San Francisco Homicides, Jan - Aug 1969

On August 7, 1969, the San Francisco Examiner published an article entitled The Phenomenon of Sudden Death. This piece described the alarming rate at which people were being murdered in San Francisco during 1969. Accompanying the article was the above map which identifies the site of each murder committed in San Francisco from January 1, 1969 through the date of publication, i.e. August 7.

To put this publication date into context, the following table shows some related parts of the Zodiac timeline.

Date Event
Dec 20, 1968  The Zodiac murders David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen
July 5, 1969  The killer murders Darlene Ferrin and critically injures Mike Mageau
July 31  The Zodiac mails three similar copies of his first letter to three Bay-Area newspapers
Aug 3  The Chronicle and Examiner publish the three component parts of the 408 cipher in their joint Sunday edition
Aug 4 The Examiner publishes the Zodiac's second letter
Aug 7  The Examiner publishes The Phenomenon of Sudden Death
Aug 9  The Chronicle and the Examiner both publish initial portions of the Harden’s solution to the 408 cipher


The aggregate content of the killer’s letters suggest that the man was a regular reader of Bay-Area newspapers. In this particular time frame, it is a near certainty that he was scrutinizing one or more Bay-Area newspapers on a daily basis looking for updated information regarding his crimes, letters and cipher. Therefore, there is a high probability that the killer saw this article and its accompanying figure.

Whether or not the contents of this article had any substantive impact on the formulation and execution of the Zodiac’s murderous plans is unknowable. But it’s interesting to note that in just over two month’s time, the Zodiac would make his own contribution to the described litany of San Francisco murders, right on the border of the Presidio which happens to be clearly called out on the map.

At the same time, the sheer number of murders recorded during roughly the first seven months of 1969, a total of 95 according to the article, serves to emphasize the magnitude of the problems, other than the Zodiac, that San Francisco was facing. There is no doubt that the Zodiac has had a significant and lasting effect because he was masterful at terrorizing the public through his partially random murders, his taunting letters and his willingness to threaten children. However, in terms of his definite crimes within the city limits of San Francisco, he was but a small part of a large problem. Of course, this observation is not meant to diminish the significance of Paul Stine’s murder – nor that of any of the other Zodiac victims for that matter; they were all undeniably senseless and tragic. But sadly, these type of senseless and tragic happenings were all too common in 1969…