I’m not one of those who truly believes in a ZODIAC connection with the murder of Cheri Jo Bates. But I’m also not sure if Riverside PD’s confidence in their suspect is warranted. I don’t know all the details about this suspect, but let’s look at some details/logistics here regarding the crime.
On October 30, 1966, Riverside City College co-ed Cheri Jo Bates was brutally murdered by someone who had set out to kill her. She was spending that Sunday evening at the college library. When she came out around 9 p.m. her green Beatle wouldn’t start. After she ran down the battery trying to get it to start, someone must have come along to help her. She went with him down the street and then between two old abandoned houses on a dirt driveway. Here in the shadows that person seized her and savagely stabbed her and almost cut off her head. She was not molested, robbed or anything else. She was murdered, and she put up a hell of a fight first.
The crime was most definitely premeditated. The police had discovered her Volkswagen’s engine had been tampered with. The central coil on the distributor cap had been removed, causing the engine to not turn over. The killer had waited some time/somewhere in order to assist her at the right time. He then escorted her, ostensibly to give her a lift in his car or offer her a phone.
The killer later confessed. Apparently there was a phone call to the police station. However, it took him a month to put it in print. He typed the confession letter all in CAPS. Riverside PD accepted the “confession letter” as genuine because the confession letter writer wrote that he had removed the central coil from the Beatle distributor cap. There was no remorse. On the contrary, the writer was a bit tongue-in-cheek with some elements of the confession.
Here is the confession letter content:
SHE WAS YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL BUT NOW SHE IS BATTERED AND DEAD. SHE IS NOT THE FIRST AND SHE WILL NOT BE THE LAST I LAY AWAKE NIGHTS THINKING ABOUT MY NEXT VICTIM. MAYBE SHE WILL BE THE BEAUTIFUL BLOND THAT BABYSITS NEAR THE LITTLE STORE AND WALKS DOWN THE DARK ALLEY EACH EVENING ABOUT SEVEN. OR MAYBE SHE WILL BE THE SHAPELY BLUE EYED BROWNETT THAT SAID NO WHEN I ASKED HER FOR A DATE IN HIGH SCHOOL. BUT MAYBE IT WILL NOT BE EITHER. BUT I SHALL CUT OFF HER FEMALE PARTS AND DEPOSIT THEM FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE. SO DON’T MAKE IT TO EASY FOR ME. KEEP YOUR SISTERS, DAUGHTERS, AND WIVES OFF THE STREETS AND ALLEYS. MISS BATES WAS STUPID. SHE WENT TO THE SLAUGHTER LIKE A LAMB. SHE
DID NOT PUT UP A STRUGGLE. BUT I DID. IT WAS A BALL. I FIRST PULLED THE MIDDLE WIRE FROM THE DISTRIBUTOR. THEN I WAITED FOR HER IN THE LIBRARY AND FOLLOWED HER OUT AFTER ABOUT TWO MINUTS. THE BATTERY MUST HAVE BEEN ABOUT DEAD BY THEN. I THEN OFFERED TO HELP. SHE WAS THEN VERY WILLING TO TALK TO ME. I TOLD HER THAT MY CAR WAS DOWN THE STREET AND THAT I WOULD GIVE HER A LIFT HOME. WHEN WE WERE AWAY FROM THE LIBRARY WALKING, I SAID IT WAS ABOUT TIME. SHE ASKED ME “ABOUT TIME FOR WHAT”. I SAID IT WAS ABOUT TIME FOR HER TO DIE. I GRABBED HER AROUND THE NECK WITH MY HAND OVER HER MOUTH AND MY OTHER HAND WITH A SMALL
KNIFE AT HER THROAT. SHE WENT VERY WILLINGLY. HER BREAST FELT VERY WARM AND FIRM UNDER MY HANDS, BUT ONLY ONE THING WAS ON MY MIND. MAKING HER PAY FOR THE BRUSH OFFS THAT SHE HAD GIVEN ME DURING THE YEARS PRIOR. SHE DIED HARD. SHE SQUIRMED AND SHOOK AS I CHOAKED HER, AND HER LIPS TWICHED. SHE LET OUT A SCREAM ONCE AND I KICKED HER HEAD TO SHUT HER UP. I PLUNGED THE KNIFE INTO HER AND IT BROKE. I THEN FINISHED THE JOB BY CUTTING HER THROAT. I AM NOT SICK. I AM INSANE. BUT THAT WILL NOT STOP THE GAME. THIS LETTER SHOULD BE PUBLISHED FOR
ALL TO READ IT. IT JUST MIGHT SAVE THAT GIRL IN THE ALLEY. BUT THAT’S UP TO YOU. IT WILL BE ON YOUR CONSCIENCE. NOT MINE. YES, I DID MAKE THAT CALL TO YOU ALSO. IT WAS JUST A WARNING. BEWARE…I AM STALKING YOUR GIRLS NOW.
