Q-True Crime Agenda– 2017

I try and convey some of my most controversial points subtly, in a round about way. It saves us all grief should something turn out amiss in one’s future predictions, or if a deduction was minus a significant fact that mitigates it.

So much has been claimed on the web. It’s an unfiltered forum and many with great conviction have come forward to reveal, sadly, great error in their deductions. We need only recall the dogma asserted against a particular car dealer being the ZODIAC. Error is innocent, so there is no need to mock.  But it is true that most of the glaring error in naming suspects has been avoidable error.

Despite writing a book on the ZODIAC Killer, which is now except for the last chapter finished, I devoted a lot of web space to my real life investigation, including putting back the crime scenes as they had been. Lots of traveling was involved, lots of photography. In fact, I developed a love for photography. It was necessary that the ground floor be re-laid in ZODIAC because of the decades of folklore that had come to change it all.


For EAR/ONS it was necessary to reveal the ground floor so that now, as it stands at the brink of worldwide popularity, it could not be built upon by folklore.

My agenda, however, has ben a real one, and I have revealed it before. I have three targets in my sight– ZODIAC, EAR/ONS, D.B. Cooper. Each is to be solved unequivocally. My investigation will solve them or contribute significantly to absolute solution. Despite the nobility of that comment I intend to solve them.

I don’t like people who do not have a competitive spirit. So long as they don’t undermine another (that’s not really competition), competition is a healthy motivation. Out stride another. Better oneself. Progress.

You can’t get into a major university without showing the necessary enthusiasm.  Some detective proclaiming how dispassionate he is is not going to accomplish squat. Enthusiasm makes the lightbulb come on. Routine processing does not.

But the lightbulb must come on based on knowledge. For example, 50 year olds were never viable for being ZODIAC. He had a young voice and was described as between 25 and 30.

I proceed along the evidence, and even more importantly, along the clues. I’ve said it many times– clues are everything. When investigated they lead to evidence.

True crime buffs read me with a filter. They tune out dogma because publishing has so destroyed the credibility of the genre with its S&M rubbish of “solved” books by authors who reveal a lack of knowledge on the specific crimes of which they are solving and show more a desire to blame “daddy.”


Cold case makes one go back and study the history of the time. History sharpens investigative skill. Context is everything. History is not processed. It is investigated. It is uncovered. Context is discovered. Historians should tackle cold cases far more often. I think I’m the only one.  ZODIAC’s era was an exotic one.

As it stands now, in 2017 I can say with great certainty the ZODIAC Killer case will be solved. For 4 years I have tracked my suspect, and I can finally say it is time to finish it. How soon thereafter will a solution to EAR/ONS come? That I am not so sure. D.B. Cooper is a little stickier, but in 2017, free of ZODIAC, and having reduce the pursuit of EAR/ONS to knocking off or confirming one of three, I will have more time to follow the trail of a Portlander from a Canadian background. There will be more on that soon.

But ZODIAC tumbles first. Let us talk more about Steve “Beard” or Steve Wilcox in the next post. I know I am putting myself out there where I don’t want to be, but several things have to be said to distance him and the method via which I came to him than all those that have been blithely promoted as ZODIAC over the decades. He ain’t daddy. He wasn’t entirely the unsuspected. But he was the in-investigated. He was only processed. I found more. Lots more.

Embarcadero freeway

*         *          *

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.


The ZODIAC– First Analysis in HorrorScope.

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:


Vallejo                                   Napa

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

year. Goodbye.


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?

Chevy Impala


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.


An outtake from Chapter 8 of HorrorScope— “Car Door Score”– by Gian  J. Quasar


Traffic was occasional for this time of night. The corner of Clinton and Main in downtown Napa was dark except for the fuzzy light from the cones of evenly spaced streetlights. They mostly illuminated the old rock walls of Napa’s historic and oldest building. In the large parking area behind it, owner Mike Black had built the Space Age, modern Napa Car Wash. It looked more like a long fun land ride. Affixed incongruously to this historic 1900s building was a stark contrast of 1960s lathed stucco. This was narrow set of offices that managed the car wash. Here the phone booth stood by the stucco wall. The car wash itself extended back into the darkness of the parking lot until its “Space Age” girders melded into the dark silhouettes of a grove of trees.

