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Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: Zodiac, The Zodiac, Z
Wanted For: Murder, Attempted Murder
Missing Since: April 1978

Case

Details: The Zodiac Killer is an unknown serial killer who murdered at least five people (although he claimed to have had nearly forty victims) and seriously injured two others in northern California’s San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s. Most of his victims were young couples who were shot or stabbed in secluded areas. Some of the crimes happened during full moons.
On the night of December 20, 1968, seventeen-year-old David Faraday and sixteen-year-old Betty Lou Jensen went out on their first date. That evening, they went to a Christmas concert at Betty Lou’s high school, visited a friend, and had dinner at a local restaurant. At around 10:15pm, they parked at a lover’s lane along Lake Herman Road near the town of Benicia, California. There was a full moon that night.
It is believed that at around 11pm, the Zodiac parked his car next to the couple, got out, and approached them. He may have ordered them out of their car. As David opened the driver’s door, he was shot in the head at point-blank range. Betty Lou tried to escape, but was gunned down – shot five times in the back – about twenty-eight feet from the car. Their bodies were discovered at 11:24pm. The car’s motor was warm, and the heater was running. The weapon used was a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol. There were no signs of robbery or sexual assault.
Seven months later, shortly before midnight on the night of July 4, 1969, nineteen-year-old Michael Mageau and twenty-two-year-old Darlene Ferrin parked in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park along Columbus Parkway near Vallejo, California. It was four miles from the Lake Herman crime scene. Just like on the night of the first murders, there was a full moon. As Michael and Darlene sat in her car and talked, a second car entered the lot and parked next to them. Almost immediately, it drove away.
About ten minutes later, the car returned and parked behind Michael and Darlene. The car’s driver got out and approached them on the passenger side of her car. He was carrying a flashlight and a 9 mm Luger. Believing he was a police officer, they got out their identifications. After shining the flashlight in their eyes, he shot them multiple times. As he walked back to his car, Michael cried out in pain. He returned and shot them again. He then drove off.
At 12:40am, a man called the Vallejo Police Department and said, speaking in a low, monotone voice, “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.”
Police traced the call to a phone booth at a gas station at the intersection of Springs Road and Tuolumne Street in Vallejo, just a few blocks from the police station and four miles from the crime scene. Meanwhile, three passersby found Michael and Darlene shortly after the shooting. They were rushed to a nearby hospital. Sadly, Darlene was pronounced dead at the hospital. However, Michael survived despite being shot in the face, neck, and chest.
Starting in August 1969, the Zodiac bombarded local newspapers with at least twenty letters and cards in which he took credit for the murders. He loaded the envelopes with far more postage than necessary. He also teased that his identity would be revealed if authorities could only decipher a three-part coded message.
On August 1, 1969, the Vallejo Times Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner each received a handwritten letter and one part of the message. In the letter, the Zodiac admitted to the murders and gave details that, he said, only he and the police would know. He threatened to kill more people if his letters and cryptograms were not printed in the newspapers. Each section of the cryptogram consisted of letters and astrological symbols arranged according to an unknown formula.
Robert Graysmith of the San Francisco Chronicle saw the cryptograms firsthand. He says the Zodiac laid out his cryptograms like “works of art.” They were very perfectly arranged. He used sixteen different symbols for the letter E, for instance. He would not repeat them. He would go entirely through the sixteen symbols before he used one again. Graysmith says that made it very difficult for the police. The Zodiac also kept them short; 360 symbols were in the longest cryptogram.
The newspapers agreed to publish the cryptograms. Vallejo Police Chief Jack Stiltz was unsure if the Zodiac actually wrote the letters. In a newspaper article, he asked the writer to send another letter with more facts to prove his identity. On August 7, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter that began, “Dear Editor – This is the Zodiac speaking.” This letter was in response to Chief Stiltz’s inquiry. The writer gave details about the murders that had not been released to the public, confirming that he was the Zodiac.
