The Cold Case Late Show

Amidst getting HorrorScope assessed for legal reasons, commencing the artwork for the tome, and preparing other adventures, I am still refining the research into NORCAL Rapist– again not a great handle, but rapists don’t seem to merit them, one reason I think why EAR-ONS really never caught on with history. Murderers get the most exquisite handles, and sometimes they give themselves their own crimson sobriquet: BTK, Zodiac, etc.  But rapists don’t rate the same news or public interest.

Law enforcement and media outlets are a buzz with the whole idea of genealogical tracing based on DNA in order to out the nasties of cold case. If there is enough DNA, then this would be a great avenue. I fear, however, that if this is how cold case (and hot case) goes (where there is enough DNA) then HorrorScope will be the last attempt of the old school, where gray matter and deductive and inductive reasoning leads to the final conclusion.

For me, it is a race the outcome of which I will find particularly interesting. Will DNA be lifted anew from a ZODIAC letter stamp and will it be sufficiently accurate that genealogical tracing is done and leads to my guy? My method, of course, has had to be more cumbersome: first uncovering his trail, his past, his ability, motive, then his hand printing, fingerprints-— the old school.

No one is sure if the DNA is good in the case of The ‘Zodiac’ Killer, just as there was always debate whether those bloody fingerprints were really his in the cab. He obviously disguised his printing. It’s only after cases are solved that we see how clever or not-so-clever the perp really was. From what I discovered, ZODIAC was a mixture of careful gameplaying and bungling perpetration.

But touching on the future of cold case, what about those cases where the perps were very careful? I mean, where they anticipated forensics? The case of Melbourne’s Mr. Cruel comes instantly to mind. It seems to be the home invasion creeps who really take care. They know they are risking the most to begin with and they plan meticulously.

DNA will become part of a methodical process, but when there is none: what to do?  The Shadow Slayer of Colonial Parkway (The Colonial Parkway Murders) also comes to mind. There are no footprints, no sketches, and the only chance of lifting touch DNA would seem to come from the first victims’ car or ligatures, but there is doubt there too. Without DNA, this case is the hardest out there to crack. At least by gray cells.

However, we can’t rely completely on DNA for the future. Right now there are perps in the shadows, killers lurking waiting to come forth into the night to start their evil sprees. They are considering how to avoid the science of DNA. Old fashioned gumshoeing will still be needed for these.  But are we turning the true detective into The Late Show— a dinosaur sentimentally reserved only for the past? We will need them in the future, but will we be able to recognize them?

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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.

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HORRORSCOPE– Bringing to Life The Zodiac Killer

Above, the aerial is situated over Blue Rock Springs Park. From this angle we can see Columbus Parkway traced by the tall canopy of eucalyptus trees as it wends on its way to Springs Road and Vallejo.

Context is everything, and it is something that is often missing from the repeated rehash of cold cases in popular literature. Yet reenactment of the crime is an essential step to investigating it. It is the “French” method. I rely heavily upon it before I write anything on any case. I must know what the layout of the land was like. After all, we are tracking the human predator. We are on a hunt for the hunter.

This is so clear in the ‘Zodiac’ Killer case. Like with Jack the Ripper, economic rehash dominates. It is used merely to quickly get through the crimes in order to introduce an unlikely suspect.

The longest I ever spent on trying to re-visualize a case was on trying to reconstruct Blue Rock Springs Park parking lot– the scene of Zodiac’s second strike. Since July 4, 1969, Columbus Parkway has been greatly altered. The park’s parking lot was once a wide spot in a two lane road. Now the parking lot has been extended inward to the country park, and the road is a couple of meters higher than the parking lot, not lower as it used to be, and a 4 lane busy thoroughfare.

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The crime scene as preserved in the Vallejo PD report. This is as the parking lot used to be– open to Columbus Parkway and narrow.  The parkway was only 26 feet across!

