In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an unknown assailant terrorized the San Francisco area. The Zodiac Killer is believed to be responsible for at least five killings between 1968 and 1969. While the police have had several suspects over the years, the killer has never been apprehended.
It is believed that his first victim may have been Cheri Jo Bates, a college student in Riverside, California. She was murdered outside her school’s library on October 30, 1966.A month after the attack, a letter was sent to a local newspaper allegedly written by the killer. Months later, letters were sent to the newspaper, the police, and the victim’s father by the killer, all with the same chilling message: “Bates had to die there will be more.”
On the evening of December 20, 1968, the killer made good on his threat. He shot a teenage couple out on a date in Vallejo, California. They parked at a local lover’s lane when the killer shot David Faraday in the head while he sat in the car and Betty Lou Jensen in the back five times outside of the vehicle.
On July 4, 1969, the Zodiac Killer is believed to have attacked another young couple, Mike Mageau and Darlene Ferrin, in Vallejo. Mageau survived the shooting, but Ferrin died at the scene. Also around this time, the killer wrote letters to three area newspapers with details of the crime. He also wrote a cipher, or coded message, and each newspaper received one part of the message. Told them to print the cipher in the newspaper or he would kill again.
The Zodiac’s code was cracked by a high school teacher from Salinas. While the killer failed to reveal his name in his message as he had earlier promised, the note did provide some disturbing insights into his personality. "I like killing people because it is so much fun", the message read in part. He also said that all of the people he killed would be his slaves in the afterlife.
In August, the killer began to call himself “Zodiac” in a letter to San Francisco Examiner. On September 27, 1969, the killer struck again, choosing yet another young couple out in a remote area at the night. Rather than shooting them, the killer stabbed them
repeatedly. Bryan Hartnell survived the attack, but his girlfriend Cecelia Shepard died two days later. The killer left a message on Hartnell’s car door, which included the dates of the two earlier assaults and murders.
From the survivors, a sketch of the killer was created. He was described as a heavyset, white male in his late twenties or thirties with short brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses.
During the attacks, he wore a large hood, like those worn by executioners.
Breaking from his usual pattern, the Zodiac Killershot a taxi driver on October 11, only a few weeks after the Hartnell-Shepard attack. Two days later, he wrote another letter taking credit for the murder and made threats about attacking a school bus and killing schoolchildren.
With the case remaining unsolved, it has been the subject of much discussion and speculation. Proposed suspects have included a follower of Charles Manson and the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Arthur Leigh Allen was a popular candidate for the Zodiac Killer, having been identified by Hartnell and Mageau as their attacker. But later DNA testing failed to link Allen to the crimes. In 2004, a representative from the San Francisco Police stated that “the case is being placed inactive.”