Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer

Vallejo

Solano County Sheriff's Office Case #V-25564
Vallejo Police Department Case #243146

Vallejo and Benicia lie just north of the San Pablo Bay and the Carquinez Strait, about 20 miles northeast of San Francisco.  In the late 1960s, the area abutting the two rough-and-tumble, working-class cities was practically uninhabited, and even now only a few paved surfaces cross the barren expanses of southern Solano County above the Vallejo-Benicia Freeway.  One of these is Lake Herman Road, running from eastern Vallejo to northern Benicia by way of the unincorporated area between them.

Vallejo and Benicia
Vallejo and Benicia

As early as 9:00 p.m. on Friday, December 20, 1968, a light-colored hardtop four-door, possibly a Chevrolet Impala, was seen parked near the gated entrance to the pumping station off Lake Herman Road just east of Lake Herman. The same car was also seen there at about 10:00 by a different witness.  

Between these two sightings, a young man and his girlfriend were parked in the same spot when a car heading west toward Vallejo slowed to a stop several yards past their car, then began to slowly back up toward them.  The car gave them both such a bad feeling that they immediately pulled out of the gravelly area and drove off toward Benicia.  The other car followed them until the first exit, which they took, watching the stranger continue east on Lake Herman Road.

David Arthur Faraday
David Arthur Faraday

At 11:10 p.m., David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen were parked in the same place when they were shot to death near Faraday's brown Rambler.  Having told Betty Lou's parents that they were going to a Christmas concert, they had instead driven to the isolated lover's lane and had been there for less than an hour when someone pulled in with them, exited his vehicle, and began firing into their car.  

Betty Lou Jensen
Betty Lou Jensen

The killer was armed with either a .22 caliber rifle or, more likely, a handgun loaded with .22 LR ammunition. From light footprints and ballistic evidence, it appeared that the killer started from behind the car, shooting out the right rear window, then the left rear tire, then coming around to the front left.  The two teenagers scrambled out the passenger's side door.  

Jensen, 16, left the car alive and must have started to run toward the road; her body was found less than 30 feet from the rear bumper.  The shot pattern — five rounds along the right side of her back, ranging from the space between the fifth and sixth ribs all the way down to the pelvis —suggested that the killer was either competent with firearms or had fired into her body as she lay wounded by a previous shot, as a coroner's report states that the shots had come from no more than 10 feet away.  In any case, the grouping does not indicate marksman-like accuracy, or even the great degree of skill that is often attributed to the killer due to this particular murder, especially considering that two rounds missed the wounded girl as she fled.

Faraday was killed by a single close-range bullet to the head; researcher Mike R. of NJ points out that the position of Faraday's body, with the boy's feet by the rear wheel and his head pointing away from the front of the car at an angle of about 45 degrees, suggests that he was not killed while climbing out of the door but rather while standing by the right rear wheel.  All told, 10 shots were fired, but only eight rounds were accounted for.

The entire episode was over in a few heartbeats, and the killer left the scene immediately upon its conclusion.  This was determined by an almost minute-by-minute time line put together from the statements of several witnesses driving by the area between 9:00 p.m. and 11:15 p.m.  One of these witnesses, Stella Borges, may even have seen the killer's car, described as a light-colored Chevrolet, headed toward Benicia just before she discovered Jensen's and Faraday's bodies.

Solano County Sheriff's patch
Solano County Sheriff's patch

Despite the best efforts of Solano County Sheriff's Det. Sgt. Les Lundblad, assistance from half a dozen local law enforcement agencies, and a reward fund set up by students at the victims' high schools, no killer was ever identified.  As author Robert Graysmith grimly noted in his seminal book, ZODIAC, "There were no witnesses, no motives, and no suspects".

 

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