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The Zodiac Killer: One of the most infamous serial killers in America

Marija Georgievska

The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  It is believed that the Zodiac murdered at least five people and may have been responsible for more.

The killer’s identity remains unknown but he originated the name “Zodiac” in a series of taunting letters sent to the local Bay Area press.

A sketch of the Zodiac Killer.

A sketch of the Zodiac Killer.

The letters that he sent to the press included four cryptograms which contained his identity and only one has been definitely solved. He signed this letters with a symbol in the shape of a circle with a plus sign over it. Three letters were received at the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner on August 1st, 1969.

Page 1 and 2 of the Zodiac Killer's July 31st 1969 letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Vallejo Times.

Page 1 and 2 of the Zodiac Killer’s July 31st, 1969 letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Vallejo Times.

The Zodiac killer demanded them to be printed on each paper’s front page or he would kill more people. All of the letters were published and the threatened murders did not happen. In the letters, the Zodiac claimed that he had committed 37 murders but investigators agree on only seven confirmed victims, two of whom had survived.

The first confirmed murders took place on the night of December 20th, 1968, on Lake Herman Road, just inside Benicia city limits. The victims were the 17-year-old David Faraday and his girlfriend, the 16-years-old Betty Lou Jensen. They were shot to death in a gravel turnout which was a well-known lovers’ lane. Their bodies were found shortly after 11:00 pm by Stella Borges who lived nearby.

The symbol used by the Zodiac Killer to sign his correspondence.

The symbol used by the Zodiac Killer to sign his correspondence.

After the first murders, just before midnight on July 4th, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau drove into the Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, four miles from the Lake Herman Road murder site, and parked. They were approached by a man with a flashlight who fired multiple shots at them. Ferrin was instantly killed and Mageau was seriously wounded.

The killer walked away from the car but upon hearing Mageau’s groaning he returned and shot each victim twice more before driving off. Mageau survived the attack despite being shot in the face, neck, and chest.

A sketch of the Zodiac Killer at Lake Berryessa, based on the testimony of Brian Hartnell.

A sketch of the Zodiac Killer at Lake Berryessa, based on the testimony of Brian Hartnell.

Within an hour of the incident, a man phoned the Vallejo Police Department to report and claim responsibility for the attack. Even with this confession, and tracing the call to a phone booth at a gas station at Springs Road and Tuolumne as well as Mageau’s description of the assailant, little progress was made in the case.

The other confirmed victims of the Zodiac killer were Bryan Calvin Hartnell and Cecelia Ann Shepard. They were stabbed several times on September 27th, 1969, at Lake Berryessa. Hartnell survived but Shepard died as a result of her injuries on September 29th, 1969. On October 11th, 1969, Paul Lee Stine was shot and killed in the Presido Heights neighborhood in San Francisco.

Each letter also included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram which the killer claimed contained his identity.

Each letter also included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram which the killer claimed contained his identity.

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After these incidents, many other attacks were linked with the Zodiac killer and a lot of murder victims were suspected to be victims of the same killer, though none has been confirmed. In April 2004, the case was closed but it was re-opened sometime before March 2007. Many people claimed to know the identity of the Zodiac killer and some of them even claimed to be the Zodiac but until this day his identity remains unknown.