Some cold cases continue to arouse the curiosity of the public decades after the incidents that started it. These cases go on for so long—with so many left questions unanswered—that the case and it’s details develop their own mythology that amateur detectives and cold case enthusiasts like to pick apart and analyze, hoping to crack the case on their own. Such is the case with the Zodiac Killer, the serial killer in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s who caused so much consternation to people in central California, especially the San Francisco Police Department.
There’s no way that I could properly go over even a fraction of the events that transpired with the Zodiac Killer case, but I’ll try to give a relatively brief synopsis.
The so-called Zodiac Killer came to light in August of 1969 when a person mailed letters to several newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle claiming responsibility for a number of murders that had gone on unsolved earlier that year and in 1968. The writer identified themselves as the Zodiac, and offered precise detail about the nature of the murders which occurred in two different central California cities, Benecia and Vallejo. The Zodiac Killer urged the papers to bring a cypher that he had attached to the letter or else he would kill another victim. The papers published the cypher, but killings occurred later nonetheless.
What ensued was a game of cat and mouse among California law enforcement agencies and the Zodiac killer that stretched on for over five years. The Zodiac would send letters to local newspapers and even to news writers, making outlandish demands or else he’d claim another victim. Coordinated efforts by police officials in several counties always came up short, even when it seemed like the Zodiac killer was just in their grasp. All in all, law enforcement agents attribute at least seven murders to the unidentified Zodiac killer. The last letter that authorities can officially link to the Zodiac appeared in January 1974.
As you might imagine, there are a number of theories floating around as to who exactly was the Zodiac killer. This case became known nationwide because of the unorthodox communication the killer established between the press and local law enforcement. It almost seemed like the entire state of California was side by side with authorities during the entire investigation, such was the extent of the case’s coverage.
And because so many people were involved in the case, it opened the door for many ambitious individuals to try to solve the case on their own. The most famous case is the cartoonist Robert Graysmith, who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle during the time of the Zodiac letters and became obsessed with solving the case, to the extent that it arguably consumed his life. Mr. Graysmith wrote a number of books of the topic, and helped provide much of the material for the major motion picture based on the Zodiac Killer, the 2007 film Zodiac directed by David Fincher.
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