The Zodiac Killer's Eventual Apprehension

Newspaper articles are interesting in that they often communicate opinions and attitudes related to their subject matter. In reading hundreds of Zodiac Killer newspaper articles, I am sometimes struck by threads of commonality that, while not necessarily noteworthy at the time of their publication, have become strangely poignant as the saga drags on decade after decade. One such thread is the often-communicated notion that the killer will be apprehended, albeit perhaps eventually. Here are a number of such quotes.

He obviously is an intelligent individual. He knows that eventually he will be taken into custody. So it would be best that he give himself up before tragedy is written in blood.

California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch quoted from: School Bus Alert On Mad Killer, San Francisco Examiner, October 17, 1969, pg. 14.

You are as much a victim of your crimes as those whose lives you snuffed out. You cannot walk the streets a free man. There is no safety for you, anywhere.

And you will be caught, there is no doubt.

You face life as a hunted, tormented, animal - unless you help yourself.

We ask that you give yourself up to The Examiner.

Message to the Zodiac Killer, San Francisco Examiner, October 19, 1969, pg 1.

Without exception, all the investigators assigned to the case feel Zodiac will eventually be caught.

"We'll get him," said one. "We may not know his name at the moment - but we know a lot about him and what we know will finally lead us to him.

Avery, Paul. Cops No Closer on Zodiac Identity, San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1969, pg 2.

Catching Zodiac, Lee said, is only a matter of time.

"Our knowledge of this man is increasing ... I am confident we will get him," Lee said.

San Francisco Chief of Inspectors Martin Lee quoted from: Avery, Paul. Zodiac 'Legally Sane,' San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 1969, pg 2.

He knows eventually he will be apprehended and that unless he gets proper legal representation he will most probably be sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

Melvin Belli quoted from: Avery, Paul. Urgent Appeal by Belli to Zodiac, San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 1969, pg. 1, 18.

One investigator conceded that thus far all leads checked out have been dead ends.

"We'll get [him], though," the detective said. "Sooner or later we'll get him."

Avery, Paul. Belli Sure Zodiac Will Talk to Him, San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 1969, pg. 3.

"I'm still confident," Armstrong says, "I've got a few years until I retire, and Dave [San Francisco Homicide Inspector Dave Toschi] has more than that. We'll turn him up if he's still alive."

San Francisco Homicide Inspector Bill Armstrong quoted from: Muller, Baron. Where Has Zodiac Gone?, San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle, March 26, 1972, pg. A3.

Michael Cole


  1. Bayarea60s 13 May, 2012 at 17:06 Reply

    I remember those days well and because LE was so confident, we all became confident, and everytime the name Zodiac would be mentioned in the news you expected to hear they’ve ID’ who Z was.

    • Mike 14 May, 2012 at 19:16

      Thanks Bayarea60s.

      Yeah, at the time, I’m sure I would have thought that he would be apprehended. He was so active it must have seemed inevitable that he would slip up at some point. I also like the fact that the police were optimistic about catching him. It seems to me that if you’re going to have a job involving the apprehension of criminals that you have to maintain a significant level of optimism.

      There’s still a chance they’re all right, i.e. he may still be caught or, at least, identified. Of course, I’m pretty sure none of them would have expected it to take more than 40 years…

  2. G Gluckman 13 May, 2012 at 21:24 Reply

    “We ask that you give yourself up to The Examiner.”

    Ha ha. I laughed until the milk came out my nose. Did they offer a free subscription?

    The questions on my mind lately are about the possible endgames: what conditions might lead to the discovery of Z’s identity?

    Solving ciphers? A death-bed confession? A close aquaintance providing new information? A serious gaff on Z’s part?

    In chess it helps to study the possible endgames in detail. Doing so lends insight into the options for achieving a win. It can also help us recognize when a win is unlikely, or even impossible.

    I think the same must be true about the Zodiac case: the better we understand the possible ways the Zodiac mystery can be solved, the better chance we have of actually solving it.

    Is it a sure thing? I don’t think so.

    • Mike 14 May, 2012 at 19:41

      That part about the Examiner is a bit comical, isn’t it? I think, to some extent, they were trying to inject themselves into the story. In case you’re interested, the next few lines said:

      We offer you no protection, and no sympathy. But we do offer you fair treatment, the assurance of medical help and the full benefits of your legal rights.

      And we offer to tell your story.

      Why have you killed? How has life wronged you?

      That’s a deal that I suspect any newspaper in the U.S. would have made.

      Regarding the end game, those are interesting questions. I feel like a legitimate solution to the 340 offers the best potential for new evidence in the case. Once can imagine that the Zodiac may have been attempting to enlist the help of Melvin Belli because he anticipated that the 340 would be solved and that the solution would lead police to him. Somewhat wild speculation to be sure, but the thought has crossed my mind more than once.

      I also occasionally entertain the idea that he might be identified via some type of future DNA analysis done on his great-great grand child, or some such descendant or relative. Hopefully, it won’t take that long!

  3. G Gluckman 14 May, 2012 at 21:45 Reply

    Your Belli speculation…that’s a great insight if it’s correct. I will certainly think about it some more.

    I have often wondered whether Z’s clews seemed so obvious to him that he expected somebody to figure them out long ago. If he did think they were obvious, he may have felt the need to plan for appropriate contingencies.

    I have tried to imagine what contingency plans he may have considered. (Not to mention how he may have structured his clews to accomodate contingency planning–that is, assuming he was a particularly clever clewsmith.)

    It hadn’t occured to me to think that he may have factored legal representation into his contingency plans, but it would make perfect sense that he would. (At least, if he was a certain kind of planner.)

    Good thought, Mike.

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