Hal Snook arrived, parked down the street and walked to the parking lot. The police officer guarding the area confirmed he had arrived quickly and, shining his flashlight beam on the dark booth, showed it had not been disturbed. The receiver was still off the hook. Both then started shining their flashlights around, but the round beams never coasted over anything that seemed like tire tracks or footprints.

Zodiac’s score on Bryan Hartnell’s car door.



Meanwhile, Narlow and Lonergan paced the gurneys as the victims were rushed into ER, where Drs. Caulkins and Seibert started attending them immediately. Narlow and Lonergan followed in and hoped for some information. When the blankets were pulled back, all were surprised by how brutal this was. Blood soaked their clothes, trickling out from slices in the fabric. Both were in critical condition. Another doctor was being summoned. The doctors told Narlow and Lonergan to get out.

There wasn’t much for them to do but wait yet again. Lake Berryessa was about an hour away along a thin, dark country road marked only by reflectors here and there. Whatever evidence awaited them, none of it was as important as the eyewitness accounts. So they waited.

Time passes slowly in a hospital corridor. At one point the nurse told them Celia’s best friend’s name was Judy. They decided to call the college and get in touch with her. When she couldn’t be found Narlow issued an APB for her. Still they waited. Finally, the doctors said they could talk to Bryan. He was the most stable of the two. At 9:37 p.m. they were allowed a brief chat.

Hospitals are cold places. It is not a temperature that registries on the skin but in the centers of living. An x-ray room is particularly anodyne. The machine makes its noise. Voices echo in the Spartan surroundings. Nurses are always calm. Doctors are utilitarian. Bryan lay on the steel table in fear of his life, drugged up and in shock.


Where Bryan Hartnell had parked and the location that night of all the forensic investigation.

The detectives leaned over and smiled at him. Their faces were a friendlier sight than the cold white glare of the overhead light set in the ugly, dull ceiling.

Before they could say anything, a nurse peaked in. Narlow was wanted on the phone. Lonergan proceeded with asking the questions.

In such a state like this, Hartnell was only capable of repeating the most significant details. It was clear from his description that the appearance of the assailant was striking. The first detail he gave was the most disturbing. Hartnell said the man wore “a black ceremonial type hood, square at top.”

Perhaps because of his drugged and shocked state Lonergan was hesitant to believe it . . . at first.

Hartnell continued: the attacker was heavy set, about 200 to possibly even 250 pounds. Though he approached with a gun, he stabbed them with a long knife. The gun had a holster, the knife a scabbard. The gun was an automatic; the knife appeared homemade with a black handle. His clothes were dark.

Lonergan was skeptical. He later stated in his report: “It should be noted that Hartnell was very groggy and he was very difficult to interview at this time.” Lonergan wanted Hartnell interviewed again the next day if possible.

Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch
Possibly the best sketch of Zodiac, taken at Lake Berryessa. 


The flashlight beams crisscrossed for the last time. The sidewalk, parking lot, and the gutter revealed no tracks. Snook got his dusting kit and went to the phone booth. Before he entered he could see that the receiver was lying on the little shelf under the phone in the corner of the booth. He noted that the receiver faced south; mouth piece was almost under the phone and the ear piece near the edge of the shelf, pointing south. The openings faced east. In other words, the caller had held the phone with his left hand and set it down with the same hand. Not surprising since most people dial with their right hand. Moreover, given the location of the booth in relation to the street, this was more convenient for the caller’s safety. This allowed the caller to keep his eye on Main Street and the sidewalk to see who passed while he spoke.

Snook dusted the whole area and took a few dozen prints. When he finished and packed-up his kit he checked his watch. It was 10:49 p.m. He had a long drive to Lake Berryessa now.

