For anybody living in Northern California during the later 1960’s and early 1970’s, you could not help but be familiar with the infamous ‘Zodiac killer’, a mad man that stalked unsuspecting young couples while they enjoyed each other’s company in secluded quiet areas. At the time, they didn’t seem to have a care in the world, but if they had known that a mad man was watching them, they would likely have been on guard.
From December, 1968 until September, 1969, the Zodiac Killer attacked three couples, two in Vallejo, and one in Napa, before finally breaking his pattern by killing a lone taxi driver in San Francisco. In all, Zodiac is confirmed to have murdered five people, and seriously wounded two more. His tools during these crimes included multiple small caliber handguns, a knife, and pre-cut lengths of plastic clothesline. Zodiac’s last confirmed attack took place in October, 1969, but along the way from August, 1969 until July, 1974, Zodiac also attacked with his own words and a blue felt tip pen.
The Zodiac killer mailed many letters to Bay area newspapers including taunting clues, and coded ciphers, as well as proof that he was responsible for the crimes. During this time, many unsolved crimes in the Bay area were attributed to Zodiac, many of which did not fit Zodiac’s known MO, but frightened residents were quick to lay the blame at his feet. Some of the names linked to Zodiac during this period included Kathleen Johns, a woman from San Bernardino who was driving north to the Bay area to visit her Mother in 1970. She was attacked outside of Modesto after pulling over for a man that signaled to her that her tire was about to fall off. She survived and later identified her attacker as Zodiac from a police sketch of him. Another possible Victim commonly attributed to Zodiac is Donna Lass, a nurse who went missing after her late shift at a Casino in South Lake Tahoe in 1970. Lass, vanished off of the face of the Earth, and later, a postcard attributed to Zodiac was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, seemingly taking responsibility for Lass vanishing. In neither of these cases was there ever any solid evidence that Zodiac was responsible for these attacks, but these ‘victims’ will likely forever be thought of as ‘Zodiac Victims’. The big question is, could there have been any other names that could be verified to be true Zodiac Victims? The answer would soon come.
In 1970, Chronicle Reporter Paul Avery, a Zodiac aficionado, and a personal recipient of one of Zodiac’s letters, made a Zodiac connection to a 1966 murder in Riverside, California. In October, 1966, a young Riverside college student named Cheri Jo Bates was murdered outside of her school Library. Her attacker disabled her vehicle, and waited for her to come out of the library. When she couldn’t start the car, he came along acting as a good Samaritan and offered to help. Instead of helping her, he was able to lure her into a darkened and isolated area away from the parking lot, and then attacked her savagely with a knife. Her murder was so gruesome, that she was nearly decapitated. The murder left the quiet town of Riverside in a state of shock. But the shock would only deepen a month after her murder, when a ‘confession’ letter was mailed to the local newspaper in Riverside. The typed letter claimed responsibility for the Bates murder, and provided details which apparently only the murderer would know. Most frightening of all, the letter’s author promised more victims. On the six month anniversary of the murders, another series of letters was mailed to the newspaper, the police, and most chilling of all, to the victim’s father. The letters, this time scrawled in disguised hand printed words, stated that Cheri Bates “Had to die”. At some point after the shocking letters had been delivered, a desk was discovered in Riverside College storage by a janitor. The desktop had a morbid poem etched, and then written over with ink. Fearing that this poem had something to do with the Bates murder, the desk was put into evidence by Riverside PD. Meanwhile, Paul Avery felt so strongly that this 1966 crime was the work of Zodiac, that he personally hand delivered the written letters in the Bates case to Zodiac case Questioned Document Examiner, Sherwood Morrill. Morrill, who was a very skilled and experienced examiner examined the Bates case letters and desktop, and came to the final conclusion that the Bates case writing was “unquestionably the work of Zodiac”. This was a major development in the Zodiac case, and had seemingly linked Zodiac to the southern California area prior to his reign of terror in the Bay area. The Zodiac link to Riverside and the Bates case went public, and after a delay, Zodiac finally wrote a letter taking credit for the murder, but warned police “you are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there”. Was Zodiac being truthful? Indeed police would link another possible crime near Goleta in the Santa Barbara area to Zodiac.