When the Zodiac’s cryptogram message was finally deciphered by a high school teacher and his wife on August 8, 1969, it proved to be a vile ode to the joys of murder. In it, he said that he was collecting victims as slaves for the afterlife. In these letters, the Zodiac also introduced his now infamous symbol: a cross within a circle. Within a few weeks, it would be seen again.
On the afternoon of Saturday, September 27, 1969, the Zodiac stalked another couple: college students Bryan Hartnell, twenty, and Cecelia Shepard, twenty-two. They were picnicking along the shoreline of Lake Berryessa, about twenty miles north of Napa, California. At around 6:30pm, he approached them.
The Zodiac wore an executioner’s hood with clip-on sunglasses over the eye holes. Emblazoned on his robe was his infamous symbol. He was also carrying an automatic pistol. He told Bryan and Cecelia that he was an escaped convict from Deer Lodge, Montana and that he had killed a guard there and stolen a car. He said he needed their car and money to escape to Mexico. Bryan offered his wallet and car keys, but they were not taken.
The Zodiac had brought precut lengths of clothesline and forced Cecelia to tie Bryan’s hands behind his back. He then checked the bindings and, noticing that she had bound Bryan’s hands loosely, tightened them. He then tied her up. After that, he stabbed them both. He reportedly laughed as he stabbed Cecelia. Bryan was stabbed six times, while Cecelia was stabbed ten times. The knife used had a wooden handle and a blade approximately ten to twelve inches long.
After leaving the couple to die, the Zodiac walked 500 yards to Knoxville Road, drew his symbol on Bryan’s door with a black felt-tip pen, and then wrote: “Vallejo 12-20-68 7-4-69 Sept 27-69-6:30 by knife”. Tire tracks indicated that he had parked behind Bryan’s car. At 7:40pm, about an hour after the attack, he called the Napa County sheriff’s office from a payphone, saying 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 Karmann Ghia.”
The officer asked the caller to provide his location, but the voice became quieter as the caller replied, “I’m the one who did it.” A few minutes later, the phone, which was at the Napa Car Wash, was found still off the hook. It was located just a few blocks from the sheriff’s office and twenty-seven miles from the crime scene.
Meanwhile, nearby witnesses heard Bryan and Cecelia’s calls for help, discovered them, and contacted park rangers. By the time the police arrived, both Bryan and Cecelia had been able to untie their restraints. Cecelia was still conscious and described their attacker. She and Bryan were taken to a nearby hospital. Sadly, she lapsed into a coma en route and died two days later. Bryan survived and was able to tell the police what had happened. Detectives also located three women who were in the area a few hours before the attack; they had noticed a strange man there that may have been the Zodiac.
Two weeks later, on the night of October 11, 1969, the Zodiac struck again. Twenty-nine-year-old cab driver Paul Stine picked him up at the intersection of Mason and Geary Streets in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood. He asked to be driven to the intersection of Washington and Maple Streets, about three miles away. For reasons unknown, Paul drove past Maple to the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets.
At that intersection, the Zodiac shot Paul once in the head with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol (not the same one used in Darlene’s murder). He then took Paul’s wallet and car keys. He also tore off a portion of Paul’s shirt. At 9:55pm, three teenagers at a party across the street witnessed the Zodiac wiping the cab down. They called the police. They then watched as he walked north on Cherry Street towards Presidio park, just a block away. He left behind several bloody fingerprints on and in the cab.
However, a police dispatcher garbled the eyewitness description and said the suspect was black. As a result, police did not arrest the white man they encountered on Jackson Street, less than a block from the murder scene. They asked him if he had seen anything suspicious. He told them that he had seen a man fleeing down another street. The man walked off into the night.
