Unsolved The Zodiac Killer

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Overview:
Status: Unsolved
Active: late 1960s - early 70s
Tally: 5, but claimed to have killed 37

Intro:

jack the Ripper aside, this is probably the serial killer/crime that many would consider the holy grail, the crime they'd love to solve/see solved. Because this serial killer had every bit of depravity and weirdness down pat: coded letters to the press, weird home-made killing outfits, savagery and rat cunning all bundled up, and a seemingly superhuman ability to cover their tracks.

Like Jack the Ripper: new suspects are regularly trotted out, new evidence and theories are tendered, and there's a whole industry of people who research the crimes and try to nut it out. But time is killing the trail, if it hasn't already killed the Zodiac, and the likelihood it will ever be solved is getting slimmer and slimmer.

And like Jack, who was seized on by the press of his day, so was the Zodiac. He became a celebrity of sorts - while the scaring the **** out of people - and entered popular culture, even being co-opted into a Clint Eastwood film.

Here is the intro from wikipedia:

The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The killer's identity is still unknown. The Zodiac murdered victims in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa and San Francisco between December 1968 and October 1969. Four men and three women between the ages of 16 and 29 were targeted. The killer originated the name "Zodiac" in a series of taunting letters sent to the local Bay Area press. These letters included four cryptograms (or ciphers). Of the four cryptograms sent, only one has been definitively solved.[1]

Numerous suspects have been named by law enforcement and amateur investigators, but no conclusive evidence has surfaced. In April 2004, the San Francisco Police Department marked the case "inactive", yet re-opened the case at some point prior to March 2007.[2][3][dead link] The case also remains open in the city of Vallejo, as well as in Napa County and Solano County.[4] The California Department of Justice has maintained an open case file on the Zodiac murders since 1969.[5]

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I remember when I first got the internet on at home way back in the mid 1990s. Or thereabouts. Had a Pentium 100, with a turbo button on it. never knew what that button did. Anyway, sitting up in my flat in East St Kilda one night i stumbled upon a site about the Zodiac Killer done by a PHD student at Humboldt University. The design was sparse and stark. The illustrations were all detailed line drawings, and mixed in with the killer's letters and witness descriptions. The words jumped off the page in their starkness, brutality and sheer weirdness. I read the entire site that night, creeped out of my brain. It was a brilliant site, a great use of media and it told the story so well. Sadly, that site is no longer live but it was my first solid immersion in the Zodiac Killer.

Been following it to this day. It seems that every year a new suspect is dredged up, usually by a friend or family member, but nothing ever comes of it. I suspect the Zodiac will never be solved.

Anyway, on with the thread. Discuss anything and everything about the case in this thread.

Who? What Where Why? How?
 
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Michael Butterfield's site is well worth a look for anyone wanting to read about the crimes.
http://www.zodiackillerfacts.com/
http://www.zodiackillerfacts.com/forum/index.php
Yeah, I've read a bit of his stuff. And what people have written about him too.

This site was also good. Now offline but you can get it through the wayback machine.

http://web.archive.org/web/20080106205757/http://members.aol.com/Jakewark/

It seems while there's a bunch of very solid suspects that there's at least one thing that discounts each of them.
 

Kram

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#6
Well he got fantastically lucky to avoid capture immediately after the cab driver murder, not only that law enforcement now had finger print evidence and his general description to go along with his handwriting. Maybe he thought that was enough and it was wiser to just continue his terror campaign through the mail..
 

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#9
My favourite unsolved case, even more-so then JTR.

Plenty of theories as to why he stopped killing but we will never know (Prison/Died/Age(?)/Health/Avoid capture)

Personally I feel that he is dead now, but was living In a retirement home somewhere, Reminiscing on his life and how famous he was, but could never tell anyone.
 

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#10
The funny thing is that if he rocked up to a police station and tried to turn himself in tomorrow he probably wouldn't be taken seriously. Unless he had say Paul Stine's driver license still in his possession, they would probably just think he's some old kook with the endless circus of people after 5 minutes of fame that seems to surround the case.
 
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The funny thing is that if he rocked up to a police station and tried to turn himself in tomorrow he probably wouldn't be taken seriously. Unless he had say Paul Stine's driver license still in his possession, they would probably just think he's some old kook with the endless circus of people after 5 minutes of fame that seems to surround the case.
Do you think they ever had a really solid suspect?
 

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Love this case; one of my favourites (even if it is a little morbid to have a favourite unsolved murder case). Will forever wonder if that man they stopped in the park after the taxi driver was shot was, in fact, the Zodiac.

Have had a crack at the ciphers a few times for fun but got nowhere fast. Really curious to know if the, "My name is..." letter actually has his name or if it's just a taunt of sorts.

Perhaps a little off-topic, but is the movie worth seeing? Have always wanted to have a look at it but have been concerned about how Hollywood-ised the story would've become.
 

