The Zodiac Killer

Robert Graysmith wrote a chilling account of the Zodiac murders in 1976. The book is reads like a suspense novel; minus the fiction. It tells us in no uncertain terms that we are all at the mercy of an individual who kills, seemingly without motive or warning. The difference between you, I and the Zodiac victims is nothing more than luck. A scary concept - a scary story.

When And Where? : San Francisco Area, 1966 - 70 (?)

Who?: Unknown

The Murders: The Zodiac Killer himself claimed that he had dispatched at least 37 victims. Official police records recognize that Zodiac murdered six people, and injured or terrorized an additional three. The victims were both male and female and ranged from their mid-teens to late twenties.  Most were shot. Some were stabbed. Six of the nine victims were attacked in 'Lover's Lane' - type situations; that is they were couples in desolate locations merely avoiding the hustle and bustle of urban areas in order to spend some time alone. Most of these murders took place outside of the city of San Francisco - in Vallejo, Napa and outlying regions. The first and last attacks differed greatly. Zodiac's initial victim, Cheri Jo Bates was killed a couple of years earlier than the majority, and in a different part of the state. The final murder victim was 29 year old Paul Stine, a cab driver, in the city of San Francisco itself. He was shot from behind in his taxi, the result of picking up the wrong passenger. A groups of students witnessed the crime and police were quickly dispatched. As the Zodiac walked away in the area of the murder, police actually pulled up beside him, looked him in the eye and dismissed him as a suspect. A dispatching mix-up told investigators, initially, that their suspect was black. Realizing their mistake days later, officers were able to provide a description that enabled them to create a wanted poster (see poster here) The last recorded case linked directly to the killer who named himself the Zodiac was not a homicide, but a kidnapping. The would-be assassin pulled up closely behind another car at night, beckoning the driver to pull over by his flashing lights. He got out of his vehicle and explained to the Kathleen Johns that her rear tire was wobbling. The Zodiac then 'performed' a good deed by 'tightening' the lug nuts on her tire. As Johns, and the baby she had in the car with her made their departure, the wheel fell off the vehicle. The killer then offered a ride to the two. Johns became alarmed as the man began rambling about killing and having to murder them. Johns acted quickly and rolled out of the moving vehicle, cradling her infant as she did so. She escaped and lived to tell about the ordeal.

The Zodiac killings became infamous for several reasons. He too, like Jack The Ripper, taunted police with letters. Zodiac took this to an unheard of extreme. He sent dozens of letters, some accompanied by cryptic ciphers and the now famous symbol that has become synonymous with the murderer - a circle overlying a cross. The robotic phrase, "This is the Zodiac speaking" began almost all of the correspondence; a testimony to the killer's self-importance. The Zodiac  murders terrorized San Francisco for a lengthy period of time.  The ensuing panic was equaled by the hysteria that accompanied the Manson Family murders in Los Angeles, but the effect lasted much longer. No one was safe. The killer constantly changed his method of operating, and openly admitted that murder was sport for him. He made threats that were taken very seriously; attacking a school bus and 'picking off the kiddies' as they alighted ( this threat made it to the silver screen in Dirty Harry - a Zodiac inspired film).

The Zodiac killer may be best known for his attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecilia Shepard in 1969, where Hartnell lived to describe how they were attacked and stabbed by a man in a black hood and robe with the circle/cross symbol emblazoned across the front. This too, has been emulated by Hollywood in slasher films.

Suspects: Although police never had enough evidence to make an arrest in the case, many theories abound. Graysmith's book uses pseudonyms for  some of the main suspects. Recently, the actual identities of these men have been made public. Was Zodiac one of these people, or were police never close to apprehending their nemesis?

Arthur Leigh Allen - (photo) Robert Graysmith's favourite Zodiac suspect is Arthur Leigh Allen. In his book, Graysmith used the pseudonym "Bob Starr" for Allen. He is the only Zodiac suspect who can be placed at or near the scene of all the murders. Allen attended the same college as Cheri Jo Bates in 1966, lived near several of the other crime scenes and was even given a speeding ticket in the Lake Berryessa area only moments after the attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard. A bloody knife in Allen's car, noticed by his sister in law on that same day, added to the belief of relatives that Arthur Allen may be the killer. Allen was a former Navy man with knowledge of codes and ciphers, as well as explosives. He was in fact caught ,while in prison on a child molestation charge, assembling a bomb believed to be meant for a breakout attempt. Allen's purported IQ of 135 would make it possible for him to develop and use the involved ciphers used by the Zodiac. At the time Zodiac was making his threats against school bus children, Allen was working in a school as a custodian. More links to victims were uncovered by investigators, who discovered that Allen may have actually known not only Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside, but Darlene Ferrin as well. Allen was on the guest list to a painting party given by Darlene's brother Ron in 1969. Graysmith managed to obtain writing samples from this suspect. They bear strong resemblance to Zodiac printing found in letters received by San francisco newspapers between 1968 - 78. Allen's death in 1982 ended the possibility of a confession. Police were hopeful when a videotape was discovered post mortem, that was labelled with the capital letter "Z". It did not contain any additional evidence against Allen, only a litany of insults and curses for police. It does seem however, that Arthur Leigh Allen is as good a suspect as any.

Richard Marshall -  (photo) Robert Graysmith's book details the movements of a suspect he called "Don Andrews". It has subsequently been revealed that this possible killer's name was actually Richard Marshall. Andrews was a movie buff. the Zodiac's writings show that he too, had a love for old time movies. It has been noticed too, that the Zodiac's symbol of a circle with a cross through it appears on the leaders for older films. Not only did he love old films, but Andrews was a Gilbert and Sullivan fan as well. The Zodiac quoted G and S on more than one occasion. An acquaintance of Andrews, Wallace Penny, spoke to Graysmith of Andrews's temperament and hostility towards women. It should be noticed that in all Zodiac attacks where a woman was a victim, she always perished. This was true in the two attacks where the co-victim, a male, survived. Both Andrews and the killer wore black-rimmed glasses with a black band to hold them on. He matched the descriptions further by being a heavyset man. Andrews had had  Navy training in codes that would have enabled him to develop the Zodiac ciphers. An interesting addition to the evidence against Andrews was the fact that he was an accomplished 'sewer', if that is in fact a real word, and owned a sewing machine. The Zodiac's extravagant hooded outfit with the 'professionally' stitched emblem on the front had to have been made somewhere. Wouldn't someone hired to make this outfit have remembered it and come forward to police? Another strike against Andrews was the teletype machine he kept in his basement. The Zodiac's first letter was written on teletype paper. Police investigator Ken Narlow believed that the never-printed bus bomb blueprint was put together using a teletype printer. On that same topic, Penny , at one point, told Graysmith that Andrews once showed him a blueprint for the bomb. Teenage witnesses to the murder of Paul Stine looked photos of Don Andrews. They said he looked 'too old and too fat". Graysmith, at one time very enthused about this suspect, later developed his own doubts.

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