The murder spree of the self-dubbed “Zodiac Killer” who terrorized the people of San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s has gone down as one of the most notorious in American history. Even today, people are still fascinated — and for good reason. This was a killer who struck coldly and randomly, ensuring that no one in the area felt safe. The murderer (and possibly others) sent a series of taunting phone calls, letters, and coded “ciphers” to various news outlets and the police, raising the profile of the case and giving journalists a cat-and-mouse angle to exploit in their reporting. Add to that that the Zodiac Killer has still never been formally identified (according to Biography), and you have the makings for a case that stays in the public consciousness for much longer than it did the headlines.
Many aspects of the case are still hotly debated. As noted by True Crime Magazine, the researcher Edward J. Epstein claimed that the Zodiac Killer may have been multiple people (a theory that has since been debunked). There have been at least eight suspects in the case, including Arthur Leigh Allen, who wore a Zodiac-brand watch and owned the same model gun as was used in one of the attacks, and Lawrence Kane, a colleague of one of the victims whose name a retired detective investigating the case said was “embedded” in one of the Zodiac’s cryptic ciphers, according to Biography. But no solid evidence has ever come to light to definitively tie any of those suspected to the killings.
The Zodiac Killer claimed he killed 37 people
In terms of solid facts, however, investigators agree that the Zodiac Killer certainly attacked seven people in four locations in 1968 and 1969, according to Biography, killing five of them. One witness was able to give police a description of the attacker — a white, curly-haired, bespectacled male, in his late 20s or early 30s — but despite police apparently identifying a man of this profile near one of the crime scenes, no arrest was made.
Instead, even after The Zodiac’s killing spree had apparently come to an end, the police and media found themselves on the receiving end of an ongoing campaign by the killer to keep himself in the papers, threatening more murders — including an attack on a school bus, which led to heightened security throughout the area, and numerous curfews — unless his bizarre messages were printed in local newspapers.
Though The Zodiac occasionally claimed responsibility for other murders, none were officially linked to him and in 1971 he went silent. The trail went cold, and the killer was assumed to have ceased being active. However, he resurfaced once again in 1974, with a taunting letter, that included a postscript claiming his number of victims was now significantly higher, according to ZodiacKiller.com:
“Me – 37
SFPD – 0″
The hunt for The Zodiac Killer continues
50 years after the hunt for The Zodiac Killer was at its height, the still-unmasked murderer once again made headlines around the world thanks to an unexpected development concerning one of the taunting letters that had helped to make the chilling case so famous.
According to The San Francisco Chronicle, in December 2020, a team of code-breaking enthusiasts from Europe, Australia, and the U.S. finally managed to crack the code, or “cipher,” of a mysterious letter that was received by that very newspaper some 51 years ago. Unfortunately, the emergent message — which stated that the killer believed he would find himself in “paradice” [sic] after death — gave little clue as to the Zodiac’s identity.
By making such cryptic contact with the press, The Zodiac Killer effectively worked as “his own publicist,” claims Sam Blake, one of the code-breakers, in a recent interview with Salon. As such, both the FBI and a whole army of online amateur sleuths ensure the hunt for the killer won’t be given up any time soon.
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