Category: Serial Killing
Location: Northern California, United States
Date: 1968 - 1969
Crime: The identity of this serial killer has never been discovered, although authorities attribute at least 5 killings to the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer. In taunting letters to the police, the Zodiac Killer claims to have killed 37 people over the course of nine years.
Biography: This killer is best known for the letters and cryptograms he sent to California newspapers than for the 5 deaths that have been attributed to him directly. To date, police only know that the perpetrator is a male who claims to have killed at least 37 people during the span of his crimes in the late 60's and early 70's. Because the Zodiac Killer was never apprehended, the California Department of Justice has maintained an open case file on the murders since 1969.
The first confirmed murder occurred on December 20, 1968 when a 17 year old male and 16 year old female were gunned down as they were parked on a well-known lover's lane in Northern California. Six and a half months later, Zodiac struck again, approaching a couple who were in a parked car at a Golf Course. Using a 9mm Luger, he fired 3 shots into each victim and turned away, returning when he heard one of the victims moan. He pumped two more shots into each victim and drove away. The Male victim survived the attack. Minutes later, a phone call was received by the Vallejo Police Department from a man claiming responsibility for the golf course shooting and the lover's lane shooting the prior December. On August 1, 1969, three letters were received by the 3 main newspapers in the San Francisco region. The letters, virtually identical in nature, claimed responsibility for the golf course and lovers lane murders. Each letter also contained one third of a 408 symbol cryptogram and demanded that it be printed on the front page of the next day's edition. The killer came up with his Zodiac moniker with the next letter which was received by the San Francisco Examiner 6 days later. It began with the statement, 'Dear Editor, This is the Zodiac speaking'. To prove his responsibility for the crime, in the letter he described several aspects of both shootings that had previously not been released to the public. A little more than a month later, he claimed another victim, this time knifing a picnicking couple more than 500 times. The woman died in route to the hospital later that day, while the man survived the attack to provide police with a description of the hooded attacker. Once again, Zodiac phoned police to report the crime and claim responsibility. Two weeks later, Zodiac shot and killed a cab driver near The Presidio. Witnesses worked with the authorities to provide composite sketches of the killer, but no suspects were ever charged. The letters and cryptograms continued through the end of 1969. Throughout 1970, the San Francisco Chronicle received greeting cards and letters from the Zodiac Killer. The correspondence denied responsibility for various crimes that had been committed, but alluded to other crimes that police had not connected to Zodiac. Each letter ended with a scorecard which counted the number of victims that he was claiming responsibility for. This continued from 1971 through 1973 claiming responsibility for crimes and offering clues to the whereabouts of some victims bodies. One of the final letters received by the Chronicle praised the movie, 'The Exorcist' and ended with the scorecard, Me = 37, SFPD = 0.