Interesting article about the unsolved Zodiac killer case

  1. This is from a newspaper from Napa County, California.

    by Harry V. Martin
    Volume 23, NO. 1350
    December 28, 2007
    Founded in 1985

    ZODIAC: the conclusion

    The “Zodiac” case was one of the most costly and misdirected police investigations in California history. Why? Because the murders associated with the “Zodiac” were a hoax, for the most part. The “Zodiac” was not a serial killer. This may appear to you as absurd and ridiculous – the Zodiac case is a classic in the annals of serial killers. But follow the evidence, the techniques, victims, and even the varying description of the “Zodiac” – nothing really matches. The only link to a Zodiac serial killer is a series of letters written apparently by one man.

    The murder in Riverside of Cheri Jo Bates on October 30, 1966 and the murder of Cecilia Shepherd on September 27, 1969 at Lake Berryessa show that the victims were stabbed savagely and repeatedly – the act of a butcher. These murders were similar to the slaying of Charles Manson’s uncle in London and in the Sharon Tate murders – a knife was the weapon of choice by the murderer. Now consider that when Bruce Davis, a member of the Charles Manson Family, was arrested in Southern California law enforcement found the hood, weapons and other evidence linking Davis to those two murders. He has always remained the top suspect in the London murder, as well. Because the District Attorney in Southern California had an open and shut case on Davis for two unrelated “Zodiac” murders, the DA decided not to raise the issue of the other murders or the Zodiac issue for fear of complicating the case. After two San Francisco detectives went to Southern California and were confronted with the “Zodiac” evidence, they returned to the Bay Area and announced that they were no longer investigating the “Zodiac” case.

    The greatest puzzle in the entire Zodiac investigation was the inclusion of the Riverside murder of 1966, when all the other murders in Northern California took place between December 20, 1968 through October 11, 1969.

    Ironically, the Zodiac name was created not by the individual claiming to be the Zodiac killer, but by a letter writer to the San Francisco Chronicle. The “Zodiac” simply signed his name in code and used a circle with a cross inside – either a Zodiac symbol or a hunter’s scope. The Zodiac did not claim the 1966 and 1968 murders – in fact the first Zodiac letter did not appear until July 11, 1969 after the murder of Darlene Ferrin on July 5, 1969. The Zodiac letters had no problem claiming specific victims; yet one letter claimed he had killed 37 people, failing to identify 31 of them. The failure to identify so many “victims” was out of character for the “Zodiac”.

    Another oddity to the Zodiac case is the description of the killer. Some describe him as having a round face while others depict him as having a thin face. The police sketches show at least two completely different and unrelated faces. Each law enforcement agency had their own “suspect” and they differ widely with each other. A few suspects, however, were considered prime suspects in more than one jurisdiction. Either finger prints or hand writing didn’t match, even though the State Department of Justice said emphatically that the handwriting was the major key to solving the case.
    Robert E. Hunter was considered a prime suspect in both San Francisco and Napa. His handwriting is also a perfect match. The Sentinel has boxes and boxes of Hunter’s handwriting taken from his garbage can in front of his home on Washington Street in San Francisco. But it isn’t just the handwriting that draws Hunter into the case. When Paul Stein, the cab driver, drove to Washington Street, the address on his log was that of Hunter’s house. The clues in the Zodiac letter about the school bus and “kiddies” refer to the Kiddie school, which can be seen from his house. Also, the Zodiac letter described the activities of the Police the night Stein was killed – keenly observing all the movements. Only some of the movements could have been seen from his Washington Street address. In Hunter’s driveway we obtained the license number of cars and traced one to his niece in Riverside. According to Cheri Jo Bates’ father, Cheri was a close friend of Hunter’s niece and was supposed to go out with her the night she was murdered. What stopped Hunter’s niece from accompanying Bates to the College Library that night was that she had a visitor – her uncle, Robert E. Hunter. Robert E. Hunter did not kill Bates, but he knew of the murder the next day. Hunter’s niece and Bruce Davis all left Riverside immediately after the murder.