The lot used to angle up from the road, and it even had a stand of trees on one side of it around which the cars parked. It was truly a country park, carved out of the natural topography. That atmosphere is gone. The clutching canopy of eucalyptus that used to line the parkway is gone. I’m trying to bring it all back in HORRORSCOPE so the reader can understand what things were like back then.

I want to give you a little taste here, with pictures and blow ups of photo blocks in the upcoming release.  This is made possible by Vallejo Historical Museum. As you might imagine few people go to a park to take pictures of the parking lot. But the parking lot exists as an incidental in the background of pictures centered on other events held at the park.

BRSPL

In this blow up above from 1963 we see the angled parking lot and narrow Columbus Parkway behind it, then the white line marking the gutter and the extended parking on the other side. Dee Ferrin had parked at an angle near where those two white cars are parked. One of the two lamp posts can be seen.

BRSPL-2

This blow up from 1961 shows the other side of the parking lot and the stand of eucalyptus noted on the crime scene illustration. Columbus Parkway was so narrow that you can distinguish it only from the painted crosswalk. The furthest row of cars are actually parked in a dirt area on the other side of the road.

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This photo, taken in the 1970s, is centered at the crosswalk, and it shows Columbus Parkway in the direction from which Roger, Jerry, and Debbie, came from I-80. The cars in this shot are parked on the other side of Columbus Parkway. The parking lot is actually on the right of the photo, off frame.

With the photos above– the header showing the parkway traced by the tall eucalyptus back to Vallejo– and the others of the lot and road, we can begin to visualize this very rustic area back late night 1969.

Columbus Parkway terminated at a major highway at both of its ends, and in the middle it connected with Lake Herman Road, which also terminated at a major highway.  These were hardly your basic country roads. They were backroad arteries to 3 major highways and two local towns. They held two major attractions– Lake Herman and Blue Rock Springs Park. Zodiac did not have to be a local to know this. These were easy roads in and out in many directions. Perfect for the drive-by killer.

*         *        *

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 ZODIAC Begins 49 Years Ago

Come tonight 49 years ago in subfreezing temperatures of 22 degrees, the ‘Zodiac’ Killer began his crime spree. His victims were two cooing teens– David Faraday (17) and Betty Lou Jensen (16). For about 6 months he was silent. He took no credit. Solano County sheriffs had to come to the conclusion that a “murderous maniac” had been responsible.  Then along with his second victims he took credit and bragged about it in the press.

LHR_-_Betty_Lou_Jensen_and_David_Faraday

Some things didn’t fit– for instance, the signs that the “maniac” was actually very calm. Betty Lou had 5 bullet holes in her back, in a “remarkable grouping.” This was amazing considering the murder must have taken place around 11:15 p.m. in a very dark area like the turnout (petting spot) on Lake Herman Road.

A small game pistol had been used– a .22 caliber J.C. Higgins Model 80. No real witnesses, not to the presence of the killer. Only a fleeting glimpse to his car parked next to the victims’ car in the cold turnout. The freezing temperatures hardened the gravel turnout to such an extent no footprints or even tire tracks were left. The killer might well have been a ghost.

LHR_-_Crime_scene_at_day_with_car_as_Rambler_location_reference_2
Sheriff’s car parked in the turnout the next day.

 

This unfathomable rural murder would become the first known killing by the man who would later proclaim himself The ZODIAC. More would perish over the next year– in other rural spots and in the metropolitan beauty of San Francisco– and the villain would build himself up into comic book grandeur. But this killing more than the others reveals ZODIAC’s gruel, bloodless soul.

The boy tried to defend his date and got a bullet in his brain pointblank. Betty Lou ran away in her bright purple miniskirt and received bullet after bullet in her right upper back over the 30 feet she was able to run before she collapsed. The killer drove off after emptying 10 rounds from his small game pistol into them and their car.

