I have been agitated over the last week trying to rewrite the introduction to HorrorScope. Here is a rough draft of what shall become the final draft. The introduction to any of my books is always the first and last thing that I write and rewrite.
Foreword to HorrorScope— “This is the Zodiac Speaking” by 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 like their mothers. 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 with each victim until it sent San Francisco and the metropolitan Bay Area into a panic.
At the height of the panic in the summer of 1969 the killer introduced himself to the public. Like a pompous comic strip villain he proclaimed:
This is the Zodiac Speaking
Throughout the frightful autumn that followed, boasting letters revealed a hideous villain with dark, misplaced humor, bragging after his murders, threatening more murders, then convoluting everything with threats to become a sniper, to plant bombs in order to wipe out school busses, and demanding appeasement. He had to be taken seriously. He had murdered, and the intricately drawn coded ciphers, hand drawn diagrams and maps he included with his deranged letters showed an obsessive and calculating mind that spent hours just on his terror campaign alone. A bizarre villain was being born in print and published in the newspapers and talked about on radio and on TV. He was The Zodiac. The name doesn’t reflect witty press sensationalism nor is it a catchy police moniker. He is, in fact, only one of a few serial killers to give himself his own handle. It reflects his own megalomania as the celestial controller of the game of fate, in his case the game of death.
Jubilation at murder wasn’t his only motive for writing his bragging letters. The 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 seems certain. He loved the image he put on paper, and the 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.
Another thing seems certain. He believed his boast that he had been too clever for the police. From the very first moment he put his deadly words to print with that odd blue felt tip pen he used, he was sure that nothing he had written could ever be used to lead to him, and if he should be seen while committing his murders he seemed equally confident there was nothing in his appearance that could lead to uncovering his true identity.
A couple of times there was a rare glimpse of the man who must have been the reality behind the boastful facade, and each time it proved that the truth of this egotistical killer was rather bland. For 1969, he was for one of his time an odd amalgam. He was a chunky gorilla-like figure, about 5 foot 10 inches tall, about 225 pounds, between 25 and 30 years old, wearing obsolete pleated wool dress pants offset by a casual dark cotton windbreaker, and he shuffled about in high rim Air Force shoes. His hair was stylized, a fashion as out-of-date as his old pants. He had a large, round face with high cheekbones. He was not mainstream, nor was he a hippie.
The bland truth of the Zodiac does not diminish his evil. On the contrary, it confirms his unique arrogance and should be expected from a villain whose method had nothing particularly ingenious about it. The Zodiac was essentially a clumsy 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. Yet boasting was so 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 truth of the Zodiac 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 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. The reality of The Zodiac Killer is shot up cars and kids at remote petting spots.
It would be unwise, however, to judge the killer based on a contrast between his awkward appearance and his grand, celestial alter ego The Zodiac. There was always 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. Indeed he made such a success out of it that despite the fact he is only one of several killers who stalked lovers’ lanes he is the second most famous serial killer in world history, ranking only behind London’s Jack the Ripper.
It began with his first letter. When the San Francisco Bay Area newspapers warned a psychotic killer was afoot, the Zodiac had guaranteed a large audience for himself. Under threat of a metropolitan wide “killing rampage,” he had cleverly manipulated the newspapers to print cryptograms of code symbols he had sent with the letter. His cover letter taunted the police that his identity was concealed therein, and he enticed the public to uncover where he’d strike next. Nothing excites our imaginations more than a puzzle. 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.”
History has shown us that in 1969 network news would be at its apogee. 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.
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.
More than anything it was the Zodiac’s desire to loom like a clutching shadow over Gotham. Inflicting terror was ultimately his greatest motive, and he used his murders as a résumé to be taken seriously. His 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 for years, each claiming more and more victims and each threatening to take 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.
It was perhaps the innocence of the times that inspired the police to hope the killer had died or had been imprisoned or institutionalized— thereby paying in a sort of proxy for the savage murders he had done. But advances in criminology have underscored far too often that serial killers quit and go on to lead relatively normal lives. Therefore for nearly 50 years the Zodiac could have lived a prosperous life, and in his arrogance merely shrugged off his killing spree and years of threatening letters as a mere fad in his otherwise exemplary life.
During this time the Zodiac could have rested assured that his true identity was safe, not because he was forgotten to history but because his crime spree had become a focal point of popular culture. He had not only escaped, the context of his crimes has become obscured by folklore, a folklore so elaborate that it has covered his trail beyond even his wildest dreams. Despite only having killed a fraction of what he bragged about, he succeeded in creating a personality cult of crime far more successfully than he ever could have hoped or have even foreseen.
Professional and amateur detectives alike could not believe that one who had sought and cultivated so much media attention could merely quit. The Zodiac therefore became a potential suspect in every local murder that took place thereafter. The Zodiac had been cunning enough to have encouraged this view. In his childishly misspelled blue felt, he had once written: “I shall no longer announce to anyone when I comitt my murders, they shall look like routine robberies, killings of anger, + a few fake accidents, etc.” 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 comic strip hero, who live each day as if it and they are integral in the continuing saga of the Zodiac. In this realm college professors have been accused. Ted Kascinski seems 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 economic rehash 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 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 pursuing 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 48 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.
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.