The Zodiac Killer
This article was contributed by The Black Lodge and relates the episode The Mikado of Chris Carter's Millennium television series.
This article was contributed by The Black Lodge and relates the episode The Mikado of Chris Carter's Millennium television series.
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Frank Black and Peter Watts call in Millennium Group computer expert Brian Roedecker for assistance on a very serious case when they find a serial killer who broadcasts his gruesome crimes over the internet to a bevy of sick spectators. Is this the work of Avatar, a sadistic killer Frank’s tracked before, utilizing a brand new technological medium for his crimes?
Written by Michael Perry
Directed by Roderick Pridy
Edited by Chris Willingham, A.C.E.
There are a total of 145 available images from The Mikado.
The Zodiac was a serial killer who operated in California during the 1960's and 1970's. He is believed to have murdered at least five (known) victims in Benicia, Vallejo, at Lake Berryessa near Napa, and in San Francisco between December 1968 and October 1969. He wrote many taunting letters to the press, including four cryptograms, three of which have yet to be solved. In April 2004, the San Francisco Police Department officially closed the case, even though the killer's identity still remains unknown and despite the fact that there is no statute of limitations on murder. Thousands of suspects were investigated over the years, but it is the opinion of many investigators that the Zodiac Killer may never have even been turned in as a suspect to law enforcement and questioned...Even to this day, it remains one of the most bizarre and creepy serial killer cases. Read on....
Before he named himself publicly, The Zodiac Killer first came to police attention following the apparently random murders of Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on December 20th, 1968, just inside the Benicia city limits in a turnout on Lake Herman Road near Vallejo; it was their first date together, and Jensen's first date ever. They were supposed to go to a Christmas concert that night at Hogan High (just a few blocks from Jensen's home), but visited a friend named Sharon instead, then stopped at Mr Ed's, a local restaurant. Meanwhile on Lake Herman Road, a white Chevrolet was observed parked in a gravel turnout by two hunters, who approached it at one point, but the driver was nowhere to be seen.
At 9:30 PM, Bill Crow and his girlfriend stopped in the turnout and saw a white Chevy drive past them, heading towards Vallejo. It stopped and backed up, and Crow, who left the engine running, took off towards Benicia with the Chevy in hot pursuit. At Reservoir Road, Crow made a sharp right, but the much bigger Chevy could not follow them and stopped a short distance past the intersection, as did Crow. He got out and shouted a challenge at the other driver, but the Chevy drove off. Faraday and Jensen parked in that same gravel turnout about 45 minutes later and were seen by several witnesses, and shortly after 11 PM, the Zodiac pulled into the turnout and parked beside them. At least one witness drove by moments later and saw both cars. With a .22 calibre handgun, The Zodiac shot out the rear passenger window, shot through the roof of the car, then forced Jensen and Faraday out on the passenger side. He shot Faraday once in the head and Jensen five times in the back as she was running away, then he quickly departed the scene, leaving their bodies to be found minutes later by Stella Borges, who raced into Benicia and alerted Captain Daniel Pitta and Officer William T Warner, who she found at an Enco Station in town. Detective sergeant Les Lundblad of the Solano County Sheriff's Department investigated the crime, but no solid leads were developed.
The double homicide was followed 6½ months later by the shooting of Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau near midnight on July 4th-July 5th, 1969, at the Blue Rock Springs Golf Course parking lot in Vallejo, just four miles from the Lake Herman Road murder site. The Zodiac drove up behind them, cutting off any escape, and using a flashlight to blind them, shot them with a 9mm while they sat in their car. At 12:40 AM on July 5th, The Zodiac anonymously called Vallejo PD and reported the crime, also taking credit for the murders of Jensen and Faraday nearly seven months before. Interestingly enough, the phone booth he used was at a gas station about half a mile from Ferrin's home. Nancy Slover took the call and remembered it the best she could when she spoke to the Vallejo News-Chronicle five weeks later; there is a rumor that Vallejo PD recorded the call, but there is no evidence that such a recording ever existed. Ferrin was pronounced DOA at the hospital, but Mageau survived despite being shot in the face, neck and chest. Ferrin was a popular, outgoing waitress at Terry's Waffle House in Vallejo, and it seems that she had more than her fair share of admirers despite the fact that she was married. Some of these admirers apparently stalked her, giving rise to the story that she knew The Zodiac's true identity and that he killed her to prevent her from turning him in to the authorities, but there has never been any credible evidence to substantiate this belief. In an interesting case of synchronicity, Ferrin worked at the International House of Pancakes on Tennessee Street in Vallejo in 1966, just around the corner from the home of Arthur Leigh Allen, the most well-known of the Zodiac suspects; she may have actually known him as a customer. Allen is known to have commented about a particular waitress who worked there, but never revealed her name; considering her popularity, the waitress in question was very likely Darlene Ferrin. It's also interesting to note that Allen's house at 32 Fresno Street is only about half a mile from the phone booth The Zodiac used to call Vallejo PD after Ferrin's murder. John Lynch and Ed Rust of VPD initially investigated the crime, and Jack Mulanax took over the case in the 1970's.
