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Zodiac killer

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Written on 3:13 AM by Mrudula

The Zodiac Killer is a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s. His identity remains unknown. The Zodiac coined his name in a series of taunting letters he sent to the press. His letters included four cryptograms, three of which have yet to be solved.

Even though police investigated over 2,500 potential suspects, the case was never officially solved. There were a few suspects that stood out, but the forensic technology of the times was not advanced enough to nail any one of them conclusively.

This October, 1966 killing began a ghoulish series of murders that panicked the people of the San Francisco area. For years the Zodiac taunted the police with weird ciphers, phone calls, insulting and cryptic messages.

Before it was all over, this clever and diabolical killer changed the lives of eight people, only two of whom lived to tell the tale.

The Zodiac story began on a darkened road near Benicia, California, on the night of December 20, 1968, when a motorist discovered the lifeless bodies of two teenagers at “lovers’ lane” spot [View the crime scene photos]. Months later, a gunman attacked a second young couple in a public park miles away, and, after leaving the scene, he traveled to a payphone located just blocks from the Vallejo Police Department and dialed the number of the station. When the police dispatched answered, the caller spoke in a low, monotone voice, as if he were reading from a prepared script.

“I want to report a murder. If you will go one-mile east on Columbus Parkway, you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine-millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye."

Investigators from Vallejo and Benicia realized that they were searching for the same killer and the bold, sinister phone call raised fears that the gunman would strike again. A teenage boy survived the shooting but was unable to help identify any possible suspects.

Twenty-six days later, three envelopes arrived at the offices of three Bay Area newspapers. Each envelope contained a handwritten letter and a piece of a coded message. The writer provided a list of details regarding the two shootings, and explained that the symbols formed a coded message that would reveal his identity. The letter ended with a warning, “If you do not print this cipher by the afternoon of Fry. 1st of Aug. 69, I will go on a kill rampage Fry. night. I will cruse around all weekend killing lone people in the night then move on to kill again, untill I end up with a dozen people over the weekend.” A crossed – circle symbol had been drawn at the bottom of the page.

Each of the newspapers complied with the demand to publish the cipher, and news of the gunman’s threats created fears that he would strike again. Experts and amateurs scrambled to decode the cipher while investigators sorted through hundreds of tips from helpful citizens. The deciphered message did not reveal the killer’s identity but the words did offer a chilling portrait of the author’s state of mind. “I like killing people because it is so much fun … I will not give you my name because you will try to slo(w) down or stop my collecting of slaves for my after life …”

When authorities expressed doubts concerning the writer’s claims, another letter arrived, and began with the words that would forever send chills throughout Northern California.

“Dear Editor – This is the Zodiac speaking. In answer to your asking about the good times I have had in Vallejo I shall be very happy to supply even more material.” The writer provided more details about the attacks and then took issue with some factual errors in news reports about his crimes.

Weeks passed and as the manhunt continued, the Zodiac moved north into the Napa Valley and California wine country, where he stabbed a young couple on the banks of Lake Berryessa. A survivor told investigators that the attacker had worn a black, squared hood with a white crossed circle over his chest. To prove he was responsible for the crime, the Zodiac used a black marker to draw a large crossed-circle on the door of Bryan’s car. Below his symbol, the killer listed the dates of the two shootings and added the notation, “Sept 27 69 6:30 by knife.”

At 7:40 pm, the Napa County Police Department received a call placed from a telephone booth located a few blocks away. Officer David Slaight listened as the caller said in a low, monotone voice, “I want to report a murder – no, a double murder. They are two miles north of park headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Karman Ghia.” Slaight asked the man to provide his location, but the voice only grew more distant as the caller replied, “I’m the one who did it.”

Investigators from Napa met with detectives in Vallejo and Benicia and compared notes but were unable to develop any solid leads. The Zodiac may have believed that the three law enforcement agencies were not up to the task and he invited the San Francisco police department to join in the hunt.

Twenty-nine year old cabdriver Paul Stine picked up the Zodiac on the night of October 11, 1969. Stine drove to a destination in a wealthy San Francisco neighborhood where the passenger shot him in the right temple [View a crime scene photo]. Fingerprints found inside the cab and on its exterior were photographed and collected. On the driver's side of the vehicle, police found fingerprints which appeared to contain traces of blood. Investigators believed that these fingerprints may have been left by the killer.

Three young witnesses watched the crime in progress from a house directly across the street and contacted police. The descriptions provided by the three young witnesses produced a composite sketch of the man seen exiting Stine’s cab. Police believed that Stine was the victim of a routine robbery until the Zodiac began to send scraps of the cabdriver’s blood soaked shirt to prove they were mistaken.

The letter ended with another terrifying threat of violence. “School children make nice targets I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning just shoot out the frunt tire + pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” Patrol cars and aircraft followed buses to and from schools and armed officers rode onboard for added protection. [View a CBS NEWS report about the Zodiac bus threat.} The Zodiac then sent another letter along with diagrams of a bomb he intended to plant along bus routes.

The ongoing mystery attracted the customary crackpots, wild tips, false confessions and hoax letters. Infamous defense attorney Melvin Belli entered the story during a televised phone conversation with a man claiming to be the Zodiac. [Watch Belli and the Zodiac imposter.] Police traced subsequent calls to Belli’s home and identified the crazed imposter as a patient in a mental hospital. As if to reclaim the publicity, the killer mailed a letter to Belli that included another blood soaked scrap of the cabdriver’s shirt to prove that he was the real Zodiac. Despite Belli’s public offer to help the killer, the real Zodiac never contacted the famous attorney again. [During one call to Belli's home, the Zodiac-imposter declared "Today's my birthday!". The so-called "Belli Birthday Call" has since become the subject of controversy.]

More letters contained more threats, bomb diagrams and coded messages. The Zodiac also announced his intention to change his way of collecting “slaves for the afterlife” by staging his crimes to appear to be “routine robberies, killings of anger and a few fake accidents.” [Watch a 1969 TV news report on the Zodiac's November letters.] The killer included long, rambling descriptions of his fantasies of torture along with selected passages from the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, The Mikado. Letters soon featured a box score which credited the Zodiac with an increasing number of victims followed by the notation “SFPD = 0” and the taunt, “I hope you have fun trying to figgure out who I killed.”

Given the killer’s apparent freedom to do as he pleased, one particular passage was difficult to refute. “The police shall never catch me because I have been too clever for them.” The failure to catch the Zodiac was a constant source of embarrassment for his chosen nemesis, the San Francisco police department. Each new letter became a liability as the psychotic pen pal wrote, “Hey blue pig, doesn’t it rile you to have your nose rubbed in your boo-boos?” and, “I have grown rather angry with the police for their telling lies about me.”

The Zodiac also demanded that the people of the Bay Area wear “some nice Zodiac buttons” bearing his chosen symbol, the crossed circle. When the public did not comply with his wishes, he wrote that he had “punished” them “by shooting a man sitting in a parked car.”
- Munnu

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