Not only was this a long drive, it was at this time of night a deserted drive. His headlights coasted about the dark two lane road. With every bend, they swayed off sapling brush on one side and etched hillside on the other; occasionally off wood posts with little reflectors on them. Finally, on the right side there was nothing but a morass of ink. This indicated the valley lake was on his right side. He was getting closer. His headlights pushed on.


The redoubtable Snook at the scene on Knoxville Road.  

Little did Harold Snook know but that Ken Narlow and Dick Lonergan were only 20 minutes ahead. At 10:15 p.m. they had left the hospital and returned to the station to talk to Celia’s best friend, Judy, who had finally been found. The interview yielded no information on anybody who would want to kill her. She was, after all, just visiting. It was an exercise in futility, though standard procedure.

*         *          *

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.

COLD CASE RUMINATIONS– Knowing verses Proving

The introduction to this blog is on The Quester Files update page, but I think I can just continue here without confusing anybody.

Let me take this time to assure those who are most interested in EAR/ONS that I am still investigating and proceeding forward. The dearth of information has not meant there is no information. It is during my silent periods where I am being the most intense. I am strung out with both ZODIAC and EAR/ONS investigations. I’m sorry for the delays, but as I have told you all my work on these crime cases is intended to culminate in undisputed solution, not the hype that is after the manner of today’s S&M. This requires a piece of evidence in each case which law enforcement can process against what is considered conclusive. For ZODIAC, it is handwriting; for EAR/ONS it is DNA. With EAR/ONS I have opted to take the path to DNA with handwriting there as well.

Remember the sensationalism that has arisen from so many who declared they had a suspect who definitely fit that required to be ZODIAC? Then we all found out who it was, and the suspect was a ludicrous fit to begin with. The subject and my reputation is better served by first rewriting the narrative and impressing the actual facts on the reader. For 4 years I have done this with ZODIAC, creating a schism in yet another topic. Those who preferred the old narrative didn’t want to understand. Those who liked the facts stuck around, sure that at least from me they weren’t going to get some weak S&M suspect based on the old folklore, though I think most remain skeptical that anybody can solve the case in the strictest sense.

I believe it can be solved because I believe that handwriting does exist for my suspect. To what extent The ZODIAC actually disguised his handwriting I do not know. But I believe to an extent that he did. The difference between his basic slanted scrawl and the Red Phantom letter is noticeable. In his last letter he also spelled complex and long words perfectly, but in the previous ones misspelled easy ones in such a way it was obvious he was simply toying with the readers.


Military records, I believe, hold the solution through handwriting, but I have been stifled trying to get them.

Yes, I could write a commanding thesis in HorrorScope and let the accusation dangle out like an old hag’s tongue. “Remarks want you to make them; they’ve got their tongues dangling out waiting to be said,” to quote Philip Marlowe. I personally know that the lead investigators of the major cold cases that I am independently investigating have all the books written on the subject. However, I also know that most if not all have never real the books from start to finish. They have read parts of them when it is necessary, when tips come in referencing the works, but I do not think that any of them have ever collated and analyzed all that is out there. For EAR/ONS I know this to be a fact, one reason why my section on the Q Files is frequently consulted.

The upshot is that HorrorScope could lead official investigators to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on my suspect. There would be no legal barrier to them getting military documents. But if I do not do this first, how long would it take for one of only a few, if there is even that number, to read my book and proceed? Then, do they have all the data before them? If ZODIAC did disguise his handwriting do they know which is the actual handwriting and which is the fake? Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch

The subject may dominate the minds of the buffs, but it does not dominate the minds of the official investigators. They would most likely hear of my book through promotions or if someone emails them. They will skim to the end and read the name. They will contact St. Louis. They will get his file. What will happen then? Even if they agree that my suspect is the most viable fit, they will not make a public announcement.

