Recap: E26 The Zodiac Killer

“School children make nice targets. I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tire and then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

In the ten months between 1968 and 1969, the Zodiac attacked seven people, but his murderous activities may have started as early as 1963. He cultivated his notoriety by sending taunting letters and cryptic ciphers to all the major newspapers in the California Bay Area, most famously the San Francisco Chronicle. A gun being his weapon of choice, the Zodiac used this symbol to sign all his correspondences:

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How did he get away with it? Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie revisit the case.

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Flirting and kissing in a car parked in a remote area of Benicia, California, David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen notice someone drive up beside them. A man gets out and tells them to roll down the window. The teenagers refuse until Betty Lou sees he has a gun in his hand. David thinks cooperating will keep them from harm but, when obeying the man’s next command to get out of the car, he is shot point-blank in the head. Betty Lou tries to run away but is quickly gunned down.

At the crime scene, Detectives Lundblad and Bidou collect evidence and discuss possible motives. Finding that nothing had been stolen, they rule out robbery.

Detective Lundblad questions Bill Crow, a teenager claiming to have been in the area with his girlfriend just forty-five minutes before the victims. Bill tells the detective that a white Chevy drove past them on the road but suddenly stopped and came back. Freaked out, Bill then says he sped away with the Chevy hot on his tail but lost it at a fork in the road.

Two hunters also saw the white Chevy in that area but no one was inside when they went to look, leaving the police with no leads, no motives and no suspects.

Six months later, Michael surprises Darlene Ferrin at the end of her shift at Terry’s Waffle Shop. With romance in mind, the two drive four and a half miles to Blue Rock Springs Park, a popular spot for lovers to meet. They ignore the car that pulls up beside them with its headlights extinguished. It sits there for a while and the leaves. Minutes later it returns and pulls up behind them, which they find odd. But when a man steps out with a flashlight, they think it’s a police officer and hurriedly fix their clothes and hair.

Michael rolls down his window and begins opening his glovebox when the Zodiac shoots them both. Not long after the killer leaves, three friends driving through the park come across Michael’s car and are drawn in by his cries for help.

When the police and the ambulance arrive, both victims are still alive but by the end of the night only Michael survives. He gives the police a description of the attacker and is devastated to learn that Darlene died.

Forty minutes after the attack on Michael and Darlene, the Zodiac calls the police dispatch to give a them a tip. He shares details about the crime and informs the dispatcher that he killed David and Betty Lou, too.

A month later, the Zodiac sends nearly identical letters and a coded message to the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times-Herald. San Francisco Chronicle police reporter Paul Avery and his editor Templeton Peck pour over the Zodiac’s letters looking for clues.

College students Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell are the next to be attacked by the Zodiac. His final confirmed murder victim is struck down not long after.

San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine unwittingly picks up the Zodiac in his cab and is shot point-blank in the head after taking him to his destination. The Zodiac then robs the car and tears off a piece of Paul’s bloody shirt. He sends the bloody piece of cloth to Templeton Peck, along with a letter. Towards the end of his note, the Zodiac threatens to murder a school bus full of children.

SFPD detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong are officially transferred to the case following the murder of Paul Stine. Conversation between them, Templeton Peck and Paul Avery becomes heated over issues including contaminated evidence and police competency.

Almost a year after Paul Stine’s murder, the Zodiac sends Paul Avery a creepy Halloween card with another unsolvable cipher. Fearing for his life, Avery begins carrying a gun.

Although no one else is murdered after Paul Stine, the Zodiac’s reign of terror is not over. In 1970, 7-month pregnant Kathleen Jones and her 10-month old daughter are driving just past Modesto when the car behind them begins flashing its lights and honking. Kathleen pulls over and the Zodiac comes over to tell her that her tire is about to come off. He offers to fix it for her, and she accepts.

Kathleen tries driving back onto the highway, but her wheel almost immediately spins off. The Zodiac pulls up again and offers her a ride, apologizing for the problem being worse than he thought. With no one else in sight to help and it being cold, Kathleen gets into his car. She has no idea he’s a serial killer.

Instead of dropping her off at a gas station or someplace safe, the Zodiac drives around in circles for an hour and a half, terrifying her. To escape him, Kathleen jumps out of the moving car and runs into a nearby field to hide. He comes after her but cannot find her.

At the police station, she sees an artist sketch of the Zodiac and identifies him as the man who harassed her. Police later find her car – it had been set on fire.

Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories when Carter and Wenndy delve into the litany of suspects and theories surrounding the Zodiac’s identity.