two blocks from the crime scene at Maple and Jackson Streets, Officer Don Fouke, also responding to the call, observed the Zodiac walking along the sidewalk then stepping onto a stairway leading up to the front yard of one of the homes on the north side of the street; the encounter lasted only five to ten seconds. His rookie partner, Eric Zelms, apparently did not see the suspect (one would assume he was checking the south side of Jackson). The radio dispatch alerted them to look for a black and not a white suspect, so they had no reason to talk to the Zodiac and drove past him without stopping; the mix up in descriptions remains unexplained to this day. When they reached Cherry, Fouke spotted Pelissetti (who was walking up the block to see if the killer was still in sight), stopped and was informed by him that they were in fact looking for a white suspect; Fouke realized they must have passed the killer (it must be noted that no one at the time knew it was the Zodiac). Thinking quickly, Fouke logically concluded the Zodiac resumed his original route east on Jackson then escaped north along Maple and into the Presidio, so they drove another block west to Arguello Street and entered the base to look for him, but the Zodiac had vanished. A search ensued, but nothing was found. The three teen witnesses sat down with a police artist and prepared a composite of Stine's killer, and a few days later returned to produce a second composite. The Zodiac was estimated to be 35-45 years of age. Detectives Bill Armstrong and Dave Toschi were assigned to the case, and SFPD eventually investigated an estimated 2,500 suspects over the years.

On October 14, the Chronicle received yet another letter from the Zodiac, this time containing a swatch of Paul Stine's shirt tail as proof he was the killer; it also included a chilling threat about shooting school children. It was only then that they knew who they were looking for a few nights before in Presidio Heights.

At 2 a.m. on October 22, someone claiming to be the Zodiac called Oakland PD demanding that one of two prominent lawyers, F. Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli, appear on Jim Dunbar's television talk show in the morning. Bailey was not available, but Belli appeared on the show. Dunbar appealed to the viewers to keep the lines open, and eventually, someone claiming to be the Zodiac called several times and said his name was Sam. Belli agreed to meet with Sam in Daly City, but he never showed up, disappointing Belli and the media. Bryan Hartnell, David Slaight and Nancy Slover, the only three people known to have heard the Zodiac's voice, listened intently to Sam's voice and all agreed that he was not the Zodiac. Subsequent calls Sam made to Belli were traced to the Napa State Hospital, where it was learned that he was a mental patient there.

On November 8, the Zodiac mailed a card with another cryptogram consisting of 340 characters and on November 9, he mailed a seven-page letter in which he claimed that two policemen stopped and actually spoke with him three minutes after he shot Stine. Excerpts from the letter were published in the Chronicle on November 12, including the Zodiac's wild claim; that same day, Don Fouke wrote a memo explaining what truly happened that night. Despite claims to the contrary, the 340 character cipher has never been decoded. Many possible "solutions" have been suggested, but cannot be accepted since they do away with codemaking conventions.

On December 20, 1969, the Zodiac mailed a letter to Belli and included yet another swatch of Stine's shirt; the Zodiac claimed he wanted Belli to help him, but it was, in all likelihood, a joke on the Zodiac's part. Had he truly wanted legal representation, he would have walked into Belli's office with Paul Stine's driver's license as proof of his identity and given himself up to the police, some have said.

The Johns escape

On the night of March 22, 1970, Kathleen Johns was driving from San Bernardino to Petaluma to visit her mother. She was eight months pregnant and had her ten-month-old daughter beside her. While heading west on Highway 132 near Modesto, a car behind her began honking and flashing its lights. She pulled off the road near I-580 at Chrisman Road. The man parked behind her, approached the driver's side door, and stated her right rear tire was wobbling. He offered to tighten the lugs, which she agreed to. She remained in her car while he worked on the tire; he instead loosened the lugs. The man drove off, and when Johns pulled forward the wheel came off the car. The man stopped, backed up, and offered to drive her to the nearest gas station for help. She gathered up her infant daughter and climbed into his car. They drove past several service stations but the man did not stop. For some three hours he drove them up and down the backroads around Tracy, and when she asked why he wasn't stopping, he would change the subject.

