Zodiac Killer Possibly Identified After Over a Fifty-Year-Long Cold Case


David Caine



“I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing.” These chilling words were written by the infamous 1960s serial killer, the notoriously self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer, or the Zodiac. This killer is famous for at least five killings in the late 1960s, ranging from 1968-1969, and may have killed many more. They themselves have claimed to have killed up to 37 people. The Zodiac was never caught, troubling police and FBI, and a group of people named the Case Breakers was assigned to deciphering the cyphers the killer left and figuring out their identity. The Case Breakers are a team of more than 40 journalists, military intelligence officers, and former law enforcement investigators. Finally, after over fifty years, there is a break in the cold case, and the team may have discovered the identity of the Zodiac Killer. But what did they do? Who are they? And why are they so prominent? 


The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer rampaging around California during the late 1960s. The first kill occurred on the night of December 20, 1968, when 17-year-old David Faraday and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Betty Lou Jenson were parked in their car at Lake Herman Road, just on the outskirts of Vallejo, California. The killer then shot them both to death just outside their car. A few months later, on the morning of July 5, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and her boyfriend Mike Mageau were in a similarly remote area when the Zodiac killer struck, firing multiple shots at them, killing Ferrin and injuring Magaeu. Within an hour, the Vallejo Police Department got a call from a man giving the location of the crime and admitting to the first killings.  


The Zodiac also sent letters to the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle, and Vallejo Times-Herald, each with the same message: “Dear Editor: I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman.” These letters had details that only the killer would know, and said that if these letters weren’t printed on the front cover of the newspapers, he could continue threatening and killing people. At the end of each letter, there was a symbol that contained a circle with a cross running straight through it. This symbol came to be known as the Zodiac Killer’s symbol. Each message also contained one part of a three-part cipher that the killer claimed contained his identity. The police tried to decode the cipher and figure out who the mysterious killer was, but on the evening of September 27, 1969, another killing occurred. 


Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell were a young couple relaxing near an isolated area on Lake Berryessa in Napa County. The Zodiac approached them, tied them up, and then proceeded to stab them multiple times. The mystery killer then scrawled a message across the car door for the police. Just like his other crimes, he called the Napa Police Department claiming he had done it. Both were in critical condition, but still alive when the police came. Unfortunately, Shepard died shortly after. 


After this, the Zodiac’s cipher was solved by a high school teacher and his wife, Donald and Bettye Harden. The letter said, “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.” If that doesn’t send chills down your spine, I don’t know what will. 


The next attack occurred on October 11, 1969, after a 29-year-old taxi driver named Paul Stine was shot in San Francisco’s Presidio Heights neighborhood. At first, the police didn’t think that the Zodiac was related to this, as it didn’t match the Zodiac Killer’s pattern. But after a few days, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter, once again from the Zodiac Killer, claiming this killing. At the end of the letter, there was another chilling remark. The Zodiac stated that they would shoot out a school bus tire and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” 


These were the only killings proved to be done by the Zodiac, but many more were claimed by him. Five more killings have been tentatively attributed to the Zodiac, but haven’t been proven. These include the 1963 shooting of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards and the 1966 stabbing of college student Cheri Jo Bates on Halloween night. 


The Zodiac Killer kept sending taunting messages to the police up until 1974, when they mysteriously ended. But while the killer stopped, law enforcement didn’t, and the cold case has been open ever since. 


There were many theories of the identity of the killer, some more grounded than others. One said that it was Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. Another said that it was Charles Manson, a convicted murderer. Of course, there are also the crazy theories, like the one that said that the killer moved to Scotland and committed more murders before becoming happy and giving up his past ways. 


The most recent, and biggest break in the case came on December 5, 2020, when a group of codebreakers decoded the second cipher. While it didn’t tell the police anything new, it still gave a terrifying statement. It read, “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. That wasn’t me on the TV show which brings up a point…I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradice so they are afraid of death. I am not afraid because I know that my new life…will be an easy one in paradice death.” 


So who is it? What is the killer’s identity? Long story short, that is still to be determined. The Case Breakers say that they found “irrefutable” evidence that the identity of the killer was a man named Gary Francis Poste, an air force veteran who died in 2018. They came to this conclusion after looking at photos of Poste, with similar forehead scars to that of a police sketch. They were also able to figure this out using physical and forensic evidence, witness accounts, and the fact that the suspect’s name was in anagrams sent by the Zodiac. 


But even though the Case Breakers seem positive that they figured out the identity of the killer, the police and FBI still aren’t sure. Law enforcement say that the conclusion was based off circumstantial evidence. The FBI’s San Francisco office has stated, “The FBI’s investigation into the Zodiac Killer remains open and unsolved. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, and out of respect for the victims and their families, we will not be providing further comment at this time.” 


While we may never find out the confirmed identity of the Zodiac killer, it is interesting to see this case continue to be heavily investigated decades later. Even if the identity is never confirmed, the Zodiac is most likely dead considering the killings took place so long ago. This newest evidence seems to be the closest we’ll get to a confirmed identity though, as the case will most likely remain unsolved.