In 1969, a dangerous criminal nicknamed Zodiac in the press stalked the Bay Area of California. Authorities say the unidentified individual killed five people, though some investigators believe he committed more murders than the five that are commonly attributed to him.
The killer achieved national notoriety by leaving a series of bizarre ciphers at the crime scenes, taunting the police and the press over their inability to capture him.
To this day, the case remains unsolved. However, investigators continue to study the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers for any clue as to who he may have been or why he committed his crime spree.
The unidentified serial killer first struck in December 1968 in Benicia, California. He shot high schoolers Betty Lou Jensen and David Arthur Faraday, a young couple out on their first date. He didn’t leave any unusual clues or letters at this crime scene, and he wouldn’t strike again for months.
In July 1969, after months of inactivity, the killer attacked Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau in Vallejo, California. Once again, he targeted a couple in an isolated location while they were both sitting in a car.
While Ferrin didn’t survive the gunshots, Mageau miraculously recovered from the attack. He described the assailant as a white male of average height and build with curly brown hair.
The killer mailed his first letters to the press after he attacked Ferrin and Mageau. The letter demanded that several publications in the Bay Area print it in its entirety, or else the killer threatened to commit a crime spree across California. It also included a cryptogram, which top codebreakers swiftly rushed to solve, as the letter suggested that the killer hid his identity within.
“I like killing people because it is so much fun,” the cipher begins. Psychiatrists who have examined Zodiac’s letters say he was likely an isolated loner with few personal relationships.
The Zodiac struck several more times in late 1969, each time taunting police with his ciphers and leaving “clues” that he claimed they could follow to unmask him. The case remains unsolved to this day despite countless attempts by professional and amateur investigators to crack the killer’s codes.
In October 2021, a team of amateur investigators claimed to have cracked the Zodiac’s cipher and suggested that a man named Gary Francis Poste was responsible for the murders. Poste passed away in 2018.
The FBI still considers the case open, and many professional detectives think the amateur investigators relied too heavily on circumstantial evidence when claiming Poste was the Zodiac killer. In either case, we may never know for certain who was behind the string of grisly murders in the Bay Area in 1969.