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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Zodiac Killer

December 20th 1968. A motorcyclist is riding down Lake Hermans Road close to 11:00pm when he spots a car pulled over to the side of the road. At first he thinks nothing of it, due to the fact that this is a very common spot for teenagers to park this late in the night.

However, as he drew closer he saw broken glass and what appeared to be blood staining the remainder of the windows. Once he got to the car he saw that the windows were shattered and inside was the lifeless body of sixteen year old ​Betty Lou Jensen and still breathing seventeen year old David Faraday, who later died en route to the hospital. What this unnamed motorcyclist happened into that day was the start of a series of murders done by a man whose only name we know him as is Zodiac.1

July 31st 1969 three separate newspaper offices in the San Francisco area received letters containing a coded message as well as not only a confession for this attack, and a second attack that happened on July 4th 1969 but also containing very detailed description of events that occurred those nights as well as private details that only the investigating police would know about the incidents. “​1 Brand name of ammo Super X / 2 10 shots were fired / 3 the boy was on his back / with his feet to the car / 4 the girl was on her right / side feet to the west”2  Along with this was a coded cypher with a message attached which read “If you do not print this cipher / by the afternoon of Fry.1st of / Aug 69, I will go on a kill ram­ / Page Fry. night. I will cruse /around all weekend killing lone / people in the night then move / on to kill again, until I end / up with a dozen people over /the weekend.”3

After checking with local police and confirming that all of this was in fact true the newspaper editors felt that the best thing to do was to run the cypher, which he claimed would reveal his identity, along with everything else the killer, who would later call himself Zodiac, demanded be printed. However after the code was broken it was discovered that the code would not reveal his identity but instead the code was a declaration of purpose, claiming that he not only killed because he enjoyed it but be because he believed that “…all thei have killed will become my slaves…”.4  For the next 5 years Zodiac continued to  write letters to newspapers claiming to have killed over well over 30 people, however very few murders have actually been confirmed as Zodiac kills, many of the kills he claimed to have been responsible for have actually been proven to be false. However with each letter published he seemed to be getting exactly what he wanted.

After his first message was released to the public it caught the eye of everyone in the San Francisco area. Not only was the thought of a local killer who was evading and even taunting police terrifying, but it was also a subject that people found extremely interesting. So not only did Zodiac have the attention of the police, but he also had the eye of the public, which was truly the only thing he wanted all along, one could even go as far as to say that if newspapers did not give into his demands The Zodiac would not have continued to kill, or claimed to kill, for the next 6 years.

The first thing that will help to prove that if newspapers did not publish his work Zodiac would have stopped killing is to show that contrary to what he may have claimed, Zodiac did not in fact enjoy killing, rather he saw killing as the only way to get the attention he desired. To show this we will look at examples of killers who did truly enjoy murder and showing how their tactics and actions varied from Zodiac. Now while these people are not related to the Zodiac, an understanding of them is necessary for understanding him.

The first person we will look at is the Killer Clown of the 1970s, John Wayne Gacy. John Wayne Gacy was a killer who was known to prey on primarily young boys. He would lore young boys to him, then ​“[torture and rap] them at his house for hours before stabbing or garroting them to death.”5  As we will look at later this style of killing is very different from The Zodiac Killer.

Next I would bring up Jeffery Dahmer. Dahmer is a killer very similar to Gacy. He was known in 1991 he confessed to “ drugging, chopping up and even boiling at least 11 men whose body parts were found in his apartment…”​.6 Again this is very different from the Zodiac who was never known to have brought any victims along with him also never known to have raped or kidnapped anyone.


Both of these killers were known not only for their high amount of murders but also for their enjoyment of committing murders. Both Dahmer and Gacy would take their time with their kills getting both an extreme high and taking sexual pleasure from their kills. However while Zodiac claimed to have taken joy in murder he did not show any of the same patterns that these people did, indicating that he was not killing for pleasure.

