Monday, July 18, 2011

"This Is The Zodiac Speaking..."

By Bryan Cain-Jackson

SFPD's sketch artist renderings of Zodiac

In the late 1960’s, in the outskirts of the big city of San Francisco was a quiet place to live with minimal crime and almost no homicides; it was truly life in the suburbs.

On the night of December 20, 1968 it was about 45 degrees; a fine example of a winter in Northern California.  The residents of Benicia and the neighboring city of Vallejo knew not of the tragedy that would befall them on that night.

David Farraday and Betty Lou Jensen

17 year-old David Farraday and 16 year-old Betty Lou Jensen were going steady.  On the aforementioned night, Betty Lou was being allowed to go out on her first date that night.  The Jensens were a strict Christian family and reluctantly agreed to allow their daughter to attend a local high school dance with the young Farraday boy whom they had heard nothing but great things about.

After the dance, Betty Lou and David drove to a quiet spot in Benicia just outside of the city of Vallejo which is where they lived and went to school.  Lake Herman Road had a couple of small gravel parking lots that were widely used as lover’s lanes for the youth of both cities.  They found an unoccupied spot to sit, talk, and hold hands.

It is unknown what had occurred, but the grisly result has become part of true crime history.  David Farraday was shot and killed at point blank range.  Betty Lou was shot in the back multiple times as she tried to flee the scene.  Lake Herman is pitch dark at night, where was she trying to run?  No one knows for sure.

With not much previous experience in homicide, the Solano County Sheriff’s department was overwhelmed.  After a long period of time and no leads the case eventually goes cold.

Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau

Vallejo celebrates with fireworks on the unusually hot night of July 4, 1969.  Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin are good friends and they have driven to the park at the then isolated area of Blue Rock Springs park.  At this time, it was a rural area and not the widely developed community park that it is today.  They are approached by a car that pulls to the right rear of their car.  The car parks and sits there for about two minutes before speeding off, only moments later to come back.  This time the car pulled directly behind them, a man stepped outside of the car holding a bright flashlight and shaking it around while walking up to the passenger side window shining the lights in the faces of Michael and Darlene before opening fire on them.  The shooter fired multiple shots at both of them; Michael survived, Darlene did not.

Within the hour, the Vallejo Police Department received an interesting phone call from the shooter in question.  The man on the line spoke in a chillingly calm and controlled voice and enunciates his words clearly.  He sounded as though he were reading something.  This was their conversation.

“I would like to report a double-murder.”

“Who’s calling please?”

“If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway, you’ll find two kids parked in a brown car.  They were shot with a 9 mm Luger.”

“Who is calling please?”

“I’m the one who did it.”

A chilling moment of silent ensues.

“I also killed those kids last year.” 

His voice changes tone from calm and controlled to taunting and childish.


On July 31, 1969 three letters arrive to three different newspapers in Northern California.  One each was sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald, San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle.  The letters contained exhaustive details of both the December and 4th of July shootings.  With the letters there was a cryptogram and in the letter there was a threat that more lives would be taken if the letter and the puzzles were not solved and placed on the front page of each newspaper.  It was signed with a mysterious symbol.  In August another letter followed with more details about the Lake Herman murders.  This time the killer gave himself a name…  Zodiac.

Zodiac's signature symbol

The next crimes escalated in terms of their risk, Zodiac needed a greater challenge to get him his desired level of potency. 

Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard

During broad day light at Lake Berryessa on the evening of September 29, 1969, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were bound and stabbed by a man wearing a strange executioner’s style hood and bearing the symbol that would later be known as the Zodiac killer’s logo.  The man claimed that he only wanted money and their car keys, he took neither.  Bryan was stabbed 7 times; Cecelia was stabbed more than 18 times and died a day and a half later.  Bryan survived.  A telephone call to the Napa County Sheriff’s was made in the same sense as the call to the Vallejo PD.  No letter followed.  Instead, Zodiac leaves his trademark symbol on the door of his victims’ car along with the dates of his last murders and the current date along with the time being at 6:30.
Zodiac leaves his calling card on his victims' car door

Rendering of Zodiac at Lake Berryessa

The greater Northern California area would be placed on a curfew as a result of these Zodiac attacks and other sightings.

The final and last confirmed victim of Zodiac was a cab driver who picked him up in Downtown San Francisco. 

Paul Stine

29 year-old Paul Stine was shot at point blank range to the back of the head inside his cab after he parked it on the corner of Washington and Cherry in a very posh neighborhood near Presidio Heights.  Zodiac was seen getting into the front scene of the cab by two children.  They believed him to be drunk and wrestling with the driver so they called the police as it was happening.  They described Zodiac walking away from the crime scene. 

Within minutes, a cop was on the scene and questioned the children.  He had heard over the radio that they were looking for a “Negro male.”  Upon re-interviewing the children, he found that they were indeed looking for a white male.  The officer ran back to the car to radio everyone of the correction to the error that the dispatcher had made.

Another cop was approaching the scene coming down an opposite street.  When they saw a white male walking away from the crime scene on the sidewalk, they did not question him for whatever reason.  The cops discovered the victim’s shirt had been cut, his wallet, glasses and car keys were missing.

Thus Zodiac was not caught. 

A letter followed days later, this contained a blood stained piece of the shirt that the victim wore that night he was shot.  This letter contained a quote that would get Zodiac nationwide attention in 1969.

“I think I shall blow out the tires of a school bus one morning and just pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

School buses all over the Bay Area were escorted by helicopters, motorcades, and motorcycle police who were heavily armed in the event that such an attack would be attempted.

Northern California residents were paranoid.  It was never known where he would pop up next and every time a new letter was published in the newspaper that contained a threat, he always would claim another victim.  The paranoia increased when he hit the city.

The letters would continue for 5 years.  The facts became myth and now unfortunately to legend; adding to that great desire for fame that he possessed.  Zodiac made good on his promises to vanish… Never to be caught.

The mystery has made Zodiac one of the world’s most elusive serial killers, has spawned a major motion picture and has a website of amateur sleuths dedicated to solving the mystery with millions who visit it every day.

Although San Francisco has officially closed their investigation, Solano County Sheriffs, Napa County Sheriffs, and Vallejo PD all still have open cases.  Due to a tip on a possible new suspect, the FBI has also begun an in-depth investigation.

For more information on Zodiac, visit

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