Reconsidering The Confession

The Confession

It's good to see fresh work being offered on the possible Riverside connection first brought to light by Paul Avery so many years ago. The murder of Cheri Jo Bates remains a mystery, whether or not you believe it had any connection with Zodiac's later activities. This crime, unto itself, certainly deserves the renewed attention it is now receiving.

I know that my thinking on the Bates murder has evolved and changed over the years. What once seemed clear, now seems uncertain. What was once, now a bit less so. I'm still uncertain about the role this murder may have played in the overall Zodiac saga. In fact, I'm more uncertain now than before. murky

So, I would like to pose a few questions about one aspect of the Bates murder, the Confession Letter. These questions seem important to the crime, as well as to later events. They also strike at the heart of why my thinking about the murder has changed over the years. Perhaps sharper, fresher minds than my own can provide better answers.

If you need a quick refresher on the Confession Letter, you can find it here: Zodiac Killer Letters.

Was the Confession Letter actually written by the victim's killer?

At first blush, it's easy to think so. However, it may not have been written by her killer. By the time this letter surfaced, most of the details of the crime were widely known, although with some obvious inaccuracies. The portion of the letter that addresses the “facts” of the murder could easily have been gathered from what was widely assumed or rumored about the crime, mostly from media sources. Again, the accuracy of some of this information remains questionable. One obvious exception is the telephone call made shortly after the murder. Supposedly, this was not known to the public until much later. On the face of it, this would tend to make us believe the letter was surely written by the killer. However, mention of the telephone call is not a clincher. It could have been known to individuals closer to the investigation. And, as we all know, it's very hard to keep a secret for very long. In fact, the actual circumstances surrounding that alleged call are still unresolved. The bottom line is that we cannot know, for certain, that this letter was actually written by the victim's killer. It could have been written by someone else and for an entirely different purpose (see below). The fact that there were no similar murders in the immediate area prior to the Bates crime, and none shortly following, may indicate that the writer's bragging about previous and planned activities were not legitimate but, rather, designed to instill fear in the public. My thinking on this question has changed over the years. Today, I would say that there is at least a 50-50 chance that the letter was not written by the killer.

What was the purpose of the Confession Letter?

This seems clear enough. The writer wanted to taunt and threaten the public by staking a claim to Riverside's most infamous crime. He took advantage of the pervasive public fear and uncertainty. By his words and tone, the writer made it clear that this kind of crime could happen to anyone at any time. By today's standards, one could consider this an act of terrorism, with the general public set as the primary target. The writer waited for a sufficient period of time during which the media was in a frenzy about the murder, with reports and rumors flying everywhere. As the frenzy began to ebb, and as an important anniversary of the crime occurred, he wrote a potent missive that he was sure would reach a wide audience. His next victim would be the public at large, not a specific individual.

What can we learn about the writer of the Confession Letter?

Not much. He was probably male, probably Caucasian, probably between the ages of 20 and 35, probably educated but not with an advanced degree, and probably lived in the area. Even much of this is guesswork. It would be easy to move this analysis deeper, and with more detail. However, in the end, it would still be guesswork. The bottom line is that we cannot learn much from the letter, other than the writer's intent. That seems obvious.

How much of the Confession Letter is factual, reliable?

This is a difficult question. Most of the “factual” information in the letter could have been gathered from local media reports and other sources immediately following the murder. Much of the letter is designed to threaten the public, with a special emphasis on women. So, there is a mix of information, some apparently factual and designed to convince the reader of the writer's special knowledge, some designed to instill fear. In other words, it could easily have been written by an individual skilled in the art of manipulation and subject to intense self-interest but not necessarily with any direct involvement in the crime. I do not consider much of this letter to be factual or reliable, with the possible exception of his reference to a telephone call made after the murder, an event that was apparently withheld from the public until much later. However, even this tidbit is in question. Overall, I consider the reliability factor low. The real value of the letter is to be found in the writer's intent and his method of working the media (and law enforcement) for attention.

Does the Confession Letter provide a reliable link to the activities of the Zodiac Killer? If so, how?