- CC. CHIEF OF POLICE
The confession letter writer had typed the confession note using several sheets of carbon and several sheets of paper. He mailed the bottom copy. This effectively blurred the print and would make it hard to determine what type of typewriter was responsible. This is pretty clever. This tells us two things. The typewriter was at the college and was limited to certain staff or students taking certain classes; or, it was a private typewriter of a person who felt they would be a natural suspect. Otherwise what’s the point? The Riverside police are not going to do a dragnet of the town and subpoena all typewriters.
The confession letter is odd. On one hand its point is to make the writer look a stranger to Bates. He makes himself look as though he is a predator ready and waiting to kill others. Then, the latter part of the letter makes it look as if he had known her.
Clever or stupid? The first part of the letter would make one think that the killer had known her and was now trying to make it look as if she was just one in a line of victims of a homicidal maniac. The latter part is the reverse. It makes it look as if she was the victim of personal revenge.
“By_____” is nice and taunting, tongue-in-cheek, so is the professional CC to police. A creep obviously, but what type of creep? A creep she knew? A creep she didn’t know? “Beware . . . I am stalking your girls now.” Well, it never happened in Riverside again. No serial arose stalking Jane Q. Citizen.
Frankly, the note appears to have a lot of bogus elements in it. The police came to suspect her killer was a jilted boyfriend.
Indeed, taking just a few clues that are known it seems that Bates’ killer knew her. You see, her books were found on the front seat of her Volkswagen. Then, there was a scream heard around 10:30 p.m. that night in the area by residents. Bates left the library around 9 p.m. when it closed. If she was the source of the scream, where had she been for at least an hour? The books, the books, you see. They are a major clue. If someone had offered to take her home, why not take the books she needed and just checked out? She leaves them in her car. Whatever offer she was given, it wasn’t for a ride home.
But where would she have gone with someone she knew? Did she even know her car had been tampered with? Had he approached her first? They return an hour or so later. She tries to start her car. It won’t turn over. He looks at the engine, feigns examining it, gets grime on his hands, says its dead. She gets out. He closes the driver’s door. It is said there was a grimy hand print on the door. What does he say now? What do they do?
The last part is hard to imagine. He would have parked next to her. They would not need to walk down the street any distance. (I do not know exactly where she had parked).
In any case, there is little reason to believe all the details in the confession letter. It is designed to make us believe this happened right after closing. Blindly accepting this confession, one attributes to this killer the enormous assumption that he knew she would remain in the library until closing. How could a stranger be certain? Tampering with a motor is an awful lot of premeditation by the killer based on the assumption the victim would be alone after the library closed. However, if her killer knew her, and they went somewhere first, then it all works.
For the scenario above to work with a stranger, one must propose that this stranger came up to her and said he lived nearby in the block of homes next to the college, not that he had a car. (The college was soon to take some of these over next to the Quad where the library was located.) He offered her a phone to call for help. She need only follow him to the homes and up the dirt driveway to the alley behind the other homes. Here he could kill her. This explains why she left her books in the car. However, this doesn’t explain the lost hour.
If Cheri Bates went somewhere with someone she knew for over an hour, then returned, we can explain the screams at 10:30 p.m. We can explain the books in her car. We can also explain something else. An old car was heard to start after the scream, so it is said. We can also explain why the killer felt safe to attack. At 10:30 p.m. no one would be around. A number of students had left the library at closing. It would not have been safe to attack Bates soon after the library closed.
It all comes down to that “lost hour.” If that is accurate, then Bates went somewhere with someone she knew. If not, then she was led into the alleyway under false pretenses soon after leaving the library, and the killer was lucky he had tampered with the car of a pretty girl who happened to be alone.
The area where Bates had been murdered was scheduled for demolishing soon. Beyond these two old porch front homes the college was going to put in a parking lot. Presently, it was an area of narrow alleys and driveways and old rickety fences and yards.
The aerials give you an example of the change. The one on the left is from 1966, the year Bates was murdered. The one on the right is from 1967, and it shows the new parking lot. Many of the homes had been bulldozed. The library was in the quad and the two homes are those to the left of it on Terracina Drive, the road in front of the quad.
As it stands there is more than one way to interpret the slim number of clues. Was her killer a stranger or someone she knew? Was she led up that dirt driveway or was she dragged there after they returned?
Years later this incident becomes more complicated. It becomes associated with The ZODIAC. After ZODIAC became a famous serial villain in 1969, a local in Riverside tried to convince Riverside PD that ZODIAC was to blame, but they wouldn’t pursue it. This “nameless person” finally contacted Paul Avery in November 1970. Having just received the “Halloween Card,” Avery broke the story of a possible connection. Avery’s Halloween Card had gained national news. Now on the heels of that he broke a new story about another possible ZODIAC murder. This put the Bates murder in a large spotlight and popularly linked it with ZODIAC despite the fact an investigation thereafter could not make a link.
