The Zodiac’s 50th anniversary has arrived. Exactly 50 years ago from the time of the publication of this post, an as-of-yet unknown man took the first publicly identifiable actions that would later be attributed to the persona of the Zodiac.
At approximately 11:15 p.m. on December 20, 1968, two teenagers — David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen — were gunned down on a lovers’-lane turnout of a lightly traveled road connecting the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Vallejo and Benicia. Although not obvious at the time, the events of that evening soon revealed themselves to be but the first pieces of a larger puzzle. A puzzle that would eventually grow to embody at least five murders — probably more — and a myriad of other strange and often hard-to-interpret clues, not the least of which are twenty-plus pages of written communiques, penned at the hand of the killer himself. With the passage of the ensuing years, this mystery has gone on to become one of the most perplexing cases in all of American criminal-justice history.
Based on our knowledge of the Zodiac, he was cognizant of and cared about anniversaries. We know that he mailed the Melvin Belli letter such that it was postmarked on the one-year anniversary of the Lake Herman Road murders. As I argue in this article, he clearly mailed the My Name Is cipher as a six-month anniversary response to Dr. D.C.B. Marsh’s challenge for the killer to provide a cryptogram that honestly enciphered his name, as published in the San Francisco Examiner. If you believe as I do — that the same man was responsible for multiple murders in Southern California before evolving into the Zodiac — then he mailed The Confession to coincide with the one-month anniversary of Cheri Jo Bates’s murder and he mailed the three perspective-adjusted BATES HAD TO DIE notes such that they were postmarked on the exact six-month anniversary of her death.
If the killer is still alive and in control of his faculties, I suggest that he is acutely aware of the Zodiac’s 50th anniversary. He undoubtedly continues to exercise the mental discipline of not breaking silence, but he knows the date as well as anybody and it will not pass unrecognized.
Will the 51st anniversary come and go without the killer being identified? If history is any indication, we have to conclude it probably will. But what about the 60th anniversary, or the 100th? Those answers are less clear. I and others are hopeful that we will indeed, one day, know the answer to the question at the center of this mystery. To be sure, there are reasons to justify our optimism. The most obvious such reason, of course, is last year’s identification and apprehension of California’s second most notorious unapprehended serial murderer, the Golden State Killer – the man we now know to be Joseph James DeAngelo (as it turned out, he lived about ten miles from me). And importantly, he was identified by way of a new forensic application of DNA, the type of advancement that might one day identify the Zodiac. Also, there have been developments of a less sensational nature that, nevertheless, hint at the possibility of yielding future insight, such as the ability to do full text-based searching of entire newspaper archives that has become readily available in the last few years.
Less optimistically, I cannot help but think of the old saying “Justice delayed is justice denied.” For the Zodiac, the delay has been so long, there just isn’t any kind of an opportunity for meaningful justice anymore. Even if the killer is still alive and he was identified today, it would matter little from a justice perspective. Sadly, the man got away with his crimes. Nevertheless, it will be immensely gratifying to associate a name with the Zodiac, even if it doesn’t serve the interest of justice. Doing so will not only satisfy many a person’s curiosity and potentially shed some light on various aspects of the mystery, it will also rob the persona of the power that it gets from the killer being a type of bogeyman.
For my part, I continue to work at getting my book — which has now evolved into a three-volume set of books — ready for publication. Though I had hoped to have it published well in advance of the Zodiac’s 50th anniversary, the realities of life have conspired against me — I’ve noticed they tend to do that. Nevertheless, I have been making real progress. In particular, I’ve started to have certain content experts review the material, and I’m on the verge of working with an editor. I now anticipate publication sometime during the Zodiac’s 50th anniversary year.
What I can share at this time is the table of contents.
Volume I – The Facts of the Case
- Gaining Momentum
- Creating Uncertainty
- Discovering the Past
- Fading Away
- Looking Backward
- Suffering Distractions
Volume II – Analysis and Fact-Based Speculation
- A Context For Analysis
- A Methodology for Murder
- Crafting a Persona
- Understanding The Ciphers
- The School Bus Fixation
Volume III – Tying It All Together
- The Question of Southern California
- Reconsidering the Letters
- Reconsidering the Crimes
- Final Thoughts
- Only Time Will Tell
I’m looking forward to getting the books into the hands of people who are interested in reading them. Perhaps it will help to move the case forward and contribute to the eventual identification of the Zodiac. Or, perhaps it will be just another one of the too-many-to-count analyses that are continuously consumed by the black hole that is the case of the Zodiac. The answer to those and many other interesting questions await us in our shared future.
With a little luck, the number of remaining Zodiac anniversaries that we have to endure without knowing the name of the killer will be few… Let’s hope so.