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The Zodiac' Is A Killer

Aniston Star - October 19, 1969

By DAVE SMITH (Star Los Angeles Times Service) NAPA, Calif. -

Somewhere In the shady hill country around Napa and Vallejo, 25 miles north of San Francisco, lives an inconspicuous man. He has a fantastic secret, though, and if people only knew. . . well, then they wouldn't ignore him. He's fairly bright, but his spelling and grammar indicate a poor education, so he probably doesn't have a very good job. He's about 6 feet, 35 or perhaps younger, has wavy, light brown hair, and he's fat — well over 200 pounds — so he probably doesn't do too well with girls. In fact, he has unwittingly indicated a sexual inadequacy. But he would never knowingly admit it. He's very guarded about personal matters.

HE COULD be old Mrs. So and-So's boy, who never says 'boo and still lives at home. Or that bachelor who keeps to himself and never seems to have any fun. Or that poor guy who works so hard at that lousy job and never complains and never lets on that his marriage is miserable, that his wife is a slut, or a shrew. .

Oh, and he's an astrology fan. He's adopted a nickname: "The Zodiac." And when the signs are right, he goes out and finds young boys and girls together — who symbolize everything life has denied him. And he kills them..

FIVE DAYS before last Christmas, David Faraday picked up Betty Lou Jensen to take her to a Christmas concert at her high school. David was 17, an E a g l e scout who had won the God and Country Award, and a popular member of the wrestling team at Vallejo High School. Betty Lou, 16, was a member of Rainbow Girls at Hogan High. It was their first date.
The concert ended well before midnight, and David and Betty Lou drove out to Lake Herman Reservoir, a few miles east of Vallejo, to a spot where the view was nice. The stars were bright and there was a big moon. . .
About 11 p.m., the young couple were startled by the thin beam of a pencil flashlight very close by. They hadn't heard a sound. A gun spat, and David fell out the open car door, shot through the head..

BETTY LOU scrambled out the other side and raced desperately into the dark, but the needle of light followed her and she was brought down some 30 feet away, five bullets in her back and head. When a rancher's wife happened upon the two bodies at 11:24 p.m., the car's motor was warm and the heater was running. The killer had vanished.

How the youngsters were killed was described by the killer himself. But that was not until seven months later. In the small hours of July 5, Mrs. Darleen Ferrin, 22, a Vallejo waitress, was in her car in a lot off Columbus Parkway in Blue Rock Springs Park with Michael Mageau, 19, a Vallejo youth who worked for his 'father. They parked less than two miles from where David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen had parked one night in December. Shortly after midnight , Mageau later told police, a man "just walked up to the car and started shooting, without saying a word." Three passersby later found Mrs. Ferrin slumped dead behind the wheel, her chest riddled by four bullets from a 9-mm. pistol. Mageau , critically wounded, lay sprawled outside near an open rear door, shot in one leg, the right elbow and shoulder and in the neck, this bullet ripping his tongue and shattering his jaw.

A FOURTH passerby soon reported being within earshot of the crime and hearing a car speed out of the lot, engine racing and tires screeching. It was a brown car, its body similar to a 1963 Corvair, police were tipped later. Within an hour after the shooting, police received an anonymous' call from a Vallejo pay phone. A youthful-sounding voice announced, "I shot them. I used a 9-mm . automatic." Then he hung up. Remarked one officer : "We've got a crazy man on the loose."

BUT NO "crazy man" — no frothing psychopath, no hoteyed maniac, no one at all turned up. For nearly four weeks, while Mageau slowly recovered, police searched the •victims" backgrounds — for a love triangle, for jealousy, for any motivation in their selection. Police found none because there was none. They were shot simply because they were there. It was on Aug. 1 that the madness really bubbled to the surface.

THE BULKY envelope, postmarked July 31 in San Francisco and m a r k e d Please Rush to Editor," arrived Aug. 1 at Gibson Publications, publishers of the morning Vallejo Times-Herald and evening News-Chronicle. It contained a cryptogram, made up of letters and strange symbols arranged in eight lines of 17 characters each. And this crudely printed, eerie note: "Dear Editor, "I am the killer of the 2 teen-agers last Christmas at Lake Herman and the girl last 4th of July. To prove this I shall state some facts which I only and the police know.