Letters prepared by the Zodiac were received at the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner. The nearly identical letters took credit for the three murders and also included one third of a cryptogram with a total of 408 characters in which he claimed was his identity; The Zodiac demanded they be printed on the front page or he would go on a rampage and kill a dozen people that weekend. The threatened murders did not happen, and all three parts were eventually published.
Another letter was received at the San Francisco Examiner, and it started with, "Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking." The Zodiac had finally given himself the name by which he is now known, and the letter itself was in response to Chief Stiltz of Vallejo asking him to write again with more details as proof that he was really the killer of Faraday, Jensen and Ferrin.
Donald and Bettye Harden of Salinas, California cracked the code, but it was more of a mission statement than anything else and did not include his name. It started with, "I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN..." There were 18 apparently random letters at the end, which some believe can be rearranged to spell "Robert Emmet the Hippie" (a solution that can be obtained only by adding three more letters).
Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were picnicking on the shores of Lake Berryessa, on a small island connected by a sand spit to Twin Oak Ridge. The Zodiac, wearing a black executioner's type hood (but square on top like a paper bag) with clip-on sunglasses over the eyeholes and a biblike device on his chest that had a white cross-circle symbol on it, approached them with a gun; Hartnell thought it was a .45. The Zodiac claimed to be an escaped convict from Deer Lodge, Montana, where he had killed a guard and stolen a car; he told his victims he needed their car and money to go to Mexico. He had brought pre-cut lengths of plastic clothesline and told Shepard to tie Hartnell up, then he tied her up. The Zodiac checked Hartnell's bonds and found she tied him loosely, and so tightened them. Hartnell initially thought it was only a weird robbery, but The Zodiac drew a knife and stabbed them both, then hiked the 500 yards back up to Knoxville Road, drew his cross circle symbol on Hartnell's car door and wrote beneath it: Vallejo 12-20-68, 7-4-69, Sept 27-69-6:30 by knife. At 7:40 PM, the Zodiac called Napa PD to report his crime, and officer David Slaight took the call; the phone booth was found minutes later at the Napa Car Wash, only a few blocks from the police station and 27 miles from the crime scene.
Meanwhile, passing fisherman Ronald Fong discovered the victims and summoned help, and Hartnell and Shepard were taken to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa. Shepard lapsed into a coma and died two days later, but Hartnell not only survived to tell the bizarre story, he went on to become a successful lawyer in Southern California. The island (located in the present day Oak Shores Recreation Area) on which the attack took place is even referred to locally as Zodiac Island; it has changed a lot over the years, since the three trees present at the time are now gone, and a picnic table sits right by the spot where Hartnell and Shepard were attacked. Sergeant Ken Narlow of the Napa County Sheriff's Department investigated the stabbing; his best suspect was Rick Marshall, but there was not enough evidence for an arrest.
The Zodiac took a cab driven by Paul Stine from the intersection of Mason and Geary Streets in San Francisco and requested to be taken to the intersection of Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights. For reasons unknown, Stine drove one block further to Cherry Street; the Zodiac shot him once in the head with a 9mm (a different weapon than the one used at Blue Rock Springs three months earlier), then took his wallet and car keys and tore off his shirt tail. He was observed by three teenagers across the street, who called the police as the crime was in progress, but they didn't realize Stine was dead; they thought he had been stabbed, since they heard no gunshot.
They observed The Zodiac wiping the cab down, either eliminating fingerprints or sopping up blood with the shirt tail, and then he simply walked away towards the Presidio, just one block to the north. The police arrived minutes later, with Armand Pelissetti first on the scene; The Zodiac was only a block north at Cherry and Jackson when he arrived, and the teen witnesses lost sight of him as they tried to explain to Pelissetti that the killer was still nearby.
Only two blocks from the crime scene at Maple and Jackson Streets, Officer Don Fouke, also responding to the call, observed The Zodiac walking along the sidewalk then stepping onto a stairway leading up to the front yard of one of the homes on the north side of the street; the encounter lasted only five to ten seconds. His rookie partner, Eric Zelms, apparently did not see the suspect (one would assume he was checking the south side of Jackson). The radio dispatch alerted them to look for a black male - not a white suspect, so they had no reason to talk to The Zodiac and drove past him without stopping; the mixup in descriptions remains unexplained to this very day.
