a sketch of Zodiac Killer
In the 1960s and 1970s, California was a cesspool for killers. Some of the most famous ones were Charles Manson, the Golden State Killer, and the Zodiac Killer. They all murdered dozens of people all across the state around the same time period. Some of the good news in this story, if there is any at all, is that Charles Manson had been arrested and died in prison back in 2017, and the Golden State Killer, named Joseph James DeAngelo Junior was sentenced to life in prison as recently as August 2020.
The bad news is that the Zodiac Killer has never been caught. He was very similar to Jack the Ripper, in that he sent letters to local newspapers. It was a way to taunt them and he used a nickname for himself. The letters he sent used complicated cryptograms and if they solved them, he promised to reveal his true identity.
When he sent the letters to the journalists, he threatened to “cruise around all weekend killing lone people in the night” if the journals didn’t print his letters on the front pages. At the bottoms of the letter, the Zodiac killer left a cross-circle that looked oddly similar to a gun’s crosshairs.
The Victims of the Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer’s victims include three young couples and a cab driver. In December of 1968, he shot and killed students from a local high school. They were David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen in the city of Benicia, California. The students were on their first date together at a lover’s lane that was popular in the area. Six months later, he was on the prowl again. In Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, California, he brutally shot another couple. Their names were Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau. Miraculously, Michael actually survived the attack, even though he had both been shot in the face, neck, and chest. The very next day, a mysterious man called the police from a payphone at a gas station nearby and claimed responsibility for both of them.
In September of 1969, the Zodiac Killer murdered a young student named Cecelia Shepard who attended college in Lake Berryessa, California. She was stabbed and killed and her boyfriend, Bryan Hartnell, was stabbed in the back and survived. Just like with the case of Michael and Darlene, a mysterious man called the police from another payphone. This time, he said, “a murder—no, a double murder,” so the police thought that the killer believed Bryan had died. Both times the Zodiac Killer called, he escaped.
His last known murder was in October of 1969 where he shot a cab driver named Paul Stine. At first, the police believed it was a robbery turned homicide, but the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac Killer taking credit for the murder. Surprisingly, because of the survivors, police were able to have a sketch artist draw the Zodiac Killer’s likeness—a white male with brown hair. Even though investigators interviewed dozens of suspects, especially one named Arthur Leigh Allen who had been dishonorably discharged from the Navy and lost his job at an elementary school for child molestation. But because Arthur’s letters didn’t match Allen’s, he was released and died in August of 1992.
In January of 1974, the Zodiac Killer sent a final letter to the San Francisco Chronicle that said, “Me = 37, SFPD – 0.”