Diving into the Zodiac Killer


Emma Norenberg (9th), Reporter

The Zodiac Killer traumatized many communities across Northern California in the late 1960s.  Police, investigators, and FBI agents think they have identified the Zodiac Killer but they are not sure yet. They have sketch pictures of the suspect they think has to be the Zodiac Killer and they have made a match. There is no DNA backing this up so it is not 100% accurate yet and the police had refused to make any further comments on it. There is so much more information about this mysterious case so let’s get into it.

The Zodiac Killer has been connected to five murders and two attempted murders that occurred in 1968 and 1969 in the San Francisco area. Unlike most serial killers, the Zodiac taunted authorities with complex ciphers in letters that were sent to newspapers and law enforcement. He named himself the “Zodiac” in the letters he sent. And when he would send the letters they would often start with, “This is the Zodiac speaking…” The letters also came with what is known as his “signature” and circle with a cross running through it.

While the investigators have found 7 victims (again 2 of whom survived the Zodiac) the famous Zodiac Killer has confessed to no less than 37 murders. Even some residents of the San Francisco Bay Area have reported murders from the area that could potentially be the work of the Zodiac. But others also think that this Zodiac Killer could just be some crazy nonsense. 

Back in the 1960s the Zodiac’s weapon of choice was a simple handgun. His first two victims, David Faraday and Betty Jensen, who were just high school students on a date. The Zodiac killed them using a 0.22 semi-automatic pistol. But there is not a set reason or motive to why he commited all these horrible crimes. However, it seems that maybe the Zodiac Killer has a grudge against couples. In July of 1969, he shot another young couple, Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin with a 9mm handgun. In September 1969, he seemed to change his method or technique when committing these crimes. He once again targeted a young couple, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were in college and were at Lake Berryessa enjoying a picnic. But this time it was different, instead of just shooting both of them right away he made Cecelia tie Bryan up before tying up Cecelia. He then drew a knife and repeatedly stabbed them both. Surprisingly Brian did survive the eight stabs to the back but unfortunately Cecelia was not so lucky. The final confirmed killing of the Zodiac was a taxi driver named Paul Stine who was shot in the head by the passenger who was the Zodiac himself.

Three days after Paul Stine’s murder, the San Francisco Chronicle got a letter from the Zodiac Killer claiming responsibility for the crime. At the end of the letter the Zodiac threatened to shoot the tire of a school bus. He also said at the end that he was going to “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

With two of the victims surviving the Zodiac, that gave the police enough evidence to keep on going with the investigation. Plus, the Zodiac didn’t hide from the spotlight much. He sent at least 18 letters to both newspapers and private citizens during his murder spree. Despite the amount of available evidence, the police were not able to find the Zodiac’s identity during the initial investigation. 

In March of 2004, they marked the case as “inactive.” They then reopened the case in 2008, but opening it back up did not help at all. When the DNA system worked on finding the Golden State Killer that inspired them and gave them hope which ended with them opening the case again in 2018. They say that DNA technology has finally evolved enough to give the police, and the victims’ families, new hope. There’s a chance something could be extracted from the DNA samples which were not considered workable before. For example, flaps of envelopes or stamps which were licked by the Zodiac Killer. 

The real question was why is the Zodiac so hard to catch? The Zodiac Killer has managed to evade the authorities to this day. Decades have passed since his murder spree, and the case still has thousands of potential suspects. Plus, the somewhat careless way in which genetic materials were handled before the evolution of DNA technology does not help the investigators move forward. Some Zodiac enthusiasts are convinced that he is dead.

When interviewing a person that really loves this case, which is my dad – Steve Norenberg – I asked him, “What are your first thoughts about the Zodiac Killer?” 

He responded with, “It blows my mind on how they still haven’t caught this dude. It also really makes me think about why his first few victims were all couples. It doesn’t make sense.” 

The last question I asked him was, “Where do you think the Zodiac is now?” My dad responded with, 

“I think he is either dead or just hiding. I believe there is too much evidence to not find him so he is just hiding from the authorities at this point.”

To end this summary on everything about the Zodiac Killer, it is safe to say that the Zodiac is one of the most dangerous and well known serial killers of all time. But it really does say how much you have to be careful in the world. The fact that it is taking the police so long to catch him – and I don’t think he is caught to this day – really does blow my mind on how much evidence he gave the police and he is still not caught.