No, not a reliable link. However, by inference and style, it is easy enough to make that connection. There are a few “turns of the phrase” that remind us of Zodiac. The overall intent and style is also consistent with Zodiac. The preparation of the envelopes is a tantalizing clue. However, the crime itself is not sufficiently consistent with Zodiac's later crimes, with the possible exception of Lake Berryessa. Even in this latter case, the links can be easily broken. There is not quite enough to make a solid link with Zodiac but there are enough consistencies to make it a real possibility. Again, my thinking on this question has evolved over the years. I would, today, not dismiss the possibility that this letter was written by the person we would later know as the Zodiac Killer. In fact, I would not argue with a 50-50 possibility.

And the bottom line? At the moment, I don't see one. However, the fact that this event is now being re-worked by others gives us reason to be optimistic. Perhaps we will find more definitive answers before too long.


  1. morf13 29 August, 2012 at 17:56 Reply

    Let’s look at what the confession letter DOES NOT state.

    The writer mentions NOTHING about losing a watch in the scuffle, though a watch was found at the scene. The fact they found a watch WAS PUBLISHED in the paper very soon after her murder. So why did he not mention it?

    The confession letter author also states that Cheri went like a lamb, very little struggle. In reality, she put up quite a fight, and scratched her attacker to the point, DNA evidence was obtained from her finger nails.

    So, this leaves us with more questions than answers. Did the writer of the confession letter not mention these facts because he wasnt really the killer, and didnt know all his facts about the Bates case, or did he fail to mention these things because he was afraid that they would lead back to him?

    • Howard 21 July, 2015 at 18:21

      Just a point as to the ‘struggle’ of Cheri Bates. What the writer says is accurate. He could have been more clear, but he was not a professional writer.

      There are two parts to the scene or her reactions. He starts from the end or that she is now “battered and dead” then goes forward.
      First, he describes her condition after he attacked her or that she was “battered.”

      Now forward to the beginning or the ‘approach,’ and his ruse (“I then offered to help.”)of trying to start her car that he had earlier sabotaged. He says he can’t start it, but that he can give her a “lift” home. So they are next “walking” towards the alley and enter it. Now he comments as to part two as it were, “Miss Bates was stupid[she fell for the ruse]. She went[walking towards the alley] to the slaughter[in the alley]like a lamb.” She did not put up a struggle.” Thus far true as she willingly walked alongside(police found side by side footprints) her killer to a dark alley with no one around. No ‘struggle’-he did have to force her or ‘struggle'(as many abductors do with their victims) with her to he his appointed place of death.
      Then he jumps backwards to how this situation arose by saying he sabotaged her engine.
      Then in the alley everything then changes he attacks her by trying to “cover her mouth”and as RSPD believes choke her and then the real ‘struggle’ occurs in the dark alley as he seems to have planned.
      He says he ‘put up a struggle’ and that it was fun or a “ball.” Then in gruesome detail he describes how he killed Cheri in a most violent manner.
      So she did ‘not put of a struggle’ at the beginning up until they got to that alley and he freely says she then “died hard” after a protracted struggle. So it’s true as he says if you follow his references to time sequence and the past and proleptic comments in context and how he writes, etc.;it is true as “she WENT” willingly ‘like a sheep’ TO the alley to her “slaughter.”

      So if the writer wasn’t her killer and was pretending to be using known published facts then he was doing a very poor job of it as ( I believe he was her killer) he knew from media reports and TV news she had ‘put up a terrible struggle!’
      So no contradiction.

      I think the reason he didn’t mention the military Timex was because it was his and perhaps he may have been careful to keep silent in that it could be traced to him in some way.

    • Bayarea60s 21 October, 2015 at 01:03


      Excellent breakdown of the letter. I’ve made that very mistake myself. How could she go so easily and then put up such a fight? Sounds like he’s contradicting himself, but he really isn’t when you put the writing in perspective. Excellent point…..

    • Michael Cole
      Michael Cole 21 October, 2015 at 19:03

      Much of your description is similar to the way I see it also.

      Another thing that I think is in play here is that the killer is not being truthful about the timeline, and possibly other details. The description feels like a deceptive simplification of the real events, modified to make the killer seem omnipotent.