At some point the driver stopped at an intersection, and Johns jumped out with her daughter and escaped to a field to hide in. He came out to look for her, but when a truck driver spotted the scene and slammed on his brakes, Johns' abductor sped off. She eventually hitched a ride to the police station in Patterson. As she explained her story to the sergeant on duty, she noticed the police composite of Paul Stine's killer and recognized him as the man who'd abducted her and her child. The sergeant, afraid the Zodiac might arrive at any moment and kill them all, had Johns wait in nearby Mil's Restaurant in the dark. Her car was eventually located, torched and gutted.

There are many conflicting accounts of the Johns abduction. Most claim he threatened to kill her and her daughter while driving them around, but at least one police report disputes that. Johns' account to Paul Avery of the Chronicle indicates her abductor left his car and searched for her in the dark with a flashlight; however, in the two reports she made to the police, she stated he did not leave the vehicle. Some accounts state Johns' vehicle was moved then torched, while others contend it was located where she'd left it. The variety of discrepencies and the fact that Johns' accounts of the event have changed greatly over the years has lead many researchers to question if she was an actual Zodiac victim.

Further communication

The Zodiac continued to communicate for the remainder of 1970 with the authorities through the press via letters and greeting cards. In a letter postmarked 20 April 1970, the Zodiac supplied a thirteen-character cipher that he claimed held his name; it has never been solved. The Zodiac went on to state that he was not responsible for the recent bombing of a police station in San Francisco (referring to the 18 February 1970 death of Sgt. Brian McDonnell at Park Station in Golden Gate Park) but added "there is more glory to killing a cop than a cid [sic] because a cop can shoot back." The letter included a diagram of a bomb the Zodiac claimed he would use to blow up a school bus. At the bottom of the diagram was a taunting score: " = 10, SFPD = 0".

Zodiac sent a greeting card postmarked 28 April 1970 to the Chronicle. Written on the card was "I hope you enjoy yourselves when I have my BLAST" followed by the Zodiac's cross circle signature. On the back the Zodiac threatened to use his bus bomb soon unless the newspaper published the full details he'd supplied. He also wanted to start seeing people wearing "some nice Zodiac butons [sic]".

In a letter postmarked 26 June 1970, the Zodiac stated he was upset he'd not seen people wearing Zodiac buttons. Since school was out for the summer, he claimed he'd punished them a different way: "I shot a man sitting in a parked car with a .38." It's been proposed the Zodiac was referring to the murder of Sgt. Richard Radetich a week earlier, on 19 June 1970. At 5:25AM, twenty-five year old Radetich was writing a parking ticket in his squad car when an assailant shot him in the head with a .38-caliber pistol. Radetich died fifteen hours later. SFPD disputes Zodiac's involvement. The murder remains unsolved.

Included with the letter was a Phillips 66 map of the Bay Area. Mount Diablo is circled and crossed, much like the Zodiac's traditional signature, with the numerals zero, three, six, and nine on the lines of the cross, looking rather like a clock face. A note beside the zero reads "is to be set to Mag. N." The letter concludes with a thirty-two letter cipher which, in conjunction with the map, is supposed to locate a bomb he'd buried set to go off in the autumn. It's signed " = 12, SFPD = 0".

In a letter to the Chronicle postmarked 24 July 1970, the Zodiac took credit for the Kathleen Johns abduction, four months after the incident. Although it's possible the Zodiac was falsely taking credit for the abduction by reading of it in the Examiner, only the locally circulated Modesto Bee reported the car had been gutted by fire, which the Zodiac correctly noted in his letter.