In June, 1963, two High School seniors, Robert Domingos, & Linda Edwards, enjoyed themselves on a secluded beach while they celebrated ‘senior class ditch day’. While they played on the beach, a killer made his way towards them. He attacked them suddenly, and apparently took them by surprise. He held them at bay with a gun, likely a .22 rifle. Police feel that he ordered the female victim to tie up the male using pre cut lengths of rope. At some point, they resisted and a struggle ensued. The couple made a break for it before the killer unleashed a series of shots, cutting down the two young students. The killer then coldly walked up to them both as they lay defenseless on the ground, and fired more shots into them at close range. The killer then drug their lifeless bodies into a nearby shack, and attempted to set their bodies on fire possibly to destroy evidence. Their bodies were soon discovered, and the surrounding towns were left devastated by the terrible crime. Who could have done such a thing? As it turns out, years later, the Santa Barbara County Sherriff’s Department would link this crime to the later September, 1969 Zodiac attack at Lake Berryessa in Napa, based on similar MO and evidence found at the crime scene which police have never disclosed publicly.
The Bates case, as well as the double Murder of Domingos & Edwards combined many elements and common traits of some of Zodiac’s crimes, and for that reason, these cases have been linked to Zodiac for decades. However, there is another case that has all of Zodiac’s finger prints on it, shares much of the MO from his crime, and happened right in the middle of his stomping grounds in Alameda County in 1967, yet, you likely have never heard of this case, or the possible link to Zodiac. These victims may certainly be Zodiac’s ‘Forgotten Victims’.
Late on the Evening of June 8, 1967, a couple parked on a dark and secluded area on Vallecitos Road in Alameda County. The couple was Enedine Molina & Fermin Rodriguez. While they shared their time alone, they were interrupted by an unknown assailant who ordered the couple from the car. Mr. Rodriguez was shot apparently as soon as he exited the vehicle. The killer then ordered Ms. Molina into his car, and drove off with her, leaving the Mr. Rodriguez dead alongside Ms. Molina’s station Wagon. The killer drove a few miles, and stopped close to the entrance of Sunol Regional park. At this time, he either let Ms. Molina out of the car, or she escaped. Whatever the case, Ms. Molina ran for her life, undoubtedly terrified into the darkness. Behind her, her abductor followed training his gun on her, and shooting her once in the back, thus ending any chance of an escape. She died where she fell. The murderer then walked off into the night. A nearby resident, called the Santa Rita police substation and reported that they had heard two gunshots. Responding officers located Ms. Molina’s lifeless body around 11 pm, and immediately started an investigation, which they processed for about three hours. At around 2:30 am, on his way back to the police substation, the same officer that had located Ms. Molina’s body, noticed her station wagon parked on Vallecitos Road. After stopping to check it out, he then found the body of Mr. Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez had been shot twice from the front, once in the chest and once in the shoulder. The weapon used to murder the couple proved to be a small caliber handgun, later identified as a .22 caliber, a favorite weapon of the Zodiac. The police had no immediate suspects, and ruled out rape or robbery.
Enedine Molina and Fermin Rodriguez, didn’t fit the typical profile of Zodiac victims. They were both older, Molina was 35 and Rodriguez was 37. Most of Zodiac’s victims, were young student-aged victims. Both were Hispanic, and all of Zodiac’s victims, caucasian. Additionally, Molina & Rodriguez were not married. In fact, Molina had been recently divorced, and Rodriguez was still married. They had been lovers for many years, and apparently, their Families were aware of this. Following the murders, police logically investigated the families of the two victims, including one logical potential suspect, the ex-husband of Ms. Molina. After questioning, he was ruled out as a suspect. The police were left with not much to go on, no motives, and no suspects.
The murders of Molina & Rodriguez happened BEFORE the first confirmed Zodiac Murders of December 20,1968, and AFTER the letters were mailed in the Cheri Jo Bates case in April, 1967. The murders happened in Alameda County, which lies south of Vallejo where Zodiac’s crime spree seemed to be centered, and East of San Francisco where most of Zodiac’s letters were mailed from. In fact, if you placed markers on a map in Vallejo, San Francisco, and near the area in Alameda County where the couple was attacked, you would have an almost perfect triangle on the map. Did Zodiac actually live within that triangle? Interestingly, the spot where the couple was attacked and murdered is very close to the town of Pleasanton. Zodiac mailed a letter postmarked in Pleasanton in March, 1971 to the Los Angeles Times Newspaper. With no motive, or suspects, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office did not have much to go on in this senseless double murder. But, some troubling clues would soon surface.
As the investigation continued, it was revealed that each of the two victims, Molina & Rodriguez, had each been followed by the same unknown man in the weeks leading up to their murders. In one incident, Mr. Rodriquez reported to his wife that he had seen the car parked in front of his home, but could not identify the driver. (I tried unsuccessfully to obtain descriptions of the car or its driver). In addition, both victims received phone calls leading up to their murders. The phone calls almost always came between 10 & 11 am or between 7 & 8 pm. The caller never spoke and only the sound of heavy breathing could be heard on the other end of the line. Perhaps most troubling was that these calls continued even AFTER the murders. In the Zodiac case, Robert Graysmith, author of the best seller, ZODIAC, reported that during his research and investigation of the case, he had started receiving calls from a heavy breather, and that the calls usually came around 10:30 in the morning, the same as the calls to Molina & Rodriguez. Additionally, family members of Zodiac victim, Darlene Ferrin, reported ‘Heavy Breathing’ calls to their homes on the night of her murder. The source of any of these phone calls has never been positively identified. Also of note, it has been reported by Darlene Ferrin’s family, that she had a stalker who used to follow her, and was seen parked in front of her house. The parallels between the Zodiac case, and this 1967 double murder are hard to ignore.
