The ZODIAC Killer and San Diego

I am adding just a brief account of the double murder of Johnny Ray Swindle and his new wife Joyce on February 5, 1964, and since it is a last minute addition to HorrorScope I thought I’d share an early version of the treatment here with you. The case has had little written about it despite its similarity to the Gaviota slayings. There’s more than one reason for this, and I touch on both in HorrorScope. But for now, it is best to present the crime.

From the chapter “Southern Exposure” from HorrorScope by Gian J. Quasar.

The one dissimilarity is that Bobby and Linda were murdered on a Monday and during the day and not on the weekend at dusk or at nighttime. But 5 years is a long time. ZODIAC’s work circumstance could have changed. The general similarities remained— the killer was someone who knew the rural hangouts for young couples and saw that only Bobby’s car was in the parking space by the highway. There was even a military base nearby, like in Riverside, and this was Vandenberg Air Force Base.

An attack on a weekday seemed less significant when another double murder of a young couple popped up from the cold case files, this having been committed on Wednesday February 5, 1964, only 8 months after Domingos and Edwards had been murdered. This was a strange span. After ZODIAC’s first Vallejo strike, he had waited a similar time to strike again—7 months and 15 days. It too was along the coast in California.

There is a constant whoosh in your ears from the sizzle of the nearby sea and its breakers. Like all beach sections of San Diego, Ocean Beach is crowded but quiet and laidback, especially at this time of night. Old streets cross each other in a grid, crowded with bungalows, apartments, small houses, motels, and small shops, and all end at the beach. The boardwalk along the beach eventually wends around nearby cliffs. Here the boom and roll of the surf echoes up from the cement retaining wall of the boardwalk, up the cliffs to Narragansett Avenue. Ice plant covers the entire slope all the way to the silhouette of a wood railing and the back of a single traffic sign. The dark silhouette of apartments and homes can be seen flanking the street. By the wood railing a trodden game trail leads down the slope, through the thick ice plant, to the boardwalk.

Against the cement retaining wall that holds back the breakers along the walk here, a loving couple snuggles. The young man is in his Navy jumper, the blonde girl in a leather jacket and plaid capris. By them on the ledge is a red heart-shaped Valentine candy box— an early gift for his beloved on this Wednesday night February 5, 1964.Swindle-scene12

Fifty feet up the ice plant covered slope behind them stands a man by the wooden railing and the traffic sign. It reads “Dead End.” The concrete stairway down begins here, but he does not take it. Instead he walks forward along the slope and watches the couple cuddle below. He walks down the slope several more feet. No one can see him from Narragansett now. Over his right shoulder in the distance the streetlamps of Ocean Beach are dull pearls in the night’s hazy moisture, strung out in crisscrossing lines. He raises a pistol in both hands and aims. The roar of the surf is his ally. There is no sound of death issuing forth.

The Navy man’s upper left back burns. The girl he cuddles collapses against him, her left upper back burning as well. Then his left thigh went tight and burned. Her left arm stung. His left ear stings painfully. Both collapse onto the “patio,” the name for this wide sightseeing section of the boardwalk. Swindle-scene4

The figure atop the slope strides down and stands over them. She is lying face down. He fires a round into the back of her head. The Navy man is on his left side, next to the wall, just under the Valentine’s candy box. The killer stands over him now and puts a bullet into his upper right temple. The killer rummages in his victim’s pocket and takes his wallet. He pockets his automatic pistol and walks away.

Hours later a neighbor, Ed Nelson, is walking to the beach. He sees the figures. Shadows in the dark, he thought they had been drinking and passed out. He approached with his flashlight shining on them and then saw, in the cold round beam of his flashlight, the pools of blood coming from them. The man was moaning inarticulacy. Ed Nelson rushed to get the police.

The girl was dead, but the man was rushed to the hospital where he died a few hours later.

The San Diego PD detectives quickly came to the conclusion that a “psychopathic killer” was responsible. Despite the missing wallet, the true motive was chalked up to thrill. They had solid reasons to come to this conclusion. The couple was Johnny Ray Swindle and his new wife Joyce. They had been childhood sweethearts in Jasper, Alabama. During furlough in January he went back and married her on January 18. They drove back out to San Diego and had been living here for only a week in a bun-galow 9 blocks away. They had no enemies. They were a quiet couple, but they had one habit. Joyce was fascinated by the sea, so each night they went for a stroll along the beach. Each night they passed the same hamburger stand, got coffee, and walked along the boardwalk. (Johnny had bought the Valentine Day box of candy at a local shop only 30 minutes before they had been shot.) Their schedule made them the perfect targets for a stalker who wanted to kill a couple. Without enemies there was no choice for the lead detective, O.J. Roed, but to conclude that a psychopath did this purely for thrill.