A 26 July 1970 letter from the Zodiac mimics a song from The Mikado, with him making a "little list" of the ways he planned to torture his slaves in "paradice". The letter is signed with a large, exaggerated cross circle symbol and a new score: " = 13, SFPD = 0". A postscript adds that "The Mt. Diablo code concerns Radians + # inches along the radians." Puzzled over for many years, Zodiac researcher Gareth Penn discovered in 1981 that a radian angle, when placed over the map, points to the locations of two Zodiac attacks. (Penn's discovery is discussed further below.)

The Bates murder

On 27 October 1970, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery (who had been covering the Zodiac case for the Chronicle) received a Halloween card signed with a letter 'Z' and the Zodiac's cross circle symbol. Handwritten on the card was the note "Peek-a-boo, you are doomed." The threat was taken seriously and received a front page story on the Chronicle. Soon after Avery received an anonymous letter alerting him to the similarities between the Zodiac's activities and the unsolved murder of Cheri Jo Bates which occurred four years earlier at the city college in Riverside, California, more than four hundred miles south of San Francisco.

On 30 October 1966, Bates spent the evening at the campus library annex until it closed at 9:00 PM. Neighbors reported they heard a scream around 10:30 PM. Bates was found dead the next morning a short distance from the library between two abandoned houses slated to be demolished for campus renovations. The wires in her Volkswagen's distributor cap had been pulled out. It appears her assailant disabled her car while she was in the library, and when the car would not start he emerged offering help only to lure her to the dark alley between the houses. She was brutally beaten and stabbed to death. A man's Timex watch with a torn wristband was found nearby. Interestingly enough, the watch had stopped at 12:24, but it's believed the attack occurred much earlier. Also discovered were the prints of a military-style shoe.

A month later, on 29 November 1966, nearly identical typewritten letters were mailed to the Riverside police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Titled "The Confession", the author claimed responsibility for the Bates murder, providing details of the crime not circulated to the public, and warned that Bates "is not the first and she will not be the last." The taunting, haughty tone of the letter is reminiscent of the letters the Zodiac would mail to Bay Area newspapers three years later.

In December 1966, a poem was discovered carved into the bottom side of a desktop in the Riverside City College library. Titled "Sick of living/unwilling to die", the poem's language and handwriting resembles the Zodiac's letters. It was signed with what were assumed to be the initials "rh". Sherwood Morrill, California's top Questioned Documents examiner, stated it was his opinion that the poem was written by the Zodiac.

On 30 April 1967, the six month anniversary of Bates' murder, Bates' father, Joseph, the Press-Enterprise, and the Riverside police all received nearly identical letters. In manic, handwritten scrawl, the Press-Enterprise and police copies read "Bates had to die there will be more," with a small scribble at the bottom which resembles the letter 'Z'. Joseph Bate's copy merely read "She had to die there will be more" with no scribble as a signature.

On 17 March 1971, after Avery had reported the details of Bates' murder in the Chronicle, the Zodiac mailed a letter to the Los Angeles Times. In it he gave credit to the police for discovering his "riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there."

The connection between Cheri Jo Bates, Riverside, and the Zodiac remains uncertain. Riverside PD maintains that the Bates homicide was not the doing of the Zodiac, but concede some of the Bates letters may have been his work to falsely claim credit.

The Donna Lass disappearance

On 22 March 1971, Paul Avery received a postcard that seemed to be from the Zodiac taking credit for the disappearance of Donna Lass from South Lake Tahoe, California on September 6, 1970. Made from a collage of advertisements and magazine lettering, it featured a scene from an ad for Forest Pines 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 in the place of the usual return address.

Lass was a nurse at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. She worked until approximately 2AM on September 6, treating her last patient at 1:40 AM, and was not seen leaving her office. The next morning, her work uniform and shoes were found in a paper bag in her office inexplicably soiled with dirt. Her car was found at her apartment complex, and her apartment was spotless. Later that day both her employer and her landlord received phone calls from an unknown male who falsely claimed Lass had to leave town due to a family emergency. The police and sheriffs' office initially treated Lass' disappearance as a missing persons investigation, suspecting she simply left on her own. Lass was never found. An apparent grave site was discovered near the Claire Tappan Lodge in Norden, California on Sierra Club property, but excavation yielded only a pair of sunglasses.