The pathway to familial testing on DNA is, as I have often reminded, arduous. They need a lot. There’s the DNA on a couple of stamps. But is that ZODIAC’s DNA?

In fact, they need a smoking gun. They want the bullet fired and right on target. This means a dogmatic statement on my part showing the handwriting and how it fits.

I dread that I must move forward with an argumentative thesis that inspires rather than solves. I am trying one more pathway to obtaining handwriting samples on my ZODIAC suspect. I’m not sure if I should release my suspect’s picture yet, though I may release a college grad photo. It is remarkably similar to the Napa sketch above, but not exactly similar of course. How many lame suspects have been turned in because they resembled  a sketch that is merely an outline? Fortunately, it is not the sketch and the suspect’s similarity to it that ties them together as being ZODIAC. But perhaps it is time to release a clear photo.

*         *          *

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.


Following my pattern I left off HorrorScope for a couple of months so that I could forget it and so that it would then be fresh in my mind for a final edit. I am now back at it for a final edit. The Introduction below is set now to my content. It follows:

Chapter 1 “This is the Zodiac Speaking.”

Civilization had never seen such a thing before. National curiosity was now dissolving into national disdain and even national jitters. The fabric of American society was viewed as coming apart. 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, ty-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, he is the second most famous serial killer in world history, ranking only behind London’s Jack the Ripper.

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 have 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.

America seemed in a descending spiral. The young were angry and disillusioned by the preachers of change and peace being gunned down. The establishment had given them the Cold War. Their “new morality” reflected both rebellion and despair. The ramifications of more assassinations alarmed the establishment, and they were equally afraid of the strange morality of the counterculture entering the mainstream. The Manson Family murders would soon convince them that the hippie movement was a breeding ground of cult-like murder next door. Overseas, America was beset by a war with tens of thousands dead and nothing to show for it but fear it would escalate to Armageddon. The gritty, dark urban reality of the 1970s was fast approaching, a time when the apocalyptic atmosphere put news events right at one’s own front door.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, newspapers headlined with strange cryptograms. 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 intrigued the public to uncover where he’d strike next. A metropolitan area sat down to try and figure it out. When it was 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. Months before the Manson Family outrages would convince Americans the counterculture was full of zombie-like cultists, 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.

With each new victim there came a jubilant boast in the form of a letter with a tally of victims. Sometimes a cipher was included, supposedly containing more information vital to unraveling his identity. 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. His murder spree lasted for only a short time, but his love for terror kept him writing these poison pen letters. 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.


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.

Who was this killer? Why did he suddenly stop? It wasn’t from penitence. For years he continued to write those bragging letters. He has been silent over 40 years now. It has been so long that Zodiac’s era and therewith the context of his crimes has been obscured by a folklore that has turned him into a master villain in the likeness of Dr. Moriarty, the nemesis of the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes.

Yet the truth is quite different, though tenuous to extract. Those who view him 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 sport jacket. Strangely, he then added more incongruity by wearing high rim Air Force Wing Walker shoes, standard issue for cadets at Lackland AFB 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. For the most part Zodiac‘s face was the mantel of the night, and from behind the bright splatter of a flashlight he fired away at his surprised victims. Other than the carnage he left behind, we have no other clue to his character than the ego he created in print.

But his true image tells us he was not the hippie cultist. The context of his crimes also tells us he was the antithesis of what he marketed. Despite declaring man to be the ultimate—“the most dangerous”— game, Zodiac was hardly the great white hunter in the bush. He only had the courage, if that word can be used, to pump full of holes kids at lovers’ lanes. As killers go, he wasn’t even very adroit. Three of his victims lingered before expiring. Two survived to go on with life as best they could. The reality of The Zodiac Killer was shot up cars and kids at remote petting spots.

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 clumsy 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.

It would be equally unwise, and an even greater error, to think that the bland truth behind the boastful façade diminishes the evil that was Zodiac. On the contrary, it confirms his arrogance. The true image is all the more contemptable. The truth 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 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. His victims were the résumé by which he kept a metropolis in fear for years. 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.”