    Another fact tying Hunter to the case is the fact that he knew Donna Lass – supposedly the “last” victim of the Zodiac, though her body has never been found. She disappeared on September 30, 1970, nearly a year after the murder of Paul Stein. Bruce Davis was in prison at that time. In fact, he was arrested in Southern California the day after Paul Stein’s murder. Hunter, in some way can be connected to the murder of Paul Stein and the disappearance of Donna Lass. The motive may have been monetary in the case of Lass (which will be explained).

    A lot of drug activity was taking place in Vallejo, which also involved Vallejo Police Officers. Darlene Ferrin, living beyond her financial means, was tight with the Vallejo cops and also in the drug scene. But Danny Price was also in tight with the cops and the drug activities. At least three Vallejo Police officers were driven from the force for illegal acts and one spent many years in prison. Price was a drug dealer and a person always in trouble with the law. In fact he had served time in prison. He had an air-tight alibi the night Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday were murdered. This drug dealer said he was with a Police officer watching television the night the couple was murdered on Lake Herman Road. In separate and undisclosed interviews with drug dealers in Vallejo and some Police officers, each have stated that Price was the person who killed the two teenagers. The shooting of David Faraday is reported to have been an accident – an argument got out of hand. There is evidence that there were two – not one – assailants at the scene of the murders – perhaps the Police officer who ties into Price’s alibi. The car of the victims had the window down and the heater going full blast. The murder took place on December 20, 1968 – a very cold night. The only way the window would be down under most conditions is to communicate with someone outside.

    Price was in love with Jensen and was upset that she was dating Faraday for the first time. According to the drug community, Price is alleged to have waved a weapon at the couple to scare them – there was no intention to shoot. The gun went off, whether in a struggle or freak accident. Price had been dating Jensen and she dropped him for Faraday. Unlike other “Zodiac-related” cases, there was no letter claiming responsibility, and there were no phone calls to Police claiming a murder. The murders, though they attracted a lot of publicity, did not create the sensation the Zodiac case did. Darlene Ferrin knew Price and she knew Jensen. In Graysmith’s book Zodiac, he states, “There was a love-sick boy who had been bugging her (Jensen) at school and who had threatened Dave (Faraday).”

    To date we can link Davis to the Bates and Shepherd murders. We can link Hunter to some involvement in the Stein murder and Lass disappearance. We can link Price with the murders of Faraday and Jensen. What about Darleen Ferrin? It wasn’t until six days after Darleen Ferrin murder that the Zodiac’s first letter surfaced. Ferrin had a direct link to Paul Stein, the cab driver. Ferrin was murder on September 27, 1969 and Stein two weeks later on October 11, 1969. The death of Ferrin was the birth of the Zodiac myth.

    Though Darlene was married, she continued to date and associate with Police officers and members of the drug community. She sold drugs herself – not on a massive basis, though. On or about April 1969 - a few months before her death – a man, who fits the description of Lawrence Kane and Paul Petri, as well as Bruce Davis, commenced to hang around her house. She told her sister that the man must have returned from out-of-state and that she saw him kill someone. Kane had been living in Las Vegas and returned, and it was also the time Davis returned from London. Petri was a CHP Officer who had not left the state. Thus, Petri was not the man outside of Darlene’s house. The man brought gifts and met Darlene at Terry’s, where she worked. Kane, Petri and Davis all match the composite drawing made by the San Francisco Police of the man seen exiting the cab of Paul Stine after his murder. Petri had dated Darlene and was very much in love with her.

    The man outside of her house continued to question her about where she was getting her money from. She was wearing fancy clothes, was a guest of a luxury yacht on July 4 and took private flights with someone. Kane did not have much funding. After Darlene’s murder, Kane disappeared. Davis lived in Vallejo and immediately went south to live with the Manson Family. Petri was under investigation for Darlene’s murder. Darlene had refused to join the Ott drug organization and was selling as a free agent. Her companion, Michael Mageau was with Darlene at the time of her death and he apparently knows who killed her.


    He was shot several times by the assailant and went into hiding after he recovered. He will not talk about the case. When Darlene’s sister attempted to visit Mageau years later, shots were fired into her house in Antioch – the family dog was killed in the process. Also, a Police officer working with Darlene’s family was also shot at. The drug community indicates that Mageau may actually have set Darlene up.