Researchers are split on the question of Lass being an actual Zodiac victim. Some believe the Lass postcard was not prepared by the Zodiac, but rather, was sent by another person trying to pin blame on the Zodiac for his own crime. Another theory is that the card could actually be from the Zodiac in an attempt to claim credit for a murder he did not commit. While abduction does not seem to fit with the manner that the Zodiac used to attack his canonical victims, it could be inferred that if Kathleen Johns' abduction was the work of the Zodiac, then Lass might fit that same pattern as well.

More letters

After the "Pines" card, the Zodiac remained silent for nearly three years. Then, on 29 January 1974, the Chronicle received a letter purportedly from the Zodiac praising The Exorcist as "the best saterical comidy [sic]" that he had ever seen. The letter included a snippet of verse from The Mikado and an unusual symbol at the bottom that has gone unexplained by researchers. Zodiac concluded the letter with a new score, " = 37, SFPD = 0".

On 8 May 1974, the Chronicle received a letter complaining the movie Badlands was "murder-glorification" and asking the paper to cut its advertisements. Signed only "A citizen", the handwriting, tone, and surface irony are all similar to prior Zodiac communications.

Exactly two months later, on 8 July 1974, the Chronicle received another anonymous letter complaining about one of its columnists, Marco Spinelli (who wrote under the pen name, "Count Marco"). The letter was signed "the Red Phantom (red with rage)". The Zodiac's authorship of this letter is debated.

Another four years passed without communication -- purported or verified -- from the Zodiac. A supposed Zodiac letter of 24 April 1978 was initially deemed authentic, but declared by four other experts to be a hoax less than three months later. Inspector David Toschi, the SFPD homicide detective who had been on the case since the Stine murder, was thought to be the author of the forged letter, since Armistead Maupin, who wrote "Tales of the City," thought it sounded similar to "fan mail" he received in 1976 that he believed were authored by Toschi. The accusation was used against Toschi for political reasons to remove him from homicide, and while he admitted writing the fan mail, he denied forging the Zodiac letter. It has been suggested by some investigators that the letter was actually forged by Robert Graysmith, the political cartoonist who wrote a popular though highly inaccurate book on the case in 1986.

A supposed Zodiac letter postmarked 2 May 1978 was discovered in the files of the Los Angeles Police Department sent to Los Angeles television station KHJ-TV. The letter writer threatened to kill LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, ex-Chief Edward M. Davis, singer Pat Boone, Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, and Manson Family member Susan Atkins. While the authorship of this letter is debated, there is little doubt that it is nothing more than a crank letter.

The Domingos/Edwards homicides

Santa Barbara Sheriff's Detective Bill Baker (ret.) theorized in 1972 that the murders of a young couple in Santa Barbara County may have been two of the Zodiac's early murders.

On June 4, 1963 (five and a half years prior to the Zodiac's first known murders on Lake Herman Road), high-school senior Robert Domingos and his fiancée Linda Edwards were shot to death on a beach near Lompoc, California, having skipped school that day for "Senior Ditch Day." Police believed that the assailant had tried to tie up the victims, but when they freed themselves and attempted to flee, he shot them repeatedly in the back and chest with a .22-caliber weapon. He then placed their bodies in a small nearby shack and tried, unsuccessfully, to burn it down.

Some believe that the murders of Domingos and Edwards are the work of Zodiac because of striking similarities between this case and the Zodiac's attack at Lake Berryessa: a couple alone on a beach, tied up with pre-cut lengths of rope/clothesline, but they escaped, presumably because one victim was forced to tie the other one up (but loosely), which might explain why the Zodiac checked Bryan Hartnell's bonds and tied them tighter.