Even Zodiac’s expressed motive for killing people— aside from enjoying it— was completely isolated from the times. He declared no moral indignation on wayward youth, no hint of the bitterness or revenge of a jilted lover, no indication they even deserved it, only that his victims would be his slaves in his afterlife.

But most unwise of all would be for us to believe there is any easy answer as to what motivated the Zodiac. For his only slaying in daytime he hid his round 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.

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 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 led 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. “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.

ZODIAC Chronology

Hindsight it is said has 20/20 vision — yes, probably, if you are looking!

When it comes to cold cases I’m afraid that much gets lost because there is no look back at the context around key events. This is especially true of the ‘Zodiac’ Killer case despite the fact it is within reachable history. Devotees look back and they see the villainous media vulture’s reputation in place long before it really was.

By the time of the Lake Berryessa attack on September 27, 1969, The ZODIAC identified himself only once  as “The Zodiac” and this in only a quick reply in answer to Jack Stiltz’s doubt and subsequent request for more information. This was the only time ZODIAC quickly replied. He spent quite a bit of time fomenting his publicity game, but he knew it was to no purpose if he could not prove that he, the letter writing ZODIAC was not one and the same with the killer. Had Stiltz not questioned this, ZODIAC would have left it with the three simultaneous confession letters and his oblique warning he was going to continue to kill.


The area of the road where Bryan Hartnell had parked.

Doubt, however, still remained after ZODIAC’s August 4, 1969, reply to Stiltz in the Examiner.

Near two months later and still no attack from the ZODIAC. He had faded from the news. His name really didn’t stick with anybody. He was known more as the “Code Killer” if and when his case was referred to. He could still strike again, of course. He had taken lots of time between his first and second kills, so the law knew he was still out there. Lake_Berryessa_Car_door_at_crime_scene

After he attacked at Lake Berryessa, he walked back up the hillside and lettered the side of victim Bryan Hartnell’s door. A ledger of death, yes. But the ultimate purpose must have been quite utilitarian. He finally dispelled any doubt that he the letter writing ZODIAC and the killer were one and the same. Here at the scene of a crime there was proof in the form of his writing.

This was all ion preparation for his most crucial attack yet– in San Francisco, the heart of the Bay Area. In consequence of his writing on the car door, his threat letters had to be taken seriously. Without proving he was one and the same as the killer, the autumn of angst that would soon follow would not have been possible.

*         *          *

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.

Fitting in ZODIAC– Lake Berryessa’s Stocky Stalker

The desire for a solid link to uncover ZODIAC’s identity has caused many to highlight what often appear as irrelevancies. I shan’t do that here, but I think we need to draw some lines in order to connect a few dots about his movements at Lake Berryessa.

Lake Berryessa is so important because ZODIAC was seen without his hood a few times (presumably anyway) and in daylight. It is our first and perhaps only clear view of him.

Before this time Vallejo PD had nothing but Mike Mageau’s groggy account that ZODIAC was a heavyset guy, between 25 and 30 and he had a big face. He was not blubbery fat but he had a paunch. So he was a pretty stocky, beefy gorilla.

Let’s go back to a Kodachrome world.

On the afternoon of September 27, 1969, three coeds had just parked along Knoxville Road. It’s a large turnout on the right, overlooking the bowl of the valley lake. They are just on their way down the trail in the cleft when a silver blue 66 or 67 Chevy Impala pulls in from the south.  They are parked parallel to the road, but on the edge of the turnout where it overlooks the descent down to the “Beach.” They had pulled into the turnout from the north. Therefore the trunk of their car faced north.

The Impala passes their car. The driver stops, backs up and parks just as his bumper is close to their rear bumper. This doesn’t sound like a man who wants his license observed from the road.

The three coeds see him. They note the type of car and that the driver appeared a bit young to be driving such a car. They continue down to the “beach,” the striated dirt area that marks past waterlines at the lake. About 30 minutes later he appears at the tree line. He is watching them, but when they look he looks away.

