After news that the Zodiac Killer has been unofficially identified and some of his mysteries solved, we compiled the top 10 disturbing details about him.
The world is a nice and eerie place at the same time. It harbors the sweetest people and the most sinister and dangerous humans one can think of. Arguably, the most grievous crime is murder, and nothing is spookier than the fact that there are people who do it simply for fun or some twisted reasons. Humankind has been plagued with a handful of them across history, and a very famous one is the Zodiac Killer of the 1960s.
The Zodiac Killer, or simply Zodiac, is the pseudonym of a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s. He was well known for the series of taunting letters and cards that he mailed to regional newspapers, threatening killing sprees and bombings if they were not printed. Some of these letters included cryptograms, or cyphers, in which the killer claimed that he was collecting his victims as slaves for the afterlife. Only two of his total four ciphers have been decoded so far, one in 1969 and the second in 2020.
He operated actively in the San Francisco Bay Area between December 1968 and October 1969, targeting young couples, with two of the men surviving attempted murder. Although only five victims have been confirmed dead thus far, The Zodiac claimed he killed 37 people in total.
This mysterious serial killer has remained relevant in popular culture and has been a subject of many entertainment offerings like films, TV series, and novels. Though the case has been marked inactive in San Francisco, it is still open in many places, including Napa, Vallejo, and others.
As new development and evidence on the case have surfaced in recent days, we present 10 facts you should know about the Zodiac Killer in this article.
Latest news on the Zodiac Killer
Just recently, a group of cold-case investigators, dubbed the Case Breakers Team, claimed to have identified a “very strong suspect” as the notorious Zodiac Killer. They named a US airman and house painter, Gary F. Poste; note that this declaration is not official as some sources have stated that the new evidence doesn’t seem conclusive.
Even if these claims were true, it is unfortunate that the culprit will not answer for his crimes, as Gary F. Poste passed in 2018.
The Case Breakers said in a statement they wanted to share evidence about Ms. Bates (a newly identified sixth victim) with local police, but local police said they were “100 percent” sure the Zodiac Killer wasn’t responsible for her death.
The group claims DNA evidence from Ms. Bates’s killer could be tested against Mr. Poste’s DNA to help confirm their theory.
What evidences led to the recent conclusions?
Although only five victims had been confirmed before now, the Case Breakers Team identified a sixth. According to them, Cheri Jo Bates, an 18-year-old student killed in 1966 in Riverside near Los Angeles, was the sixth victim.
Some of the pieces of evidence they cited are as follows:
- A paint-splattered watch, found by police after Ms. Bates’s murder, was bought at a military base.
- A heelprint of the same style and shoe size was found at three other Zodiac crime scenes.
- Forehead scars are similar to the San Francisco Police Department’s sketch of the Zodiac Killer.
- Links between his name and coded messages sent to police by someone claiming to be the killer.
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Interestingly, one of Mr. Poste’s relatives has spoken in favor of the Case Breakers’ conclusion. His former daughter-in-law Michele Wynn told the San Francisco Chronicle she believed the Case Breakers had nailed the killer. In her words, he was “without a doubt” the Zodiac Killer. She said the police sketch from 1969 was like a bell ringer for her.
“Being around him, knowing his demeanor and his shadiness and twistedness — I have an intuition, I can read people,” Michele told The Chronicle.
10 facts you should know about the Zodiac Killer
1. The first disturbing letter arrived on 1 August 1969
Zodiac’s first series of letters were sent to members of the press on 1 August 1969. The three almost identical letters were sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner. The letters included a confession to the Lake Herman Road and Blue Rock Springs shootings, and he demanded the letters were printed on the front page of the three newspapers or he would start killing 12 random people the next weekend. He also included a cryptogram that would reveal his identity.
The cipher was decoded and reads:
“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 thae when I die I will be reborn in paradice and the I have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down or atop my collectiog of slaves for my afterlife ebeorietemethhpiti.[sic]”
2. The police unknowingly had an encounter with him
On 11 October 1969, a taxi cab driver by the name of Paul Stine was killed on the streets in San Francisco. When police radioed in to keep an eye out for the suspect, there was a terrible mistake in the communication, which had police seeking a man of color instead of a Caucasian. Two police who were patrolling the area happened to come across a man who they observed walking away from the crime scene, but they didn’t stop him, as he didn’t fit the description. It is now the general belief that that was the Zodiac. What’s more, the Zodiac Killer himself even mentions it in a letter that follows the murder. In this letter, he denotes that the cops actually approached him, and he told them a lie about a man with a gun. He mocks the police organization because they actually had the chance to catch him and didn’t.