To prove that if the newspapers did not give into Zodiacs demands he would have stopped one must first look at Zodiacs kill tactics, to see that it was not the kill which was his reward but rather the attention that he got from the kill. Zodiacs first known victim was 18 year old Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside California on October 31st 1966. ​Reno Evening Gazette, the local paper in the in the area where Cheri was found, reported that she had been “stabbed in the back, her throat cut”.7  By looking at this first kill one can already see a vast difference between Zodiac and the two previously discussed. Rather than take the time to mutilate and savor his kill, Zodiac instead killed her as quickly as he could using the weapon at his disposal, hinting that rather than enjoying his kill he was doing this for other reasons. When he wrote his letter to the Reno County Chief of Police he said “​SHE IS NOT THE FIRST AND SHE WILL NOT BE THE LAST”.8  Showing that the reason this was a fast kill was not because he was new to this but rather helps to prove that he deliberately killed her fast.

His next known kills, which was the one to kick of his San Francisco rampage, was sixteen year old ​Betty Lou Jensen and on ​December 20th 1968.9 This time, just over two years later, Zodiac had upgraded his kill tactic from a knife to a gun. In this instance Zodiac approached the vehicle and fired one shot into the head of ​seventeen year old David Faraday then fired 5 shots at ​sixteen year old ​Betty Lou Jensen. the final killing her instantly.10 The San Francisco Chronicle, which reported on this murder, mentioned in its article “[Investigators said,] The young girl had not been molested and robbery was not the motive.” showing again that in this killing he did not take more time rape or do anything more with his newly claimed bodies, which by all indication was a much more planned attack, Zodiac still killed his victims quickly. This same article also mentions in it that this murder took place in a “remote”11  location. which implies that if Zodiac had the desire to take his time with these kills he could have. Instead he chose to flee the scene even though there was no indication that anyone would be coming by.

The fourth kill on The Zodiacs spree is one that stands out the most in proving that Zodiac did not kill for pleasure. On September 27th 196912  Cecelia Ann Shepard and her boyfriend Bryan Calvin Hartnell were having a romantic picnic at Lake Berryessa in ​Napa County, California when they were approached by “a heavy set man wearing a dark hood over his head and shoulders”13  ​An article in the ​San Francisco Chronicle, which was able to, interview Hartnell described the attack by saying “​H​artnell… and Miss Shepard we accosted by a hooded man with an automatic pistol shortly after 6 P.M. … the man bound them with rope before the stabbing.”14  No where in this description does it mention that Zodiac took time to torture the victims, even though they were in a very secluded area that one could assume the couple had picked specifically to be alone. Instead he bound them, to ensure his escape, and stabbed them. Which at first though, one may see as torture, however compared to the styles of Gacy and Dahmer this was a very fast way of killing. Implying again that he was not killing for pleasure.

So if Zodiac was not killing because he found a form of pleasure and had no motivation for killing any of these people (past 1966) in it why was he killing? The only reason Zodiac killed was because after he killed ​Cheri Jo Bates in 1966 he saw that when he killed, people were finally paying attention to him. In his first letter, which he sent to Reno County Chief of Police he said about his acts on Bates, “​MAKING HER PAY FOR THE BRUSH OFFS THAT SHE HAD GIVEN ME DURING THE YEARS PRIOR​”15  Implying that in his natural life Zodiac was not someone who was given the attention he felt he deserved. So when he saw that murder, something he had already done and gotten away with, was a perfect way for him to finally capture the attention of the world, he must have decided that murder was what he would become known for.

However he saw that if he killed and constantly got away without anyone knowing it was him, he would not get the recognition he desired. So he created The Zodiac. By creating the Zodiac he could kill and take credit without ever being apprehended. So on July 31st 1969 he wrote three letters to three separate newspapers, including his famous cypher. However it wasn’t until four days later on August 4th that he decided it was time to claim a name. “This is Zodiac speaking.”16  He said. By giving himself the name Zodiac he could now more easily give himself the credit he wanted, and with a name he liked.

Zodiac did not only want be known as a killer, but as a genius man. That is why in his letters to press he would often talk about great works of writing and compare them to his own life and his own style. For instance, in his first published code, which was sent out with the other letters on July 31st, he is quoted saying: “…​it is more fun than kill​ing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangeroue anamal​”.17 Which is a reference to ​Richard Connell​’s short stor​y “The Most Dangerous Game”.

Another way that Zodiac would attempt to show off how intelligent he was, was his constant mocking of the San Francisco Police Department. Not only would he include a constant “scoreboard” at the bottom of his letters. “         ​=10 SFPD=0”​.18  In one case he even pointed out to the police that he walked right past them after killing Paul Stine on October 13th 1969. “​The S.F. Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motorcicles seeing who could make the most noise.”

