San Francisco Police continue hunt for the Zodiac Killer

by  Aero Cavalier / Staff Reporter

A compilation of evidence from the Zodiac murder cases. Photo courtesy of the Times-Herald.

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.”

A police sketch of the Zodiac Killer in his costume, as described by survivor Brian Hartnell. Courtesy of wonderland1981.com.

“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.”

An excerpt of one of the Zodiac Killer’s letters. Photo courtesy of NBC Boston.

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.”



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7 replies

  1. Very Interesting article. I hope they find out soon. There are a lot of theory’s and I believe he will be identified eventually. Things appear suddenly and then the case gathers momentum. Then we can all stop Guessing ! 🥴

    • I agree. As a former resident of Vallejo during the killings, I want to know who is is or was before I pass. My father said the same thing but passed in 2008 without knowing.

  2. It is not true that SFPD has checked everything given to them! If they will check the DNA , Fingerprints and other evidence I gave to Jim Deasy back in Jan and Feb of 1990, they will have had something they could have used to solve the case. The chief at that time was not very good! I was told this by one of the investigators who had to work under Hennessey! Hopefully they have not gotten rid of the evidence I gave to them, including a tape recording of the man who has claimed is the Zodiac. I gave them a glass that the suspect drank a Bloody Mary out of , which has his DNA and handprint. Everything that I told Deasy fell of deaf ears! He was about to retire so he didn’t care at that time which is a shame! His secretary who over heard what I was telling him told me, that he would probably not test what I gave to him.

  3. I have solved the Zodiac 340 if anyone is interested. It’s a confession letter. I’m autistic so it was actually pretty easy. He gives his full name. Ross Sullivan. There is a hidden message in the 340 and in the 408 as well. Arrange the “mistake” letters in a row. Above them put the letters they should have been. If you have done this correctly you should see. “Ross is rate AAA. Saw CSI at site.” Does anyone want to know what the 340 says?

  4. It’s Gaikowski I tell ya!!!!!

  5. Most people already know that I have solved the Z340. It is a confession letter written by Ross Sullivan. He gives his full name.

  6. Hey. RuTorch
    In KC …me too out by longview lake
    I saw the zodiac killer article .you might be interested to know of my long story of being attacked by a man here , almost murdered many times but barely escaping I know is one of the Zodiac killers it all started on 8/1/98 trail biking . In 2006 I found a satchel very old in blue river park it had all of the zodiacs victims items taken at their murders / attacks a Riverside cal det. confirmed it was from CJB had kcpd. Det.s out looking for it. I wrote a book on it in 2011
    also my site zodiacciphersdecoded.blogspot.com.
    Tried gaining interest from SFCA media way
    No luck ….the 2 men that were the Zodiac killers lived in KC or there homes were here
    and they were in law enforcement, high ups

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