“This is the Zodiac Speaking:” The Serial Killer That May Never Be Found

Sketch produced of the Zodiac killer by Bill Armstrong and Dave Toschi | Courtesy of Urban Ghosts

Imagine walking down the street one morning in California. The sun is out and the air is warm as you pass by many people, maybe even hundreds. You keep to yourself, and your business, but a few strangers you pass by make eye contact, and you smile at each other. But some do not smile back. You do not make anything of this; it is normal. This actually happens so often and with so many people that you take little to no notice as to how many people you do pass during the day and the faces you see. But what if one of the strangers who passed by you, maybe smiled at, maybe bumped into, or even held the door for was not a simple stranger? What if one of these people with whom you made a one-second interaction was actually a notorious killer, responsible for many murders. This idea was a reality in the 1960’s for all that lived in the San Francisco Bay Area of California; and actually still may be. This was the reality while in the area of the Zodiac, who claimed he killed thirty seven people.1

Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery

On the night of December 20, 1968, in Benicia, California, Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday were setting out for a night of new memories. The two teenagers were going out on their first official date, and to both of them, the night was full of promise. David picked up Betty Lou and informed both of her parents that he would bring her home by 11:00 pm. The two went out and shared the evening together in hopes of furthering their relationship. As the night passed on, Betty Lou and David found a spot along Lake Herman Road, or “lovers’ lane.” The time was past 11:00 pm and worries arose. The worries turned into horror, because Betty Lou and David were soon found dead. Betty Lou had been shot in the back five times and was found less than thirty feet from the car, leading some to believe she tried to run from the scene of the attack. David just had one shot to his head. Besides the victims’ bodies and spent shell casings, nothing else at the scene was recovered as evidence or as clues as to who could have murdered these teenagers. With no leads, this case produced no clear suspects.2

Darlene Ferrin | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery
Michael Mageau | Courtesy of Zodiac Ciphers

Seven months later, two more people were targeted. It was the fourth of July in 1969 when they were gunned down at Blue Rock Springs Park, which was Northwest of Lake Herman Road where Betty Lou and David had met their tragic end. Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau were viciously attacked, and sadly Darlene died after receiving many gunshot wounds. But Michael miraculously survived, although he had been shot in the leg, neck, and jaw. Michael was luckily able to talk despite his injuries and told police what had happened the night of the attack. The friends drove to the park after Darlene picked up Michael and pulled into the parking lot. Darlene parked her Chevrolet Corvair, and a car pulled into the lot as they were talking. Those in the car got out and set off fireworks to celebrate the holiday and soon left.

The Lake Herman Road crime scene | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery

It was immediately after this that another car pulled in. But this time it parked right behind Darlene’s car. A few moments passed, as the headlights shone into the Corvair, but then the car reversed and left the parking lot. Only a few minutes passed before the same car returned. The person driving the car opened the driver’s door and exited the vehicle. Michael recalls that the driver was holding a bright light and approached the two in the car. Michael said that a man approached them, but he assumed that the man was a police officer. Michael reached for his ID and rolled down his window. The man casually walked to the passenger side of the Corvair, lifted up a gun and pointed it at Darlene and Michael. He then repeatedly pulled the trigger. Both Michael and Darlene were hit. Michael remembered looking over at Darlene horrified, but she was already slumped over her steering wheel. After several more shots were fired, the gunman lowered his hand, turned around, and began walking back to his car. The pain from the gunshots pushed Michael to scream in pain. When the gunman heard the screams, he immediately returned to Darlene’s car and shot two more times.3 With the satisfaction of thinking he had just killed the two, the killer returned to his car and drove away. Darlene and Michael were found immediately by three teens who had driven by, finding Michael rolling on the ground. When the police arrived, the two were still alive. Darlene was not moving, but her eyes were open and she was softly moaning as police and an ambulance rushed her and her friend to the hospital. Darlene unfortunately died before arriving at the hospital, but two minutes after she was pronounced dead, a call was made to the Vallejo Police Department.4 The attack on Darlene and Michael had obviously not been the killer’s last stop of the night. A few blocks down the road the killer stopped at a payphone. He then made a call to the Vallejo Police Department, and when Dispatcher Nancy Slover answered, a man began to speak in a colorless, dreary voice that sounded scripted. “I want to report a murder. If you will go one-mile east on Columbus Parkway, you will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a nine-millimeter Luger. I also killed those kids last year. Good-bye.”5