In 2012 I began my active investigation. Naturally, this was the first crime scene I visited. It remains largely intact, though it has shrunk considerably and I don’t think  local teens use it as a petting spot. There is usually a Zodiac symbol graffiti’d somewhere.  Most prominently it was on the “no trespassing” sign on the farmer’s property beyond the turnout.

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The turnout in June 2017

I’ve visited the site several times, most recently in June 2017. The sign has been switched out. For now there is no Zodiac emblem painted anywhere. . .but it won’t be long. This insignificant turnout on a busy backroad on the fringes of the Bay Area should not be forgotten. A serial makes his mistakes in the beginning. The crime here may still hold a significant clue.

In the distance looms through the haze the mountain that ZODIAC would come to use to play his poison pen pal game– Mount Diablo. He knew the area well enough and he came fully prepared to kill.  . . .but not to brag about it.

There is much that says the ZODIAC was just beginning here, but the cold execution of his crime inspires some to believe he had killed before. But insofar as being definitely linked to the ZODIAC, it all began here on Lake Herman Road late night December 20, 1968.

*         *          *

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.

So How Smart was The ZODIAC?

To Captain Marty Lee, SF’s chief of detectives on the case, Zodiac was some misplaced fat paperhanger with too much time on his hands. Vallejo’s Captain Wade Bird declared: “I think he’ll prove to be a genius who got so far out he went over the edge.” Roy Conway, one of Vallejo’s detectives, thought Zodiac a spontaneous thrill killer who got lucky. These are only a few opinions, but they represent the wide spectrum of opinions. In essence they confuse Zodiac’s perpetration of his crimes with his skillful game playing with the media. It is with the latter that the Zodiac Killer truly showed his shrewdness. But the perpetration of his crimes was actually quite clumsy.

Does this give us a chance, a hope at any rate, that SFPD is right: they have his fingerprints? Forensics lifted prints off the overhead handle bar in Stine’s cab and off the outside handle on the door. They were bloody prints, and this reinforced to SFPD that they had to be Zodiac’s. The 2 police officers quickly at the scene of Washington and Cherry insisted they secured the area and kept back people. Officially that remains the word with SFPD, but Napa and Vallejo weren’t so certain. Crime scene contamination happens. There’s always some weirdo around who wants to peak or some good citizen who leans in and thinks they can help.

Contemporary photo of witnesses' home across street

The witnesses looked out from these windows across the street to where they saw Zodiac in Stine’s parked taxi.

There were reasons why Vallejo and Napa had reservations.” The kids– the witnesses– clearly described the “cab killer” as wiping down the inside of the cab’s dash and then the outside. This indicates that Zodiac removed his prints. On the other hand, SFPD could rightly say this would be unnecessary if Zodiac had worn gloves. So, ultimately, it does appear as if Zodiac could have left those bloody fingerprints, and the couple they lifted are those he forgot to wipe away.

If Zodiac left fingerprints in Stine’s cab, he was truly clumsy. But it was a pointblank bloody affair, and I don’t think Zodiac was expecting the gore that had resulted. He had to act quickly, and in his rush he may have made a serious mistake.

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Zodiac’s hood reveals how self indulgent he was– but this does not translate to excessive care at a crime scene

 

SF’s prints at least prove potentially to be a good piece of evidence to identify Zodiac or eliminate a person of interest. SFPD compared all of their POIs prints to these. Each one was eliminated, including Leigh Allen.

But . . . SFPD also checked handwriting with all their suspects. This reveals a tad of skepticism that those prints were Zodiac’s. Each of those whose handwriting was checked was also eliminated. This rings true with all the jurisdictions and their POIs. Zodiac may have been clumsy enough to have left prints behind, and bold enough to have repeatedly given the police his handwriting, but he made sure he was far outside of the dragnet. That reveals a certain amount of cleverness before he even started his crime spree, however clumsy the perpetration of his crimes.

Of more interest is Zodiac DNA. As careful as he might have been, he could not have foreseen the advent of forensic DNA science. At best, saliva from a licked stamp could reveal blood type, plus a couple of other things. A forensic examination of a sampling of stamps on the envelopes of Zodiac’s nasty missives lifted DNA.

