In our last ZODIAC post I touched on the logistic ease of using Columbus Parkway and Lake Herman Road as a giant U turn for using both Highway 80 and 680. One need only touch the fringes of the Bay Area on these roads and be easily back out on either highway and going east again. All it required was a general knowledge of the area.
Despite clues to the contrary, it became accepted to believe that ZODIAC was local; that he knew Vallejo. After his attack at Blue Rock Springs Park he drove into Vallejo– either down Tennessee Street or Springs Road– and finally called from Joe’s Gas Station at 700 Tuolomne Street.
Mike Mageau, Darlene Ferrin, the Blue Rock Springs victims and a photo of the 1970 phonebook showing Joe’s (now Nick Houtz’s) gas station ad.
We have the great vantage point today of hindsight. We know that after the Lake Berryessa attack ZODIAC drove to Napa (about an hour away) and called from a payphone. Why should we believe he lived in Napa? No reason and, in fact, no one thought he did. Yet after his Blue Rock Springs Park attack (Ferrin/Mageau July 4 1969) he drives into Vallejo to call from a payphone on the corner of Springs and Tuolomne and for some reason we get the impression he must have been a local. Why? It’s the same MO as with Lake Berryessa.
This is not the actual Joe’s gas station, but its layout gives you a good idea. The gas station on the corner of Tuolomne and Springs had a phonebooth on the sidewalk like this one. ZODIAC need not be seen by any attendant, if it was open.
In addition, the location for the gas station on Tuolomne and Springs is perfect for using Tennessee and Springs in like manner as anyone could use Columbus Parkway and Lake Herman Road. The route in from Columbus Parkway to Tuolomne is a giant U-turn.
Let’s look at this below.
The top most street marked in yellow is Tennessee. The lower one is Springs Road. Tuolomne (pronounced Twahlomee) is the cross street marked in yellow. So we have Columbus Parkway on one side and a few blocks from where both main streets cross Highway 80 ZODIAC turned onto Tuolomne and called from a gas station phone booth. After he called he need only go back a few blocks to Highway 80 and he is gone.
This historical aerial from 1968 gives us a bird’s eye of the area.
The gas station is marked by the yellow arrow. As you can see Springs Road was recently re-paved.
Which way did ZODIAC come from Columbus Parkway? Was it Tennessee and did he turn south onto Tuolomne and cross the street? Or did he come Springs Road, know how it took a little jog to the right and drove up the residential streets to the gas station? He could just park on the street then by the phonebooth. He might have come Springs Road to where it merges with Solano Avenue and then turned north.
My point, however, is that whatever way he came he could merely keep on going and turn around and get out of Vallejo quickly.
ZODIAC’s directions to Blue Rock Springs Park were terrible, and he didn’t seem to know the name of the very famous local park. Feigning ignorance would get him nothing. There was a big sign upon entering the parking lot. Any stranger would see it.
Nothing, in fact, indicates ZODIAC knew the Vallejo area well. He knew the outskirts and perhaps a few main roads. If he was not local, nor had been local, what brought him here before so that he should know these locations?
For certainly he did know these locations, the outskirts anyway. He knew there were petting spots here (though a park parking lot is quite common).
The reason why ZODIAC did not call from a gas station along Tennessee (there was one by the overpass) on the other side of the highway while coming into town can be interpreted as not wanting to appear as if he was just headed back to the highway. This is, of course, assuming my interpretation is correct. One thing is certain, the case has officially never been solved. There was no true prime suspect, not even Leigh Allen until Robert Graysmith made him popular. As Inspector Dave Toschi put it, “he was one of a few that looked good.”
This argues for the theory that ZODIAC covered himself fairly well. The best way, perhaps, was to strike where he was not local. The police would not suspect anyone from an hour away.
Springs and Tuolomne today. The gas station was on the left on the opposite side of Tuolomne, where the brown building is today.
Springs Road was the most commercially developed road in Vallejo east of Highway 80. There were gas stations, shops, restaurants and more. Today there are still many reminders of 1950/60s architecture.
But ZODIAC drove a distance in order to get to a payphone in the heart of town. Why? Should I suggest he had used it before and knew it worked? My suspect’s work certainly might take him to the criminal courts building just down the road.
In the end, however, we must look away from Vallejo. Nothing has truly suggested he lived there at that time. As his crime spree would prove, he would drive quite a distance. Even if you believe he lived in Vallejo, it’s an hour drive to Lake Berryessa and with traffic at least that much from Vallejo to Washington and Cherry in San Francisco. Why not an hour to Vallejo for the first two attacks?
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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.