Identity of ‘Zodiac Killer’ That Terrorized San Francisco Remains a Mystery

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The identity of one of the most infamous murderers in the history of the United States remains unknown. The Zodiac Killer claimed that he killed 37 individuals, but only six murders were associated with his name between 1966 and 1969, focusing on Northern California areas.

Coded messages

In July 1969, the Zodiac Killer started to send out written letters to newspaper companies that held coded information only a killer would know and calling police after his attacks.

The murderer also sent messages to the San Francisco Chronicle and threatened the company that he would go on a killing spree if it refused to print his cipher. The unidentified killer seemed to crave the attention as he threatened cipher to be published in the San Francisco Examiner. 

In the message that the Zodiac Killer released, he said that his identity was hidden in the code. However, out of the four letters, only the first coded message was solved. A married couple figured out that the letter said, “I like killing people because it is so much fun.”

But after 51 years, experts have decoded a 340-character cipher sent in November 1969 to the San Francisco Chronicle. However, the letter did not reveal the identity of the Zodiac Killer. It did, however, lead experts to believe that this killer wanted attention. 

The first attack connected with the Zodiac Killer happened in 1966, where an 18-year-old college student was stabbed to death in Riverside, California. Many experts said that it was not the Zodiac Killer that committed the crime. However, the Zodiac Killer later released a letter in a local newspaper providing details of the murder.

The unknown murderer turned his attention to couples, and his first victims were David Faraday and Betty Lou, two high school students who were on their first date on December 20, 1968, at Lake Herman Road. The two drove out to the area and parked within Benicia City limits- where the attack occurred.

String of serial killings

Investigations revealed that the killer parked beside the couple’s vehicle and shot Faraday in the head, and quickly shooting Jensen’s back five times. When police arrived at the crime scene, her body was discovered outside of the vehicle.

After the first couple’s murder, the Zodiac Killer struck again in Blue Rock Spring Park on July 4, 1969. Reports said that Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin had parked in the area as another car pulled up beside theirs only to drive off.

However, the vehicle returned ten minutes later, and the driver came out, wielding a flashlight and a gun. The suspect flashed the couple with a strong light before shooting them five times. In his letter, he said that as he returned to his car, he heard Mageau was still alive and returned to finish her off with two more bullets.

The Zodiac Killer’s third couple victim was the first one that survived the murder attempt. Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell were college students from Pacific Union College when they went to Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969.

The suspect seemed to have been taunting authorities because after he stabbed Hartnell six times and Shepard ten times, he called the Napa County Sheriff’s office, confessing what he did before escaping. Unfortunately, Shepard died after being in the hospital for two days. Luckily, Hartnell survived; he recalled a man with a gun wearing a black hoody over his head.

There are more killings that the Zodiac Killer confessed to in his letters to the San Francisco Chronicle. Several years of sending letters and ciphers to newspaper companies, authorities had many suspects based on speculations and circumstantial evidence. However, his real identity still remains a mystery.

Danielle Joyce Ong

Danielle is a local journalist with a passion for exploring stories related to crime and politics. When Danielle isn't busy writing or reading, she is usually exploring the great outdoors and all the hiking trails in the Bay.