Initially, police did not connect Paul’s murder to the Zodiac, believing it to be a robbery gone wrong. Two days later, on October 13, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received another envelope from the Zodiac. Inside was a blood-stained piece of Paul’s shirt and a letter. The writer confessed to the murder and threatened to target schoolchildren, saying that he would shoot the tires on a school bus and shoot the children as they exited it. It was signed, “The Zodiac.”
Based on the teenagers’ eyewitness descriptions, authorities released a sketch of the Zodiac. Shortly after Paul’s murder, the Zodiac sent another letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. He announced a new MO. Instead of guns and knives, he would now kill with bombs. He also enclosed diagrams of complex triggering devices.
At 2pm on October 20, 1969, someone claiming to be the Zodiac called the Oakland Police Department, demanding that either lawyer F. Lee Bailey or lawyer Melvin Belli appear on a talk show called A.M. San Francisco. Belli was able to appear. During the show, someone claiming to be the Zodiac called several times, using the name “Sam.” He said that he would not reveal his true identity because he was afraid of being sent to the gas chamber. The call was later traced to a mental hospital patient, who was ruled out as being the Zodiac.
On November 8, 1969, the Zodiac mailed a card with another cryptogram consisting of 340 characters. The next day, he sent a seven-page letter in which he talked about his encounter with police on the night of Paul’s murder. On December 20, exactly one year after the first murders, he mailed a letter to Belli that included another piece of Paul’s shirt. In the letter, he said that he wanted Belli to help him. Someone claiming to be the Zodiac also called Belli’s house, asking for help.
In 1970, the Zodiac sent several letters and cards to the press. Once again, he claimed he would plant bombs and target buses. He even sent a map and a cipher, claiming that if the police could solve it, they could locate a bomb he had buried. However, no bomb was ever found. Despite his threats, he did not bomb a single target. Indeed, he was never heard from again after his April 1978 letter.
San Francisco Police Inspector Vincent Repetto says that they have not concluded who the Zodiac was, and the case remains open. Off the record, detectives specify one suspect among the more than 2,000 people questioned in the case that they believe was the Zodiac. However, there was never enough evidence to make their suspicions stand up in court.
Along with the five confirmed murder victims, several others are also suspected to be victims of the Zodiac (he confessed to a total of thirty-seven murders). Eighteen-year-old high school senior Robert Domingos and his seventeen-year-old fiancée, Linda Edwards, were shot to death on a beach near Lompoc, California, on June 4, 1963. It is believed that the killer tried to bind them, but he shot them when they tried to escape. He then dragged their bodies into a shack and tried to burn it to the ground.
Eighteen-year-old Cheri Jo Bates, a student at Riverside City College, was stabbed and slashed to death near the campus library on October 30, 1966. One month later, police and a local newspaper received an apparent typewritten confession letter from the killer, which included details about the crime not released to the public. A poem was also found carved into a campus library desk, resembling Zodiac’s letters. In 1971, the Zodiac sent a letter in which he claimed responsibility for Cheri’s murder.
Kathleen Johns and her infant daughter were abducted on Highway 132 near Modesto on the night of March 22, 1970. A man had honked his horn and flashed his lights, convincing Kathleen to pull over. He told her that her right rear wheel was wobbling and offered to tighten the lug nuts. After doing that, he drove off. But the wheel almost immediately came off when she tried to drive off. The man returned and offered to drive her to a gas station.
The man drove past several service stations during their ride but never stopped. For about ninety minutes, he drove back and forth around the back roads near Tracy. When Kathleen asked why he was not stopping, he would change the subject. When they stopped at an intersection, she jumped out with her daughter and hid in a field. The man searched for her using a flashlight, telling her he would not hurt her. He eventually left.
When Kathleen spoke to the police, she noticed the sketch of the Zodiac and recognized him as her abductor. When her car was found, it had been gutted and torched. In a letter, the Zodiac later confirmed that he was the abductor. Despite this, police have yet to verify that Kathleen was an actual Zodiac victim. Accounts vary on whether the man threatened to kill her while they were driving; other details in her story also remain in dispute.