We’ll look at this potential in our next post.

*         *          *

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 ZODIAC’s Handwriting

 

In my thesis I must explain my process of elimination regarding the Zodiac Killer’s handwriting. It is not as easy as it seems. It is embedded in the narrative that Sherwood Morrill, then documents examiner for the State, could easily spot Zodiac’s distinctive hand printing merely from his bank deposit slip.

Too many variables have happened since then to indicate Zodiac took some trouble to disguise his hand writing. The extreme angle of his “r” and the slanted nature of his “d” are examples. But more importantly there are his last few letters. He had dropped the nefarious Zodiac moniker and wrote under various handles– a “friend” or “Citizen.” Lastly, it was “The Red Phantom.”

The Badlands Letter is blatantly Zodiac’s classic printing. The SLA note is quite similar. But the Red Phantom letter– the last in his corpus– is most at odds. It is probably closest to Zodiac’s natural handwriting. The 2 stroke “Y” is there, but it could be the “k” is the normal 2 stroke “k” and not the unusual 3 stroke “k” he usually made.

RedPhantomBody-July-8-1974

The tilted “d” and the slanted “r” are gone. Zodiac’s normal writing probably doesn’t have the 2 stroke “y” either, though it is present here. His natural 3 stroke “k” is probably nonexistent in his real writing. It is this letter rather than his others that probably approximates his normal writing.

But The Red Phantom Letter betrays Zodiac even more so by the envelope. It is clearly written by the same hand that had written the envelope for the earlier SLA note.

The Zodiac’s style– seldom an address for the Chronicle. Same style of form.

Zodiac was good at imitating. The envelope to the letter to Mel Belli reveals that too. Zodiac also had shifted his printing style in a couple of his letters, like the Belli Letter. In the beginning of the letter he is careful, and he is writing in very square script, then his usual slanted and apparently hurried scrawl takes over. Below, is an example of his usual hand printing.

Zodiac-Schoolbus

The typical Zodiac letter above– where he confesses to Stine’s murder. We should not be fooled by this. We must look for something much more refined like The Red Phantom Letter.

So, as you can see, it is not so easy to truly track and be certain what was Zodiac’s natural handwriting. Looking at a suspect’s casual handwriting isn’t going to necessary reveal Zodiac to you. It won’t jump out at you.

To compound problems with my POI, one of his numerous stepfathers was a draftsman for a major steel company. Zodiac could clearly have learned a few tricks of angling his handwriting.

Since I am inspiring a hunt, inspiring hunters to follow my trail and go where only badges can go, I must lay this out, so they too are not misled by popular and false impressions of exactly what was Zodiac’s handwriting.

How smart was Zodiac truly? This is a factor that must be laid out next. Two pieces of evidence have been deemed good for eliminating a suspect. But some jurisdictions are not so certain about San Francisco’s own certainty that they have Zodiac’s prints and DNA. We must look at this next.

*         *          *

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 Face of ZODIAC

The first step in a thesis to law enforcement concerning a person of interest is often not the first thing that is discovered in an investigation. In the case of a cold case where there is no more than some composites, it is necessary to uncover just which composite (or sets) are truly the most accurate.  Naturally, this is important since it gives us the face of a perpetrator that is otherwise a phantom.

This can take some doing. For the appearance on the sketch must be interpreted according to the conditions under which the witness saw the suspect. Cases (like EAR/ONS) that have many sketches can be daunting, but there is a chance of finally averaging out the best sketches. For the case at hand– The Zodiac– there are only a few.

