Paul Stine: A Victim of Opportunity

[Editor: Exactly 43-years ago from the time of this article's publication, the Zodiac Killer murdered his last definite victim, Paul Stine, at the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets in San Francisco. In honor of this somber anniversary, Zodiac Revisited submits the following article, written by our always-thoughtful contributor Michael Kelleher.]

Paul StineAlthough, at first glance, this article may seem to address a rather narrow aspect of the Zodiac saga, it has implications that can impact the unsolved mystery on a much broader basis. The question posed here is a simple one: did Paul Stine know his killer or was he a victim of opportunity? Also, what can we learn about Stine's movements on the night of his murder that might shed some light on this question?

First, a brief word about sources, and an acknowledgment. There are many excellent documents, diagrams, and photographs available on the Internet that speak to the Stine murder. Copies of official documents are also available, such as the Pelissetti Report, which provide a wealth of background information. Many of these were used in preparing this article and the reader is encouraged to hunt them down and study what is available. As horrific as it was, the Stine murder remains an important element in the Zodiac story, and it does so in many ways that are not immediately obvious. Also, I would like to acknowledge the work of Ray Grant on the Riverside Timeline. I've discussed his material elsewhere on this website. It was his method that prompted me to look at the Stine case in a similar way.


The Yellow Cab Company was a fixture in San Francisco decades before Paul Stine was murdered. The company was in its heyday in the 1960s and well into the 1970s before it went through bankruptcy and reorganization. Yellow Cab still exists today but in a different structure and as a co-operative operation. However, at the time Paul Stine worked for Yellow Cab, their taxis were ubiquitous, especially in the downtown areas of the city. Fares were reasonable, courtesy was the order of the day, and cabbies were well known for their intimate familiarity with San Francisco. Although there were a few competitors at the time, Yellow Cab was, by far, the biggest game in town.

The cabbies worked hard for their tips, which could be significant if the driver was able to maximize his fares on short trips in a city that was relatively small in terms of geographical area. Hailing a cab in any of the downtown areas was common and easy. This was especially true of what was known as the Theater District or near Union Square, Chinatown, the Financial District or any of the other bustling areas of the inner city.

Jobs were relatively easy to come by in those days, and driving a cab allowed a good deal of flexibly if, like Paul Stine, your days were busy with other matters. That Stine became a Yellow Cab driver is not surprising, given his educational pursuits and other demands. That Stine would want to work nights and weekends seems obvious. That's where the action was to be found, particularly shuttling fares back and forth from the downtown areas.

Paul Stine's Timeline

Fortunately, we can assemble a reasonably accurate timeline for Paul Stine's movements on the night of his murder. While reading through this timeline, it's important to remember that a cabbie could not predict his movements with any certainty. His movements were dictated by the demands of his fares and the occasional radio dispatch from the Yellow Cab operations center. So, once Stine set foot into his cab that night, he was not typically able to control his movements beyond the choice of routes to his destination, which was not great in a city like San Francisco. His travels would be dictated by events and opportunity. With that in mind, here is a reconstruction of Paul Stine's movements that night:

20:45 Time approximate. Stine reports to work at the Yellow Cab Company. His arrival time is later confirmed by Yellow Cab to investigators. Upon his arrival, Stine is given a waiting fare from Pier 64, San Francisco, to the San Francisco Airport.

20:55 Time approximate. Stine arrives at Pier 64 to pick up his fare. The driving time from the Yellow Cab garage to Pier 64 was no more than 9 minutes using the most likely route. At the time, Pier 64 was an “open pier” that accommodated houseboats and other vessels with occupants, a small but vibrant artist colony, and minor peripheral businesses (mostly cottage businesses). Yellow cab calls from this location were not unusual and customers typically waited at the entrance to Pier 64 for a quick pick-up by arriving taxis.

21:20 Time approximate. Stine arrives at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to drop off his fare. At this point, he has two options: 1) to wait for a return fare to take him back to San Francisco, or 2) to return directly to San Francisco to take advantage of the busy evening demands for a taxi in the downtown area. Stine likely noticed that the queue for available taxis was long and that he would be sitting idle for some time, waiting for a fare. He would have decided to return to San Francisco alone and head for the Theater District/Downtown to maximize his chance of fares. The quickest route from the Airport in those days was via Highway 101, with an average travel time of 21-25 minutes, depending upon traffic. The return trip would use the same route and, despite a different destination, would take the same travel time.

