Although certainly a morbid story, the California Zodiac killer is a part of the history of San Francisco. A horrific tale of a modern day Jack-the-Ripper, it brought both international attention and fear to the Bay Area and the entire state of California.
History of the California Zodiac Killer
It all started in 1968. A string of cold-blooded killings struck fear in the people of the San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area. The killer was not like anything the people of America had ever experienced before. Hidden behind a homemade black hood, he sent clues to various newspapers about his identity. These notes only taunted the public and media to uncover the man behind these awful deeds.
"This is the Zodiac speaking…" was the beginning of many of his notes to the editors of multiple papers including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and various local area papers. Most notes included bizarre clues as well as a cipher left to be decoded. Although the greatest minds of the time from the FBI, CIA and NSA analyzed these secret messages there are many still left unclear.
As this brazen killer became more insistent, the letters began to contain more than just paper notes. Bloody scraps of clothing were also being sent to the editors.
The official San Francisco area murders started in Vallejo. While the investigators are still unsure how many actual killings were performed by the California Zodiac killer, his communications claimed responsibility for thirty-seven different murders. Many of which were never officially discovered by police.
His attack style varied, often using bizarre and unique weapons. But he did have some consistency to his madness. Holidays and water seemed the focus of his rage, both directly and indirectly. Most of his murders or notes centered around a holiday. While water always seemed to play in all his killings, either his victims were found near water or murders happening in places named after water. He also seemed to prefer young couples, particularly students, and would attack them at dusk or night under a full or new moon.
He was quoted as describing himself as the ultimate hunter, with man as the most difficult and dangerous target.
The time of the zodiac killer was full of intense fear, both from the citizens of the area and the investigators themselves. With the continuing threats from the Zodiac's letters, the eyewitnesses, surviving victims and detectives were often afraid for their lives. This terror impeded the investigation, complicating the ability of police agencies to find and stop the killer.
In addition to being vicious, the Zodiac killer was also extremely cunning. With such forethought of using glue on his fingers to disrupt his prints, he consistently kept the police guessing.
Following the hype and publicity, copycat murders and killers began to surface, both in the Bay Area and as far away as New York and even Japan. Once again, the investigation was hindered by another complication.
Even though over 2,500 suspects were investigated, the case remains officially unsolved.
While officially the identity of the California Zodiac killer was never solved, there are still much speculation and many theories highlighted in both the fiction and non-fiction realm. What mostly conspired in the time from December 1968 until October 1969, ended suddenly with a note in November of 1969:
"I shall no longer announce to anyone where I committ my murders…"
Although the official killings stopped, communication from a Zodiac killer did not. Many of the letters which arrived after the November 1969 declaration were controversial. Some were anonymous and the authenticity was questioned on many.
If the story of the Zodiac killer leads you to want more, or if you enjoy true crime investigations, the books by Robert Graysmith are some of the best on the market. An employee of the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the murders, he began a crusade to solve the mystery. His two books outline over 30 years of research into one of the most famous serial killers of our time.