    • Dudley 22 October, 2015 at 04:44

      I think the writer of the confession was Zodiac but I doubt he was the murderer. By all evidence he was a reader and one of the things he probably read was police magazines. The confession reads like something straight out of one of those lurid 50’s/60’s pieces. This is also where I think he got his prisoner from Montana rap at Lake Berryessa. There had been a major riot at Deer Lake Prison in Montana in 1959 that got national attention.

      Also, I believe the murderer tipped his hand as to what his first murder was when he deviated from using the same stamps he always used (which, if you add them up most likely came from a single book of stamps) on the letter to Melvin Belli which had a stamp showing a view of the earth from the moon and the inscription “In the beginning God…” The Apollo 8 mission launched on December 21, 1968 and the Lake Herman Road murders took place late on the night of December 20, 1968. There must have been a reason for switching stamps on this one letter and that specific stamp and I think it was to commemorate his first murders and feed his narcissism (“In the Beginning God..”).

      I believe Zodiac’s manipulation tactics began with taking credit for this murder and eventually escalated to doing his own murders. I doubt, though, he did many as the bold way he committed the few he did made it statistically likely he was going to be caught in the act or shortly after had he kept going.

  2. Tahoe27 30 August, 2012 at 09:59 Reply

    I cannot remember if the Cnfession letter was published in the newspapers in Riverside? I hope not. Publishing that stuff was just fuel for “his” fire. Whoever he was. As it was with Zodiac, the newspapers helped spred the fear. If Zodiac, or any of these guys were a true killer, they’d kill people regardless.

    Heck, it could have been typed by a parent trying to scare their daughter into staying home! Ok..probably not, but…

  3. Bayarea60's 30 August, 2012 at 18:50 Reply

    Excellent discussion from Mike on down. Of course I don’t know anything, other than it took some force to break that watchband, and the wrist would be an area that Cheri Jo would be grabbing for. So it makes sense to me it was the killer’s watch. It doesn’t prove it. We know Cheri Jo put up a fight. She didn’t go easily. What I’ve read from her friends though says Cheri Jo would not walk off with a strange guy. That makes sense too. It’s just such a rarity for a killer to write to newspapers, LE, or anyone, let alone a non-killer. Not that it couldn’t happen, but the odds are so greatly against it. It’s that attempt of communication that always gets me. Killer’s just don’t do that, only certain one’s have. Let alone a non-killer taking credit, in writing, even more remote I would think. I can’t think of any case where a non-killer wrote to LE, the media, and claimed responsibility. I’m sure there have been some, but against the amount of murders that have occurred over time, the odds seem so great against it to even go there. But that’s just my feelings about it.
    Tahoe you bring up a good point. Did the Riverside media address the letters to the public? You would think at some point they would have had to and would want the public to know about it. Even LE would want the public to see there are things breaking in the case and they haven’t forgotten about Cheri Jo.

  4. Zodiac Revisited 31 August, 2012 at 22:48 Reply

    One of the newspaper articles had this to say about the area where Cheri Jo’s body was found:

    There were no footprints found in the immediate vicinity of the girl’s body. They had apparently been eradicated either in the girl’s fierce struggle for life – or in her death throes.

    “The driveway (adjacent to 3680 Terracina) was so churned up it looked like a tractor had been over the ground,” Yonkers said.

    It’s clear that she put up an admirable fight once the killer started to physically attack her. However, I don’t feel that the lines from the confession necessarily imply that she did not fight. In particular, they say:


    These lines can be interpreted as saying that she did not put up a struggle while being manipulated into a set of circumstances where her murder became inevitable. And in some sense, this fits quite well since the author then proceeds to explain the procedure by which he manipulated Cheri Jo.

    • Michael D. Kelleher 1 September, 2012 at 09:49

      I see this sentence as compensatory and manipulative as much as anything else. It’s clear enough that the victim put up a struggle, yet the writer needs to emphasize his superiority and dominance. In fact, he overcompensates when he does so. He seems to lay a claim of complete control of the situation, which is also unlikely. I think there’s more braggadocio in this claim that anything else. However, Mike, you also touch upon one of the most bizarre aspects of this crime. How and why would someone like her be lured into that situation in the first place. From all accounts, she was both bright and careful. How could she find herself in such a dangerous situation in that alley, and what happened to put her there?