Months later in March 1971 ZODIAC, tardy as usual, takes credit and claims there are “a hell of a lot more down there.” He did not write this to the Chronicle as usual. He wrote to the LA Times. The postmark was not San Francisco as usual. It was Pleasanton, in the Contra Costa Corridor to the south of Mt. Diablo. Since ZODIAC often took credit for crimes he had not committed, his claim doesn’t mean that he really was responsible for Bates’ murder.
The links to ZODIAC are not based on any crime scene MO. He did not begin as a contact killer. The murderer of Bates was a contact killer who engaged in a savage struggle with her. The similarities are in the “publicity campaign” the killer or a crank wages.
The similarities often cited are these: ZODIAC confessed on the phone (twice). So did the Riverside killer. ZODIAC’s confession cryptogram was also contradictory. (He enjoys hunting people, he says, because they are the most dangerous game, though he shot only unarmed teens at petting spots. Then his confession cipher declares they shall be his slaves in the afterlife. One logically doesn’t follow the other.) The ZODIAC took a while to form his written confessions. He didn’t bother for 7 months after his first murders. Then he confesses to the first two strikes a month after the second attack. The “confession letter” writer waited a month.
ZODIAC wrote notes for months and months after his murders. Something of a similar nature happened with the Bates murder. In April 1967 three notes are mailed, one to her grieving father, one to the police and one to the local paper the Press Enterprise. They are brief. “Bates had to die. There will be more.” Essentially the same warning of the confession letter.
The envelopes bear excess postage.
None of the above, however, truly constitute a similarity. Though written months after the murder, these letters were sent after the Press Enterprise did a comprehensive article on the case. This was not ZODIAC’s style. ZODIAC took months to dovetail on other crimes when falsely claiming responsibility. (Two months after the Caller-Sam fiasco with Mel Belli, ZODIAC imitates him. Months after the Kathleen Johns incident, ZODIAC takes credit.) The notes above were a quick response to a resurgence of press in the case. Although they bear excessive postage, there is no link with ZODIAC. Double postage was a signature sign in mailing his letters. But that’s not what is seen on the envelopes here in Riverside. Letters cost 5 cents to post in 1966. The writer put two 4 cent stamps on the letters to cover it. So there is no real overt connection between the envelopes and ZODIAC.
Similarities in printing have been noticed. In the Bates notes the writer must have held the pencil high up and arthritically scrawled the lines that made up the letters. It’s one way to disguise printing. That it was a disguise there should be no question. Two of the notes are signed with an elegantly drawn symbol that looks like some kind of rune. It is a stark contrast to the childish scrawl. The rune is not a Z as some try and claim. It has the style of calligraphy.
The ‘Zodiac’ Killer disguised his printing, but his last accepted note (Red Phantom) was far more elegant his others. He showed a calligraphy style more than once.
There is no question that there is a flavor of ZODIAC here in the confession letter and the notes. But is it merely the logistics of crank letter writing that cause the similarity?
Experts argue over whether the scrawling capital letters on the “Bates had to die” notes were written by ZODIAC. Some believe they were. Even those who do not believe he killed Bates think he might have written the notes. It was his way of getting a thrill by proxy. This may eventually have inspired him to start his own crime spree in Vallejo and take it to the level of a terror campaign. The envelopes bear Riverside postmarks. It seems a local wrote them. This would mean he was from Riverside. That is a valuable clue, if true.
There are, however, more differences than similarities. The Riverside “confession letter” writer shows more sophistication in hiding not only the typewriter but, if they are by one and the same, also the printing on the notes. Again, this suggests he fears being a natural suspect. ZODIAC seems to have no such fear in northern Cal. where his victims were strangers. He didn’t seem to have fear with this case either, since he took credit for it. If there was a solid connection would he do that?
ZODIAC can fit as a viable suspect only if we accept Bates’ murderer was a relative stranger to her.
Although this scenario does not explain the lost hour, and a few other do-dads, it must be noted that a connection with a disturbed student at the college was made months later in 1967 when writing on a desk was found in a storage area. No one knows exactly when it had been written. It is a poem. It is called a “morbid poem.” Sherwood Morrill was shown it. He thought it was ZODIAC’s writing. Others disagreed.
Was this written by the killer or the crank who sent the notes? Or are they one and the same?
Does all this tie in or are these coincidences? It is the hardcore crime scene evidence that must take precedence in any consideration. This evidence speaks both ways, but mostly in favor of someone who knew her.
This short from 1978 captures the mystique of the ‘Zodiac Killer’ better than any other. There are errors in some details, but it really captures the spirit of the crime spree and the character that must have been behind it. It also shows how highly placed Bates murder became in the theorizing.