    The Vallejo drug community has forwarded information in Darlene’s case stating that Darlene knew too much about the drug traffic and police connection to the drug traffic and that she would not join the drug organization and provide a portion of her sales to them.

    Darlene, like most of the known victims, was not a victim of the Zodiac - she was a victim – as many were – of the Vallejo-Napa drug community. When the original Zodiac letter was sent – six days after Darlene’s murder – the Vallejo Police jumped at the chance of linking it to a serial killer – it fit a pattern that would divert attention away from them. The Police have been in conflict – one officer, who accompanied Darlene to the hospital in the back of the ambulance – says that she was dead at the scene. But two officers who responded to the murder scene state that not only was Darlene alive at the time she was placed in the ambulance, she was also expected to live. She was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. She died in the ambulance, attended only by a single police officer, who was the first on the scene to the shooting and also the first on the scene to the Jensen-Faraday shootings. This police officer had also dated Darlene.

    One of the strangest events associated with Darlene’s death was that the passenger door handle was missing at the scene of the crime. Mageau could not get out of the car because the door handle wouldn’t work. The handle was not on the car when it was impounded by the Police. The vehicle was under tight compound security and on the next day, the door handle had been placed back on the vehicle within the secure compound. Darlene was not a Zodiac-related killing.

    The drug community indicates that Officer Petri shot Darlene, acting as a hit man for the Ott organization. Another Police officer in the ambulance is believed to have finished the job. Darlene knew Kane and Kane knew Paul Stein – all involved in the drug traffic. In the meantime, Donna Lass was entering her fourth month on the East Coast with a prominent and wealthy doctor – Robert E. Hunter, Sr., father of Robert E. Hunter.

    Hunter, an ingenious San Francisco banker was a prime suspect in the Zodiac murders – but he never killed anyone. This does not mean that he was innocent or that he was not involved in the case. His house, his clues, his symbolisms, and especially his handwriting lay critical evidence at his door step. Hunter appears to be the architect of the hoax that lead police investigators on a wild goose chase. The purpose would be diversion. Stein had just been robbed while driving his Yellow Cab in San Francisco. He was reluctant about picking up any passengers. Yet the last passenger he would ever pick up was allowed to sit in the front seat. Stein would also have been upset with the murder of Darlene Ferrin, a close friend of his. Stein did not know Hunter but he did know Kane, quite well. Kane also was familiar with Stein’s ties to Darlene and the drug organization. Kane had worked for the mob in Vegas. His Vegas mob boss went to the Midwest for a “mob organization” meeting. He was murdered there. Kane came back to the Bay Area.

    When the cab driver was murdered, his log showed the address on Washington Street to be that of Hunter’s. Hunter knew Donna Lass as the woman who ran off with his father for six months to the East Coast. Hunter’s father was wealthy – so wealthy that he donated an entire wing to a hospital in Southern California were Donna Lass worked as a nurse. It was Kane that drove Lass to Lake Tahoe for a new job in the same casino that he was working for. She disappeared shortly after that. A Zodiac letter gave clues to her body, but it has never been found. The clues have been deciphered and the exact location indicated in the last Zodiac letter has been found. A few artifacts belonging to Lass were found in what appeared to be a shallow grave, but no body surfaced.

    You put Kane’s relationship to Darlene and Stein, add the fact that Lass was a passenger when Kane and she drove to Lake Tahoe before her disappearance – and you have linkage. Also, Kane fits the Zodiac description given by witnesses to the Stein murder. He also fits the description of the man who flew with Hunter and Lass to Riverside frequently. Add now, Hunter’s house being listed in Stein’s cab log book, his matching handwriting, his linkage to Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside, and his and his father’s relationship to Donna Lass – and you have a scenario in progress.

    The whole scenario seems to focus on Donna Lass. In interviews with Lass’ San Francisco room mate and with her family and employers, here is want can be learned:

    * Lass was a nurse at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, which was endowed by Robert E. Hunter, Sr.
    * From March 31, 1969 for approximately six months, Lass left Santa Barbara to go to the east coast with a prominent medical person.
    * Robert E. Hunter, Sr., who donated an entire wing to the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, went to the Yale School of Medicine on or about March 31, 1969, to endow the Robert E. Hunter Professorship of Radiology. He remained on the east coast for about six months, returning at the same time as Lass returned.
    * Lass quit her job in Santa Barbara on the same day Robert E. Hunter, Jr., sold his house in San Francisco.
    * Lass and two men from San Francisco frequently flew to Riverside. The men lived near her in San Francisco. Hunter and Kane closely fit the room mate’s description of the two men who flew to Riverside with Lass. Kane and Hunter lived within a few blocks of Lass.