When I first discovered the Molina/Rodriguez case while researching the Zodiac case, I was actually floored by the parallels to the Zodiac. The attack of a lone couple on a secluded lovers lane, the choice of weapon, a .22 handgun, the fact that the male was shot immediately upon exiting the car, and the female was shot in the back while she ran (these facts were quite similar to the first confirmed Zodiac attack on 12/20/68), the possible stalking of the victims, the phone calls, and the complete lack of motive, it was all so similar to the Zodiac case, that it couldn’t be ignored. I checked around on the internet and in newspapers, and found that this case was never connected to the Zodiac murders, despite happening in the same area, and not long before the Zodiac murders officially started. I felt that there was an overwhelming chance that this was indeed an early Zodiac crime, so much so, that I contacted the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department with my suspicions in April, 2010.
“I am Intrigued by this”, was the response I got from Alameda County Sheriff’s Dept, Sgt Scott Dudek. Dudek, now retired, was in charge of Alameda County’s unsolved cold cases. During his 25 year career, he had become quite a skilled investigator, and was well respected. He told me that investigators he knew in Alameda County had suspected Zodiac could possibly be involved in some of their unsolved crimes, and that some of them had theories on the matter, so the mention of ZODIAC was not new. But Zodiac being possibly connected to the murder of Molina & Rodriguez, WAS new. In fact, Dudek had to go back and find the old case files and records, as this had truly become, by definition, a ‘cold’ case. Not much had happened in the 43 years since the murders had been committed, and Sgt Dudek had trouble finding the materials on the case. Finally, he had located the actual case info and listing in their records, but was never able to locate the actual case files or full reports with all of the major case information. Apparently, many old files & records had been lost, damaged, or destroyed over the previous 43 years. Sadly, things like this are common with old cold cases. It was truly a letdown for both of us, but Sgt Dudek did have some very good news to share. Although the records & files on the case were no place to be found, the ballistics information as well as the actual bullets and/or casings were still in their possession, and Sgt Dudek said that they were actually in very good shape. An examination of this evidence could be compared against ballistic evidence from any of the Zodiac crime scenes, specifically against the 12/20/68 Zodiac murders. Sgt. Dudek and I corresponded by email & phone several times, sometimes on a daily basis. We were both excited that this crime might possibly be linked to the Zodiac case, and we hoped it might aide in solving the Molina/Rodriguez case, or maybe even the Zodiac case itself.
One day, Sgt Dudek contacted me and was excited to let me know that he had been in contact with the Solano County Sheriff’s Dept, and they were going to send him some of their ballistics evidence from the 12/20/68 Zodiac murders on Lake Herman Rd (bullets and/or casings) for comparison with the evidence that he had in the Molina/Rodriguez case. The initial reports as far as lands, grooves, twists, etc were already similar between the two cases, but a conclusive match would need to be made from examination under a microscope. The evidence Solano sent was too badly damaged for any kind of definite match and the results came back as inconclusive. Both Sgt Dudek and myself were disappointed.
While all of this was going on, Sgt Dudek was in the process of retiring. He was trying to take a partial retirement where he could stay on specifically for just cold case investigation. His plan was to reach out to the family members to see if anything additional could be learned from them that might help provide more clues or aide in solving the double murder. In the meantime, I reached out to a family member of one of the victims, and tried to see if they might have any information. Although they were initially excited about the interest in this case, they ultimately decided that it might open up old wounds, and that the family had moved on. It was around this time that I found out Sgt Dudek would not be staying on, and would fully retire. Between his retirement, the lack of any full police records on the case, and the fact the family of the victims did not want to get involved, I discontinued my research of this case, but I never stopped thinking this case may very well be the work of the Zodiac.
There were still some things that didn’t seem to fit Zodiac, mainly the lack of any bragging from him after the murders, especially in the form of taunting letters. But, there seemed to be more pieces that fit compared to things that didn’t. In the end, we will likely never know if these two people were victims of the infamous Zodiac Killer, but at least like Cheri Jo Bates, and the other possible victims of the Zodiac, we now know their names, and we know that no matter who murdered them, we know their murders were senseless and motiveless, and deserve to be solved.