Twenty-five-year-old Sgt. Richard Radetich was shot and killed while writing a ticket in his patrol car in San Francisco on June 19, 1970. A week later, the Zodiac admitted to shooting a man in his car, possibly referring to Richard. However, the San Francisco police deny that the Zodiac was involved in this case.
Finally, twenty-five-year-old Donna Lass disappeared from her job in South Lake Tahoe, California, on September 6, 1970. A few months later, the “San Francisco Chronicle” received a postcard, possibly from the Zodiac, that appeared to claim responsibility for her disappearance. However, none of these victims have been officially connected to the case. The Zodiac remains unidentified.
Suspects: The Zodiac Killer is described as a white male, between twenty-five and forty-five (in 1969), between 5’8” and 5’11”, stocky or heavyset, weighing between 170 and 210 pounds, barrel-chested, with a medium complexion and short, light brown or reddish blond curly (or crew cut) hair. On the night of Paul Stine’s murder, he wore heavy-rimmed glasses, a dark blue “Parka” jacket, brown wool pants, and low-cut, dark shoes. At the Lake Berryessa crime scene, size 10 1/2 Wing Walker shoe prints were recovered.
The Zodiac is believed to be very intelligent. However, the spelling and grammar in his communications suggest that he had a poor education. He may have been in the military and learned cryptography there. He is believed to have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Psychologists believe he is “brooding and isolated.” They suspect he hated women and may have killed his victims to “get even” with his mother. Some psychologists believe he committed these murders to become famous or have power over others.
There have been several potential suspects named in this case. One of the strongest was Arthur Leigh Allen. He was the only one ever publicly identified by the police. He was a former elementary school teacher and convicted sex offender. He had been interviewed in the early days of the investigation. Several search warrants were completed on his properties.
Allen was reportedly in the vicinity of Lake Berryessa on the day of the attack there. He lived in Vallejo and worked close to where Darlene Ferrin lived and where one of the murders occurred. In 1971, a friend told police that Allen had spoken of his desire to kill people, used the name “Zodiac,” and attached a flashlight to a firearm for “visibility at night.” The friend said that this conversation occurred before 1969. In 1991, an informant told police that Allen had boasted about killing a cab driver. In July 1992, Michael Mageau was shown a photo lineup and identified Allen as the Zodiac.
Allen wore a Zodiac brand wristwatch. He owned boots identical to the ones the Zodiac had worn at Lake Berryessa. He owned the same caliber gun used in one of the shootings. Bloody knives were found in his car; he told police they were from killing chickens. He also said that “The Most Dangerous Game” was his favorite short story; the story had been mentioned in one of the Zodiac letters.
However, handwriting experts could never match Allen’s handwriting to the letters. His fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scenes. He did not match witness descriptions of the Zodiac. And no incriminating evidence was found when his properties were searched. He died of a heart attack in 1992 at fifty-eight, maintaining his innocence to the end.
During the 1980s, a retired police investigator identified another possible suspect: Lawrence Kane. The investigator claimed that Kane’s name was embedded in one of the cryptograms. Darlene’s sister identified Kane (through a photo) as a man who had bothered Darlene at a restaurant. Suspected victim Kathleen Johns picked him out of a photo lineup.
One of the officers who is believed to have encountered the Zodiac after Paul’s murder said that Kane closely resembled the man they encountered. Kane worked at the same hotel as possible victim Donna Lass. He may have learned to code while in the Naval Reserves. He was diagnosed with impulse control disorder after a 1962 accident. He also had arrests for voyeurism and prowling. It is not known if police ever compared the physical evidence in the case to him.
