The Zodiac Killer mystery officially begins on December 20,1968 when two young high school students were killed on a dark and lonely road outside of Vallejo, California.
17 year old David Faraday, and his 16 year old date, Betty Lou Jensen were brutally gunned down on Lake Herman Rd. Their murders shocked their community, and were dismissed by many as a random act of violence, or maybe a drug deal gone bad, or the work of a jealous suitor. But in a sense, their case was widely forgotten as the 65,000 residents of Vallejo carried on their lives preparing for 1969.
The residents of Vallejo, made up mostly of Blue-Collar Families connected to the Military, shipping, or refinery industries, had no idea that there was a dangerous killer hunting for victims there. That would change just over six months after the murders of the two teenagers on Lake Herman Rd; that’s when the killer stalking victims would make his presence known once again.
On July 4th, 1969 at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, just a few miles North West of the Lake Herman Rd shootings the previous December, 22 year-old Darlene Ferrin, and 19 year old Mike Mageau, sat in Darlene’s car talking and listening to the radio. As the clock struck midnight, a car pulled in behind the couple, and the drive got out and walked up to the passenger’s side of the car. Without saying a word, the driver armed with a gun and flashlight started to open fire on Darlene and Mike. When the shooting finally stopped, the assailant got back into his car and drove away, leaving Darlene and Mike for dead. Mike was severely injured but would survive. Darlene wasn’t so lucky, and succumbed to her injuries.
Just over a half hour later, as first responders tended to Darlene and Mike, a phone call was placed from a phonebooth at the corner of Springs and Tuolumne in Vallejo, just three miles Southwest of the crime scene. A man told the Vallejo dispatcher that took his call about the shootings at the park. However, this caller was not a good Samaritan simply reporting a crime, he was taking responsibility for it, and he had a bombshell. He also claimed to be the murderer of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, the previous December. With this call, the killer had the attention of both police, and residents in Vallejo, but he was just getting started. Just weeks later, he would send taunting letters and a coded cipher to the local paper, the Vallejo Times Herald. Additional letters were mailed to larger newspaper in San Francisco; the Chronicle, and the Examiner. The coded cipher was quickly decoded, and its’ message revealed that there was a dangerous, and obviously disturbed predator in the Vallejo area. Soon, this killer would give himself a moniker in another letter; ‘The Zodiac’, and he was not content to just stalk Vallejo, he had other targets in mind.
In September, 1969, the Zodiac made his way to Lake Berryessa in Napa County almost 50 miles from Vallejo. The scenic lake provided the landscape for his next attack. His victims were 22 year-old Cecelia Shepard, and 20 year-old Bryan Hartnell, who were attacked as they picnicked along the water. The Zodiac attacked the pair, this time, wearing an executioner’s style hood. He controlled them with a gun, and tied the pair up. This time, a gun was not to be his weapon of choice. He holstered his gun, and in its’ place, he drew a long-bladed bayonet style knife, and rained down repeated stabs on both Cecelia and Bryan before fleeing the scene. Cecelia would not recover from her wounds and died two days later. Bryan was severely injured, but lived to tell investigators what happened. The Zodiac too was happy to share news of the attack as well, writing a taunting message on Bryan’s car door, and phoning Napa police to brag about his deed. While this attack was more shocking due to the costume he wore and the weapon he used, none of the three Zodiac attacks thus far made waves in the big city of San Francisco to the South. The Zodiac Killer aimed to change that.
On October 11th, 1969, 29 year-old SF cab driver Paul Stine, picked up a fare in the theater district area near Mason and Geary Streets, and was told to drive to the intersection of Washington and Maple Streets three miles away. For some reason, Paul Stine stopped his cab a block further at the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets, and when he did, his passenger fired a bullet into the back of his head killing Stine instantly. As the murderer left the scene, he was witnessed by teenagers looking out their window from across the street, and possibly by a police car responding to the scene of what at the time was thought to be a robbery. The killer slipped away into the night, but based on the eye witness description, a composite sketch was created. At the time, police had no idea that Paul Stine’s killer was the Zodiac, but just two days later, the Zodiac would mail a letter taking responsibility along with proof that he was the murderer. The proof? A piece of Paul Stine’s bloody shirt.
After the murder of Paul Stine in the affluent Pacific Heights area of San Francisco, he finally got what it seemed he was after; he was being talked about in newspapers and tv news programs across the entire SF Bay area.
Although his confirmed murders stopped in the Fall of 1969, his letter writing and taunting of police would continue for five long years, all the while the SF Bay area worried that he would strike again. Along the way, other unsolved cases in various parts of California were brought up and considered as possibly being connected to Zodiac; most notably, the murders of 18 year-old Robert Domingos and his girlfriend, 17 year-old Linda Edwards in the Santa Barbara area in June 1963, the October 1966 murder of 18 year-old Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside, and the 1970 missing persons case of 25 year old Donna Lass in South Lake Tahoe.
There was never another confirmed Zodiac letter after 1974, and for almost half a century, people wondered if the attention seeking killer had died, or went to prison for some other crime. During that time, books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts have been created trying to dive into the mystery of the Zodiac. Only one thing is for sure, the Zodiac, whomever he was, got away with his crimes, and was never identified, or should I say….not yet!