As it stands today, this is the newer, shorter introduction to HorrorScope— the foreword entitled “This is the Zodiac Speaking.” By yours truly, Gian J. Quasar.
Civilization had never seen such a thing before. The fabric of American society was viewed as coming apart. National curiosity was now dissolving into national disdain and even national jitters. 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, tie-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 and clumsy he is the second most famous serial killer in world history, ranking only behind London’s Jack the Ripper.
Fame in this case is based on his arrogance, not on ingenuity as in the case of the Ripper. The Zodiac was essentially a drive-by shooter. He stalked late night couples at rural lovers’ lanes, and from behind the bright splatter of a flashlight he fired away at his surprised victims. This bland truth does not diminish the evil that was Zodiac. On the contrary, it confirms his arrogance. The truth is 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. The portrait of arrogance 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 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.”
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 was 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.
When the San Francisco Bay Area newspapers warned a psychotic killer was afoot, the killer had a guaranteed large audience. He made sure of it. The newspapers headlined with intriguing cryptograms. Nothing excites our imaginations more than a puzzle. 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 enticed the public to uncover where he’d strike next. A metropolitan area sat down to try and figure it out. When the cipher was finally 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. 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.
Playing upon the fears of the time may have been his motive, but by writing letter after letter he was needlessly taking risks, potentially giving clues that could lead to his capture. None of this was necessary to cover his identity. Indeed, its only purpose seemed the creation of his alter ego “The Zodiac.” 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.
Such contradictions, red herrings, and false clues would pepper his crime spree, making it impossible to figure out the heads or tails of his actual motive. One thing can be figured about him— that alter ego he created in print came to possess him in real life. For his only slaying in daytime he hid his 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.
The Zodiac’s murder spree lasted for only a short time, but his love for terror (or for his alter ego) kept him writing these poison pen letters, claiming more and more victims. 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.
Insert Zodiac symbol.
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.
Sadly, this has been the truth of the last 48 years. Zodiac not only escaped, he covered his trail beyond even his wildest dreams. Whether he intended it or not, his game evolved so inconsistently that he covered his trail effectively. One thing, however, has covered his trail more than anything. Despite only having attacked 7 and killed 5, Zodiac succeeded in creating a personality cult of crime far more successfully than he ever could have hoped or have even foreseen. In this folklore he is a worldwide arch villain who has never stopped killing.
Professional and amateur detectives alike have arisen to pursue Zodiac long after he bid farewell. None could believe that one who had sought and cultivated so much media attention could merely quit. The Zodiac therefore became a potential suspect in many other murders thereafter. The Zodiac had encouraged this himself by saying he was privatizing his game of murder and would make his victims look like they fell victim to accidents. The legend bought into it.
Part of the folklore of the master criminal Zodiac has proposed that if all the unsolved murders over the USA dating from the late 1960s to today were connected by an imaginary line they would form a giant Z— proof that the astrological assassin continued his crime spree in secret and killed his victims according to locations where he could create his astrological symbol.
Amateur detectives have examined his undeciphered cryptograms and poison pen pal letters with a metaphoric zeal usually devoted only to Biblical exegesis; each sure that the fateful clue to his goading, infamous identity lay therein. Mathematics has been done to try and find a code or sequence in the ciphers that would finger the culprit. Others have put together all the misplaced letters in the misspelled words in Zodiac’s nasty missives, trying to see if the misplaced letters would together form a coherent sentence or confession.
An entire subculture has developed, little different than the fans of a serial comic strip, who live each day as if it and they are integral in the continuing saga of the nefarious arch killer The Zodiac. In this franchise, college professors have been accused. Ted Bundy and Ted Kascinski seem perpetually suspected of every crime. Poor Leigh Allen reveled in the limelight over the years he was suspected. When he died in 1992 it even merited national news, billed as the passing of the man suspected of having been “The infamous Zodiac.” Cranks have offered relatives and old friends as suspects. Others have insisted on elaborate conspiracy theories. Those who were 50 years old at the time— doctors, car dealers and winos— have been accused in their 80s and 90s and in one case even DNA tested. None of these suspects were ever anchored to the Zodiac crimes by the actual evidence.
We are now on the cusp of history, that point where the crime spree will soon be beyond the reach of satisfactory solution, buried in time, that substance we cannot dig out of the way. It will take its place with Jack the Ripper and become a topic of suspects and folklore rather than actual investigation. Right now is our last chance to solve it, to place in order the facts and follow them through to the villain himself.
The truth is out there, though tenuous to extract. Those who view the killer 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 windbreaker. Strangely, he then added more incongruity by wearing high rim Air Force Wing Walker shoes, standard issue for cadets at Lackland Air Force Base 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. Other than the carnage he left behind, we have no other clue to his character than the ego he created in print.
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 sloppy 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.
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 and seemingly 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 leads 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 or Q Man. “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.