Another suspect, Richard Marshall, was accused by police informants of being the Zodiac. They claimed that he had privately hinted that he was a murderer. He lived in Riverside in 1966 and later in San Francisco, close to where Paul was killed. He enjoyed screening the movie “The Red Phantom,” which was mentioned in a possible Zodiac letter. He lived in a basement apartment, which the Zodiac mentioned in one of his letters. He owned a typewriter and a teletype similar to the ones the Zodiac used. However, when interviewed, he denied being the killer, and a detective said he was not a “good suspect.”
Yet another potential suspect is Ross Sullivan. He worked as a library assistant at the college that potential victim Cheri Jo Bates attended and went missing after her murder. He resembled the composite sketch of the Zodiac and wore military-style boots like the ones the Zodiac wore at Lake Berryessa. He moved to northern California in 1967. He was also hospitalized multiple times for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Shortly after the arrest of Theodore J. “Ted” Kaczynski for the Unabomber crimes, researchers Mike Rusconi of San Jose and Doug Oswell of Delaware theorized that Ted was the Zodiac. In 1967, he was hired as a mathematics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. A year later, the Zodiac committed his first known murders.
To Rusconi and Oswell, Ted’s actions shortly after the murders were the first hint that he could be the Zodiac. One month later, on January 20, 1969, he tendered his resignation from Berkeley without any apparent reason. According to Oswell, this “astounded” the people who worked with him. They said that it was an inexplicable thing to do.
Oswell and Rusconi find an even stronger link to Ted in the second shooting. Michael Mageau claimed that the Zodiac drove a light-tan Chevy. Ted’s brother claimed that Ted owned a 1967 Chevy Malibu, tan in color, at the time of the Zodiac killings.
Michael Rustigan, Professor of Criminology at San Francisco State University, says the comparison between the two killers is “interesting.” He notes that Ted was at Berkeley around the same time that the Zodiac killings occurred. Both killers enjoyed taunting the police and communicating with them through newspapers. However, Rustigan says there are many more differences than similarities.
When the Zodiac sent his letters, he used far more postage than necessary. Ted did this as well. To Oswell and Rusconi, the cryptograms sent by the Zodiac forge yet another link between him and Ted. Oswell says that cryptograms are the “toys” of mathematicians. Ted was a highly regarded mathematician and was touted as one of the top ones in the country.
Rustigan, however, says that Ted was interested in very abstract mathematics. He says there is not much evidence that Ted was interested in astrology, radians, local geography, or the full moon. He says Ted is “a man of numbers,” but not the kind of numbers that the Zodiac was interested in.
For Oswell and Rusconi, there was one more connection to Ted with the cryptograms. The message was solved, except for the last eighteen characters. Coincidentally enough, there happen to be eighteen letters in the name “Theodore J Kaczynski.” Rusconi says that the last part of the message could be Ted’s signature.
The symbol used by the Zodiac was also used by Ted at least once when he signed a classmate’s yearbook. Oswell and Rusconi also point to “Deer Lodge, Montana,” mentioned by the Zodiac during the Lake Berryessa attack. His mention of such an obscure town defied explanation until the capture of Ted at his cabin, just an hour’s drive from Deer Lodge. Rustigan says that Ted kept everything and had a “fetish” for keeping souvenirs. He wonders why there was not one shred of evidence in the cabin linking Ted to the Zodiac, if they were supposedly the same person.
Oswell and Rusconi next point to the sketch and description of the Zodiac released after Paul’s murder. They maintain that without glasses, it looks just like Ted. Rusconi says that both men had a strong lower jaw with a small cleft in the chin, a reddish tint to their hair, and were about 5’9”. Also, the age given for the Zodiac was between twenty-five and thirty years of age. Ted, at that time, was around twenty-nine years old.
After Paul’s murder, the Zodiac said he would use bombs to kill people. Just one month after his last letter, the Unabomber attacks were underway. Had the Zodiac reinvented himself as an anti-technology warrior? Graysmith thinks it would be quite unusual for a killer to change their MO. He thinks there are a lot of interesting connections, but he does not believe they are the same.