When they reached Cherry, Fouke spotted Pelissetti (who was walking up the block to see if the killer was still in sight), stopped and was informed by him that they were in fact looking for a white suspect; Fouke realized they must have passed the killer (it must be noted that no one at the time knew it was The Zodiac).
Thinking quickly, Fouke logically concluded The Zodiac resumed his original route east on Jackson then escaped north along Maple and into the Presidio, so they drove another block west to Arguello Street and entered the base to look for him, but The Zodiac had vanished. A search ensued, but nothing was found. The three teen witnesses sat down with a police artist and prepared a composite of Stine's killer, and a few days later returned to produce a second composite. The Zodiac was estimated to be 35-45 years of age. Detectives Bill Armstrong and Dave Toschi were assigned to the case, and SFPD eventually investigated an estimated 2,500 suspects over the years.
The Chronicle receive yet another letter from The Zodiac, this time containing a swatch of Paul Stine's shirt tail as proof he was the killer. It also included a chilling threat about shooting school children. It was only then that they knew who they were looking for a few nights before in Presidio Heights.
At 2am in the morning someone claiming to be The Zodiac called Oakland PD demanding that F Lee Bailey or Melvin Belli appear on Jim Dunbar's television talk show in the morning. Bailey was not available, but Belli appeared on the show. Dunbar appealed to the viewers to keep the lines open, and eventually, someone claiming to be The Zodiac called several times and said his name was Sam. Belli agreed to meet with Sam in Daly City, but he never showed up, disappointing Belli and the media. Bryan Hartnell, David Slaight and Nancy Slover, the only three people known to have heard The Zodiac's voice, listened intently to Sam's voice and all agreed that he was not The Zodiac.
Subsequent calls Sam made to Belli were traced back to the Napa State Hospital, where it was learned that it was a mental patient hospitalised there.
The Zodiac mailed a card with another cryptogram consisting of 340 characters and on November 9th, mails a seven-page letter in which he claims that two policemen stopped and actually spoke with him three minutes after he shot Stine. Excerpts from the letter were published in the Chronicle on November 12th, including The Zodiac's shocking claim.
Later that same day, Don Fouke wrote a memo explaining what truly happened that night. Despite claims to the contrary, the 340 character cipher has never been decoded. Many 'solutions' have been arrived at but these always ignore code-making conventions and, in doing so, invalidate themselves.
The Zodiac mailed a letter to Belli and included yet another swatch of Stine's shirt; The Zodiac claimed he wanted Belli to help him, but it was in all likelihood, no more than a joke on The Zodiac's part. Had he truly wanted legal representation, he would have walked into Belli's office with Paul Stine's driver's license as proof of his identity and given himself up to the police. He was now toying with them.
Just after midnight and the ringing in of a new year and new decade, Eric Zelms was killed in the line of duty while attempting to stop a robbery in progress; the killers were apprehended minutes later and were eventually convicted and served time in jail. His name can be seen in the roster of fallen officers at the beginning of Dirty Harry (which was based heavily on this case).
Kathleen Johns was driving from San Bernardino to Petaluma to visit her mother when she picked up a tail in Modesto. He followed her west on Highway 132 and began honking and flashing his lights, then pulled up beside her to yell through his window that her tire was wobbling. Her car was old, so she figured maybe something was wrong, but she didn't pull over until she reached Chrisman Road, a quarter mile from an ARCO station and right by I-580.
The man pulled up behind her and offered to tighten the lugs; instead, he loosened them. He drove off, and as Johns pulled away from the shoulder, the wheel came off. The man backed up and offered to take her to the gas station, and that's when he realized she was seven months pregnant and had a ten month old daughter. They drove off, but passed the ARCO; they eventually came to Tracy, but the man refused to stop anywhere. He eventually made his way back into the countryside and began threatening to kill her, but she refused to lose control and give him a reason. It had been two to three hours since she got in his car when the man apparently drove up a freeway off-ramp; as he stopped to turn around, Johns jumped out with her daughter and hid in a nearby vineyard. The man came out to look for her, but a passing truck stopped and scared the man off.
Kathleen Johns eventually got a ride to Patterson and, as she was telling the sergeant of her terror ride, she happened to see on the wall a composite of the killer of Paul Stine: The Zodiac. She told him he was the man who abducted her and her daughter, and thinking The Zodiac might show up and kill them, the sergeant awakened the owner of Mil's Restaurant and made her sit inside in the dark just in case. When her car was finally located, it was found on Bird Road, more than two miles east of where she left it. It had been gutted by fire.