    • G Gluckman 1 September, 2012 at 14:15

      Hi Mr K,

      Personally, I am not surprised that a smart young woman might find herself in such a place, particularly in the 60’s.

      There are many ploys available to predators: threats, enticements, appeals to the emotions, appeals to the rescuer instinct, to name a few.

      Many ploys might be more effective if the predator is familiar and seems harmless enough, but familiarity is not a requirement, IMO.

      Predator ploys are typically a confidence game. People can be made aware, but nobody is invulnerable to being fooled. Much less so the young and inexperienced.


    • Michael D. Kelleher 1 September, 2012 at 18:40

      Hi G.

      Well, you’re right in many instances. However, a deep look at her background seems to indicate that she acted in a very different manner that night. That is one of the reasons why I was attracted to Ray Grant’s Timeline. I, too, found her behavior very different from usual, and her lack of communicating with anyone for several hours also not in accord with her customary behavior, even when she was with friends. So, who knows? It has me very curious and it’s been that way for many years.


    • Howard 21 July, 2015 at 18:32

      I have read and seen crime documentaries of many cases where a very astute well educated savvy female was lured to her death in various ways. Friends and family are saying she would not go with go with a ‘stranger.’ She would not go off with someone she didn’t actually know ;yet later it was found she did just that!

    • Bayarea60s 21 October, 2015 at 00:50


      That’s a very good point you make. My mind immediately went to bundy and we know the successful ploys he used. Maybe the killer had a costume, fake ID, something where Cheri Jo wouldn’t even suspect any danger. Well obviously she didn’t suspect anything….He would have a ruse planned out, especially if they were strangers to each other. I believe the letter is authentic and written by the killer. One thing he said that always jumped out to me, is he states, “as they were walking and turned down the alleyway he says to Cheri Jo, well it’s time, he says she asks time for what, and killer states time for you to die”…..That entire passage always reminded me of something Z would add to his story, for effect. Maybe it happened just the way the letter writer stated, but I have my doubts a killer would give his victim any warning at all. I know they like to inject fear into their victims. but that scenario wouldn’t even give time to the victim to show any fear.

    • Bridget G. 1 September, 2012 at 14:44

      This is what makes me think she must have known her killer, at least very slightly. Perhaps she just knew him from “around”, just his face and his name, but enough that she had the impression of him as harmless. He could have said his car was parked back there and she might not even have questioned it.

      She also may have been distracted with worry over her car not working, thinking ahead to how much it would cost to get fixed, how long it would take and how much of a hassle it would be to get around in the mean time. She possibly missed subtle clues in the man’s behavior that normally would have raised a red flag, simply because she wasn’t paying close attention.

      Of course if the murder did happen around 10:30 p.m., there is still the question of where she was between the closing of the library(9:00 p.m.?) and the attack. Was she with this man the entire time? That would indicate someone she knew fairly well, at the very least a friendly acquaintance.

    • Michael D. Kelleher 1 September, 2012 at 18:48

      Your last paragraph is what troubles me most. There is just no explanation for her apparent absence from both the library and for that hour and a half after it closed. From what I understand, all of her friends were interviewed (at least in a preliminary manner) and the RPD had absolutely no explanation where she was from the time the library opened to the time it closed, up until the apparent time of her murder. The RPD made efforts to solicit information from anyone who had seen her during those hours and no one was forthcoming, at least that we know about. It doesn’t argue well for the RPD’s long-held opinion that she was murdered by a local, and their chief suspect has been eliminated by DNA. So, where does it lead? Darned if I know . . .

  5. Zodiac Revisited 31 August, 2012 at 23:06 Reply

    Has anybody else noticed an oddity about The Confession? In the beginning, there are two spaces between sentences. Then, part way through, the typist starts using one space between sentences.

