Zodiac Murder Essay, Research Paper
The Zodiac Killer
Essay written by Dominic Golemi
The late 1960?s and early 1970?s represented a great deal of things to a great deal of people. To the San Francisco Bay area, as well as the rest of California, the late ?60?s and early ?70?s represented terror, fear, and death. What started out as a seemingly random, but brutal murder on the night of October 30th, 1966, turned out to be the start of a series of horrific murders that would span 2,500 suspects, 56 possible victims, and over 400 miles. On the calm, cool night of December 20th, 1968, a young seventeen year-old named David Arthur Faraday was getting ready to take a young sixteen year-old named Betty Lou Jensen on her first date. David arrived at Betty?s house, picked her up, and promptly proceeded to Lake Herman Road, a well known “lover?s lane” of the local teenagers.
After a while, a car, possibly a blue Valiant, pulled up next to David?s 1961 brown and beige four-door station wagon, and a man got out. “Framed only in silhouette, the man appeared to be stocky in build and slightly heavy, with an eerie sense about him” (Tina 3). The man requested that the teens get out of their car, but they refused. Upon hearing David and Betty?s refusal, the man pulled out a gun, and fired a round into the right rear window, shattering it with incredible force. He then moved to the front of the car and fired another round into the left tire. Stricken with panic, David and Betty rushed out of the car, but the man was there to meet them. Betty was able to scramble out, but David wasn?t so lucky, as he was met with the cold, hard barrel of a gun pressing behind his left ear. “The shot made a deafening blast, as the bullet entered David?s head at a horizontal angle, blowing it apart” (Tina 3).
With David out of his way, the killer turned his attention back to Betty. “He pursued her through the woods, his gun drawn, and shot her five times in the back from less than ten feet away.” (Tina 3). The killer then got back into his car, and drove away as quickly as he had appeared. David, amazingly, was still alive, and bleeding profusely from his wounds, but Betty was dead. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, David was able to give the police an account of the events that had taken place that night, but he died shortly after from his wounds. Upon investigation, the police came up with nothing, and ruled the murder a random homicide.
Darlene Ferrin, a close friend of both Betty and David, was the next victim on the Zodiac?s list. On Friday, July 4th, 1969, Darlene made arrangements with her close friend Michael Mageau to goto the movies. Darlene picked Michael up from his apartment that evening, and from the beginning it was apparent that they were being followed. Darlene took many country backroads and traveled at very high speeds to try to lose the pursuing vehicle, but with no success. The vehicle forced Darlene?s car off of the road and into the parking lot of the Blue Rock Springs Golf course. Once the pursuer had sufficiently blocked them from any further movement in the car, he stepped out of his vehicle with a lantern in his hand, and his headlights shining blindingly into Darlene and Michael?s faces. “Mike could feel intense heat throughout his body. He had been shot. The bullets were still being fired as Darlene slumped over the steering wheel. She had been hit several times. Some of the bullets passed through Mike?s body into hers.” (Tina 5). The attacker then fired off two more shots before getting into his car and driving off.
Mike crawled out of the car and into the road, hoping someone would see him and stop to help. “One bullet had gone through his jawbone and tongue, making it almost impossible for him to speak or yell.” (Tina 5). Three teenagers driving by, looking for a friend, saw Mike, injured and bleeding, on the ground. They immediately called the police.
Darlene was pronounced dead on arrival, but Mike managed to survive the attack, and once he healed from his facial injuries, describe the crime in detail to the police. This once again looked like a random homicide to the police, until they received a call later that night from a man claiming responsibility for the double murder, and also for David and Betty. The man described both crimes in detail, providing information that was only known to the police, and not to the public. The man then said “goodbye”, and hung up the phone. The police realized that they now had a serial killer on their hands. A few days later, a letter, in the form of a cryptogram, was delivered to the San Francisco Chronicle. Once deciphered, the letter took responsibility for the murders of David, Betty, and Darlene, and was signed with a crossed-circle symbol. The letter also claimed that the identity of the killer could be found within the symbols. “He demanded that the letter be published on Friday, August 1st, 1969, and if not, that he would go on a weekend killing spree of incredible proportions.” (Tina 12).
From then on, after each new killing, the Zodiac mailed a letter to one of the local area papers, or the police, taunting and playing with them, as well as claiming responsibility for the murders. In all, the Zodiac killer claimed responsibility for thirty-seven murders, but the police could only identify seven as positively being Zodiac victims. After many years of research on the subject though, it has been found that the Zodiac may have been responsible for as many as fifty-six homicides.
