The Zodiac Killer is one of the most elusive serial murders on record in United States history. The Zodiac Killer hunted his victims in and around San Francisco with seven confirmed victims killed during a period lasting from December 20, 1968 to October 11, 1969. Of those seven victims, only two survived the Zodiac Killer's assaults. The Zodiac Killer claimed to have killed upwards of 37 people through the various letters and ciphers sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, although those numbers have never been confirmed.
Based on the Zodiac Killer's first six victims, couples that were assaulted on three separate dates and locations, it can be established individuals that were in a high-risk position for assault were as follows:
People between the ages of 17-22 who appeared to be engaged in a romantic relationship
Couples who drove to an isolated area outside of San Francisco, easily accessible by major highways
The Zodiac Killer's sixth victim was a departure the other six confirmed victims. Paul Stine worked in a high-risk occupation as a taxi driver, which required him to constantly to pick up and transport persons unknown to various destinations around San Francisco. Stine was at a low-risk for being attacked by the Zodiac Killer because he operated within the San Francisco city limits and was not engaged in romantic or sexual-oriented activities at the time of his murder. Furthermore, the Zodiac Killer stole personal belongings from Stine, something that he had not done on the three previously confirmed assaults.
The Zodiac Killer was a low-risk offender assaulting his first six confirmed victims in an isolated location of their choosing. The Zodiac Killer ambushed his first victims, approaching their vehicle from behind, and discharging his weapon, a .22 caliber rifle or handgun loaded with .22 caliber bullets, upon their vehicle before killing his victims. It appears as though he followed this first set of victims to their isolated location. The second set of victims were shot with a 9 mm handgun after apparently being followed onto an isolated parking lot during which the Zodiac Killer approached them in a manner similar to a police officer before he assaulted these victims. Likewise, it appears as though the couple was followed to their isolated location. The third assault was a departure from the previous two assaults and the Zodiac Killer approached the couple, conversed with them, and then proceeded to tie them up and brutally stab them. Eyewitness accounts from earlier in the day state that a strange man had approached their vehicle prior to the assaults (Napa Valley Sherriff's Department, 1969). These three confirmed assaults were without motivation, nor were any personal items removed after the Zodiac Killer completed his assault. The last confirmed assault was a complete departure from his established behavior as the Zodiac Killer shot Stine in the back of the head with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that was not a match to previous assaults (San Francisco Police Department, 1969).
The Zodiac Killer's departure from his modus operandi (Arrigo, 2006, p. 232) to high-risk behavior occurred during his attack on Stine; this last confirmed assault took place in a public area and was witnessed by three separate individuals. High-risk behavior is also demonstrated through the Zodiac Killer's subsequent correspondence to the public through letters and ciphers/cryptograms and the phone calls that were immediately placed after two of his assaults during which he immediately called the police to boast of his actions (Vallejo Police Department Report, 1969; Snook, 1969).
The crimes that were perpetrated by the assailant known as the Zodiac Killer were committed in areas surrounding San Francisco, CA including Benicia, Vallejo, and Lake Berrynessa in Napa Valley. It can be argued that the geographical location of crime scenes were accessible to the assailant as it appears that he had access to a vehicle as is reported in surviving victims' accounts and is documented at crime scenes during investigations. The only departure from assaults on couples in the surrounding San Francisco area occurred when the assailant hailed a cab within the San Francisco city limits and subsequently murdered the cab driver.
Crime Overview & Crime Scene Analysis
December 20, 1968 -- Lake Herman Road, Benicia, CA. Approximately 11:10 PM.
Victims: David Arthur Faraday, age 17, & Betty Lou Jensen, age 16. Shot with .22 caliber weapon.
According to eyewitness accounts, police reports, and crime scene photos, Faraday and Jenson were parked off Lake Herman Road for less than an hour before an unknown person drove up behind the couple, proceeded to get out of his vehicle, and shoot the couple as they were trying to escape. Based upon ballistic evidence and footprints left by the unknown assailant, it has been determined that the assailant approached Faraday's brown Rambler from behind, shooting out the rear window and the left rear tire as he moved from the back of the vehicle to the front of the vehicle along the driver's side. The shooting prompted Faraday and Jensen to exit the vehicle through the passenger side in an attempt to flee. Faraday was found near the rear right tire, killed by a single, close-range shot to the head. Jensen was found less than 30 feet from the vehicle's rear bumper. She had been shot five times in the back with rounds going Jensen along the left side of her back. It is possible that Jensen was shot in this manner due to injury. Due to the grouping of these rounds, it is suggested that the assailant was not a marksman, yet was competent with handguns (The Zodiac Killer, n.d.). The police recovered 10 bullet casings with 8 rounds accounted for; two discharged rounds possibly missed Jensen as she was running away. It does not appear as though any personal valuables and/or belongings were removed during the assault (Solano County Sheriff's Office, 1969). The unknown assailant immediately fled the scene. There were no witnesses to the crime nor was there motivation for the assault.
July 4-5, 1969 -- Blue Rock Springs Golf Course, Benicia, CA. Approximately 12:10 AM.
Victims: Michael Renault Mageau, age 19, and Cecilia Ann Shepard, age 22. Shot with 9mm weapon.
According to surviving victim Mageau, as interviewed by Detective Ed Rust (1969),
[A]bout five minutes before the shooting occurred, Michael states a vehicle pulled into the lot, coming from the direction of Sprigs Road and Vallejo. The driver turned the lights off on the car and pulled around to the left or east side of their car, approximately six or eight feet away and sat there for a minute…The car then drove off and headed in the direction of Vallejo & Springs Road at a fairly fast rate of speed. He stated approximately five minutes later, the vehicle pulled up, coming from the direction of Vallejo & Springs Road. This vehicle pulled up approximately ten feet behind and the right side of the [victims'] car, which would be the side Michael was sitting. The vehicle's lights were left on and the subject got out and walked toward the car. He had a large high-powered flashlight…This subject walked up to the car and Michael stated that both he and [Ferrin] believed that it was a policeman and that he wanted to check their I.D.
It is at this point that the assailant approached the vehicle, walking along the right side (Michael's side), while shining the light on them. Neither the assailant nor the victims exchanged words and as Michael was reaching for his wallet, the assailant opened fire on the couple. Once the initial shooting occurred, the assailant turned to walk away at which point Michael commenced screaming in pain. The assailant then turned around and shot Michael and [Ferrin] twice each. The assailant proceeded to leave the scene of the crime. At 12:40 AM, a pay phone call was placed to the Vallejo Police Headquarters in which the caller claimed that he had perpetrated the crime. While Mageau survived the attack, Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival at Kaiser Foundation Hospital.
September 27, 1969 -- Lake Berrynessa in Napa Valley. Approximately 6:30 PM.
Victims: Bryan Calvin Hartnell, age 20, and Cecilia Ann Shepard, age 22. Bound and stabbed.
According to eyewitness account from Hartnell, who survived the attack, the assailant, before approaching the couple, ducked "behind one of the nearby trees, put on an unusual four-cornered, hood and emerged 20 feet away. The hood was well sewn, black, and had a bib that fell almost to the man's waistline" (The Zodiac Killer, n.d.). The hood was embroidered with the same symbol that had been included in the cryptograms and letters sent to various news publications in and around San Francisco. The assailant pointed a handgun at Hartnell and Shepard and demanded their keys and money claiming that he was going to escape to Mexico (Napa County Sheriff's Department Report, 1969). The assailant proceeded to tie the victims with clothesline, which he brought to the scene of…