Who was the Zodiac killer?

A drawing of the Zodiac Killer, drawn after the murder of Paul Stine.

via Wikimedia Commons

A drawing of the Zodiac Killer, drawn after the murder of Paul Stine.

The Zodiac killer is a notorious killer who terrorized citizens in Northern California in the 1960s. He has been linked to at least five murders but may have killed 37 victims in his time.


 On December 20th, 1968, on Lake Herman Road, a high school couple, Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday, were on their first date and parked their car off to the side of the road. Supposedly, the Zodiac parked next to them and shot them both; they died due to their injuries. A year later, in the summer of 1969, he almost perfectly replicated his last murder, with one of the only differences being that it was 3.97 miles away from Lake Herman Road. Both victims tragically died due to them both being shot five times. Then, on September 27, 1969, in Lake Berryessa, two college students were approached by the Zodiac wearing a mask, and he stabbed both of them, Bryan Hartnell, six times and Cecelia Shepard ten times. However, Bryan survived the brutal attack and helped give police one of the first descriptions of the killer. This was also one of the first instances where he signed his now-signature symbol, a circle with a cross through it. He also wrote below on Bryan’s car, “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27–69–6:30/by knife.” Then he called the police to confess to them about the murders before leaving the scene of the crime. Only a month later, the Zodiac was in a cab where he murdered Paul Stine by shooting him in the back of the head. Three people witnessed this and called the police and gave them yet another description of him. They described him as, “White Male Adult, in his early forties, 5 ‘8″, heavy build, reddish-blond ‘crew cut’ hair, wearing eyeglasses, dark brown trousers, dark (navy blue or black) ‘Parka’ jacket, dark shoes.”.


Three newspaper companies, including Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner, received letters from him threatening them to put into the newspaper. His letters contained where he took credit for both the Lake Herman Road and Blue Rock Springs shootings. To prove this, he revealed evidence that only the police or killer would know. He also included a coded phrase that allegedly revealed his identity. Shortly after the first, another arrived, and he proceeded to taunt the police on how they haven’t decoded the message and their failure to solve the case yet. Days after the newspaper came out, high school teachers Donald Harden and his wife decoded the cipher. It read, “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all”. Three days after the murder of the taxi driver, Paul Stine, the newspaper got another letter from the Zodiac, and he claimed the murder to be part of his doings. He even included a piece of Paul’s bloodied shirt. At the end of the letter, he suggested that he was going to shoot a school bus next, writing, “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” He sent a couple of letters after that; however they abruptly stopped in 1974. 


There are many suspects, but the top suspect is Lawrence Kane. Lawrence Kane worked at the Lake Tahoe hotel where Donna Lass was a fellow coworker. Donna disappeared in 1970, and she is believed to be one of the many suspected victims of the Zodiac. He was also a part of the Naval Reserve at one point, which may explain his ability to create ciphers, which are coded messages. In 1961 and 1968, he was arrested for prowling. His name was also in one of the Zodiac’s ciphers. Victims have also determined that Kane fits their description or looks like the person they saw. Also, in 1970, Kathleen Johns was abducted by the Zodiac and said that Kane looked very similar to the person who abducted her. 


Although people might have their suspicions and theories about who the infamous killer was, this case remains unsolved. Hopefully, at some point in time, the families and friends of the victims will have peace by knowing who he was. As of right now, some of the ciphers are still being decoded. One of America’s most notorious killers might even still be out there roaming the streets today.