Stories about serial killers have always stirred the blood of the readers; very often policemen were able to catch the killers, but sometimes the murderers managed to evade the legal retribution. Zodiac was one of the most famous uncaught killers. This maniac is memorable for a series of mocking letters to the local press accompanied with mysterious coded messages. Usually, a standard maniac face is an explicit notorious sociopath with a moral trauma received in childhood. This cruel killer chose a nickname “Zodiac”; he mentioned it in a series of mocking letters sent to the local newspapers. The cryptograms, which, according to Zodiac, revealed his identity, were applied to the letters. There were four cryptograms in total, and the police managed to decipher only one. For nearly 25 years he held at bay the entire San Francisco, and for over 37 years the Zodiac Killer escaped prosecution from law enforcement due to a combination of factors (Farmer, 2007, p.29). This paper will analyze the behavior of a cruel killer Zodiac and describe his murders.
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The date of Zodiac’s birthday is unknown, so his story begins from the date of the first murder – 20 December 1968. Butterfield (2012) relates that that day, late in the evening college students – a 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen and a 17-year-old David Faraday were on their first date in the car on a small parking lot on the edge of the highway in the vicinity of the lake near the town of Vallejo (CA). There they were caught by death, which came in the form of a man with a gun. David died in a cabin by a single bullet, Betty managed to jump out of the car and tried to run away – her body stricken with 5 bullets was found in more than 10 meters from the car. The traces of sexual violence were absent. The bodies were found a few minutes after the murder, but policemen were unable to detain the murderer, who escaped in his car. Six months later, in July 1969, another murder was committed. Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau parked their car when someone came up to the vehicle. A man came out, shined his flashlight, and shot them both. Then he got into his car and drove away. Ferrin died, but Mageau survived and was able to tell about it. The very next day, a man called the police and said that he was a murderer. September 27, 1969, the students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard spent time at a picnic by the Berryessa Lake. A man in a hood and black glasses approached them. He identified himself as an escaped convict and, threatening with a pistol, forced Cecilia to tie Bryan. Later he tied Cecilia, took out a knife and inflicted many knife wounds to the couple. Soon, he called the police himself to tell about crime with ridicule. Shepard died of her injuries, but Hartnell survived (Butterfield, 2012).
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In October 11, 1969 a taxi driver Paul Stine was killed in his car by the passenger; Zodiac cleaned all his traces by a piece of the victim’s shirt (Butterfield, 2012). Three teenagers saw him and made up a description of the killer, but he was never caught. On the night of March 22, 1970, being seven months pregnant, Kathleen Johns with her little daughter was driving to her mother in Modesto. The driver behind her stopped and signaled. The man told her that something had gone wrong with the car and offered his help. Kathleen and her daughter got into the car. The man drove more than hour without stopping; then he said he was going to kill them. At an intersection, Kathleen and her daughter jumped out of the car and hid in a field. The man tried to find them but then he gave up and drove away. Jones got to the police and confirmed that they were kidnapped by a man who looked like a sketch, drawn on the description of the murderer by Paul Stein.
Speaking to the authorities with the help of reporters, Zodiac taunted police in inaction in his letters and ciphers. In total, the editors of various newspapers in California received about 20 letters and postcards from Zodiac.
When investigating cases like the Zodiac Killer case, it is important to stick to the evidence derived from what the serial killer provided publicly to the police and the newspapers. The longer that a case such as this goes unsolved, the more theories about the case are heaped upon older theories to eventually create a zone of silence away from the truth (p.29).
The investigation of Zodiac’s figure continued for many years. Zodiac disappeared for a while and reappeared after some years. Sometimes, the police began to doubt that it was Zodiac who committed the murder, not some imitator. Policemen put forward different versions and found more and more suspects. It makes no sense to analyze each of them, but some versions were unique and worth mentioning. According to one version, Zodiac was not one person, but an organized gang in which different people killed. Actually, this version had only one advantage – it compensated the deficiencies of the version of one killer, whose track could not be found.
According to another version Zodiac did not stop his activities, and “retrained” into the “murderer of Santa Rosa” (a town in California), who killed 14 girls in the years 1972-1975 and also stayed uncaught. Now only enthusiasts were involved in the searches. They exchanged information and versions on their website and even filmed a documentary “Hunting the Zodiac” dedicated to their searches. The exact number of victims of Zodiac is unknown. In his letters, he took the blame for seven murders. Another thirty killings are similar to his crimes by “handwriting”, but there is no evidence that they were committed by Zodiac, not imitators. The most famous serial killers of America are the subject of a mass cult, along with Hollywood actors or singers. One of the creators of the American pop culture, Andy Warhol once said that everyone can get their 15 minutes of fame. So, why they cannot be provided for a mass murderer? Autographs, biographies, invariably becoming bestsellers, documentaries and feature films, TV shows, interviews rating – all these made people like Charles Manson, Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Damner no less recognizable personalities than Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. Zodiac was the first killer who received from the hands of newsmen his 15 minutes of fame and stubbornly refused to give them back. Encrypted messages of the psychopath looked at the reader from the front pages of all major newspapers; the maniac infected with his madness through the streams of respected radio stations. Of course, all that should be attributed not only to “Zodiac” but also to the people he killed. Newspaper circulations and ratings rose skywards steadily.
The case of Zodiac was the first such case in the United States when the killer surrounded himself with glory. He committed a crime and wrote about it in the newspapers, trying to intimidate the entire community. However, he seemed to transform into a comic book anti-hero: he wore masks, invented a name for himself, sent encrypted messages, and called the police after murders. He behaved very confidently as if he had not fear of punishment. However, the police and journalists undervalued him. Zodiac tried to create an image of an unbalanced psychopath. He said that he liked killing people because it is funny. This is funnier than killing wild animals in the forest because the man is the most dangerous animal. He tossed evidence to police (for example, a glove in a taxi). Also, he threatened to shoot children, sent drawings of bombs, deliberately left witnesses alive in order to make fun of policemen. In his letters, he liked to count the victims. Zodiac “helped” police in their searches, knowing that they would not reach him. The matter was further complicated by the fact that real crazies called the hotline, calling themselves Zodiac.
The following features are specific to the attacks committed by Zodiac: the victims were young people; very often they were couples; the attacks occurred on weekends or public holidays; the criminal acted in the dark or in twilight; robbery or sexual underlying reason did not motivate the crimes; the killer used a variety of weapons; the offender tended to claim the crimes were committed by him; the victim was in the car or near it; and finally all the crimes were committed by the water or objects whose names are associated with water.
Without any exaggeration Zodiac can be called Jack the Ripper of the 20th century – it is the most famous uncaught serial killer of the past century. Five dead and two injured victims belong to his credit. Zodiac is the mythical and monumental figure that demands an exclusive approach. His personality causes interest to criminologists and fans; they create versions and produce books trying to understand his secrets. Zodiac committed each murder with a new type of weapon. He wrote 26 letters to the police and the San Francisco Chronicle editorial. The most amazing thing is that so far no one managed to prove conclusively that all the murders are attributed to “Zodiac” and the letters and speeches on the radio were the acts of one and the same person.