21:45 Latest. Stine arrives at the Theater District/Downtown, probably at Mason and Geary streets, the heart of the busiest part of the city, where taxis would most likely be needed. He immediately receives a radio dispatch to 500 Ninth Avenue. This address is in the Richmond District of San Francisco, about 3.3 miles from his current location with a traveling time of about 13 minutes. However, before he could begin the trip, Stine was hailed by a single male on foot who requested a destination of Washington and Maple Streets. Although this was not the most convenient direction for his planned destination, it was close enough that he could deliver his fare, cut across city streets, and still arrive on Ninth Avenue within a reasonable response time.

21:57 Latest. Stine drives past Washington and Maple to Cherry Street, stops his taxi, and is shot and killed. His most likely route to this destination would have been via Geary to California, to Parker, to Maple, which is a distance of 3 miles and a travel time of no more than 12 minutes, probably slightly less.

22:10 Stine is pronounced dead at the crime scene.

What Can We Learn?

Given that Stine's movements were relatively certain that night, it seems unlikely that he made any “off the radar” trips or stops for personal reasons. There simply wasn't enough time for that to happen. He was also in his first hour of work and wanted to be available to as many potential fares as possible. This accounts for his attraction to the downtown area where he knew, from experience, there would be a good deal of activity at that time of night. Trips meant tips, so the more trips the better for the driver.

The fact that Stine positioned himself in the Theater District was a decision of opportunity based upon experience. He had already been on a relatively long trip from the Airport without a fare, so his decision made good sense. It seems impossible that a potential attacker would know Stine's location that evening since the driver, himself, made that decision based upon an event he could not have foreseen (the Pier 64, Airport fare, and return trip).

The most likely scenario is that Stine was in the wrong place at the wrong time, by sheer happenstance. The unpredictable nature of the events from his check-in time at Yellow Cab that evening led him to his unfortunate situation without any additional planning.

Was Stine hailed by someone he knew, who then turned out to be his killer? The forensics of the murder cannot validate this point and there is no reason to make this assumption. The fact that Stine picked up a random hail with the intent of filling the fare on his way to a dispatch call not only makes sense from a cabbie's point of view but makes financial sense. There is no compelling reason to go beyond these relatively simple facts, and Stine's understandable actions.

So, it seems that the issue of whether or not Paul Stine knew his killer can be addressed simply by looking closely at his actions and movements that night. Stine was a victim of opportunity. There is nothing in the case that is of significant weight to come to a different conclusion.

This of course, raises a much broader question: were Zodiac's other victims also opportunistic or was Paul Stine an exception? It's a fascinating and lingering question that has been addressed in many ways by many individuals. Until the case is solved and the results made public, each reader must come to his or her own conclusions. In the meantime, the most persistent unresolved issue surrounding the Stine murder is why Zodiac selected such a precise location for his attack. What was it about this location that was so crucial to the crime, that held so much meaning for the killer?


  1. Michael Butterfield 12 October, 2012 at 00:49 Reply

    Thank you for this studious and informative post. I believe the facts indicate that Paul Stine was a victim of opportunity, and this has always been one of the more disturbing truths about the Zodiac crimes. If there had been even the slightest change in the events leading up to the meeting between the killer and his victim, the Zodiac may have hailed a different cab and Paul Stine would have been alive the next morning to read about the murder in the newspaper. Regarding the final question, I believe that the location was significant to the killer and that Stine was directed to that location for a specific reason. Again, thanks for addressing this issue. Hopefully, the day will come when reports on the sad anniversary of Paul Stine’s murder will include the fact that his killer had finally been identified.

    • Michael D. Kelleher 12 October, 2012 at 14:03

      Thanks for your kind comments, Michael. I agree with what you wrote. The Stine murder deserves a lot more research in terms of its symbolic meaning to the entire case. I’m sure you know that there are many theories floating around, some good, some not so good. More are on the way. I can’t help but feel that a good understanding of this crime goes a long way to understanding the killer and his overall motive. It’s a sad kind of anniversary but, I believe, a very important one.


  2. morf13 12 October, 2012 at 16:34 Reply

    Good piece on Stine Mike.

    Mike B wrote:

    “I believe that the location was significant to the killer and that Stine was directed to that location for a specific reason”

    I agree with Mike on that point. I would not be surprised if he had a safe place to escape to quickly after his attack, maybe he was housesitting, or had Family there, etc

    I am up in the air regarding whether Zodiac knew Stine or not. Odds are, he didn’t. But if you look at some of the possibilities that arise, it makes me ponder it a bit. Did Z really sit in the front, and if so, was that his standard practice for any passenger? If Stine was really getting ready to start a part time job at the SF Chron, could he have come into contact with Zodiac there? Also, you have Stine’s Brother, who had lived in Vallejo. For me, we really do not have a direct link between Zodiac & Stine, but then again, since we dont know who Z is, we cant really know if he knew Stine or vice versa, but again, just going by the fact there is no solid link, he likely was a random victim

  3. G Gluckman 13 October, 2012 at 07:03 Reply

    Hi Mr K,

    An excellent piece, in my opinion, and an excellent application of method. (Appreciation to Mr Grant as well, as you acknowledged earlier.)