Current status

The last SFPD investigators of the case were Homicide Detail Inspectors Michael N. Maloney and Kelly Carroll. They were the first to submit DNA evidence from Zodiac's letters for analysis, which resulted in a partial genetic profile. DNA testing seemed to rule out their lead suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, and later Mike Rodelli's suspect, "Mr. X".

The SFPD marked the case "inactive" in April 2004, citing caseload pressure and resource demands. The Homicide Detail still has a locked file cabinet filled with over thirty years of evidence in a closet.

The case remains open in other jurisdictions.

Popular suspects

Art Allen

Arthur Leigh Allen (December 18, 1933 - August 26, 1992): Robert Graysmith champions the theory that the Zodiac Killer was Arthur Leigh Allen (given the pseudonym "Robert Hall Starr" in Graysmith's book Zodiac), who died in his home in Vallejo, California at the age of 58 from arteriosclerotic heart disease. Allen denied his guilt in interviews but there was much incriminating (though circumstantial) evidence against him. Allen was the only suspect in the case that police had enough evidence against to execute not just one, but three search warrants: on September 14, 1972; February 14, 1991; and August 28, 1992, just two days after he died. They found no evidence to prove that Allen was the Zodiac Killer, and the Vallejo PD chose not to press charges against Allen, a felon, after finding weapons and explosives in his home following the 1991 search. Michael Mageau, who briefly glimpsed the Zodiac's face after being shot in the face himself, picked Allen out of a police lineup as the man who shot him, but this was 22 years later and he clarified his identification by saying the Zodiac had a rounder face like another man in a different photo. For their part, the eyewitnesses to the murder of Paul Stine, as well as Officer Don Fouke, all of whom spotted Zodiac that night, were unanimous in saying that Allen was definitely not the man they saw committing that murder and then walking away from the scene of the crime. In July 1971, a friend of Allen's named Don Cheney reported his suspicions about him to the Manhattan Beach, California Police Department, and the report was forwarded to the SFPD. When questioned later, Allen claimed without prompting that the bloody knives he had in his car the day of the Lake Berryessa attack had been used to kill chickens, and also said that The Most Dangerous Game was his favorite book; this was an interesting comment since the 408 character cipher appears to reference that short story. Allen was arrested for child molestation on September 27, 1974, and remained in prison until August 31, 1977; it is often claimed that this coincided with the Zodiac's strange silence during this period. However, the Zodiac never wrote again after 1974. Ultimately, Allen's fingerprints and handwriting did not match the Zodiac's, he does not match any eyewitness descriptions (other than the dubious Mageau ID), no concrete evidence linking him to the Zodiac killings was ever found, and recent DNA testing on the Zodiac letters in 2002 seems to cast doubt on his viability as a suspect. However, the DNA results are inconclusive, since only one letter was tested and it is unknown if the same DNA profile could be extracted from each of the known letters. More information can be found in The Arthur Leigh Allen File

The wealth of factors pointing to Allen's innocence has led many armchair investigators to approach the record looking for loopholes in the truth. When Allen's fingerprints did not match the crime scene prints, doubt was cast on their legitimacy despite law enforcement's confidence in them. When his handwriting did not match the Zodiac's, a photo-enlarger set-up was proposed. When Allen passed a grueling 10-hour polygraph test, he was labeled a sociopath who could beat the machine.

In proposing incriminating circumstantial evidence, Allen's accusers add their own loopholes. Allen can be "placed" in Riverside in 1966 - but can just as easily be "placed" in Santa Rosa. Cheney's account is often cited - but not his egregious timing or the numerous changes in his story. Spinelli's story is also given credence - but his acrimonious relationship with Allen, imminent prison time, and 20-year silence are played down. Allen is said to have had access to a car like one seen by a victim - but the truth is that Allen had lost access to that car when he was fired from a job three months before the attack. Allen had mysterious coded letters in a strongbox - but they were sent to him by a patient at Atascadero. The Zodiac letters are said to have stopped while Allen was at Atascadero - but the letters stopped eight months before Allen was incarcerated, and the one received upon his release was a forgery. A convicted child molester, Allen was, like the Zodiac, interested in "little kiddies" - but pedophiles that kill outside of their target group are incredibly rare.