    * Lass went to Lake Tahoe with Kane and worked in the same Casino together – she as a nurse, and he in his extended position with the mob. The employment was at the Sahara Hotel.
    * The last Zodiac letter – for at least three years = was sent in reference to Donna Lass’ disappearance.
    * The Zodiac message on Donna Lass’ death describes property in the Sierra’s that matches perfectly with property owned by Hunter in Alpine.

    Coincidentally, the first Zodiac letter began after Donna Lass went to the east coast with Robert E. Hunter, Sr. The letters began about three months into their trip. The letters drew on known information about other murders – a precursor for a future plot. The Zodiac letters may well have been written to cover up a future murder and not to confess to murders that the Zodiac had any involvement with. It was important, however. For the Zodiac to establish the authenticity of the Zodiac letters and Paul Stine’s murder may have been only to provide solid evidence linking the Zodiac to an actual murder and to do double duty for the drug dealers in Vallejo – getting rid of Stein and his link and knowledge of Darlene Ferrin.

    By sending in a piece of the bloody cab driver’s shirt with a letter set the stage to “prove” a serial killer existed and that previous claims of murders were authentic. It was a hoax, pure and simple, to set the stage for the murder of Donna Lass.
    What happened between Hunter, Sr., and Donna Lass for six months on the east coast? If a courtship had arisen from that trip, was Donna creeping into the will of Hunter, Sr.? When Hunter, Sr., died only one known will existed – the Sentinel has a copy of it – and there was no protest – but again, there was no Donna Lass to protest should she have been included in the will.

    Were the Zodiac letters an elaborate and calculated ploy to set up Donna Lass? This would explain why law enforcement officials could never crack the Zodiac case of a single madman. No set of evidence from various murders would match with the others from the method, weapon and relationship. Police in San Francisco quit the case when reviewing information in Southern California. The Police in Vallejo were happy to accept another theory to cover up crooked cops. A jealous lover also played a role. The only link to any of this was letters claiming murders in order to set up a future murder.

    Zodiac was a myth that hypnotized the San Francisco Bay Area for decades – when the whole plot may have been the simplest and most common in the annals of time – money.
  3. Interesting Roo! I always thought there was more than one "Zodiac" killer. All the murders attributed to him were just too different, you know? Most serial killers have a pattern they follow. There is always a glaring connection between the victims.

    And who knows? Perhaps the writer of the Zodiac letters (I remember when those came out in the SF Chronical!) had nothing to do with them at all, just some freak who wrote those letters.

    Like the Black Dalhlia, I doubt these will ever be satisfactory solved.

  4. Whoever wrote the letters to the Chron definitely had some involvement in SOME of the murders. He included a bloody scrap of shirt from the murdered cab driver in one of the letters and also described elements of the crime scenes in other letters that were only known to law enforcement.
  5. Oh, yeah, I agree with you that he had something to do with some of them. But what I was saying is, now that it's been so long, what is fact and what isn't?

    At one time, they suspected Ted Kazinski of writing the letters. (Of course, years later) He was in the general area (California) at the time. But only a couple of the murders had the mark of the "Zodiac", and who's to say if those werne't copy cats? Usually there is a solid link between murders, and as the article states, even the witness descritptions varied greatly.

    I'm not saying they were all different, but I also think there were murders he did that weren't attributed to him. And some that were that he didn't do.

    Blahhhh... now I'm not sure of anything about this one. LOL! Think I'll crawl back in my hole now. :p

  6. I'll join you and bring popcorn
  7. Interesting article...I think that I like the theory the movie presented better, just because it's a little neater. :p But honestly, the investigation has so many holes in it that there are many possibilities as to what really happened. This article could very well be right on the money...but we'll never know for sure.
  8. Very interesting!