Following my pattern I left off HorrorScope for a couple of months so that I could forget it and so that it would then be fresh in my mind for a final edit. I am now back at it for a final edit. The Introduction below is set now to my content. It follows:
Chapter 1 “This is the Zodiac Speaking.”
Civilization had never seen such a thing before. National curiosity was now dissolving into national disdain and even national jitters. The fabric of American society was viewed as coming apart. A counterculture within the younger generation was spreading like a contagion. They cast off the conformity of the “establishment” to become dropouts, long-haired hippies, anti-war flower children and radical student yippies. San Francisco was the center. An elegant society tiptoed around the psychedelic flamboyance of peace, love, and drugs, wondering when this unnerving fad was going to ebb. Yet a year and a half after the momentous Summer of Love there was no end in sight. The river of youth had become a torrent, entering the city’s tenderloin and parks to reside in “Love-ins,” to adorn themselves in symbols, ty-dye, Indian feathers, to smoke hashish, and to hear the preaching of the Age of Aquarius.
There could be nothing more at a contrast to this mixture of giddy colors and staid culture, diamond tiaras, minks, and daisies behind the ear, than a midnight, lonely rural road near Vallejo, a utilitarian city across the bay. Shots rang out. Gun powder flashed. Two teenagers lay dead, a boy and a girl.
Now in December 1968 the mainstream youth still looked like their parents— clean cut guys with thick-rimmed glasses, and gals with elaborate coiffured hairdos. They still necked at petting spots. This was an accepted “taboo.” Lovers’ lanes were still unofficially designated. These were the victims. The victims were John and Jane Q. Citizen, not tunic wearing gurus and licentious members of “Love-ins.” Kids at a petting spot on a backroad. Here the terror began. Like a drop that starts a ripple, it began here in this drab, unlikely place and grew wider and wider until it sent San Francisco and the metropolitan Bay Area into a panic.
For 7 months the killer did nothing. He was fomenting his game. Then he killed again in the summer of ’69. Like a pompous comic strip villain he now proclaimed himself to the world:
This is the Zodiac Speaking
From this point forward this mysterious and egotistical villain made a very public game out of murder. Indeed he made such a success out of it that despite the fact his murders were, to be frank, largely unimaginative, he is the second most famous serial killer in world history, ranking only behind London’s Jack the Ripper.
History has shown us that in 1969 network news would be at its apogee. Whether this phantom killer’s publicity campaign of murder is a reflection of the times or inspired because of the massive stage news could give, his threats of a “killing rampage” rode the crest of a popular wave the likes of which have never to be seen again.
The colorful antiestablishment movement was part of the reason network news scored so high in American homes. Racial tensions in the nation, anti-war protests, and the latest news on the war in Vietnam were other factors. The moonshot had long been promised and in the summer of 1969 it would be fulfilled. Political assassinations had drawn Americans to the TV. It had only been 6 years since President Kennedy had been assassinated, 4 years since Malcolm X had been brutally gunned down, less than 2 years since Martin Luther King Jr, and then Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations. News was really happening, and it was news that had mattered. It was news at hand.
America seemed in a descending spiral. The young were angry and disillusioned by the preachers of change and peace being gunned down. The establishment had given them the Cold War. Their “new morality” reflected both rebellion and despair. The ramifications of more assassinations alarmed the establishment, and they were equally afraid of the strange morality of the counterculture entering the mainstream. The Manson Family murders would soon convince them that the hippie movement was a breeding ground of cult-like murder next door. Overseas, America was beset by a war with tens of thousands dead and nothing to show for it but fear it would escalate to Armageddon. The gritty, dark urban reality of the 1970s was fast approaching, a time when the apocalyptic atmosphere put news events right at one’s own front door.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, newspapers headlined with strange cryptograms. Under threat of a metropolitan wide “killing rampage,” this drive-by shooter manipulated the newspapers to print his ciphers of code symbols. He taunted police that his identity was concealed therein, and he intrigued the public to uncover where he’d strike next. A metropolitan area sat down to try and figure it out. When it was decoded, all and sundry read the gleeful but simple syntax: “I like killing people because it is so much fun.”
Jubilation at murder wasn’t his only motive. Months before the Manson Family outrages would convince Americans the counterculture was full of zombie-like cultists, this killer rejoiced over the fact his victims would be his slaves in his afterlife, thereby invoking some primitive, arcane religion that seemed inspired by the esoteric mysticism of the disturbing hippie movement.