The payphone the killer used to make the call to the Vallejo Police Department | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery

Now that this bragging killer had made a mistake and left a survivor, it was time to begin the search for this mystery man. Michael Mageau left a description of the man who had killed Darlene and left him wounded. Ed Rust of the Vallejo Police Department took down the description: “short, possible 5′ 8″, was real heavy set, beefy build… not blubbery fat, but real beefy, possibly 195 to 200 lbs or maybe even larger… short curly hair, light brown almost blond… with a large face.”6 After Mageau was shown various photographs of individuals that could possibly be the murderer, he concluded that none of these men were the killer.

The letter the Zodiac sent news offices on July 31, 1969 | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery

Three weeks passed, and although there was now a description of the murderer, there was nothing else to lead police to him. But then three envelopes arrived at three Bay Area newspaper offices. All envelopes contained handwritten letters and a coded message. The person who wrote the letters left a detailed list about the two shootings. The writer then revealed that the coded message, once deciphered, would reveal his identity. Concluding the letter, a threat was made, “If you do not print this cipher by the afternoon of Fry. 1st of Aug. 1 – 69, I will go on a kill rampage Fry. night…I will cruse around and pick off all street people… then move on until I have killed over a dozen people.”7 The letter was signed with a symbol of a circle with a cross inside it. Following the threat, all three newspapers published the cipher out of fear that the killer would remain true to his word.8 This ignited everyone from experts to even amateurs to attempt to decode the cipher. Investigators followed tips and even received help from citizens who claimed to have solved the puzzle. But what one citizen found was that it did not reveal the killer’s identity. Instead, it was a statement. “I like killing people because it is so much fun… I will not give you my name because you will try to slo(w) down or stop my collecting of slaves for my after life …”9

Cecilia Shepard & Bryan Hartnell | Courtesy of Zodiac Killer Facts Image Gallery

Weeks later in Napa Valley another couple was stabbed at Lake Berryessa. After several stab wounds, Cecilia Shepherd died, but Bryan Hartnell became the second survivor of the Zodiac. Bryan described the man wearing a black squared hood with a white circle with a cross through it on his chest. The Zodiac even left his own mark, by placing his symbol on Bryan’s car with a black marker. He then wrote out “Sept 27 69 6:30 by knife.”10

More victims emerged as time passed, but the Zodiac was never captured. The Zodiac sent in pieces of a blood-stained shirt from a victim who had been the killer’s cab driver. The Zodiac had shot him in the head. Along with the scraps of the shirt, a letter was included as well. This letter sent law enforcement into a frenzy because of what it described.11 It read, “School children make nice targets I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning just shoot out the frunt tire + pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”12 This forced police cars to follow all school buses with armed officers to protect all from the threat.

A sketch of the Zodiac by Robert Greysmith | Courtesy of Questersite

The Zodiac sent out many more letters, and made a number of odd demands. He wanted the people of the Bay Area to begin wearing Zodiac buttons that were to show his symbol on them. But when this did not happen, he wrote in another letter that his punishment for their not complying with him would be his shooting a man in the head in a parked car.13  The Zodiac taunted the police for being unable to catch him. He even wrote, “If the Blue Meanies are ever going to catch me they had best get off their fat asses + do something… the longer they fiddle… the more slaves I will collect for my afterlife.” He then signed the letter with his symbol and the number seventeen, claiming that this was the number of murders he had committed so far.14