Rustigan says that the Zodiac was a confrontational killer who enjoyed looking at his victims and stabbing and shooting them. He says serial bombers like Ted tend to be nerdy and cerebral and enjoy killing from afar. Oswell says that it has been thought that Ted was a mathematical nerd growing up and that he spent all of his time in school studying. However, according to the FBI, Ted spent much time in the woods learning survival skills with his brother and his father. He was also familiar with weapons. He knew how to use them, and he was comfortable with them.
Rustigan does not believe that a confrontational serial killer like the Zodiac would later become a serial bomber. It is theorized that when he “mellowed out” and became better educated, he decided to “play a new game” with law enforcement. Rustigan says that they rarely see that.
Oswell notes that Ted was thirty-six when the first Unabomber attack occurred. The FBI was a little puzzled as to why somebody that age would want to begin a career of serial murder. Oswell says that perhaps Ted had an earlier, more violent period of murder and “mellowed out” over the years, as serial killers are said to do if they are not caught.
Rusconi and Oswell’s theory prompted the police to review their Zodiac case files, sifting for evidence against Ted. Police Inspector Repetto says Ted is not considered a viable suspect in the Zodiac case. The FBI and San Francisco police have since ruled him out using fingerprint and writing sample comparisons.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the September 20, 1996 episode. It focused on the connection between the Zodiac and the Unabomber.
  • It was also featured on America’s Most Wanted, Haunting Evidence, Cold Case Files, and MysteryQuest. The 2007 movie “Zodiac” was also based on it.
  • The Zip Gun Bomber once claimed to be the Zodiac.
  • The show incorrectly states the Lake Berryessa attack occurred on September 29, 1969.
  • The case has been described as the most famous unsolved murder case in American history.
  • Some sources state that Cheri Jo Bates was a definite Zodiac victim, while others state that she was only a suspected one.
  • It has been alleged that the 1978 Zodiac letter was actually a hoax, written by an investigator on the case. This has not been confirmed. Prior to that, the last confirmed letter was sent in 1974.

Results: Wanted - In October 2002, a partial DNA profile was taken from a stamp on an envelope that held one of the Zodiac’s letters. It was compared to Allen; however, it was not a match. In April 2004, San Francisco police labeled the Zodiac case inactive, effectively closing it. However, it has since been reopened. Also, the other police departments and the FBI have never closed it.
Several potential suspects have been investigated in recent years. One was Richard Gaikowski, a San Francisco counterculture newspaper editor. His former coworker, “Goldcatcher,” sent several letters to authorities, accusing Gaikowski of being the Zodiac. He even claimed that Gaikowski invited him to engage in “violent acts” together. Goldcatcher provided recordings of Gaikowski’s voice. The police dispatcher who answered one of the Zodiac’s calls listened to the tapes and believed that his voice sounded similar to the Zodiac’s.
A researcher noted that “Gyke” appears in part of the Zodiac’s cryptogram. Gaikowski also resembled the composite sketch. However, police have stated that Goldcatcher is a known conspiracy theorist with little credibility. When previously questioned, Gaikowski told police he was out of the country at the time of the first murders. He died in 2004.
In 2007, Dennis Kaufman came forward, claiming that his stepfather, Jack Tarrance, was the Zodiac. He said Tarrance was a “dead ringer” for the composite sketch. He also claimed that he had incriminating evidence, including a roll of film depicting possible victims and a hooded costume like the one the Zodiac had worn. A document examiner also said that Tarrance’s handwriting matched the Zodiac’s.
Authorities, however, have dismissed Dennis’ claims. The film was reportedly too blurry to tell what was actually on it. The costume was much cruder than what Bryan Hartnell had described. Researchers also questioned the document examiner’s credibility. Tarrance died in 2006.