With each new victim there came a jubilant boast in the form of a letter with a tally of victims. Sometimes a cipher was included, supposedly containing more information vital to unraveling his identity. For years he kept the Bay Area in suspense with his threats. “Be sure to print this part . . . or I’ll do my thing”— the threat not of a mystical maniac wanting more reincarnated slaves but paradoxically that of a cheap gunsel extorting fear. His murder spree lasted for only a short time, but his love for terror kept him writing these poison pen letters. Each new letter he sent was introduced as an oracle: “This is the Zodiac Speaking.” Each was sluiced with sarcasm, and with his dark humor each in its way was a sinister chuckle. Each in turn was signed by the symbol of the celestial Zodiac— a circle with a crosshair through it. It looked little different from a gunsight, and the double meaning was no doubt intended. Then he played the ultimate hand in his game. He vanished. To this day the San Francisco Bay Area has never forgotten, and the most bragged about murders in history remain unsolved.
This is The Zodiac Killer. He is inexorably linked with the summer and tumultuous autumn of 1969, but his legacy is decades of anxiety that he’d return, decades of frustration that a killer escaped justice; not just a killer, but the most boastful, haughty killer in the annals of crime. “The police shall never catch me,” he boasted in one letter, “because I have been too clever for them.” He won. He got away. The faded ink of his bragging rubs this fact into our face even today.
Who was this killer? Why did he suddenly stop? It wasn’t from penitence. For years he continued to write those bragging letters. He has been silent over 40 years now. It has been so long that Zodiac’s era and therewith the context of his crimes has been obscured by a folklore that has turned him into a master villain in the likeness of Dr. Moriarty, the nemesis of the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes.
Yet the truth is quite different, though tenuous to extract. Those who view him only through his letters and cryptograms see the evil genius. Those who see him only through the crime scenes view him as a spontaneous thrill killer. As always the truth lies in between. Zodiac was a dichotomous mixture of bungling perpetration and cerebral game playing, the latter seen in how he remained so consciously behind the alter ego he created that, amazingly, little was ever discovered of this villain. Enough was pieced together, however, to draw the portrait of an odd, festering but highly clever misfit.
In 1969, in appearance there was still a stark difference between the mainstream and the counterculture. Guys still wore their tight, sleek slacks, button-down collar shirts, short hair parted and combed to one side. Gals wore some elaborate hairstyle, often like their mother. Miniskirts came “in” in 1966 and were still “in” in 1968-69. Guys wore thick rimmed glasses; gals cat-eyes. If you were the mainstream you looked like the above; if you were a hippie, you looked “way out.”
Yet the Zodiac was neither. In age he was unquestionably between 25 and 30 years old— a difficult age to categorize. He was too young to be the establishment; too old to be the counterculture. Nevertheless, even for 1969 he was, for one of his age, a strange amalgam. His hair was stylized, a fashion that went out in the early ’60s. He wore baggy, pleated wool dress pants— the norm for the mid-1950s. He mixed this obsolete formality with a touch of current and casual— a thin cotton sport jacket. Strangely, he then added more incongruity by wearing high rim Air Force Wing Walker shoes, standard issue for cadets at Lackland AFB in Texas. He was under 6 foot tall but a heavy 225 pounds— chunky like a gorilla, a big face with high cheekbones.
It took quite a bit just to assemble this much information, and the final mosaic wasn’t in place until the crime spree was over. For the most part Zodiac‘s face was the mantel of the night, and from behind the bright splatter of a flashlight he fired away at his surprised victims. Other than the carnage he left behind, we have no other clue to his character than the ego he created in print.
But his true image tells us he was not the hippie cultist. The context of his crimes also tells us he was the antithesis of what he marketed. Despite declaring man to be the ultimate—“the most dangerous”— game, Zodiac was hardly the great white hunter in the bush. He only had the courage, if that word can be used, to pump full of holes kids at lovers’ lanes. As killers go, he wasn’t even very adroit. Three of his victims lingered before expiring. Two survived to go on with life as best they could. The reality of The Zodiac Killer was shot up cars and kids at remote petting spots.
It would be unwise, however, to judge Zodiac based on his awkward appearance and his clumsy MO. There was a cerebral quality to Zodiac that is belied by his clumsy modus operandi and it extended far beyond his gloating letters. For all of his uncouth look, for all of his amateurish execution, somehow, equally mysterious, that frumpy gorilla neatly managed to melt into the very different background of mainstream life and evade an enormous dragnet.
It would be equally unwise, and an even greater error, to think that the bland truth behind the boastful façade diminishes the evil that was Zodiac. On the contrary, it confirms his arrogance. The true image is all the more contemptable. The truth is that of a pudgy little man sniggering over his poison pen letters while his TV screen flickered with images of pall bearers carrying out his victims to the hearse. The truth is that he need only remain essentially a drive-by shooter because his victims were important to him only insofar as they were another ante in his game of death. So much was boasting important that from the bloodied, impromptu scenes of death he hurried to confess to police operators, or to his dark lair to scribble his bragging letters and set in motion his publicity campaign. His victims were the résumé by which he kept a metropolis in fear for years. The truth is that of a strange outcast who was so egotistical he was not only indifferent to the lives of others he was also completely untouched by the great events of his time.