Letter from the Zodiac relieved by the Los Angeles Times on March 31, 1971 | Courtesy of Zodiac Ciphers

The Zodiac killer has never been caught, even as the decades have passed. But his crimes have lived on in infamy and spread throughout the country. Many books have been published telling the story of the Zodiac killer’s spree, and his crimes became extremely well known. Due to the fact that he has never been captured, copycat killers have emerged. They have killed in the same fashion as the Zodiac, leaving behind notes signed, “Zodiac II” or “Zodiac III.”15

What remains true is that the Zodiac’s plea for attention has lived on far more than maybe he ever expected. Or perhaps his ongoing fame is exactly what he always wanted. With no real suspects and no more credible leads, the case is at a dead end. There is nowhere else to turn and no one else to question. The crimes that occurred in the sixties will possibly live on as being unsolved forever. Who knows where the Zodiac is today. Is he dead? Is he in jail for other crimes? Or could he even be alive? Could he, right now, be sitting in front of his television watching as his crimes are still being discussed today and knowing that he got away with everything.

  1.  Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “Zodiac Killer,” by Adrienne A. Kennedy.
  2. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 13- 15.
  3. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 22, 23.
  4. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011.), 23-26.
  5. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 27.
  6. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 25.
  7. Zodiac, Zodiac to Vallejo Times, Vallejo, Ca, July 31, 1969.
  8. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 29-31.
  9. Donald G. Harden, Donald G. Harden to the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, Ca, August 9, 1969.
  10. Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 38-40.
  11.  Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 52-60.
  12. Zodiac, Zodiac to San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, Ca, October 13, 1969.
  13. Zodiac, Zodiac to San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, Ca, June 26, 1970.
  14. Zodiac, Zodiac to San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, Ca, March 13, 1971.
  15.  Brenda Haugen, The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery (Mankato: Compass Point Books, 2011), 76-88.
“This is the Zodiac Speaking:” The Serial Killer That May Never Be Found
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39 Comments

  • Cool topic! Every time I hear about the Zodiac Killer, I wonder, what exactly is the story behind this person? Its crazy to know that there are people out there who are cynical and deranged to this point. I wonder what the Zodiac killer’s reasoning for this spree of murder was? Or maybe he didn’t have one? Still, very informative article, I definitely learned more about this person.

  • Without doubt a very interesting article. I think it’s not necessary to talk about how shocking this case is. I would prefer to focus on something deeper: how does a human being come to possess madness in this way? How can it be explained scientifically that a human being does not feel compassion for other people? Many people attribute these behaviors to brain problems, but I think there is something more inside. Serial killers, like the zodiac killer, have completely discarded their humanity. And I emphasize this because many times we say that we are civilized because we reason, but I argue that we are civilized because we have conscience, something that the other beings do not have. Without conscience, such atrocities can occur. No doubt I would support a proposal that would establish a psychological examination in schools to identify earlier these cases of schizophrenia. Therefore, we would not have to cry when it is too late.

  • I’ve had very minimal background knowledge of the Zodiac killer before but after reading this article, I was able to get a good idea about his killing style and how the Zodiac killer had no intentions of being captured anytime soon. I really enjoyed reading this article and found the following of the Zodiac killer so fascinating. Of course I find the murders he committed and those he threatened to commit horrible, but the whole act he had going on of a mysterious, un-captivating soul is truly dementing and bone-chilling. I can’t imagine being a teen or adult and growing up in the era of the Zodiac’s killings, I would be so frightened, as I’m sure the people of California were at this time.

  • Very interesting and thought provoking article, the details were very gruesome and chilling yet I could not stop reading. It’s scary to think about living among many killers and although the Zodiac Killer has either passed or retired his killing sprees it’s ridiculous to think that he was never caught. The amount of intelligence and strategies the Zodiac Killer must have used to prevent his capture is rather intimidating yet impressive. His infamous crimes have remained a thrilling reminder and a warning to those who seek to adventure out at night alone. The commitment he took to take lives is scary and I hope many of the families affected can now have some peace of mind knowing the Zodiac Killer is likely to never attack again.