ZODIAC didn’t attack women alone. He attacked couples. So if this was ZODIAC prowling about why did he linger? They were not alone. There was another couple down there: Denise Brown and Wayne Haight. The coeds knew them from Pacific Union College and had recognized his car in the lot across the road. They were laying out further away.

The coeds described the young heavyset man as not unhandsome. He was beefy, small ears, full, dark hair, perhaps stylized, parted on the left. He wore dark trousers and a dark sweater type top.  After some 45 minutes or so he was gone. Before leaving he had passed about 20 feet from them.

Lake_Berryessa_Suspec sketch

Was he waiting for them to leave so that Denise and Wayne would be alone? If so he got impatient and left.

Whatever the motive for his actions, the coeds found him suspicious. He had waited about 20 minutes in his car before even coming down and watching from the tree line. When they finally went back to the turnout his car was gone.

Much later that afternoon around 6:30 p.m. Dr. Clifford Rayfield and his 16 year old son David are north of the area where Bryan Hartnell and Celia Sheppard would soon be attacked by The ZODIAC. In fact, they were 4 lagoons north of “Zodiac Island.” This would mean they were one lagoon south of where the coeds had sunbathed.


Zodiac Island, the scene of the attack, as seen from McKenzie point to the south. Picture by me, taken August 6, 2012.

There are two different accounts here. The original account was given at the Spanish Flats coffee shop the next day to Dick Lonergan and Ken Narlow. Dr. Rayfield said they were just coming down the hillside when his son David saw a stocky 5 foot 10 inch man walking on the hillsides. When he saw his son he turned around and walked south up the hillside. This man was dressed in dark trousers and a dark long sleeved shirt.


The hillside around the lake. This is the area where Zodiac came down to attack the couple. It is similar to the area where David Rayfield had seen the stocky man earlier.

Narlow discounted the sighting because  Rayfield said that they had seen no other car parked along the road. The attack occurred around 6:30 p.m. and Narlow didn’t believe this man on foot could get to the location of the attack which was 4 lagoons to the south.

However, years later David Rayfield spoke with Robert Graysmith. He said his father never saw the man, but at the time was fishing at the lake while he wandered around with his .22  rifle. It is then that he saw the man. When the man saw his rifle with an intimidating scope, he turned around and left.

This now makes it sound as the Rayfields had been down there for a while when David had his sighting.

If David is more accurate this would explain why they saw no other car parked up there. The reason why Rayfield had not seen a car is that ZODIAC had parked after them and was coming down to see who the occupants were of their car. When he saw a 16 year old with a gun, he knew these were not viable targets.

It could be that Dr. Rayfield just hadn’t noticed the other cars. He had also said that there was a man down there with his sons shooting B-B guns. Yet Rayfield had not seen their car, and they must have come by one. He did not report seeing Hartnell’s car on the side of the road, though he must have passed it. The stocky man had to come by car, and very possibly Rayfield had not seen it or the man had parked after the Rayfields got there.

Dr. Rayfield’s account the next day does not square up completely with the facts, and it is possible that his son’s recollection is more accurate.


Looking down Knoxville Road, where Bryan had parked his Karmann Ghia.

There is another tidbit. ZODIAC thought the attack location was about 2 miles north of park headquarter. It is, in fact, no way that far. But had he come back along the road from the north, after seeing who the occupants of Rayfield’s car was, he might not really have known how far north he was anymore of the HQ. Anybody coming from the south, who had just recently passed the HQ would not think the attack location was as much as 2 miles north.

Maybe yea, maybe nay, but what we do have are similar descriptions of a man who was still prowling the hillsides in the same general area hours apart. Minutes after David saw the man, Bryan and Celia are attacked by a heavyset man in dark, pleated trousers and a hood over a dark thin windbreaker type jacket. This most definitely was The ZODIAC.

*         *          *

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.