Outtake from Chapter 9 of HorrorScope— “ZODIAC”– by Gian J. Quasar. This is the first analytical chapter in the book. I take the reader through the entire crime spree chronologically in the book, so it is necessary to develop and present as I go, as if you are reliving it. This chapter follows the Lake Berryessa account because this is the first time we have a face and can discuss enough evidence that relates to ZODIAC.
Up until this point the Zodiac’s crimes looked spontaneous, even sloppy, the MO of a random drive-by shooter. Only in print had he invoked some highly dubious cult fringe benefit. From the looks of his victims, his claims didn’t have to be taken seriously unless he wanted nothing but teenyboppers in the afterlife. And Napa’s sketch supported Vallejo’s witness sighting. This was no hippie gone bad. He was a lovers’ lane killer, a vengeful or gutless thrill seeker . . . but now this. Now this strange hood.
Lake Berryessa was not convenient and the attack was not spontaneous. Zodiac had labored on creating a hood to shield his face, which means he intended a daylight attack. He took the unnecessary risk of walking ¼ of a mile from where he had parked. He could have gone to a lovers’ lane and shot another couple. But he didn’t. He seems to have intended knifing a couple, and this required a remote location and distance from a road where he could spend sufficient time to bind them. This was not possible by a drive-by lovers’ lane at night. Yet there aren’t many places where he could have found daytime victims. Parks are out of the question. It would take a remote but not so remote recreation area. It is this fact that makes the attack at Lake Berryessa an enormous clue.
Of all the vacation lakes it is only Lake Berryessa that was the best for an extended attack away from a road. More importantly, it is the only one where one could find young couples. Students— couples— came from Angwin. How many can we place there that day?— Brian, Celia, Wayne, Denise, John, Helen, the three coeds. Attacking here not only argues for a sinister premeditation or need to knife a couple, but it reveals a necessity to knife a young couple.
The crime scene at Lake Berryessa, as seen from McKenzie Point in 2012.
Stalking Knoxville Road is not going to tell anybody that on a given day they are assured of coming across a young couple. A one-time fishing trip isn’t going to reveal this either. The young, heavyset man had protracted knowledge of the area. This is not surprising. One consistent thing ran through the Zodiac’s MO so far. He had quite an acquaintance with rural areas, a knowledge that could only have come over a period of time. He knew on a given day he would be assured of coming across a young couple here.
When his authorship of the Lake Herman Road murders was questioned by Jack Stiltz, he quickly responded bragging how he had cleverly affixed a pencil flashlight to his pistol and in that way just sprayed down Jensen like using a hose.
This little bit of gratuitous bragging subtly betrays Zodiac’s longstanding connection to rural areas, more so than his MO. It is one thing to stream a circle of light across one’s ceiling and walls and see the dark dot that represents the gunsight. It is an entirely different matter to think this is going to work in real life. It requires putting it into action. Zodiac would need rural land somewhere, accessible by night, where he could test it and fine tune his gunsight. It would not be a leap of faith to say he knew some of these backroads because he had access to land somewhere nearby or frequently hunted. He knew the petting spots; for some reason he knew those Vallejo backroads. His MO at Lake Herman Road required someone with enough time alone at night and some piece of rural land somewhere in the vicinity to test his “invention.”
Lake Berryessa and Lake Herman Road come together to reveal that the sloppy, spontaneous Zodiac was actually far more cerebral in his preparations than his drive-by shooting would suggest. The pencil flashlight shows he came to the dark Lake Herman Road that night fully prepared to kill a couple. The preparations for his attack at Lake Berryessa cannot be denied.
Combined with this exoticism of his outfit there remained the demented thrill seeker’s way of needlessly confessing to the police.
The confession calls compared:
I want to report a double I want to report a murder;
murder. If you will go no, a double murder.
one mile east on They are two miles north
Columbus Parkway to the of park headquarters.
public park you will find They were in a white
the kids in a brown car. Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.
They were shot with a I’m the one who did it.
nine millimeter luger. I
also killed those kids last
The calls reveal how Zodiac chose his words carefully. In contrast to the letter confessions, Zodiac never begins the call with “I just killed” likely because he feared that the operator could possibly start a recorder. Instead Zodiac reports the basics and then in his last line confesses to having committed the crime. The young voice with the demented thrill motive had a careful mind. But from the point of view of someone simply wanting to “collect slaves,” why was this necessary?
The portrait drawn is a confusing one: a young man, not unhandsome, but dresses obsolete. He murders hastily. He confesses over the phone in order to get the law to the crime scene. Then he brags in print and invokes some arcane cult motive. It couldn’t all be a ruse or he wouldn’t have designed that hood.
Ephemeral to this portrait is his car. Thanks to the coeds’ details about the late model Chevrolet it is possible to identify it as a 1966 or 1967 Impala. This was indeed not a car for a young man. Therefore it is possible he drove a car, a new car, he did not own. Like his clothes, it seemed suited to an older man. Was the brown car (Corvair?) used for the Blue Rocks Springs Park attack his own car? What about the mid-sized car with “no chrome” seen by James Owen in the turnout on Lake Herman Road?
Cars were certainly a clue. It was clear that Zodiac didn’t mind driving distances and had the time to do so. Lake Berryessa is far from any real settlement. Then he drove 45 minutes to Napa, a direction which indicates he was headed back to the Bay Area or Vallejo. Yet he mailed his letters from San Francisco, which is about 45 minutes from Vallejo where he had begun his crime spree.
When combined with the Zodiac’s modus operandi, the bland face on the composite tells us a few things. He was not a hippie or crazed looking cultist. His obsolescent look might not have even been too significant. After all, this was a rustic lake. But the sinister black hood is frightening. Put together, one thing is written clearly: his symbol and name had come to mean something important to him. One cannot say that his alter ego was only one on paper. Nor was he a man who had found killing just as thrilling as he had written in his simple syntax.
Zodiac was evolving before us. He went from being a heavyset, plain looking man who didn’t take credit for his killings, to one who then did both by phone and then by letters and an elaborate cipher, then to becoming that alter ego in real life.
* * *
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.