I lived in Northern California and Southern Oregon, during my teen years. From Grants Pass to Sacramento. During the 1970’s there was much activity in the area from the shucking of traditional values to drugs, sex and free love in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. There were protests around women’s rights, black rights and gay rights. There was an entire movement around ending the Viet Nam war. The area grew great pot at $10 an ounce, and the picturesque forested area encouraged living off the land, so we had hippie communes. Finally, we also had the Zodiac Killer.
The idea of a serial killer was relatively new at the time. The West Coast’s crops of serial killers were prolific from the 1960’s-1980’s. We grew them like the evergreen trees that hugged the beautiful Cascade mountains. The Zodiac Killer came at a time I was coming into my teen years and became aware the safety of my childhood gave way to an exciting, tumultuous and even dangerous era. The Zodiac Killer like to target lovers, worked in Central and Northern California and loved publicity.
How many people were actually killed by him (we are pretty sure it is a him), are unknown but this blog is what we do know about the killer. He operated in No. California from the late 1960’s through the early 1970’s. He was never caught or charged, so to this day who the killer is remains a cold case.
The Zodiac’s first known victims were a teenage couple Betty Lou Jensen, 16, and David Arthur Faraday, 17. They were on their first date on Lake Herman Road in the city limits of Benicia, Ca. They had planned on going to a concert at Hogan High School. It was December 20, 1968, just a few days before Christmas. They went off to park in their Rambler station wagon. Between 10-11 p.m. witnesses saw them snuggled up together. By 11:15 p.m. Betty was found several feet outside the car with 5 bullet holes in her back. David was on the other side of the car shot once in the head, but still alive. He died on the way to the hospital. (1)
Friends said David had been looking forward to the date all day, and Betty Lou tried on several outfits. They never made it to the concert but went to a popular place to park, hidden. There were no witnesses to the crime, but there were witnesses to a light-colored car, thought to be a Chevrolet Impala pull up behind the Rambler. (2) Zodiac shot into the car to force Betty and David out. The bullets were Winchester Western Super X copper-coated from a .22 semi-automatic pistol. (3) There was speculation that David was aware of a major drug deal going down and had been talking about it. Others believed the Zodiac did not have anything to do with the couple as he did not take credit for months after the killing.
Between 1966 and 1974 the Zodiac killer communicated 20 times with police officials, sometimes directly and sometimes through a newspaper. In the case of Betty and David on July 31, 1969 a letter was sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald. The killer said at the bottom of the note, there were 2 more parts sent to the San Francisco Examiner, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He took credit for killing the couple at Hermann Lake at Christmas and revealed details unknown to the public. He wanted the letters with a cipher he created, published in the papers, or more would die.
It was the 4th of July 1969, Darlene Ferrin, 22 and Mike Mageau, 19, were in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park outside of East Vallejo. Darlene was married, and worked at Terri’s Restaurant, Mageau was a laborer. The park was 4 miles from the murder site of Betty Lou and David. Then a car identified as either a light brown Mustang or Chevrolet Corvair, pulled up next to the couple. It backed away and came back 10 minutes later pulling in behind them. The couple thought it was a policeman and got their I.D.s ready. The man began firing into the car. He fired 5 shots and walked back to his car. Mageau cried out in pain, so the killer walked back and put 2 more bullets in each body. Mageau looked up and saw him, no words were ever exchanged between them. Mageau survived the vicious attack and described the killer as 5’8” to 5’9”, white, stocky, early 20’s to late 30’s, round face and brown hair. Darlene died at the scene. (4) Within an hour, a man called and took credit for both the shooting and the killing of Betty Lou and David said he sent the letter to the papers with the Cipher.
The Cipher was a 408-symbol message that the Zodiac said would reveal his identity along with a message for the police department. When he sent the 3 letters to the newspapers, on August 1, 1969, the killer demanded they be printed on each paper’s front page or he would “cruse (sic) 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.” (5) One third of the cipher was on each letter for the papers; Vallejo, SF Examiner and SF Chronicle. The police wanted to verify what information the killer had, so they put a letter in the paper asking for information that the public would not know. Another letter was received on August 7th, it included data only the killer would know, and for the first time identified the killer as the Zodiac. Finally, August 8, 1969, Donald and Betty of Salinas, CA figured out the 408-character message of the cipher:
“I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI”
— The solution to Zodiac’s 408-symbol cipher. The meaning, if any, of the final eighteen letters has not been determined. (6)
Bryan Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Shepard, 22, were having a picnic on Lake Berryess on September 27, 1969. They were on a small island connected by a sand spit to Twin Oak Ridge. It was about 6:15 p.m. when a man came over to them wearing an executioner’s hood, clip on sunglasses over the eye holes and a bib-like thing on his chest. He was holding a gun. He said he needed money and a car to go to Mexico as he had escaped from prison. Bryan offered his wallet and car keys. He tied the couple with clothesline after talking to them and began stabbing them, first Hartnell and then Cecilia. The killer then just walked away, he hiked up to the Hartnell’s car and made the circle cipher with a line through it with a black felt marker. He also wrote the Vallejo 12-20-68/7-4-69/9-27-69, but carved it in the car door with a knife. After he had left the couple began screaming for help. A fisherman heard their pleas and contacted Park rangers. Because of their remote location, it took over an hour afterward for help to arrive. Within 48 hours Cecelia succumbed to her injuries. Bryan Hartnell recovered and is an attorney in the Los Angeles area today. (7) Tomorrow Part II
- Montaldo, Charles, The Zodiac Killer, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-zodiac-killer-972167
- Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday, http://www.angelfire.com/fl5/zodiac_law/BettyLou&David.html
- Definite Zodiac Victims; David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, http://zodiackiller.com/FaradayJensen.html
- Definite Zodiac Victims; Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau, http://www.zodiackiller.com/FerrinMageau.html
- Graysmith, Robert (1976).Zodiac. Berkley, p 49
- Ibid, Graysmith, p 54-55
- “Message written on Hartnell’s car door”. Zodiackiller.com. Retrieved May 30, 2010.