In the final analysis, only one article exists that could serve to tie Allen to the Zodiac case, and this is the Sea Wolf wristwatch given to him by his mother. She died January 10, 1989. Hardly a conclusive link to the murders, or evidence of anything except a mother's generosity, it was seized by Vallejo police during their 1991 raid on Allen's apartment. Despite his repeated requests, it was never returned. Legally blind, stricken with diabetes and kidney failure, the target of a campaign of innuendo that dogged him to the last, Arthur Leigh Allen died without it 18 months later.

Jack Beeman

Jack Steadman Beeman (November 16, 1917 - February 17, 1984): In the early 1990's, Bill Beeman, a lawyer from Vallejo, California, accused his deceased brother Jack of being the Zodiac. Jack, who died in Phoenix, Arizona at the age of 66, was 51 at the time of the Zodiac murders, much older than the Zodiac's reported age of 25 to 35 and does not even come close to resembling the eyewitness descriptions. Jack was a heavy smoker and suffered from emphysema, and acquaintances joked that he could be heard wheezing from half a block away. This fact is important as the 500 yard hike down to Zodiac Island to stab Hartnell and Shepard and then back to Knoxville Road would have been too much for him. Hartnell never described the Zodiac as having emphysema and said he sounded young, which is at odds with Jack's age at the time.

To explain why Jack bears little resemblance to the police composites of the Zodiac, Bill theorized that Jack used some form of prosthetics and makeup to alter his appearance. Bill Beeman published his theory in the two volume Jack the Zodiac.

Joseph Chandler

Joseph Newton Chandler was a man who appeared to be in his late 60's when he committed suicide in Eastlake, Ohio in 2002. When police attempted to locate his next of kin, they discovered that the man had assumed the identity of a boy who died in a car crash in Sherman, Texas, in 1945. A private investigator was hired to discover this man's true identity. The detective found a California address associated with the deceased man. Apparently, he had lived in California at the time of the Zodiac killings. When he moved to Ohio in the mid-1970's, the area around Eastlake was rocked by a spree of similar murders that remain unsolved.

An age-regression sketch based on Chandler's driver's license photograph was done by the Eastlake police. The age-regression sketch bears an uncanny resemblance to the composite sketch of the Zodiac.

Bruce Davis

Bruce Davis (b. 5 October 1942) was a member of the Manson Family during the time of the canonical Zodiac killings. He was sentenced to life in prison for his complicity in the 1969 Manson murders of musician Gary Hinman and ranch hand Donald "Shorty" Shea.

Suspicion of his involvement with the Zodiac killings hinges on his association with sociopath Charles Manson, the similarity of his facial features with the SFPD's police sketch, and that he can be placed in and around the Bay Area during the late 1960s. However, Davis sported long hair at this time, not the crew cut witnesses cited. No hard corroborating evidence has been found.

The FBI and the California Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation have both ruled out Davis as a suspect.

