There is little reason to doubt that ZODIAC used a J.C. Higgins duramatic purchased mail order from Sear’s, as Solano County Sheriffs suspected. Since he later boasted that he affixed a pencil flashlight to the barrel (taping it) he probably had the long barrel attached.
It is in this way that he said he hunted two teenagers, David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, on Lake Herman Road on a very cold night of December 20, 1968.
This doesn’t tell us, however, if he came to Lake Herman to kill that night or if he was doing some squirrel hunting. If he told the truth about having had the pencil flashlight attached he probably came to kill. We should, however, assume he had squirrel or small game hunted this way before.
The J.C. Higgins model 80 was perfect for that, and a squirrel was even featured on the operator’s manual that came with the gun. Over 200K were sold, so it wasn’t a rare gun. It was mass produced. It is probably for this reason that Solano Co. Sheriffs had little faith in linking the weapon to the bullets they recovered.
But, over time, this faceless villain has taken some very good form. He was a stocky, heavyset guy with rounded shoulders and wavy dark brown hair parted low on the left. In early October he got a crew cut. News broadcasts in the Bay Area had shown a composite between October 3 and October 7 representing what was thought to have been ZODIAC at Lake Berryessa as he scouted about for his prey. It is probably at this time that ZODIAC butched his hair.
Walter Cronkite announces. . . This was late in October when ZODIAC achieved national fame, but it gives you an idea of what the local broadcasts looked like in early October, for this shows the same Napa composite aired in early October.
A few days later on October 11, 1969, ZODIAC strikes in San Francisco. Yet he is seen again, and he is still wearing the same strange outfit– old pleated wool pants (brown in color), a blue casual jacket, and high lip shoes. Only now he has a crew cut. He clearly had seen the news broadcasts of his Napa composite. He wore glasses. Probably fake. He had a new hair cut.
Before our eyes a nameless perpetrator evolved, largely thanks to the clues he left behind.
Truth can even be picked out of some of his boasting letters.
Starting at Lake Herman Road:
Eight bullets had been recovered. There were 10 shells found on the gravel turnout. Two bullets must have gone wild. The J.C. Higgins carried a 10 round clip. The ZODIAC said he bought his killing tools mail order, and the J.C. Higgins was most definitely sold that way. He said one of his tools was bought out of state. The J.C. Higgins Model 80 was sold between 1957 and 1961, meaning if I am correct in my suspect he could have bought the gun in Kansas or the Bay Area before the ban in California went into effect. We also know he fired all rounds the clip carried, pumping 5 into one victim alone.
For those curious, I suggest you tape a pencil flashlight on something at least 8 inches long and that has a knob at the end and then shine it on a wall as ZODIAC suggested in order to appreciate what he declared was his method of hunting on Lake Herman Road. Those who are proficient in weapons may already have done so and even tried to shoot the way ZODIAC said he did. You will discover it takes some time to perfect. ZODIAC may have devised this way to hunt at night and then realized it could be used on humans. If not he spent some time mentally going over how best to attack people at night. He may have been far more cerebral than we imagine to start off with.
But I suspect he did it for small game hunting. When he used it on people, he found the .22 J.C. Higgins, the only pistol he had with a long barrel, wasn’t powerful enough. So he takes out his 9mm luger, a short, square automatic, and carries a high powered flashlight in his next attack.
Every little bit helps in trying to reconstruct the crimes. It is a fundamental necessity to do so in order to envision not only who was capable of these cold, brutal crimes, but also to contextualize his character. ZODIAC has been allowed to evolve into a master villain when he was really a ruthless coward who attacked teens at petting spots and then incongruously bragged they would be his slaves in the afterlife.
But still we must wonder about motive. He’s been called a sex killer. But he became the ultimate ad king of murder. There was no point in writing to the newspapers in his crafty way if he was a sex killer alone. He misspelled his letters intentionally, devised cryptograms, and sewed together an elaborate hood which could have been quite cumbersome during an attack. He became cerebral with his crimes and then became a detached braggart in poison pen pal letters. He declared he enjoyed hunting man, but he limited himself to unarmed necking couples. One doesn’t really lead to the other.
There is much work that needs to be done in reestablishing the vivid clarity of the ZODIAC’s crimes and times in order to expose the villain at last.
For me one thing is certain. Lake Berryessa was his mistake. He might have seen that too. Despite the hood, he was confirmed as heavy set, and the composites being broadcast are the only reason I can imagine as to why he suddenly cut his hair. He had made a great mistake at Blue Rock Springs Park too. He didn’t realize Mageau had fallen out of the car and had seen him enough to identify him as beefy and heavy set with a big round face.
It would not be until October 24, 1969, that the full body composite of ZODIAC at Lake Berryessa was finished. What does this tell us? He only saw the head composite on TV or in the newspapers. Had he known his odd ensemble had attracted such comment by Bryan Hartnell to police artists, he would not have worn the same odd and obsolete outfit at Washington and Cherry. All he did was have a hair cut and wear glasses.
It would have been a far better broadcast over northern Cal. to compare the composites and ask people whom they knew that fit this description and had a drastic hair cut between September 27 and October 11, 1969.
ZODIAC was careful and opportunistic. His 3 to 6 inches of light beam with the “darck” dot in the center may reflect both, but if you recreate it on your ceiling or home wall, then coast it about and recall how he then used it on a dark night against a 17 and 16 year old you’ll see how evil the hunting braggart of “kids” really was.
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For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.