Man’s first step on the moon, the Manson murders, the antiestablishment movement— nothing contemporary found place in his writings. Only once did he make reference to current events, and this was so his tongue-in-cheek humor could dovetail on it. Peace symbols were popular, he said; others wore “black power” or “Melvin eats bluber.” He wanted to see the Bay Area wear his Zodiac buttons. It would cheer him up and this would keep him from killing again. “Please no nasty ones like melvin’s. Thank you.”
Even Zodiac’s expressed motive for killing people— aside from enjoying it— was completely isolated from the times. He declared no moral indignation on wayward youth, no hint of the bitterness or revenge of a jilted lover, no indication they even deserved it, only that his victims would be his slaves in his afterlife.
But most unwise of all would be for us to believe there is any easy answer as to what motivated the Zodiac. For his only slaying in daytime he hid his round face under a sinister black hood. It hung down incongruously over his shabby appearance and thereon was neatly sewn the symbol of the celestial Zodiac. Since the victims were by no means meant to survive (one was stabbed 6 times, the other 21), we were never to know he had dressed like this. But one of them survived to give us the account. Obviously, this outfit meant something purely to him. The Zodiac’s crime spree was clearly a bit more complex than merely a means to publicity.
In fact, as this volume unfolds, the reader will discover that Zodiac devoted enormous time and effort to carry off what appeared to be very spontaneous crimes. Zodiac lived and killed to create his alter ego. He is, in fact, one of the few serial killers to ever give himself his own handle. It doesn’t reflect police categorizing or witty press sensationalism. It reflects his own megalomania as the celestial controller, the master of the game of fate.
What ultimately was Zodiac’s game?
The need to expose this killer is enormous. It is not for the narrow piety to bring closure to the victims’ families. Nor is it simply for the sake of closing the book on a case of crime. The ‘Zodiac’ Killer played a game with the public. He did not murder to merely give himself a thrill. The victims were a means to an end to glorify this frumpy gorilla’s much more imaginative alter ego. Such a braggart is unique in the annals of crime. He threw the gauntlet down and forced society to play his terror game. This gauntlet, as all gauntlets, must eventually be picked up and slapped in his face, even if that face is only the reputation of a long passed respected citizen.
I picked up that gauntlet. It is not boastful to say so. Many have done so, and it has come my turn. I have little interest in criminology, but investigative method is investigative method, whether the object is a truth of science or the identity of a serial killer, whether it is in the hand of a criminalist, journalist or biologist. I enjoy pursing mystery and solving mystery; and the identity of the Zodiac is one of the greatest mysteries in true crime.
What I have added to cold case is my approach. I treat a cold case like a hot case. I completely reinvestigate the crimes as though they just happened. In essence, I start all over. I visit the crime scenes. I examine the evidence and, more importantly, I look for clues. Contrary to what may be public perception, cold case is mostly processing, comparing any information that comes in to a few pieces of evidence distilled and preserved by the original investigators, evidence that is considered conclusive to identify the killer or exonerate an innocent man.
By reinvestigating from the very beginning, I plunge both myself and the reader back to a volatile and colorful era. The crimes and times shall unravel before us. Context is everything. Within context lie the clues, and often clues are more important than evidence, for upon investigation clues lead to evidence, and new clues lead to new evidence. And this case needs new evidence. Zodiac, in fact, made mistakes in his letters, and he made mistakes within the context of his crimes. Only by ignoring 40 years of folklore could these be uncovered again. Only by reliving the crimes and times of the Zodiac could that one kernel be uncovered that led to the identity of this cerebral braggart.
This is the complete chronicle of The Zodiac Killer crime spree. This is not an anodyne compilation of the history of The Zodiac Killer and of those events, sometimes decades later, engineered by people who have attempted to write themselves into it, together the above amounting to little more than a journal of urban folklore. This is the investigative thesis that vividly recreates the crimes and seasons of the Zodiac, and that leads to the outing of the man behind the mask, the killer behind the pompous preamble “This is the Zodiac Speaking.”
In this volume I will deliver the body of the Zodiac. But it takes more to get at the soul— why he killed and why he stopped. Was he a reluctant killer? Was the terror campaign a ruse to cover some other motive? Were the deaths necessary in some greater scheme or ritual? The questions may not seem as important after the killer’s hood is removed. To unmask the Zodiac is to reveal more than the soul of the killer. It is to isolate the pudgy, insecure madman from the pomp of his publicity. This will destroy his evil soul. The result is an empty hood devoid of any substance of the theatrical master controller that he created from dark shadows. It leaves us with his true image, the one he drew for himself in the cowardly barbarity of his crimes.
* * *
Since 1990 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.