Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Profile of the Zodiac Killer

Drawing Attention

In August 1969, the editors of three San Francisco-area newspapers each received letters and 1/3 of a strangely coded cipher, meant to be published by all three so the code could be put together. The writer signed each part with a crossed-circle symbol and claimed to be the Vallejo killer. He had used more postage than necessary to send the three parts.

Zodiac Cryptogram
Zodiac Cryptogram

Each section consisted of eight lines of seventeen symbols, which included a variety of items, from Greek symbols to Morse code to navy semaphore, and even a few astrological symbols, notably Taurus. When translated, it read:

I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN. IT IS MORE FUN THAT KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUS ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERIENCE 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 AFTERLIFE. EBEORIETEMETHHPITI

A letter arriving a week later indicated that this man called himself "the Zodiac" and he described his MO: He'd used a small penlight taped onto his weapon that assisted him to see his targets in the dark. His expressed enjoyment of killing suggested another attack, which occurred on September 27, 1969.

Cecelia Ann Shepard
Cecelia Ann Shepard

At Lake Berryessa, a stocky man wearing a black executioner's hood spied on and then approached Cecelia Ann Shepard and her friend, Bryan Hartnell. He instructed Bryan to bind Cecelia Ann before he viciously stabbed both with a long knife, aiming his frenzy at the girl. She was stabbed ten times, dying at the scene, but Bryan survived to describe the attacker.

Bryan Hartnell
Bryan Hartnell

As he approached, he appeared to be around six feet and to weigh over two hundred pounds. On his left side hung a foot-long knife, on his right an empty gun holster, and he held a semiautomatic pistol. Several lengths of clothesline hung from beneath his jacket. His voice placed him in his late twenties and he claimed to be an escaped convict.

The masked attacker stopped to call the police and claim credit. The call was traced to a pay phone four and a half blocks from the police station and 27 miles from the crime scene. A palm print was lifted from this phone.

At the scene, a footprint was found that had been made by a size 10 military wing walker. There was also writing in black felt-tip on the door of a car, along with a cross-hair symbol. The message was:

Vallejo

12-20-68

7-4-69

Sept 27-69-6:30

by knife

Two weeks later, this same person seems to have been the one who shot and killed cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco, leaving two bloody fingerprints in the cab. He tore off a piece of Stine's shirt and began wiping down the inside of the cab. As he left the cab, he wiped off the door and its handle, then opened the driver's door and wiped off the dashboard. The 9-mm pistol used turned out to be rare: only 143 semiautomatics of this type had been sold in that general area during the past three years. But it was different from weapons used at the earlier scenes. It was soon clear that this man wanted to use the murder to hold a large city hostage.

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