Robert Hunter

Robert E. Hunter Jr. (b. ca. 1922) was a wealthy banker who lived at the corner of Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights, and was identified as a suspect in 1973 in the following manner: the investigator who discovered him assumed the letters at the end of the Desktop Poem from Riverside, "rh," were the initials of the Zodiac Killer, that his cross circle symbol was a gunsight and therefore representative of his name, and that he simply got into Stine's cab and asked to be taken home. He then found Robert Hunter living there, concluded he had to be the Zodiac, and turned his findings over to SFPD; Hunter was officially eliminated as a suspect. Hunter did not live on that corner until after 26 May 1970, when he bought the house, so he cannot have wanted a cab ride home to a place he did not own. Despite the fact that the press believed it, there is no evidence that the Zodiac's cross circle symbol represents a gunsight and therefore the Zodiac's name, and even though Sherwood Morrill authenticated the Desktop Poem's authorship as the Zodiac's, it is debated as to whether it truly is his work or not (remember, Morrill also authenticated the forged April 1978 letter, so even the experts are not infallible). Many untruths about Hunter have been told over the years, such as him owning property at Lake Berryessa overlooking Zodiac Island (he did not own any property in Napa County until the 1990's), and owning Hunter's Villas in Vallejo near where Ferrin and Mageau were shot (there was never a property in Vallejo bearing that name). Other than bizarre "logic" used to identify him and some unfortunate coincidences regarding his name and place of residence, there is no evidence that he had anything to do with the Zodiac crimes. He has long since moved from San Francisco and now owns a winery.

Ted Kaczynski

Theodore John Kaczynski (b. May 22, 1943), also known as the Unabomber, has been named as a suspect. A known killer, Kaczynski makes an interesting suspect because his behavior parallels the Zodiac's in many ways as demonstrated by Doug Oswell and Mike Rusconi in their book on CD-ROM, Dr. Zodiac: The Unabomber-Zodiac Connection. He also possessed knowledge of constructing bombs. The Zodiac's later letters included bomb threats and detailed schematics of bombs.

Kaczynski's whereabouts during key Zodiac events have not been entirely accounted for. Kaczynski taught at Berkeley, California until June 30, 1969, but he apparently left California thereafter to join his brother on a cross-country trip, leaving his location in doubt during the Blue Rock Springs attack. Zodiac's first four letters were postmarked in Bay Area cities, meaning Kaczynski would also have to be present at those key dates.

The FBI ruled out Kaczynski's involvement in the Zodiac killings and does not consider him a suspect.

Larry Kane

Lawrence Kane (b. ca. 1922 or 1924): Kane was identified as the Zodiac by Escalon policeman Harvey Hines, who investigated the Donna Lass disappearance. He is described as having a mental condition leaving him unable to control self-gratification, and has been arrested several times for voyeurism. Hines claims that Kane asked Lass out for a date at least once, but she refused.

The name Kane can be extracted from the Zodiac's thirteen-character "my name is" cipher of April 20, 1970. Such a "solution" assumes that the symbols that can be rearranged to spell out "Kane" actually represent themselves and not other letters.

Kane has not been connected to any other Zodiac victims or letters. The postcard linking Lass to the Zodiac is vague on details and may not even have been prepared by the Zodiac. Even if Kane is responsible for the disappearance of Donna Lass -- and it's possible she disappeared of her own free will -- that still does not make Kane the Zodiac.

Rick Marshall

Richard Reed Marshall (b. ca. 1928): A radio engineer living in San Francisco in 1969, Marshall also apparently lived in Riverside in 1966. He worked as a theater projectionist at the time the "Red Phantom" letter was mailed on July 8, 1974, and loved old movies, one of which was El Spectre Rojo. He had a supply of odd-sized paper that was similar to that which the Zodiac used for his letters. He was ambidextrous, as the Zodiac was believed to be, and even owned a Portable Royal typewriter, similar to the one used to prepare the "Confession" letter, mailed to Riverside PD and the newspaper on November 29, 1966. Marshall worked at KTIM in San Rafael in the early 1970's, and it's believed by some that the strange "signature" at the bottom of the Zodiac's "Exorcist" letter resembles the call letters of that radio station.

In Robert Graysmith's Zodiac, he is called "Donald Jeff Andrews."

Peter O

Peter O (b. ca. 1945) Not much is known of this suspect other than he bears a striking resemblance to the SFPD composite, was in Navy intelligence, studied cryptography, and was an expert marksman. The investigator who first looked into Peter O as a possible suspect in the 1990's has maintained a low profile in recent years and no other information has been forthcoming.