Truckosaurus

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#13
Do you think they ever had a really solid suspect?
They had a fantastically solid one from memory. Lived in a trailer I think and was seen on the day of the park shooting covered in blood, which he said was from a chicken or fish he'd killed for some family to eat. Had repeatedly mentioned 'The Most Dangerous Game' or a similar story to friends as his favourite book, had a watch of the brand Zodiac with the same symbol on it. He denied it, refused to co-operate, and then after he died they took a DNA sample and compared it to a profile obtained from the stamp on the envelope with the piece of Stein's shirt in it (so it had to have come from the killer) but there was no match. The stamp may, however, have been licked by someone other than the killer. Saw a fantastic doco on the murders about the time the film was released that took a good look at all of the suspects and leads.

Fake edit: Google says it was Arthur Leigh Allen
 
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Moderator #14
They had a fantastically solid one from memory. Lived in a trailer I think and was seen on the day of the park shooting covered in blood, which he said was from a chicken or fish he'd killed for some family to eat. Had repeatedly mentioned 'The Most Dangerous Game' or a similar story to friends as his favourite book, had a watch of the brand Zodiac with the same symbol on it. He denied it, refused to co-operate, and then after he died they took a DNA sample and compared it to a profile obtained from the stamp on the envelope with the piece of Stein's shirt in it (so it had to have come from the killer) but there was no match. The stamp may, however, have been licked by someone other than the killer. Saw a fantastic doco on the murders about the time the film was released that took a good look at all of the suspects and leads.

Fake edit: Google says it was Arthur Leigh Allen
They also revealed palm prints on one of his letters, which did not match the palm prints of Allen. Unless he had several accomplices, it is unlikely that Allen was the killer.

The biggest suspect is someone relatively unknown to police. As mentioned in my previous post, after the taxi driver was murdered, a man fitting the Zodiac's description was seen heading into the parkland. Police investigated, and came across a man fitting the description almost exactly; they asked him if he had seen anything suspicious, and he said he'd seen a man covered in blood run into the parkland. They considered retaining him for questioning, but this man had no blood on him, and judging by the gruesome crime scene it was reasonable to expect that he would have some on him.

The common consensus is that this man was the Zodiac killer, but he was never definitively seen after this event.
 

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#15
Allen cooperated with police.. His handwriting did not match, finger prints did not match, didn't look like the SF composite and dna did not match, also all this is all before dna testing was discovered so no one would get someone else to lick an envelope to cover their tracks. Even agreed to and passed a polygrath. Apart from a couple of very flimsy pieces of circumstantial evidence there is zero reason to suspect he was the Zodiac.

The common consensus is that this man was the Zodiac killer, but he was never definitively seen after this event.
Yes that was him, teenagers across the road reported what they thought was a robbery in the cab and they were right near the scene literately within a couple of minutes. The 2 officers slowed down to look at the guy but due to some sort of mix up with dispatch he got put through as being a black man so they understandably just sped on when he was white. Talk about getting lucky!
 

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#16
My neighbour for many years was a detective, he had at least 2 dozen books about serial killers 3 or 4 or them on the zodiac killer.

He reckoned the guy must have been injured or died, he told me if TZK went to prison his prints are on file and the FBI regularly scans prison records for hits relating to unsolved cases.

He also didn't believe they guy could stop, he liked the attention enjoyed it too much.

He used to tell me that in all likely hood if he was scared off by almost being caught after the cabbie murder, he would have sooner or later started up again in a different area if he were able to.
 

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#17
I'm going to guess the Zodiac was not very well educated due to his terrible spelling in his letters.

Serial killers can't stop themselves from killing which leads me to think that he was killed himself.
 

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#18
I'm going to guess the Zodiac was not very well educated due to his terrible spelling in his letters.

Serial killers can't stop themselves from killing which leads me to think that he was killed himself.
Without wanting to get too macabre, I wonder what the outcome would have been if Leopold and Loeb had evaded detection after committing a murder in the 1920s, with the motive being to show that they were 'Supermen'. I mean, if someone is fueled only by a compulsion to just show that they are too smart for the public and the police, maybe they can get to a certain crescendo and then walk away.

His poor spelling is one of those things that comes up in unsolved crimes, where some people will look at it as a staged device to throw police off his scent. Some of his spelling mistakes are so obvious that I'd be surprised if the main suspects couldn't be eliminated, based on whether they made those same mistakes e.g. 'frunt', 'cene' and 'motorcicle'. I will say, as I'm re-reading this now, that he doesn't seem to be quite the genius that he is made out to be and he only avoided arrest after the murder of the taxi driver (as mentioned previously) through sheer dumb luck. Regardless of whether he evaded capture, that was a stupid crime, not one committed by a calculating, clear-thinking individual.

I wonder about the cryptograms and if the ones that have never been cracked actually have any meaning. I know nothing about trying to crack these things, but I would have thought that if there were a a message to find in them in the past 45 years, someone would have found them. His three cryptograms to the San Francisco newspapers were cracked within about a week.