  • As a kid I always remembered watching documentaries on the Zodiac killer and being infatuated with the cases. I was always shocked how they never managed to catch the killer. Especially since the crimes were committed in public places. I really liked how descriptive the article was. To this day I always wonder who it was or where he is.

  • This was a really fascinating article. I have heard of the Zodiac killer, but have never actually heard the story behind why he was so famous. I’m amazed that he has never been caught, that is really crazy. I don’t understand how someone could be so crazy as to threaten school children. I enjoyed all the pictures that accompanied this article, it made the story easier to follow, this article was very well written.

  • I’m form California and I have never heard of the zodiac killer. reading this I was rally pulled in the way you worded and told about how he set out his killings. after reading this i think i will do some more research about this because it really caught my attention. i wish it was longer because this was really informational and descriptive on what was going on .

  • Ever since I heard of this famous “Zodiac Killer” I took an interest in his story. Although these kinds of stories are very grim and dark due to those that lost their lives to them, I find it interesting how these serial killers think. The Zodiac Killer in particular however is very interesting because not only was he never caught, he himself put himself at risk of being caught by sending notes written and signed by him. He knew how smart he was and how much he could outsmart those investigating who he was. He knew how much he had them in his hands and would not be caught unless he himself wanted to be caught. Very interesting story and article overall.

  • The story of the Zodiac Killer is mind blowing. The cyphers themselves provide an insight into the mind of a killer. The mystery surrounding the killer’s identity is a social phenomenon that we may never get to experience again. This article did an exceptional job of placing me within the setting of the crimes. I wonder what ever happened, and if he’ll kill again.

  • This is a great and informative article. You were able to inform the reader of the events surrounding the zodiac killer in an incredibly detailed manner. As a person who knew nothing of the infamous killer I now have a better understanding of the mysterious murders. I had no idea of the hold it had on the public. I can’t believe the killer has not been caught yet.

  • I enjoyed this article very much because this has always been a personal subject of interest. It is hard to believe that even with the most difficult cases that forensic scientists have been able to solve, this one is still a mystery and on top of that, there were even two eye witnesses. It is even harder to believe that he may even still be out there.

  • This was a really well written article! I honestly had no idea that the Zodiac Killer had killed 37 people and gotten away with it; I only knew there was a movie about him and people think it’s Ted Cruz. However, it’s a really fascinating mystery and amazing that they never caught him despite there being 2 people who had lived through him.

  • Great article! It was interesting and kept me wanting to continue to read despite the length of it. The end especially gave me chills and I feel you concluded very well being that there ended up not being a resolution to the problem. Wonderful job, the title and cover pictures stand out and the detail and research put in this was tremendous. As I was reading I was expecting the police to find clues on the letters or on the payphone, but since that never happened it made me very curious to read on and once I got to the end I was shocked to be left with no answer.

  • On free time I would sometimes study his ciphers and research what scholars and government officials concluded about their analysis. I never actually took the time to look into the people he killed however, only the ciphers. It’s such a shame that these senseless killings occurred, teens and young people robbed of potentially long lives. The bigger shame being that he was never caught.

  • This article was well written. It is incredible how someone was able to get away with all of these murders without a single trace being left behind. Just the thought of people potentially walking by a killer without even realizing it is scary. It is just amazing at how he was never caught. The police even had two victims that were able to describe the man, yet they were never able to catch him. The Zodiac Killer is someone that people have been talking about for years and I am sure that this is what he probably wanted.

  • Gabriela Serrato does a fantastic job at telling the story of an infamous serial killer. The Zodiac killer is known as one of the most deadly and evil killers in American culture. Serrato manages to give a brief description of the killer’s history. She is able to extract the most important information/ events of the Zodiacs career. Giving readers an idea of the fear citizens in California were experiencing during the 1960s.

