The elusive Zodiac Killer | Sunday Observer

The elusive Zodiac Killer

Solving serial crime has been a daunting challenge to police. One of the most baffling mysteries of this century is the case of the Zodiac Killer- who was never caught.

What stands out in this series of murders is that the male suspect sent letters and cryptic notes to the media and police, giving hints at his identity: yet almost 5 decades later his identity remains elusive. From the 1960s to 1970s this maniac killer was associated with 5 brutal murders, though he confessed to 37 in his notes sent to the media. No doubt there was pulsating media frenzy at this time, as the American people waited in earnest hope to see who this bizarre killer was. His victims were found in the areas of Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa and San Francisco. As the momentum of the case increased the killer adapted the name “the zodiac” and signed his deadly notes with a circle and crosshair.

The victims of the zodiac killer were-

David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16: shot and killed on December 20, 1968, on Lake Herman Road, within the city limits of Benicia

Michael Renault Mageau, 19, and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22: shot on July 4, 1969, in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo. While Mageau survived the attack, Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival at Kaiser Foundation Hospital.

Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Sheppard, 22: stabbed on September 27, 1969, at Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Surprisingly Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to the back, but Sheppard died as a result of her injuries on September 29, 1969.

Paul Lee Stine, 29: shot and killed on October 11, 1969, in the Presidio Heights neighborhood in San Francisco.

One of the bizarre notes sent to the media give an insight into the cold and confused mind of the killer and his justification of his bloody crimes, he wrote-“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, to kill something gives me the most thrilling experience.

On August 1, 1969, three letters prepared by the elusive killer were sent to the Vallejo Times Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner. The mysterious writer took credit for the shootings at Lake Herman Road and Blue Rock Springs. Each letter also included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram which the killer claimed contained his identity. The killer demanded they be printed on each paper’s front page. The Zodiac seemed to be an “impulse killer” as his victims deferred with time.

Robert Graysmith in his book Zodiac suggests Arthur Leigh Allen as a potential suspect based on circumstantial evidence. Allen had been interviewed by police from the early days of the Zodiac investigations. In 2007 Graysmith noted that several police detectives described Allen as the most likely suspect. However, in 2010, Toschi stated that all the evidence against Allen ultimately “turned out to be negative.

Other evidence against Allen included: A letter sent to the Riverside Police Department from Bates’ killer was typed with a Royal typewriter, the same brand found during the February 1991 search of Allen’s residence. He owned and wore a Zodiac wristwatch. Allen lived in Vallejo and worked minutes away from where one of the first victims (Ferrin) lived and where one of the killings took place. Retired police handwriting expert Lloyd Cunningham, who worked the Zodiac case for decades, states “they gave me boxes full of Allen’s writing, and none of his writing even came close to the Zodiac.”

Decades later some believe the real culprit was Ross Sullivan, a library worker. Sullivan often wore military style boots. Similar boot prints were found at all the crime scenes. In addition the man wore rimmed glasses: similar to the ones worn by the Zodiac killer as per eyewitness accounts. The case remains inconclusive. We will never know the eerie identity of this serial killer, yet his calculated actions fascinate students of homicide. The mark of the Zodiac still instills fear. 

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