3. He used codes to taunt the police and the press about his identity
One known trait of Zodiac was that he sent ciphers or codes to the newspapers along with his letters. These codes were made to be very difficult to crack, but he promised that they held the information to his identity. When Police officers and media personnel couldn’t crack these codes, they published them in the newspapers in the hopes that members of the public could figure out the identity of the Killer. Though a school teacher and his wife were able to decipher one of them, it led nowhere. In one of his final letters, he gives a 13 symbol code that claims to contain his name. However, no one has been able to decipher it, and it has gone unsolved.
4. Some of his victims survived
At Blue Rock Springs, the Killer attempted to kill a couple, but despite being shot in the neck and face, Michael Mageau miraculously survived the ordeal. During the Lake Berryessa attack, the male companion also survived the attempted murder. Bryan Hartnell survived the attack and was able to give the police a detailed description of what happened the day of his attack. There was also one event that had no casualties at all. Kathleen Johns and her daughter had been forced off the road by the Zodiac and tricked into his car. After realizing what he was going to do, Kathleen took her infant daughter in her arms and jumped from a moving car. He wasn’t able to find her and subsequently left the scene.
5. He Wore An Executioners Hood With The Zodiac Symbol
This may not have been his regular costume for every attack, but he wore it on a particular occasion. One of the survivors would tell officials of a stocky man who wore a black hood draped over his front in an apron-like fashion. Imprinted on the front of this was the Zodiac symbol, and he wore glasses to conceal his eyes. The witness said that they could see the color of his hair through the hood.
6. He sent a victim’s bloodied clothes to the police
After the cab driver’s murder, where he encountered the police, Zodiac sent a new letter. The main aim was to prove that he was indeed responsible for the murder of Paul Stine. He sent a piece of the bloodied shirt of the driver after he had killed him. This came as a surprise to investigators, but when compared to the clothing that the cab driver was wearing, it came up as an exact match. Unfortunately, when tested for other DNA, they could not find anything that would lead them to the Killer.
7. He Once Left A Note For Police On A Car Door
One thing the Zodiac enjoyed more than gruesomely killing people was taunting the authorities. After the Zodiac Killer’s attack at Lake Berryessa which left a fortunate victim alive, he left a note on a car door for the police. The inscription on the door is the dates of the attacks and the method of attack. It is incredible and disturbing how often he left clues like this and still eluded the police.
8. He used cement to cover his prints
One nerve-wracking fact about the Zodiac killer is that his prints or DNA were never found on any of his crime scenes. In one of his letters, the Zodiac explains why this is. He said that the reason he wouldn’t be caught is that he used airplane model cement on his fingers to disguise his fingerprint. Obviously, a lot of meticulous planning went into his activities, probably why he was never caught.
9. He claims to have killed 37 people
Though only five victims were confirmed dead, Zodiac claims there were more. In one of his correspondence to the media, he claims that he has claimed the lives of 37 people. Knowing him, it is impossible to dismiss the claim. There may be victims that he never spoke about and went unconfirmed and un-investigated. The other 32 victims are, however, not known and were never found. At least, except if the claims of the Case Breakers about a sixth victim are true.
10. He had a sophisticated understanding of maps
The “map code” was sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on 26 June 1970. The Zodiac signet appears on top of California’s Mount Diablo, along with coded instructions that explain how to locate an undetonated bomb. The fact that Zodiac used Magnetic North instead of just North suggests that he was familiar with maps.
He added a follow-up note which read: “PS. The Mt. Diablo code concerns Radians & inches along the radians.” The map cipher remains undecrypted.
The curious case of the Zodiac is one that has vexed sleep even for the smartest and most resourceful crime investigators. To have perpetrated such evil repeatedly in the open and not get caught is a fact that sends chills down one’s spine. It is left to see what more will come to light in the coming years, seeing as half of a century later, the case is still much open and active.
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