  • This article is wild, its insane how someone can kill that many people and just taunt the police and write letters to them and never be caught. This article flowed nice I liked the conclusion it leaves this uneasy feeling about the killer, because at the end of the day he is still free and no one knows what he looks like.

  • This is one of America’s greatest unsolved mysteries and it really is fascinating. I find it interesting how men can be so chilling and so evil. It is scary that people can think this way and is even more scary that we were never able to figure out who the Zodiac Killer is. I found the flow to be great as it was very easy to follow. Great facts and background on the different Zodiac encounters made the story very easy to follow! Great article!

  • I can’t imagine being a teenager living in the Bay Area in the late 60s with the constant threat of being murdered by some crazy psycho killer. I have always found reading about these maniac killers to be kind of interesting and so creepy. My heart goes out to the loved ones that lost their kid’s so early in life to some attention-grabbing killer. Your article is well thought out, and the pictures you added helped give a name to a face. Anyways keep up the good work!

  • Your story about the Zodiac killer is chilling! I once read this silly article (which may or may not have been true) that said the average person will walk by 7 murderers in their lifetime. Now I look at everyone with a wary eye as I am walking down the street. To be a teen during the period when the Zodiac killer was roaming free must have been horrifying! I like the questions you posed at the end of your article. Is he dead, alive, in jail for other crimes? Where might he be if he is alive? These are all questions that we don’t have answers to, and that is frightening!

  • As always, the narrative of this article is amazing. Although I know I am reading a historical account, it feels like I am reading a story. In this case, it is a horror story. I cannot imagine how scared I would be if I were a young person during this time. I would never want to go out. The article did a great job at evoking dread and horror. The fact that the Zodiac killer was never caught makes the idea all the worse. Great job!

  • This is the first article I’ve read that has talked about a serial killer and I have to say I’m impressed. The consistent cliff hanger of the whereabouts of the zodiac killer left me with chills. I love a good thriller and the author did a good job in telling this chilling story. However I am a bit saddened that all of those deaths went unsolved. I feel bad for all of their families

  • I found the introduction to be very thought-provoking. We pass by countless people all the time but never consider the possibility that any one of them could be a serial killer. No one might truly know what the Zodiac Killer’s true motives were, but I can only speculate that he wanted to gain fame by teasing the police, as well as getting people to wear his trademark symbol. He was somewhat successful, since there have been people who have tried to imitate him over the years. Engaging article, keep up the good work!

  • This article was really good, It started off with a great hook, and ended with readers questioning the truth about the Zodiac Killer. The fact that the Zodiac killer was never caught is what seems even more chilling. I really like how you kept the article in a kind of suspenseful feel, it made reading it even more fascinating, and interesting to read.

  • Great article! I wonder why his name was the “Zodiac” killer..did the victims have something in common? I like how you told us how each victim was murdered and a couple survived. Our crime detectives and technology has developed over the years so much, back then in this time period it wasn’t so advanced so I think thats why they never found the Zodiac killer.

  • Never really been into serial murder cases. But the zodiac killer is an extremely interesting story. I wonder what drives someone to do that, and how do they actually go through with it. Its scary to think that some of our worlds craziest murders are the smartest. Why would someone even leave messages, that is just insane. I also never knew that he wore a costume during this? This is a very good and informative article!

  • I have never been more interested in a serial murder case like this one eve before! In the introduction, I love how the author, Gabriela Serrato, helps us imagine to actually live in the time period. Unfortunately, it was rather easy for the Zodiac Killer to have never been caught due to the fact that he was never caught by the investigators. One part of the article I liked a lot was the sketches on the Zodiac killer and what he might’ve looked like. This was an amazing article!