    (FWIW, I also agree with Mr Butterfield that the location was significant and that Stine was directed to that location for a specific reason. I have theorized on my website that it was because the location itself was a clue to his identity. By my theory, his seeming mistake about which street corner the murder occurred at was also a part of the clue. I acknowledge that my larger theory is “in abeyance”, but I do think my theory about the location of the Stine murder is interesting and worthy of note on its own since it offers a unique explanation of the error about the street corner. I won’t say more about it here, however, as it is slightly off topic.)

    Very pleased with your post, and I think your conclusions are likely correct.

    Thank you,


    • Michael D. Kelleher 13 October, 2012 at 08:54

      Thanks, G. For those who haven’t yet read G’s Zodiac Mountain Theory (ZMT), I think it’s worth spending a few moments of one’s time. He has put together an interesting series of thoughts and, in my opinion, has been pretty darned objective about his own work, which is not common among Zodiac theorists. As to the location of Stine’s murder, I also believe that it is highly significant using both streets (Maple and Cherry) and in the way that Zodiac used them. There is much to be studied and disclosed here.

      Zodiac developed an interesting and powerful use of symbols during the course of his mayhem. It appeared not only in his letters, cards, and messages but also in his movements and actions. You can go back across the span of the canonical crimes and see this symbol development in action. At some point, I want to write a bit more about this aspect of the case but, I fear, it would be much broader than the scope of an article.

      At any rate, those who put a high value on the symbology of the location of the Stine murder are, in my opinion, going down the right path in trying to understand the killer.


  4. Zodiac Revisited 13 October, 2012 at 09:34 Reply

    I interpret the discrepancy in the street names is an indication of premeditation. In particular, we know:

    • Stine was given a destination of Washington and Maple.
    • The killer murdered Stine one block beyond the given destination, at the intersection of Washington and Cherry.
    • In his letter, the killer referred to the murder scene as “over by Washington St. + Maple St.”

    These facts suggest that:

    • The killer was not especially familiar with the streets in the area of the murder.
    • He planned the murder based on the location of “Washington and Maple.”
    • For reasons unknown, he instructed Stine to drive one block past the destination.
    • When it came time to write the letter, the killer did not feel compelled to look up the name of the Street that was one block past Maple.

    That’s my take…

    • Richard Grinell 11 December, 2015 at 05:58

      The discrepancy of the destination could also indicate a lack of premeditation.
      Imagine the Zodiac Killer entered the taxicab in good faith with no intent to commit murder, but somewhere en route an altercation or argument arose, enough to flip the already unstable and questionable character of Zodiac into murder mode. If he had given his destination, close to his home residence at Washington and Maple, but now was intent on an unplanned crime, logically he would order the taxicab driver away from his own doorstep, and chose to divert the taxicab one block further, in essence taking the heat away from where he lived.

    • Richard Grinell 11 December, 2015 at 06:05

      I am not saying I believe this was the case, but if anyone claims this was a random, spur of the moment killing, then surely they must believe he gave the original destination of Washington and Maple in good faith, bolstering its significance.

    • Michael Cole
      Michael Cole 13 December, 2015 at 17:52

      I suppose it’s a possibility. But, one block does not seem like much of a misdirection. Plus, in this case the killer would surely know the street was “Cherry.” Mentioning “Maple” in the letter would seem to reduce the effectiveness of his misdirection.

  5. Bayarea60's 13 October, 2012 at 19:26 Reply

    So interesting….The one area I wish we could resolve without any doubt, and one I think can still be done, is the absolute actions of the 2 principal cops involved. The official version, is just not possible. P & F answering the same dispatch, given where F says he was when the call came through, just doesn’t work. P has stated something different from what he wrote in the police report. The timing no matter how you spin just doesn’t work.
    So many interesting thoughts/theories. With so many out there, you would think one has to be pretty close.