One of the most interesting of the Zodiac killings took place on September 27th, 1969, at Lake Berryessa, near the San Francisco Bay area. Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell were picnicking along the lake?s shore that day, when they noticed a man ducking in and out of cover amongst the trees of nearby woods. When the figure finally emerged from the woods, it was cloaked in a medieval executioner?s uniform, with a square topped hood and the symbol of the zodiac emblazoned in the center of the all black clothing. He approached the couple with his gun in one hand and knife in the other, and requested Bryan?s car keys and money. He also insisted that Cecelia tie Bryan up with some rope he gave her, and once that was done, he tied her up as well. “He then threatened the couple, telling them he would have to ?stab them.? After Bryan?s pleading, the man knelt down, raised the knife, and plunged it into Bryan?s back. He then turned to Cecelia and repeatedly stabbed her in the back as well. That wasn?t enough though, as he plunged the knife into her chest, once into each breast, her abdomen, and her groin.” (Tina 6). He then left the scene without taking the keys or money that he requested in the first place. A park ranger found the wounded couple minutes later, and phoned for help. Cecelia died the next day from her twenty-four stab wounds, but Bryan managed to survive the attack. He described a man of the same height and build as that of the killer that had killed David, Betty, and Darlene. Later that night a phone call was made to the ranger?s office reporting the double stabbing, with the caller stating, “I?m the one who did it.” This was another Zodiac strike. Paul Lee Stine was a cab driver in the town of Presidio Heights, CA. He picked up a stranger on the night of October 11th, 1969, and was immediately accosted, and held at gunpoint by the rider. “The gun, placed against Paul?s right cheek in front of his right ear, fired, with the copper lead bullet exploding into Paul?s skull, fragmenting into four sections, and killing him instantly.” (Tina 7). The killer tore a piece of Paul?s shirt off, wiped down the cab for blood and prints, and then escaped into the night. A little fragment of the piece of torn shirt was mailed with every Zodiac letter from then on, to prove it?s authenticity. The Zodiac had struck once again.
One of the final incidents of the proven Zodiac crimes was committed on March 22nd, 1970. Kathleen Johns and her daughter Jennifer, who was ten months old, had left for a trip to see Kathleen?s sick mother, who lived a few towns away. Kathleen was also seven months pregnant with her second child at the time.
While driving along the country backroad at night, a strange car pulled up beside her and directed her to pull off onto the side of the road. She did as instructed, and the man in the car told her that her rear wheel was wobbling, and that he would fix it. The man got out, adjusted the tire, and then got back in his car and sped off. Kathleen drove a few feet before the rear tire fell completely off. The stranger returned, and profusely apologized for the wheel. He offered to give her a ride to the nearest gas station, and she accepted. The stranger drove past the gas station, and off into the dark night, insisting to Kathleen repeatedly over the three hour period that she was in that car, that she was going to die, and he was going to be the one to do it. “The car came to a sudden halt. The man had driven off of the road. This was Kathleen?s chance to escape, so she grabbed Jennifer, and jumped out of the car. She ran across the road with her child held tightly in her grasp, and into a ditch, hidden by tall grass in a field. It was a wine vineyard. She laid as flat as she could, cradling her child beneath her, hoping it wouldn?t scream.” (Tina 9).
The man searched the field with a flashlight, until a trucker saw the car on the side of the road, and stopped to help. Upon seeing the trucker, the man fleeted back to his car and hastily drove off. Kathleen refused a ride with the trucker, and waited until the next driver coming down the road, a woman, to ask for help. Once at the police station, Kathleen was startled by a police sketch on the wall. It was of the Zodiac killer, and she positively identified him as the man who attacked her.
“Years before the onslaught of the slayings, there was a baffling case which would go down in history as the beginning of the Zodiac crimes.” (Tina 9). At first there was no connection between the Zodiac and the murder of eighteen year-old Cheri Jo Bates, of Riverside, CA., but once the other crimes started, the evidence became clear. On October 30th, 1966, Cheri went to her community college library to study. Upon exit of the library, she was greeted by a man who offered her a ride home. As they walked to his car, he placed a hand over her mouth, put a knife to her throat, and slit it with one quick, fluid swipe. He cut through her jugular and her larynx, and down to her spine, sliced her throat three additional times, and stabbed her in the back. Cheri Jo Bates was dead. After the other crimes began, the local police, as well as Cheri?s father, received letters in the mail stating, “Bates had to die, there will be more, signed Z.” This was the first Zodiac killing.
