by Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter
The Zodiac Killer terrorized Southern California between 1968 to 1974, committing five confirmed murders and two attempted murders, but could have potentially been responsible for up to 37 murders in the Bay Area. Although there have been several theories and suspects — from Ted Kaczynski (the “Unabomber”) to Senator Cruz (although usually attributed to a harmless meme) — the real Zodiac has never been identified.
Although there has been virtually no usable evidence to identify the Zodiac, there has been an important break in the case. For the past half-century, high school sweethearts Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday were believed to be the Zodiac’s first victims. However, on Feb. 3, investigators believed to have identified the Zodiac’s real first victim: 29-year-old Ray Davis, who was shot and killed in April 1962.
“This is potentially very helpful,” said Dr. Elijah Ricks, a forensic psychology professor at Roosevelt University. “It’s fairly typical that a serial killer’s first victim is someone near where they live. Sometimes it’s a neighbor or someone who catches their eye and fills some role in a fantasy they have. Identifying the first victim can help narrow the field of suspects by looking at people in the victim’s neighborhood and circle of acquaintances.”
In 2004, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) declared the case inactive due to a lack of leads and a heavy caseload at the time. San Francisco police Lt. John Hennessey, the head of the homicide department, told CBS News “We need to be most efficient at using our resources.”
“I think that cases should be able to be closed only when there is an individual who has been convicted of the crime,” said Ricks. “If a case has gone cold, meaning that all potential leads have been exhausted, I think they deserve at least a second set of eyes to see if anything was overlooked.”
A few years later came the movie “Zodiac” (2007) directed by David Fincher, highlighting the police’s efforts to catch the killer, but not long after the case went cold and left the general public’s consciousness.
“Sometimes even 50-year-old cases get solved,” said Ricks. “For example, the Golden State Killer has not been active since 1986, but a man is now on trial for those murders, thanks to new technologies and databases allowing him to be linked to the crimes.”
Situations like the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo — the alleged serial murderer and rapist in the 1980s — have reignited hope and interest in the Zodiac case, causing the SFPD to reopen the case. The advancements in DNA technology and access to a genealogical database like the one used in DeAngelo’s case could give way to another break in the case.
Since then, the SFPD has been receiving new tips from civilian “researchers” who have tips and suspicions.
“Most are useless, as this case has attracted its share of crackpots,” author Mark Hewit told Express, who wrote a trilogy on the Zodiac, consisting of “Hunted: The Zodiac Murders,” “Exposed: The Zodiac Revealed” and “Profiled: The Zodiac Examined.”
This then poses the question of whether it’s worth it to reopen closed cases at all, as some professionals still believe it to be useful.
“It definitely puts stress on a victim’s family,” said Dr. LaDonna Long, a criminal justice professor with a focus on victimology. “However, most family members want answers. It may open old wounds, but ultimately it may be able to give them peace of mind.”
“Even regardless of the statute of limitations — depending on the crime — there are several benefits to pursuing old cases,” said Ricks. “One is maintaining or restoring faith in our criminal justice system. If the public believes that investigators take crime so seriously as to pursue even the coldest of cases, this helps maintain a feeling of trust for police and other authority figures.”
Others argue that reopening the case will provide little help for the police and the families of the victims.
“I don’t think we’ll ever catch, and unfortunately at this point in time, it really wouldn’t be beneficial,” says Gina Guerra, a senior psychology major. “It may provide a sense of justice for the families of those involved or those who have been on the case for years, but it won’t be as important as it would’ve been closer to the times everything was happening.”
Although some people are still holding out hope, the case gets further and further from being solved each and every day.
“At this point, it seems that we can only speculate about the identity of the Zodiac,” said Ricks. “There are some interesting and intriguing theories, but I doubt at this point we will ever get closure.”