In 2014, Gary Stewart wrote a book about his biological father, Earl Van Best, Jr., and claimed that Best was the Zodiac. He said that Best resembled the composite sketch, lived in California at the time of the murders, and was interested in cryptograms. Best also served time in prison for statutory rape and may have held a grudge against a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who wrote about him. Gary claimed to have found Best’s initials in one of the cryptograms. A document examiner said that the handwriting on Best’s marriage certificate matched the Zodiac’s.
However, experts dismissed Gary’s claims, noting that the method he used to crack the cryptograms was questionable and the handwriting on the certificate was the minister’s, not Best’s. Best’s fingerprints also did not match those found at the crime scenes. He died in 1984.
Another suspect was Donald Lee Bujok, identified by a Zodiac researcher. Bujok had been released in 1968 from Montana’s Deer Lodge Penitentiary after serving eleven years of a life sentence for killing a sheriff’s deputy. According to fellow inmates, Bujok had talked about killing people to make them slaves in the afterlife, which was mentioned in the Zodiac’s solved cryptogram. The researcher found other connections between Bujok and some information in the Zodiac’s letters. However, his fingerprints did not match those found at the crime scenes. He died in 1993.
Other suspects include George Hodel, whose son claims that he was also the killer of The Black Dahlia; Louis Joseph Myers, whose friend claims that he confessed to being the Zodiac shortly before his death and had connections to several of the victims; and Guy Ward Hendrickson, whose daughter identified him as the Zodiac.
In April 2018, after the arrest of the Original Night Stalker through genetic genealogy, the Vallejo Police Department announced that they planned to try and collect DNA from the back of stamps used in the Zodiac’s correspondence in hopes of identifying him through the same process. However, it is not known if any DNA was collected.
In December 2020, an international code-breaking team finally decoded the cryptogram sent in November 1969. In it, the Zodiac said that he was not the “Sam” that called “A.M. San Francisco” and that he was not afraid of death or the gas chamber because it would take him to “paradice (sic)” quicker. Unfortunately, the solved cryptogram did not have any further clues that could lead to his identity. The team did note that the “basic scheme” for creating the cryptogram was found in at least one U.S. Army code manual from the 1950s.
In October 2021, an independent team of cold case investigators known as the “Case Breakers” claimed to have identified the Zodiac as Gary Francis Poste. He died in 2018 at the age of eighty. The team also connected him to Cheri Jo Bates’ murder. The team claimed to have discovered forensic evidence and photos in Poste’s darkroom. They claimed that the scars on his forehead matched the scars seen on the Zodiac. They also claimed that removing the letters in his name from one of the cryptograms revealed an alternate message that said that Paul Stine’s murder was “personal.”
One relative said that Poste had tried to kill him with a hammer. Poste’s daughter-in-law believes that he was the Zodiac. She said she had to leave the area to escape threats by Poste and his “supporters.” She believes Poste matched the composite sketch. However, the FBI and local law enforcement are skeptical of the team’s claims and maintain that the case is still open.
In September 2022, yet another potential Zodiac suspect was identified as Paul Alfred Doerr by author Jarett Kobek. Doerr was a member of Mensa and the militant conservative group known as “the Minutemen.” He was an active writer, and some of his writings included themes found in the Zodiac letters. In one instance, he wrote about how to make a bomb out of ammonium nitrate and fertilizer. The Zodiac had also written about this, and both made the same error in their writings.
Doerr’s daughter says he had a history of violent behavior and physically abusing family members. Three of the crime scenes were “teen hangouts” that his daughter frequented. Jarett claims that the Zodiac’s symbol was similar to the one used by the Minutemen. Doerr also worked in Vallejo and served in World War II and the Korean War. It has previously been speculated that the Zodiac was once in the military.
Based on the evidence gathered by Jarett, Doerr’s daughter now believes that he may have been the Zodiac. However, no physical evidence has linked Doerr to the case. He died in 2007 at the age of eighty.
The Zodiac remains unidentified; he may now be deceased due to the passage of time. If he is still alive, he would most likely be in his eighties.
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