“The Devil is in the details,” wisely said Holmes. True indeed. But in cold case, especially after 50 years, the devil is in the dust, for the details are long dead and those that remain are effervescent. They crumble and blow away when first handled.
I discovered this poignantly in my Zodiac Killer investigation. All the evidence I had pointed to a culprit who was the exception. He had lived in San Francisco. He knew the rural east bay area. He had joined the Air Force at Oakland and then got pitched from the Air Force at the base hospital in Texas. His one great accomplishment in the Service was the Expert ribbon in Small Arms, which means he was a deadeye. But when he returned to the Bay Area his tangible address a year later (in 1968/1969) was an hour away from Vallejo in Sacramento. He was chunky and obviously he had Wing Walkers.
How to trace a drive-by shooter? No one could actually be placed at the scene of the crimes. But my POI couldn’t be placed within 60 miles. He was ethereal back then and is even more so now 50 years later.
I believe in my POI, enough to be suspicious anyway. I am not clutching at straws. If I am, they are logical straws. Zodiac traveled in his other attacks. Even if you believe he lived in the Vallejo area, you must accept that Zodiac traveled over an hour away to Lake Berryessa, then quite a distance from Vallejo to Presidio Heights in San Francisco. This makes him an exception. He was a traveling terrorist. But did he start that way?
Perhaps his first strike on Lake Herman Road near Vallejo was impulsive. He only had a .22 caliber. However, we can surmise a few things. He must have enjoyed his December 1968 thrill. It must also have donned on him that he had been completely unsuspected in that crime. If I am right about my POI, it was because he lived far away now that he felt secure. No one had seen him.
What we do know is that for 7 months Zodiac laid low. Then he changed his caliber of weapon from a .22 to a reliable and deadlier 9mm. There’s no denying this last handgun was a killer. It seemed he had planned out his second strike so much better than his first.
It seems there can be no other interpretation. The small arms expert returned to the Vallejo area. It is really not so long from Sacramento. No pay bridges to cross. No one to see him. One main highway there (Highway 80) and he stalks the lonely Columbus Parkway, the first road off the highway when coming from Sacramento. This road also leads to Lake Herman Road where he first struck in December 1968.
For former Air Force men, a job as a security guard was an easy first step in civilian life. They could decide whether they liked law enforcement or not. This was my POI’s route too. He was now planning on becoming a corrections officer.
At his second strike, the shooting on July 4, 1969, the attack that truly began the Zodiac crime spree, he is seen. Big face, dark pants and, interestingly, a blue short sleeved shirt. If only one more detail could be had. The fashion of the time was button-down collars. If Zodiac was wearing a blue shirt without button-down collar this would make it a basic work shirt. It sounds like a security guard uniform shirt or even a cadet uniform. The unsuspected.
Zodiac tears out. He heads into Vallejo on the main road from Columbus Parkway, crosses Highway 80, turns on Tuolomne and then calls from the first gas station phone booth he sees. He confesses.
“I want to report a double murder. If you will go one mile east on Columbus Parkway to the public park you will find the kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9 millimeter luger. I also killed those kids last year. Goodbye.”
He confesses indeed but doesn’t have a good handle on the distance to the park from the payphone, nor direction, and doesn’t seem to know the name of a very famous park — Blue Rock Springs. Nothing indicates he was local.
He now makes his escape. Where did he go? I say Sacramento. He need only head back to the highway.
The purpose of this post, however, is ultimately not Zodiac. The purpose is the probable existence of an exception in a crime spree that contributes to it going unsolved. . . and the frustration that it causes.
After 50 years now how to tag my POI with enough to inspire DNA sampling, assuming the Zodiac DNA (from a licked stamp) is really from him? The detail being discussed here is a blue short sleeved shirt and the probability it was not button-down collar. This implies a work shirt. This could be a security guard or cadet. This leads to my POI who was an expert marksman in pistols. This leads improbably to Sacramento.
I have more than this, of course. The shirt did not lead me to him to begin with. But altogether what does it amount to? Contemporarily, probably a lot. The shirt would mean something because it was described. Circumstantial evidence is a clue/evidence that connects a person to the circumstances of a crime. In this light, Leigh Allen’s infamous Zodiac watch is not circumstantial evidence since nobody who survived the Zodiac attacks described that watch on their assailant.
Vallejo had less on Leigh Allen back then. Someone had turned him in because he was weird. Checking out the lead proved he had been at Lake Berryessa, another Zodiac crime scene. He also lived in Vallejo, near the first 2 Zodiac crimes. But 50 years later, how much would turning someone in mean? So much is dust now. So much that would underscore a POI with evidence is dust. The details are in the dust . . . and so is the devil.
It haunts and daunts me what hurtles I still need to jump to bring my Zodiac to book.
If I am right about my suspect, then I am right about the pattern. He came from afar. He came to a rural place he liked to shoot at, and then returned with deadly heat because he enjoyed his first thrill.
I believe in my POI. Therefore I believe in this pattern. I believe it is a major component of “exceptions” that make a hot case unsolvable and go cold.
Is it the exception in the hottest thing in cold case today?– EAR/ONS.
It may be. And if that case is cracked because of it, I finally stand where I want with Zodiac.
I entered the fray of the unseen, mysterious and macabre in order to either solve cases or add significantly to their solution and, for some of them, to then share this in writing, hopefully to inspire others as I have been inspired by many sincere recorders and investigators before me. I’m not here to write some anemic addition to folklore or add another chapter of improbable mystery to a body of dying mythologies. Let’s hope for the first time I can make definite headway in a couple of big crime mysteries. I don’t want to just move within the halls of a genre and have people say “Oh, yes, I know who he is. I do (or don’t!) like his approach.”