Over the years, a list of possible suspects grew to 2,500. Of these 2,500, two of them are very likely suspects. Arthur Leigh Allen was the top Zodiac suspect. He died in August of 1992 of a heart attack. “Allen first came to the attention of the police in 1971 when his friends and family called police because of his erratic behavior. They had a feeling that he might possibly be the Zodiac. He often spoke of the ?most dangerous game? and ?man as a true game? — two phrases the Zodiac used in his letters.” (Tina 16). Allen?s sister-in-law had seen Allen walking around with papers that contained symbols and lines, similar to those of the Zodiac, and when questioned about them he answered, “they are the work of an insane person.” “One day in particular shook his sister-in-law into reality. She discovered a bloody knife on the front seat of his car. Allen claimed he killed chickens with it. It was the same day of the Lake Berryessa attack. The police were called.” (Tina 16). “Allen?s features closely resembled those of the Zodiac?s police sketches. In 1973, Allen was examined by a psychologist, and was determined to have five distinct personalities. He was also determined to be ?possibly violent and dangerous? and was certainly ?capable of killing.? Allen could be placed in the vicinity of all of the murders. He often bragged about being the Zodiac to friends, only to change his story when questioned by the police.” (Tina 17).
The other very likely suspect was a man named Lawrence Kane. Kane was identified by both Michael Mageau and Kathleen Johns as being their attacker. “Kane had many aliases and possessed three social security cards, all under different names. He had claimed two birth dates. He also had two driver?s licenses. Between the years of 1946 and 1968, Kane was arrested nineteen times for crimes ranging from burglary to battery to fraud.” (Tina 18). Kane could also be placed in the vicinity of all of the murders. Kane is a Taurus on the Zodiac chart. Most striking of all, when the Zodiac sent his cryptograms to the papers, he claimed his name could be found within the symbols. At the time, no names could be drawn from the cryptographs, but recently, the cryptographs were run through National Security Agency?s (NSA?s) decoding supercomputers, and the name Kane appeared several times. Kane was also thought to have multiple personalities.
Some of the most interesting, and at the same time terrifying, things about the Zodiac, were his intelligence and cunning. The Zodiac always killed on weekends. Incidentally, these weekends were always near holidays (Halloween, Columbus Day, Tabernacles, Christmas, etc.). Every time a murder was committed by the Zodiac, it was near a body of water or in a place that had a watertype name (Lake Herman Pumping Station, Lake Berryessa, Blue Rock Springs Golf Course, Riverside, etc.). All of the killings coincided with the phases of the new moon. Saturn was visible as an evening star on all the nights of the murders. His insignia, the crossed circle, represented the season?s solstices (summer and winter) and equinoxes (vernal and autumnal). When the Zodiac?s letters to the police and papers are chronologically put in order to where they were sent, a giant “Z” is traced across the San Francisco landscape. Last, but not least, the Zodiac made references to the “radian” in one of his letters to the police. He also mentioned Mount Diablo in the same letter. When a radian was traced onto a piece of transparency paper, and then intersected with Mount Diablo, the resultant legs of the radian passed through every Zodiac murder location, even 400 miles to the south where Cheri Jo Bates was killed. After analyzing the two suspects thoroughly, I feel that the evidence strongly points to Lawrence Kane, rather than Arthur Leigh Allen as the Zodiac killer. The evidence against Allen seems to show that he was most likely just a deranged psychotic, claiming responsibility for the killings only to be the center or everyone?s attention, and cowering and recanting his story once confronted by the police.
On the other hand, the evidence against Kane is almost concrete, seeing as he was identified as the Zodiac twice by witnesses, he had multiple arrests for violent crimes, and most stunningly, the NSA deciphered cryptographs that contained his name; all pointing to him as the most likely, and the most probable culprit.
The Zodiac was one of the most cold and calculating murderers of the twentieth century. His gruesome and violent ways of killing, along with the coinciding of his murders with moon phases, star appearances, radians, and the astrological chart, among other things, also make him the most terrifying murderer of the twentieth century. The scariest thing of all is that this maniac was never caught, and if not dead, is still living somewhere, potentially threatening the lives of the peaceful people around him.
Mrazik, Tina. “The Zodiac Killer” Online. Internet. 1998. Available: http://crimelibrary.com/zodiac/zodiac/zodiacmain.html
Graysmith, Robert. Zodiac New York: Berkley Books, 1987.
Penn, Gareth. Times Seventeen: The Amazing Story of the Zodiac Murders in California and Massachusetts, 1966-1981 New York: The Foxglove Press, 1987