  • Very interesting article! I have briefly heard of the Zodiac Killer but never actually knew anything about him or the crimes that were committed. I like how the beginning made me think. Back then the Zodiac killer could have been anyone that passed by you or even someone you made small talk with. It goes to show that there can be more to people than meets the eye.

  • I had heard about the Zodiac killer plenty of times but never knew the complete details. Unsolved cases have always intrigued me and this article did a great job in explaining the details of this case. Throughout the article I had a sense of suspense and its eerie knowing he’s killed about 37 people and is still not been found. We can only hope that the case will be solved and we get justice for the victims.

  • This is especially harrowing because just as you said— The Zodiac Killer got exactly what he wanted. All the books and movies written about him, the cult like fans and copycat killers, all of this is what he envisioned when he sent his first letters to the Bay Area newspapers. If only the victims could have identified him while he was still out killing.

  • This was a very well written article that kept me interested all the way to the end. I had heard of the zodiac killer but this certainly gave me more knowledge about him and exactly what he did. It is for certain though that he is probably one of the most infamous serial killers ever. It is scary that he could still be out in the world killing so that he “could collect more slaves for his afterlife”.

  • I absolutely loved this article. I’m a big fan of crime stories and shows like criminal minds so I’ve heard the story of the Zodiac killer before and I think this article was very well written. I find it crazy how the Zodiac killer was able to leave letters and taunt the police and be so skilled as to not leave any evidence on who he was. This makes me wonder if they were unable to find him because of the time period maybe they didn’t have the proper technology to be able to catch him. I think this is one of the more interesting because of the fact that he was never caught so people live wondering if he could still possibly be out there.

  • Amazingly written article that got me hooked the more I read. Even though it was about the Zodiac killer and terrible tragedies I could not look away from the mystery behind it all. The fact the killer was so confident that he taunted the police and made demands just puts a person on edge. Makes you want to take another look at your surroundings for staring eyes

  • I like the way the author told us about the Zodiac killer in story form. I am typically very easily scared, and reading the first half of this article made me a little jumpy. I was great research and all the photos of the letters and the victims gave a nice visual, since no one know who the Zodiac killer is or what he looks like. I also really enjoyed the ending of the article, I thought I was a creative way to keep the reader thinking. It was beautifully written and had me intrigued the entire time.

  • This is an extremely chilling article that really highlights how easy it can be for serial killers to walk among us. I truly believe there ar many serial killers that we may walk past on a daily occurrence that will never be caught. What an awful feeling for the families of the victims knowing that the killer of their beloved ones hasn’t ben caught for more than 50 years and probably never will be. An extremely well written article.

  • This was an outstanding article, the amount of information truly surprised me. I had never seen the sketches of the Zodiac Killer in his costume, nor was I aware of the fact that he wore a costume. What I found most interesting about this article was the letter regarding school buses. I knew the Zodiac Killer would antagonize police with some of his letters but I did not know he was confident enough as threaten school kids.

  • This was a wonderful article, it was so descriptive that I felt like I could have been there. It is crazy to think that the killer was never caught, and that they could still be out there living their life how they please knowing that they got away with their crimes. Hopefully one day the mystery will be solved and we can put our wonders aside.

  • This was a very interesting article that gives as much insight as possible into the Zodiac Killer and the case around him. It is incredible that the Zodiac killer has never been caught or even identified given the fact that he committed these murders in somewhat public places and also considering the technology that we have today. It seems as though the Zodiac killer had the whole city and police department playing his game and doing what he wanted with every threat that he sent into the newspaper and every message that he left behind at the crime seen. This article truly does a good job of shedding some light on the mystery surrounding the Zodiac killer and it also makes you think about the people that you pass by or say hello to everyday.

  • This was probably one of the best articles I have read on this website. The introduction was very captivating, I like how you made us feel like we were a part of that time period. I have always been interested in serial killers. The Zodiac killer had always been one of the more interesting ones because he was never caught. He could still be out there committing more murders and no one would ever know.

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