Mike O'Hare

Michael Henry O'Hare (b. January 22, 1943): A Harvard University graduate, Mike O'Hare became a suspect in 1981 when Gareth Penn, going by several shaky assumptions, claimed to have found O'Hare's name in a reference book on sculptors in the Napa, California County library. (Penn did not name the book, and subsequent searches in the same library by Zodiac investigators have failed to turn up any volume on sculptors or artists that mention him.) Penn believed the Zodiac named himself many times in his letters via complex word and number games based on simple binary mathematics to Morse code conversions and redivisions. Penn published the results of his six-year investigation in Times 17, and even became a Zodiac suspect himself for a short time.

O'Hare was living in Massachusetts at the time of the Zodiac murders and cannot be placed in California. O'Hare now lives and teaches in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Andrew Walker"

"Andrew Todd Walker" (b. March 6, 1920): Robert Graysmith used this pseudonym for this suspect in Zodiac. Walker served nearly four years in the Army Air Force and received seven months of code training, spent considerable time at the restaurant where Darlene Ferrin worked, and may have even known her family. He was unemployed during the time of known Zodiac activity and had a drinking problem. Walker was believed to have sent threatening letters to a young woman in Vacaville, California as well as making harassing phone calls.

Mr. X

Mr. X (DOB unknown): Zodiac researcher Mike Rodelli has identified a wealthy San Francisco businessman whom he refers to only as "Mr. X" as a possible Zodiac suspect.

Neil’s research into this angle uncovered a strange letter signed with what he assumed was a pseudonym; it referenced an editorial written some weeks earlier and seemed to hint vaguely at the Zodiac crimes. It was so strange that he made a copy and informed Rodelli, who in turn informed Neil that the pseudonym was the gentleman's real name! Further research by Neil and Rodelli revealed that this same letter writer lived only two blocks from the scene of the Stine murder, an incident during which the Zodiac managed to elude capture by police authorities despite an intense local manhunt. Rodelli theorizes that his suspect was able to avoid capture that night simply by fleeing the scene and retreating into his own nearby residence. Over the course of that first year of the investigation into Mr. X, Neil developed serious doubts as to X's complicity in the Zodiac crimes and left Rodelli to continue researching if he wished.

While the basis for this theory remains as an intriguing possibility, to date no serious hard evidence has been produced that would validate it; Rodelli has implied that he has corroborating evidence in his possession that would substantiate his claims, but that his failure to yet produce that evidence is due to Mr. X's own efforts to thwart his investigation. That claim notwithstanding, it should also be noted that no evidence has been produced by Rodelli or any other researchers that can show how Mr. X might be connected to the other canonical Zodiac killings.

During an October 2002 ABC television special about the Zodiac case (Primetime Live: The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer), Rodelli was informed by Primetime that Mr. X willingly supplied a sample of his DNA, it was compared to a sample taken from the Zodiac letters (presumed to be from the actual killer) and that no match was found.

In the past, Mr. X has threatened to file a libel/slander lawsuit if Rodelli went public with his name. (To date, no lawsuit has been filed.)

Finally, it should be noted that the SFPD has never sought to question Mr. X and that Rodelli's suspect has gone on record several times to deny that he is the Zodiac killer.

New York Zodiac copycat

Between 1990 and 1994 in New York City, a Zodiac copycat murdered three people and wounded five others with a zip gun. He also wrote letters to the police in a fashion similar to the San Francisco Zodiac. In 1996, Heriberto Seda was identified as the New York Zodiac after he was arrested for shooting his sister, and in June 1998, he was sentenced to 236 years in jail; he will not be eligible for parole until 2082. At the time of the murders, many people wondered how he knew the Zodiac signs of his victims. However, it is quite easy to determine this information - all one needs to know is the birthdate of the person in question. In Seda's case, he probably just looked at the driver's licenses of his victims.

Pop culture references

Related Sites  (exchange links with this article)