"Christmas
"1. Brand name of ammo Super X
"2. 10 shots fired
"3. Boy was on back feet to car
"4. Girl was lyeing on right side feet to west
"4th of July
"1. Girl was wearing patterned pants
"2. Boy was also shot in knee
"3. Brand name of ammo was Western

"HERE IS a cyipher or that is part of one. The other 2 parts have been mailed to the S. F. Examiner and the S. F. Chronicle. "I want you to print the cipher on your front page by Fry afternoon Aug. 1 - 69. If you do not do this 1 will go on a kill rampage Fry night that will last the whole week end. I will cruise around and pick off all stray people or couples that are alone. Then move on to kill some more until I have killed over a dozen people." At the bottom was a "signature" consisting of a circle bisected by a cross, its arms extending beyond the circle.

THE ANONYMOUS writer had mailed the other parts of the cipher to the San Francisco papers, along with similar notes warning that he would go on a killing rampage if the ciphers didn't make page 1. Police set cryptographers to work to crack the difficult code. The assembled cryptogram contained a bewildering mixture of English letters, Greek letters, English letters reversed and upside down, and symbols that have been used in primitive mythologies since the dawn of man. Virtually all the symbols appear variously in the ancient Egyptian Book o! the Dead, in works on the legendary lost continent of Mu, in Asian and South Pacific primitive mythology, in American Indian rock carvings, in foreign alphabets, ancient and modern, and in astrology and astronomy.

THE WRITER had said that "when they do crack it they will have me." Was his name, or some other vital clue, written in the cryptogram?.The code was tackled by Donald Harden, a high school history and economics teacher in Salinas, and his wife. On Aug. 8 the Hardens cracked the code. The madman's message — misspelled, ungrammatical and containing errors in the use of his own code — was this: "I like killing people because it is more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangerue anamal of all to kill something gives me the most thrilling expeerence. . .the best part of it is thae when I die I will be reborn in paradice and all the I have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down or stop my collecting of slaves for my afterlife. . ."

THE LAST line consists of four unintelligible words : "ebeo riet emeth hpiti." A name? An address? A town? They are still a puzzle. Vallejo Det. Sgt. John Lynch was at last convinced: "There is no doubt in my mind that this is a true translation of the cipher and that the murderer wrote it," he said. "I think perhaps the man's name is in the cryptogram, possibly in the last four words." Harden, after cracking the code, formed these general theories about its author: —He is bright enough, but not necessarily of high intellect. —He may be in or near middle age, because he uses one term (not revealed by police) that has dropped out of general slang use...

DR. LEONTI Thompson, a psychiatrist at Napa State Hospital 15 miles north of Vallejo, has found a number of different meanings in the killer's crossed-circle "signature." In one primitive culture it represents the earth; in another, the ancient notion of the four elements that make up the world: earth, air, fire and water. Still another symbol, the "x," represented water in the alphabet of the legendary continent of Mu. "And the killings took place near water, " Thompson notes speculatively-And the use of astrological symbols in the code, in addition to the killer's nicknaming himself "The Zodiac," have caused police to wonder if he might be following his horoscope in choosing when to kill again.

A PSYCHIATRIST at the California medical facility in Vacaville, contacted by Vallejo police as soon as the cipher was cracked, said on Aug. 11 that it was "the work of someone you would expect to be brooding and isolated. "He probably is a guy who broods about cutoff feelings, about being cut off from his fellow man. . .comparing the thrill of killing to the satisfaction of sex is usually an expression of inadequacy. He probably feels his fellow man looks down on him for some reason." The belief that his victims would be his slaves in, an afterlife reflects a feeling of omnipotence, the unnamed psychiatrist added, indicating a paranoid delusion o grandeur — expressed through a belief common among primitive people throughout history. And the taunting notes and phone calls may be a plea to be found out, exposed perhaps cornered — in which event, the psychiatrist said, grandiose paranoid quite likely might take his own life, as a grand gesture, to punish the world for its neglect of him life.