    It used to be that two spaces between sentences was the norm for anybody learning to type through formal training. I learned to type in high school on some old-school typewriters. In that environment you quickly develop a hard-to-shake habit of always using two spaces between sentences. It took me a long time to stop adding the second space.

    The fact that the author reverts to one space between sentences suggests to me that he didn’t have formal typing training. He apparently knew that there should be two spaces between sentences and consciously used two in the beginning. However, at some point he probably stopped paying attention and subconsciously began to omit the second space. He may well have become preoccupied with the content of his letter (possibly reliving the experience through the act of describing it) and consequently overlooked the inclusion of the additional spaces.

  6. Bayarea60's 2 September, 2012 at 13:06 Reply

    Bridgett & Mike…

    I kind of lean towards agreeing with Bridgett here. I think Cheri Jo was familiar with her killer. A daughter being raised by her dad, and having a brother, it would be drummed into her head to never go anywhere with a stranger. Not like she would be desperate for a ride home. She grew up there, she had many friends, her dad was comin home, probably was home by the time, she left the library. She’s at her school, maybe fo see who is hanging out in the quad, could run into a friend there who would take her home. She has many options. I’ve just never seen her walking away with a stranger. I see her looking to do what she has done lots of times in her life before, calling dad. The troubling thing is if she left to get a ride, from anyone, she wouldn’t leave her stuff behind, purse, the books she needs, her car keys. Maybe her killer pulled up in his car, abducted her right there, took her somewhere, then brought her back, then killed her in the alleyway.

    • Michael D. Kelleher 2 September, 2012 at 14:13

      Sure, that all makes good sense. However, a few things make the whole scene bizarre. For example, her Dad wasn’t home that evening. He was visiting at a friend’s house and (if I remember correctly), didn’t return until around midnight. So, she would probably not have been able to get in touch with him by phone (or just didn’t try, I don’t know). Also, RPD claims to have talked to all of her friends, to no avail. If you accept the conventional theory, she would have been in the company of this person from about 9 pm (perhaps earlier), when the library closed, until her murder at around 10:30 pm. That implies she must have been comfortable and familiar with him. And, this is where the conventional theory begins to fall apart. From the time the library opened until her murder, no one is able to account for her whereabouts, and the RPD has never been able to nail this down. It seems very out-of-character for her, and very unusual. It’s a problem that still makes this whole episode unfathomable, at least in the conventional sense. I believe there is something very wrong about the conventional theory of this murder but I have no idea what it could be.

  7. Michael D. Kelleher 4 September, 2012 at 10:06 Reply

    It seems that Ray Grant has put the finishing touches on his Riverside Revisited article mentioned in the comments above. Here are just a few quotes about the Confession Letter. He discusses the murder, the time line, and the letter in some detail, which makes for interesting reading:

    “The Confession Letter says that the killer offered Cheri a ride home, in which case we would expect her to roll up her windows, take the keys, put the books and notebook in her oversized bag, and lock the doors. Instead, the details of her death don’t fit any logical scenario. Her personal effects are left in a disorganized state, very much as if she wasn’t in control of them. We would fully expect the crime scene to be chaotic, if her killer suddenly turned on her. But EVERYTHING was chaotic–her crime scene, her car, her schedule. “

    “If you take The Confession Letter at face value, Cheri Bates is approached at her car by an acquaintance from her past (perhaps from Ramona High School) who has, unbeknownst to her, disabled the engine while she was inside the library. Cheri exits the library, where no one has noticed her for 2 hours and 40 minutes, and then finds that her car won’t start, so she doesn’t call her dad or any of her friends from a nearby pay phone. Instead, she chooses to accept the offer of a ride from a guy whose advances years ago she brushed off, and, after a wait of 1 hour and 30 minutes (don’t ask me to explain that one–the car wouldn’t start, she doesn’t call anyone, no one sees her outside, and she doesn’t walk away from the car with her stalker until 90 minutes later), she finally accepts the offer of a ride. “

    “I think people believe Cheri Bates was in the library for 2 hours and 40 minutes, and then outside in front of the library for 1 hour and 30 minutes, because that’s what The Confession Letter says. “

    “I strongly suspect that, had the police advanced the theory that Cheri must have been abducted, since no one saw her after 6:15pm despite the presence of friends in the library, and since her stomach contents were consistent with her having been kidnapped before being murdered, The Confession Letter would never have been sent. Or, at the very least, it would have been sent without including any details about the crime itself.”