Because of the Halloween card The Zodiac mailed to Paul Avery (the Chronicle reporter who covered the Zodiac case) an anonymous tipster wrote to him claiming that The Zodiac had murdered a college coed in Riverside, California around Halloween in 1966. Avery contacted Riverside PD and they sent him copies of various items from the Cheri Jo Bates case file; two of the three letters written six months later to the local paper, the police and Cheri Jo's father, Joseph, were signed with what appeared to be a Z. Two hours later, Avery was on his way to Riverside. He discovered that Cheri Jo had stayed in the library annex at Riverside Community College until it closed at 9 PM on October 30, 1966, some neighbors heard a scream around 10:30 PM, and that she was found dead early the next morning a short distance away, between two abandoned houses that were to be torn down for campus renovations.
A carbon copy of a typewritten letter allegedly by Cheri Jo Bate's killer was mailed to Riverside PD and the Riverside Enterprise, claiming that he had killed her because of all the brush-offs she had given him, but many of the details included in the appropriately titled 'Confession' letter had already been published in the paper. A desk that was in the library annex the night Cheri Jo was murdered was discovered in storage in December 1966 with a poem etched into the top that was thought to be about her murder; it was the opinion of Sherwood Morrill, the state's top Questioned Documents examiner for many years, that it was written by The Zodiac.
It is the opinion of Mike Kelleher and David Van Nuys (authors of "This is the Zodiac Speaking": Into the Mind of a Serial Killer) that The Zodiac was not the killer of Cheri Jo Bates nor did he type the 'Confession,' but that he was the author of the three 'Bates had to die' letters of April 30th, 1967.
The murder of Cheri Jo Bates is so different from the subsequent Zodiac murders more than 400 miles north starting two years later that it is likely that she was killed by someone who knew her, and that The Zodiac, for whatever reason, happened to be in the area and had a little twisted fun by writing those three letters. This of course, could have been a purposefully-laid out 'red herring' by The Zodiac, although this hypothesis remains unfounded.
The Zodiac continued to mail letters and cards to the Chronicle at irregular intervals - one of the last was a card on March 22nd, 1971, that seemed to take credit for the disappearance of Donna Lass from South Lake Tahoe on September 6th, 1970.
Considering the numerous differences between her presumed abduction and the known Zodiac murders, it is the opinion of some researchers that the card was not prepared by The Zodiac at all, but possibly by the real killer attempting to pin the blame on The Zodiac. Alternatively, it very well could be an authentic Zodiac communication in which he took credit for a murder he didn't commit in order to confuse the investigation even further. Regardless of the truth surrounding her disappearance, the local police and sheriff's departments each believed that her case was in the other's jurisdiction, and no official investigation was ever made.
On April 6th, 1971, a super-low budget movie, 'The Zodiac Killer', opened at the RKO Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. It only played for one week and was seen by no more than a thousand people.
On December 23rd, 1971, 'Dirty Harry' opened in theaters nationwide; this movie is loosely based on the Zodiac case, and The Zodiac's actual handwriting was used for the ransom letter 'Scorpio' (a blatant nod to The Zodiac case) sent to the police, seen early in the film.
The Zodiac remained silent until January 29th, 1974, when he mailed another letter to the Chronicle praising 'The Exorcist' as "the best satirical comedy" [sic] that he had ever seen. Three other letters that may have have been written by him were also received that year, and then he vanished completely.
In a bizarre twist, the letter of April 24th, 1978, was declared to be a hoax less than three months later and was thought to have been perpetrated by none other than David Toschi, the S.F.P.D. homicide detective who had been on the case since the Stine murder. While Toschi did not actually create or forge the letter, its very existence was used against him politically, and was enough to remove him from the homicide division, and off the case altogether.
A recently discovered letter in the files of the Los Angeles Police Department was written to Channel 9 on May 2nd, 1978 (supposedly by The Zodiac), but it has apparently not yet been authenticated.
Between 1990 and 1994 in New York City, a Zodiac copycat murdered three people and wounded five others with a zip gun. He also wrote letters to the police in a fashion similar to the San Francisco Zodiac. In 1996, Heriberto Seda was identified as the New York Zodiac after he was arrested for shooting his sister, and in June 1998, he was sentenced to 236 years in jail - he will not be eligible for parole until 2082.
The case is still officially unsolved, and even though there is no statute of limitations on murder, it is not being actively investigated any longer. San Francisco Police Department have even gone as far as to close the case (although it is still remains open in other jurisdictions). Over the years, there have been numerous newspaper and magazine stories, TV shows, a handful of true-crime books (and even some novels based on the crimes), a few movies (see below) and several websites dedicated to solving the case.