  6. Alex L 19 December, 2012 at 07:25 Reply

    I have seen it asked on many forums recently, why Stine ended up at Washington & Cherry St, when his fare (Zodiac) had asked to go to Washington & Maple St. I think its quite clear why Zodiac picked W’ton & Mple St as his destination. Zodiac had obviously planned this crime and his escape route. The corner of W’ton & Mple St allows for a quick escape into Julius Kahn Playground in the Presidio. He’d only have to walk down Mple St turn right on Jackson, and walk a sort distance downhill before turning left into the Presidio. I think that upon Stine and Z’s arrival at W’ton & Mple, there were people in the vacinity, or maybe cars at the intersection and forced Z to abandon his plan and asked Stine to go 1 block further to W’ton & Cherry. This meant Z would have far more distace to travel down Jackson St before reaching the Presidio. I believe Z chouse & intended to murder Stine and W’ton & Maple because he had planned his escape route into the presidio close by. Unforseen circumstances forced Z to abandon the murder at that location and had to direct Stine one block furter to W’ton and Cherry St. Having walked te distance (using google maps street view) from both W’ton and Maple, and then W’ton and Cherry, the extra distance wouldn’t be a great deal for every day activities like dog walking, but the extra distance for someone who just commited murder and is attempting to get to Julius Kahn Playground, is quite considerable.

  7. Alex Lewis 21 December, 2012 at 16:54 Reply

    Based on the price showing on the cabs meter when it came to its final stop at Washington and Cherry Steets, it has been determined that based on the area we know Stine was in when he picked up his fare, that Stine picked up the Zodiac somewhere in the vacinity if Mason & Geary Streets. Zodiac suspect Lawrence Kane resided at 217 Eddy Street. 217 Eddy St is exactly 0.4 of a mile away from Mason & Geary, a six minute walk distance, and 2 minute drive. In fact, Eddy & Mason Street intersection is only minutes away from Mason and Geary. All Kane had to do was walk to the end of his street and and he was on Mason Steet!

  8. Alex Lewis 3 January, 2013 at 01:01 Reply

    Another ‘concidence’ regarding Lawrence Kane. We know that every one that spoke to Zodiac, be it via telephone or in person, all described him as speaking in a monotone (Via telephone Nancy Slover & David Slaight heard Zodiac, and Bryan Hartnell in person) Hartnell elaborated on Zodiac distinct voice by saying it had a cadence to it (Cadence: A distinctive slow or rhythm). Lawrence Kane was involved in a serious car crash in 1962, in whih he suffered a severe brain injury. A common symptom of brain damage is Apraxia of Speech disorder (AOS). “Apraxia of speech (AOS) is a disorder of the brain that effects the speech pattern and a persons ability to string words together. AOS can be caused by any type of brain damage affecting the speech controls in the brain. Brain damage can occur as a result of stroke, head injury, tumor, or a progressive illness affecting brain functioning. Treatment for AOS. Speech Therapy. The speech therapist will usually help the person to slow the rate of their speech. This is to help them speak sounds easily in words and to pronounce them as accurately as possible. This may result in the speech sounding ‘robotic’, as if one is speaking in a monotone. Two symptoms of Apraxia of Speech Disorder are, 1) Incorrect inflections or stresses on certain sounds or words. 2) Excessive use of nonverbal forms of communication”. In 1965, Kane’s psychological evaluation concluded he was ‘Losing the ability to control self gratification’. When Zodiac wrote to Melvin Belli asking ‘Please help me’, he stated that he was afraid that he may ‘Lose all control again and take his ninth and tenth victom’.

  9. Johndoe 5 January, 2014 at 19:39 Reply

    Though Paul does seem like a victim of circumstance. We must also value the placement of his body/vehicle in reference to other Z crimes. Wether you believe Z was a crazed lunatic or a sociopathic genius, we must take into account his expertise in the areas of code mapping (the cipher may not all the way be cracked), his understanding of police procedure (he bragged about using airplane glue on his fingers to obscure his fingerprints), his understanding of geometry as the symbol he uses to identify himself in almost every letter is used to chart maps as well as to mark the borders of design in art. He (or they cause who knows really) likely never did anything without ascribing some meaning to it. P.S. Whatever happened to Mr R Grant? His website is gone.

  10. regret 21 January, 2014 at 15:07 Reply

    I tend to disagree that there is any major symbolism at work here. IMHO, the location of the murder is only significant in that he wanted to score a kill in the big city. He clearly scouted the area prior to the crime and satisfied himself that it would be relatively safe and he could make good his escape. While he may have been unfamiliar with exact street names, I think it is very likely he knew his way around that specific area and had his escape route(s) planned out.

    All that preparation and he still almost got caught. But for some bungled communication, he’d be in prison (or dead) right now. I think -that- knowledge, and the fact he doesn’t appear motivated by uncontrollable urges (ala Green River), is what prompted him to either stop killing or stop drawing attention to his activities. Maybe one day we’ll know for sure.

Leave a reply