AND COULD it still be hoax? The psychiatrist was asked. "If this is a put-on, then it's the product of a very, very disturbed person. If this is hot a put-on, the man probably will kill again." It was no put-on. The psychiatrist was correct, horribly correct. It was a sunny, warm Saturday, Sept. 27, and Bryan Harwell and Cecilia Ann Shepard decided to go on a picnic to Lake Berryessa Park, about 20 miles north of Napa. Hartnell, 20, of Troutdale, Ore., was a junior at the Seventh-Day Adventist Pacific Union College in nearby Angwin. Miss Shepard, 22, of Loma Linda, had dated him when she was at PUC, but she transferred to the University of California at Riverside to study music in her senior year, and the day's date was just "for old times' sake."

SO THEY drove up to the lake in Hartnell's small sports car. And, about two miles from the ranger station, they spread out their picnic. By the water. It was about 6:30 p.m. — not even dark yet — when they saw a dark-clad gloved man approaching. Over his head he wore a dark blue hood, with large slits for his eyes and mouth. He wore glasses with flipped-up clip-on sunglasses attached. And on the front of the hood, over his chest, was a white-painted crossed circle. The man held an automatic pistol on the couple, told them he was an ex-convict from Colorado, that he had also escaped from Deer Lodge State Prison in Montana, that he had killed a guard there — which later proved false—and that he wanted their money and car keys so he could get to Mexico.

RANGER Sgt. William White later repeated Hartnell's gasped account of what followed: "The man said, 'I have to tie you up first.' He had some plastic clothesline cut into 6-foot strips which he tied them with, their hands behind their backs and then between their legs. Then the man said, 'I'm going to have to stab you people.' Hartnell said, 'Please stab me first. I'm chicken. couldn't stand to see her stabbed.' "The man told him, I'll do just that.' He stabbed Hartnell until he passed out. The poor girl, she just had to watch. He then he knifed her until she fainted. When he stabbed Hartnell it was deliberate, when he stabbed the girl he laughed in a frenzy."

HARTNELL had been stabbed 10 times with a thin, 12-inch blade. Miss Shepard, whose writhing provoked her attacker to laughter, had been stabbed 24 times. And it was done in a significant way. As she was being knifed in the back, officers said, she apparently rolled over in pain and was stabbed in each breast, in the stomach and in the groin, in the pattern of a cross. Meanwhile, only an hour after the attack, the phone rang at the Napa police station and a voice said:

"I WANT to report a murder — no, a double murder. They are two miles north of park headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia." There was a pause. . . "and I'm the one that did it." Then the line went dead. Police soon traced the call to a NAPA pay phone outside a Main Street Carwash. The receiver was dangling off the hook. And soon Napa authorities knew that Vallejo's code killer had moved north. They found Hartnell's car, and on the door, written with the same kind of felt-tipped pen that had drawn the cryptogram, was the by-now-familiar crossed-circle signature. Under it was written:. Vallejo Dec. 20, 1958 July 4, 1969. Sept. 27,1969 —6:30 p.m. At Queen of the Valley Hospital, Cecilia Ann Shepard lay barely alive for nearly two days. On Monday afternoon, Sept. 29, the pain finally ceased; the insane cryptographer had claimed his fourth life. Hartnell began a slow recovery. LAST Saturday night the zodiac killer claimed his fifth victim. San Francisco police announced Wednesday that a letter had been sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, in the same handwriting as the zodiac killer's previous messages, in which the murderer admitted killing San Francisco cabdriver Paul Stine, 29. The shooting of Stine had appeared to be a routine robbery and murder, except for one bizarre detail: A small piece of Stine's blood-soaked shirt was torn out. The missing swatch of gray and-white-striped fabric arrived with Tuesday's mail at the Chronicle. With the swatch was a letter of warning: "School children make nice targets. I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tires and then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out. "This is the Zodiac speaking. I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington Street and Maple Street last night, to prove this here is a blood stained piece of his shirt. I am the same man who did in the people in the North Bay area." Throughout the crudely printed note was the same "signature" which has figured in the previous killings — a circle bisected by a cross its arms extending beyond the circle.


(Those familiar with the case will note some inaccuracies (or contradictions) in this account. Italics are mine.)

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Chris Yarbrough

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