The last evidence showing that all Zodiac killed for was attention is his constant begging for it. Whether he is asking people to wear Zodiac buttons, “Well it would cheer me up considerably if I saw a lot of people wearing my buton”,19  or even him just asking people to pay attention to him, “I get awfully lonely when I am ignored, so lonely I could do my Thing!!!!!!”20 In conclusion one can see that it was not the thrill of killing people, or even the excitement of knowing that he had outsmarted the police that Zodiac killed for, rather it was the attention. Which can lead one to conclude that if newspapers did not give into his demands, he would have moved on, probably would have killed again, but not go the lengths he did. One could even look at the possibility that instead of murdering all those innocent people he would have only taken one more life, after his letters were thrown away with all the other junk mail received, his own. But instead he is now known around the world. He had countless books written about him, award winning films, and even now by writing and reading this paper we are proving to him that he came out on top.

(All spelling and grammatical errors in quotes are due to the quotes being copied as written.)


1 ​“Zodiac Killer Facts: Separating Fact From Fiction,” ​Zodiackillerfacts. Accessed ​July, 8 2015.​(July 7, 2015)

2 ​Zodiac Killer, Letter to Press, August 4, 1969. From ​ (Auguest 2, 2015)

3 ​Zodiac Killer, Letter to Press, August 4, 1969. From ​ (Auguest 2, 2015)

4  ​“Murder Code Broken”; ​San Francisco Chronicle​. San Francisco. Aug. 9 1969.  From​(Auguest 2, 2015)

5  ​Smith, Sid “​John Wayne Gacy, the country’s worst serial killer​”; C​hicago Tribune​. C​hicago. From­chicagodays­gacy­story­story.html (Aug 1, 2015)

6  ​Secter, Bob  “​Suspect Admits Killing​”; T​imes​. N​ew York.July 25 1991 From­07­25/news/mn­183_1_body­parts​(Aug 1, 2015)

7 ​“Pretty Coed Slan, Watch Single Clue”; ​Reno Evening Gazette. Reno. Nov. 1, 1966. From​(July 7, 2015)

8 Zodiac Killer, ​Confession, November 12, 1966. From­confession.jpg​(Auguest 2, 2015)

9  ​McEvoy, George “Friends Quizzed in Slaying of Teen Pair Near Vallejo”​; S​an Francisco Chronicle. San​Francisco. Dec. 22 1968 From 8ddf08.jpg.html​(Aug 1, 2015)

10 ​“Zodiac Killer Victims,” ​zodiackiller. Accessed ​July, 8 2015.​(July 8, 2015)

11  ​McEvoy, George “Friends Quizzed in Slaying of Teen Pair Near Vallejo”​; S​an Francisco Chronicle. San​Francisco. Dec. 22 1968 From 8ddf08.jpg.html​(Aug 1, 2015)

12 ​Department of Justice, ​1­15­311­F9­5861.Investigation Report, ​Sacramento: Department of Justice, 1969. From ​​(Aug 1, 2015)

13 ​Department of Justice, ​1­15­311­F9­5861.Investigation Report, ​Sacramento: Department of Justice, 1969. From ​​(Aug 1, 2015)

14 ​“Girl Dies of Stabbing at Berryessa,” ​San Francisco Chronicle. San​Francisco September 30, 1969 From ​​(Aug 1, 2015)

15 ​Zodiac Killer, ​Confession, November 12, 1966. From­confession.jpg​(August 2, 2015)

16 ​Zodiac Killer, Letter to Press, August 4, 1969. From ​ (August 2, 2015)

17  ​“Murder Code Broken”; ​San Francisco Chronicle​. San Francisco. Aug. 9 1969.  From​(Auguest 2, 2015)

18 ​Zodiac Killer, Bomb, April 20, 1970. From­Bomb.gif (August 2, 2015)

19 ​Zodiac Killer, Dragon, April 28, 1969. From­Dragon.jpg (August 2, 2015)

20 ​Zodiac Killer, Dripping Pen, Nov. 8, 1969. From­_San_Francisco_Chroni cle_Dripping_Pen_Card_November_8_1969_INSIDE_COLOR_High_Res_LARGE_RESIZED_ 16X12.jpg​(Auguest 2, 2015)

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