Johnny didn’t make is past freshman because he had to go to work to help support his family. 

The killer was obviously a good shot with good nighttime vision. He had used only a .22 caliber, but at only 50 feet up the slope it proved deadly. And he obviously went for the heart first and came close each time— both victims had a shot to their left back. The police had quickly found the 5 shining brass shells where he had stood; and two, of course, had been found by the bodies, where he killer had stood and delivered what the papers called the “coup de grace.”

Twenty five detectives swarmed the area looking for the weapon— the police assuming he must have ditched it somewhere in order to walk away and look casual. Navy divers combed the sea bottom of the nearby shore. Other detectives went door to door asking the neighbors to voluntarily surrender their .22 weapons for testing. About 40 weapons were tested. None matched.

From statements that detectives scoured the rooftops from a helicopter to see if the killer had thrown the weapon up on one, it is fairly easy to deduce that ballistics indicated a pistol had been used rather than a rifle. This obviously made sense given the context. No one is going to be able to walk around Ocean Beach with a rifle, even at night, and not stand out.

It wasn’t long before Santa Barbara Co. sheriff detectives arrived. There was immediate suspicion that the killer of Domingos and Edwards was responsible here. However, ballistics didn’t match—it was not the same .22 automatic that had gunned down Bobby and Linda. But it was the same type of gun.

No connection was ever made between the two slayings except for similar circumstances— a young couple at the beach, no motive, and a .22 caliber. But there are actually more similarities, especially if one adds into the equation ZODIAC’s first murders in Vallejo. The ZODIAC was an excellent night shooter who first used a .22 automatic pistol. When not challenged, ZODIAC was a utilitarian but not necessarily efficient killer. Similar to Johnny Ray’s killer, the ZODIAC left Faraday and Mageau to linger. When challenged, ZODIAC seemed to pour it on— he unloaded his magazine into Jensen’s back and Domingos/Edwards killer reloaded to give them “coup de grace,” but he calmly re-turned to shoot Ferrin and Mageau to make sure, where he had also not been challenged.

More of a connection would be made between ZODIAC and the Gaviota slayings because of events that would soon unfold. In 1972 Santa Barbara County Sheriff John Carpenter and detective Bill Baker held a TV news conference after Carpenter had issued a formal statement in which he declared that ZODIAC was responsible for the 1963 double murder of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards. In this concisely written statement, Carpenter declared:

End outsert

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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.

The Phantom Strikes Again?

It had been a spread of 31 years. The details are fuzzy. The connecting threads thin. But there hasn’t been too many of these type of serials. There’s been the Phantom of Texarkana, the Zodiac, and one other of note. . . . and it is of this one that we have little information. Not to minimize the tragedy, but the Atlanta lovers’ lane serial killer seemed a lackluster serial. He struck over a period of a few months beginning January 16, 1977, around the Adams and West Manor Park areas of Atlanta, Georgia. He crouched next to the cooing victims’ car and fired 6 wadcutters through the window. His first two victims died. His second pair of victims were both wounded. Of his third pair of victims, one survived and one died. He struck between intervals of 28 days on the middle weekend of the months January, February, and March 1977. Then there was no more.

Publicly, all that we know is that a black guy approached and tried to get into the second pair of victims’ car first. They saw him approach, saw him reach for the handle, but the doors were locked and wouldn’t open. He backed up, knelt down and started shooting from the same position as the other victims were and would be shot from.

We have little more than that. Age, we don’t know. Height, weight, all nada.

Back then, due to the psychology of the times, police did not believe that serials continued on or even returned to their crime sprees. But time and some bad experiences have proven that many serials stop, and in one case later tried to recapture the thrill decades later– the case of BTK.

Therefore there is little information if the Atlanta PD checked back to the crimes of the Phantom of Texarkana, Texas. He struck on weekends beginning in February 1946, and continued on weekends in March, April, and May. Then he was gone. A similar murder was committed later in south Florida on October 8, 1946, but this was on a Tuesday. The Fort Lauderdale police did check with Texarkana police in this case.

In neither crime sprees did the victims see much. Only the first two victims of the Phantom survived in Texarkana. They differed as to their attacker’s description. He wore a grain bag over his head, but they saw his hands. The male victim said he believed the attacker was a tanned white guy. The female victim believed the attacker was a light skinned black man. That’s all we have.

Over 40 years have passed since the Atlanta Lovers’ Lane Murders. It is time Atlanta PD released as much information as they have on the cases so that this tragic series of crimes can finally have the light of day they deserve, perhaps the light that can finally lead to the solution.

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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.