The last sketch is the most famous, but it is unquestionably the most inaccurate. Combined with the depth of the footprints at Lake Berryessa and the witnesses’ descriptions (including Mageau at Blue Rock Springs) we know Zodiac was quite heavyset with a big face. The circumstances of the SF witnesses (kids in their early teens) tell us that they saw Zodiac by Stine’s cab from a downward angle– thus making his face look more angular. Officer Fouke saw him in the darkness from a seated position, and thus Zodiac may have looked older. Neither could be accurate. Those witnesses who heard Zodiac’s voice knew he had a young voice.

composite-2-v1

The most useless composite imaginable. It nevertheless has become the face of The Zodiac Killer.   

We are left with only the Lake Berryessa composite, which is the first. This gives us the big face, the stylized hair, and the heavyset young man. The circumstances were daylight, prolonged view, and at least 3 adult witnesses. The circumstances indicate that this young man was probably waiting around for the 3 coeds to leave. Nearby there was a couple– and they fit Zodiac’s signature type of victim.

Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch

Probably the most accurate view of the Zodiac. This still isn’t saying much. But this at least gives us a framework– small nose, high cheekbones, heavyset, young, a distinct part on the lower left side, no widow’s peak, straight brows angling up, relatively small ears, no glasses.

Sadly, the first sketch was obscured by the sketch made by San Francisco. SF’s sketch was made during the height of the media blitz and it replaced the original sketch made under much better conditions. No one following the SF sketch could ever identify The Zodiac Killer.

One cannot base a person of interest on looks alone. Yet so many “suspects” have been put forward in the Zodiac case merely because of a slight resemblance to the SF sketch and by the fact the suspect had worn similar glasses. One starts with the circumstances of the crime and then from there determines (based on all the evidence) just what the perp looked like. Then you start looking for persons of interest.

Amazingly, in my thesis I will have to point out why this sketch is the best. I must inspire the official investigators to want to follow through and follow the trail where only badges can go.

*         *          *

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.

 

Changing Fortunes– The Zodiac Killer

When I first tread into True Crime in 2010 the case of the Zodiac Killer was quickly tanking. It had received a blast of popular interest because of the 2007 movie, but with popularity came all sorts of contention, as I understand it, amongst those who followed the case. I completely missed all that, for which I am grateful. I entered True Crime concentrating on Jack the Ripper. In 2012 I openly entered the Zodiac case investigation.

Media wise the Zodiac Killer case was far out of the limelight. A few of those involved were rather nice to me, though many did not understand my “different take” on the topic. Compared to EAR/ONS, Zodiac was nothing. EAR/ONS was fomenting and now has entered the limelight.

According to my analytics, however, The Zodiac case is returning in popularity. It could be because next year is the 50th anniversary of the case. That will always set the news off, but only next year. It is going on now, and so I must assume the interest to be cyclical. I would like to flatter myself and say it is just my “different take” that has finally caught on, but I think it truly is cyclical, and now that more return to think about the case they visit as much cyber stuff as they can on it.

Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch

They should marvel about it the case. The Zodiac swung along the spectrum from bungling perpetration to cerebral game playing. He was a truly bizarre braggart in the annals of crime. On Q Files I limit myself to purely official investigative material, my own investigation, and to those pearls of great price that others have uncovered. What Ricardo Gomez discovered in 2008 was particularly good.

So for all those following me now, just a note to remind you that The Quester Files section on Zodiac remains that “different take” because I did not follow the narrative. I limited myself to investigative material. This led me to my POI, and my investigation has refined him into the most likely candidate.

My web site has allowed me to reestablish the original foundation, so we can start all over fresh again and follow the trail of the most pompous killer in history. The popular folklore has built Zodiac up into such an arch villain, that it has undermined the  process of elimination. It has caused people (and perhaps even official investigators) to doubt the DNA profile and the bloody fingerprints in Stine’s cab—what both Toschi and Armstrong considered conclusive.

Soon I hope to move forward with the formal turn-in of my suspect “Steve Beard.” As I write the dossier (or thesis) I will share some outcroppings here, some things I have never outlined before. But I think some can be shared. The thesis will be different from HorrorScope. The thesis goes right for the throat.

*         *          *

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.