    (All quotes are from Ray Grant’s article, Riverside Revisited.)

  8. Sean 3 February, 2013 at 14:14 Reply

    With regard to the original question and whether the killer and author of the confession letter were one in the same……Perhaps his claim that he kicked her in the head “once” could be checked against the autopsy. We may be unable to determine it but surely such a blow would transfer something from the shoe/boot, that forensics would be aware of. I haven’t checked newspaper stories but I imagine all the information would focus on the knife wounds.

  9. Dudley 31 March, 2013 at 12:26 Reply

    This doesn’t read like a confession. Too organized. Too pseudo literary. What it does read like is a dime store magazine or cheap fiction of the period (or a bad student writing exercise). The sort of thing the Zodiac murderer would have read and enjoyed, not unlike “The Dangerous Game”. And this is why I suspect, without evidence to support the idea, this is Zodiac’s writing.

    Suppose, prior to having committed a murder himself, the Zodiac spends his time reading cheap fiction and hanging out at a library (maybe even the one at the college where the murder occurs). He hears about the Bates murder, becomes absorbed in fantasizing about it, and interjects himself into it through the letter. It is also consistent with the style of the writing about the murder found on a desk at the college. After this excitement wears off he has to have the experience again, only this time there are no convenient nearby murders to take credit for and he reaches a decision point. Will he take the next step and graduate from taking credit for another’s crime to carrying out one of his own?

    My view would be this is a Zodiac letter, but not a Zodiac murder. If you accept the stylistic connection between the Confession and the desk writing you then place the Zodiac at the college in a position to, as a student or perhaps a maintenance employee, complete the desk writing. And you get a look at the Zodiac’s mental state early on, before he has progressed to murder.

    • Bayarea60s 1 April, 2013 at 03:23

      Well we know the writer is the same person who wrote the BayArea letters as Zodiac. The hand writing experts have analyzed that….We know the writer is the killer, or a really poor liar. He states he called in the murder. He wouldn’t know a call was made unless he’s the killer. We don’t know any details of this call, when it was made, etc. But I would reason that it wasn’t too long after the murder. I’ve thought before that she went off with someone who she trusted, and that she knew lived, worked, was part of a group that she was familiar with from her neighborhood. The JC was a few miles from her home. She has a report due, no time to waste, and yet from the evidence it appears a few hours of her time she allowed to be wasted. Then he drives her back to her dead car, but he must park away from her car, cause they wind up walking in that walkway where she’s found. but why would she go back to a dead car, and still be walking with this clown? No matter how I try to figure it, it really doesn’t make sense.

    • Dudley 1 April, 2013 at 19:47

      I agree with Mr. Kelleher when he says it is a 50-50 chance the writer is the murderer, and I’d probably tilt the odds even lower. The quote is “Yes, I did make that call to you also.” Is he saying “that call” in reference to something which at that point is known to more than just the reader and writer? Or is he talking about something only he and the police know? In a small town I suspect word about the call may have gotten out to some extent. I think the murders grew out of Zodiac’s fantasy life and were all part of a progression. My idea is the progression starts with his obsession with the details of the Bates murder and his manipulation of the authorities and Bates’ family. But I don’t cling to the idea and acknowledge I could easily be wrong. I think we all do the same thing, look for some scaffold of logic to hang the myriad of details on which will make some sense of them. As you very well point out, the timeline of the Bates murder is certainly difficult to do that with.

  10. Bayarea60s 2 April, 2013 at 02:57 Reply

    Well we know he is addressing it to the chief. Last thing he types on message. If the chief only ever received one such call then that would be the writer of the letter.

  11. Stacy 28 May, 2016 at 22:51 Reply

    Do you believe that ther death was one of opportunity or one that was planned? Because I would think depending on how that was viewed may influence how she was murdered and the circumstantial evidence. Any idea on DNA evidence or autopsy report?

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