Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer

Final Letters

The next letter arrived at the Chronicle on February 14, 1974, seven days after the Symbionese Liberation Army had kidnapped Patty Hearst. It was transcribed by the Chronicle in August 1976.  Though its postmark is unclear in published photographs, an FBI report states that it was sent from San Rafael.1

Dear Mr. Editor,

Did you know that the initials SLAY (Symbionese Liberation Army) spell "sla," [the word "sla" is written in script] an old Norse word meaning "kill."

A friend

The terms "Old Norse" and "Old Icelandic" refer to the same tongue, but there is debate among scholars over which is more appropriate. Some use the former in respect to the language's Norwegian origins, but most use the latter because most of the surviving texts were written in Iceland. Gareth Penn, a former student of medieval literature and historical linguistics, points out that the Nordic "sla" in fact means "to strike," and goes on to list the English language dictionaries which name it as a cognate of the English "slay" without giving its original definition, and with Norse rather than Icelandic named as the original tongue: Webster's Third International; Chambers' Dictionary; the Oxford English Dictionary; the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology; and Eric Partridge's Origins. "All are scholarly, not popular", 2 writes Penn, who suggests that the gleaning of this misinformation came as the result of a higher education than the SFPD and armchair profilers everywhere had attributed to the Zodiac.  For their part, the FBI seems less than certain that this letter was written by the Zodiac.3

* * *

Three months later, on May 8, a postcard was sent to the Chronicle from Fremont, about 25 miles southeast of San Francisco, across the Bay.  The message side expressed "consternation" at newspaper ads for the movie {Badlands}, which was inspired by spree murderers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.  The pre-stamped address side read "Editor, SF Chronicle, 5th + Mission, San Fran". 4

Sirs -- I would like to expression my consternt [this word is crossed out] consternation concerning your poor taste + lack of sympathy for the public, as evidenced by your running of the ads for the movie "Badlands," featuring the blurb: "In 1959 most people were killing time. Kit + Holly were killing people." In light of recent events, this kind of murder-glorification can only be deplorable at best (not that glorification of violence was ever justifiable) why don't you show some concern for public sensibilities + cut the ad?

A citizen

* * *

The final letter was postmarked in San Rafael on July 8, 1974. The return address on the envelope was simply "RP."  In a looping, obviously disguised script, it was an attack on the conservative Chronicle columnist Count Marco Spinelli.

Editor--

Put Marco back in the, hell-hole from whence it came -- he has a serious psychological disorder -- always needs to feel superior. I suggest you refer him to a shrink. Meanwhile, cancel the Count Marco column. Since the Count can write anonymously, so can I --

The Red Phantom
(red with rage)

The San Francisco news media presented these last two letters as genuine, but SFPD Insp. David Toschi advised the FBI confidentially that he had doubts as to their authenticity. 5 After examination, the FBI Laboratory reported that, while some characteristics of the "Badlands" and "Count Marco" letters were inconsistent with the writing of the confirmed Zodiac letters, "these inconsistencies are not sufficient to eliminate the writer of the Zodiac letters" as the author of the late 1974 letters.  The Laboratory went on to state that "similarities were noted which would indicate that [these letters] were probably prepared by the writer of the Zodiac letters". 6

San Francisco police have not verified a Zodiac letter since 1974.

 

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