I think everyone hopes that it was an individual, because if we have to accept the possibility that two or more people were working together, it opens so many more possibilities as to the Zodiac(s)' identity. By some of the differing eyewitness descriptions though, it's a very real possibility.
 
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Yes that was him, teenagers across the road reported what they thought was a robbery in the cab and they were right near the scene literately within a couple of minutes. The 2 officers slowed down to look at the guy but due to some sort of mix up with dispatch he got put through as being a black man so they understandably just sped on when he was white. Talk about getting lucky!
For him to be composed enough to simply say, "Oh yeah, a man covered in blood just ran into there!" and not showing any sort of nerves at being stopped, I'm convinced that he has to be more criminally experienced than is the consensus. Most people would freak out if something like that happened to them.


I'm going to guess the Zodiac was not very well educated due to his terrible spelling in his letters.
This is something that I've thought about a lot, but I'm not sure if I agree. The complexity of the ciphers, as well as his incredible ability to cover his tracks and get away with taunting police so frequently seems to imply a very intelligent mind. Perhaps the spelling errors were on purpose to make them more difficult to decipher? That said, though, he seems to me like he wanted everybody to know who he was, so he wouldn't have taken a precuation like this...I'm really not sure.
 

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#20
For him to be composed enough to simply say, "Oh yeah, a man covered in blood just ran into there!" and not showing any sort of nerves at being stopped, I'm convinced that he has to be more criminally experienced than is the consensus. Most people would freak out if something like that happened to them.
That verbal exchange is actually just something that he claimed happened in a letter and was totally denied by the 2 officers that said they just quickly looked and drove off. That aside it still must've took some nerve, I know I'd be tempted to panic and just try and leg it.
 
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That verbal exchange is actually just something that he claimed happened in a letter and was totally denied by the 2 officers that said they just quickly looked and drove off. That aside it still must've took some nerve, I know I'd be tempted to panic and just try and leg it.
Ah, fair enough; cheers for that. Was he actually stopped then, or just seen?
 

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#22
Perhaps a little off-topic, but is the movie worth seeing? Have always wanted to have a look at it but have been concerned about how Hollywood-ised the story would've become.
I can't speak to how true to life Fincher's Zodiac is, but the film itself is a brilliant exploration of obsession, and I highly recommend it.
 
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Allen cooperated with police.. His handwriting did not match, finger prints did not match, didn't look like the SF composite and dna did not match, also all this is all before dna testing was discovered so no one would get someone else to lick an envelope to cover their tracks. Even agreed to and passed a polygrath. Apart from a couple of very flimsy pieces of circumstantial evidence there is zero reason to suspect he was the Zodiac.
Yes, Leigh was who I meant. He was seemingly the suspect most championed by the masses, yet he could be comprehensively ruled out. I think people still talk about him as being the Zodiac. It certainly seems like they either didn't have the right man, or thy didn't have the evidence to nail the case. I remember getting onto a zodiac message board about 10-12 years ago - when I first stumbled across the Zodiac site mentioned in the OP - and there was this very seasoned poster/expert who said that he never believed they got close to getting the right man. And the usual suspects were just people that fitted the profile etc.
 

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#24
I can't speak to how true to life Fincher's Zodiac is, but the film itself is a brilliant exploration of obsession, and I highly recommend it.
Yeah, great movie. Had a bit of a crack at trying to link one or two specific suspects, but on the whole just told the story from the newspaper/detectives side of the story and let you try and piece it together with them. Safe to say that the killer is either dead or at least in his 80's or 90's now. I firmly believe that the last letter is not from the Zodiac Killer and was a hoax. The undecipherable cipher is probably the ramblings of an insane man and not able to be cracked as it was gibberish to begin with.
 

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#25
Ah, fair enough; cheers for that. Was he actually stopped then, or just seen?
Wasn't actually stopped they just slowed down and had a look for a few seconds to see who it was and left when he wasn't a black man. They didn't see any blood but I guess it was pretty dark. iirc he was also sort of turning as if to walk into a house which obviously turned out not to be his.

edit* this is what claimed in the letter.

"p.s. 2 cops pulled a goof abot 3 min after I left the cab. I was walking down
the hill to the park when this cop car pulled up + one of them called me over +
asked if I saw anyone acting suspicious or strange in the last 5 to 10 min + I
said yes there was this man who was runnig by waveing a gun & the cops peeled
rubber + went around the corner as I directed them + I disappeared into the
park a block + a half away never to be seen again."

Obviously this is BS, he also makes a some other pretty absurd claims in the same letter, that the cops sketch is useless because he wore a disguise, left them fake 'clews' and that the fingerprints (one partial of which was in blood..) aren't his because he wears a coating of glue over his fingertips. Seems like that he was in some sort of attempt at damage control as he realised from reports that LE now knew roughly what he looked like and also had some decent forensic evidence.
 
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