The code, which was supposed to let the police know who he was, had around 408 symbols and the police were getting nowhere with it. It just so happens that an older couple who liked to do crosswords and puzzles saw it in the paper and worked together to break the encryption. This is what they decoded: “I like killing people because it is so much fun, more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all. To kill something gives me the most thrilling experience, it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl. The best part of it is that when I die I will be reborn in paradise and those killed will be my slaves. I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down my collection of slaves for my afterlife.” There were around sixteen other symbols at the end of this message they couldn’t decipher but they certainly had enough.
Each piece of correspondence received from the killer had a Zodiac symbol on it so the Chronicle dubbed him The Zodiac Killer. He typically killed young couples via a handgun or knife. Regardless of which weapon he used he was vicious in his attack. During one of the murders the Zodiac stabbed a girl mercilessly and stabbed the man eight times. Both of them were hogtied and placed right next to each other when they were found. The man survived and helped create a sketch of the killer but it never produced anything because the sketch made the man look like an average person so nothing stood out.
One of the most amazing things about this particular story is a journalist and a cartoonist (24 years old), from the Chronicle were the ones who never gave up on finding the killer. They kept feeding the police information they had discovered (there were three different police departments involved because of the geography of his kills), but they continuously hit a road block because the police often said their hands were tied. It was a strange “Catch 22” because the police refused to work on the case because they didn’t have enough evidence but how else can you get evidence but to work the case?
These two Chronicle employees were risking their lives tracking down leads and both of them began getting weekly calls with no one on the other end of the line so it was assumed it was the Zodiac. The killer knew the addresses and phone numbers of several people working the case as he contacted them from time to time. They weren’t worried that he would go after them because they were his muse so to speak. They knew the Zodiac Killer thought he was smarter than them so he was enjoying taunting everyone involved in the case.
Hundreds of people were flooding into the police stations saying they were the Zodiac Killer (men and women), which slowed the police department down. One of the greatest challenges they had is there was very little they could do from a forensic perspective because they didn’t have the tools we have today.
Then one day the cartoonist at the paper began putting things together. A shoe print at one of the scenes was identified to be a military boot but civilians wore them as well so they didn’t know if he was actually in the military. He took this into consideration along with the fact the killer used encryption and went to a few military bases within the killing area and found that all the books in the library that had to do with
encryption had been stolen. He figured the killer certainly wouldn’t want to check a book out so it was logical that it was him.
Knowing the Zodiac was in or had been in the military helped them narrow down a list of suspects. Unfortunately it didn’t narrow it down too much because of the number of males who were in the military during this time period. There was one man they were very interested in because of a tip but the police weren’t given a warrant to go into his house. They were told when they found more evidence to come back and try again. Once again, they want you to have enough evidence to go in but they needed to go in to get the evidence they needed.
A few years later they were still searching for something they could use and it finally got to the point where the police departments weren’t willing to continue spending more man hours on the case especially since the letters and killings had stopped. The cartoonist wouldn’t give up on the case and he did almost all of this on his free time; unfortunately his obsession with the case cost him his marriage.
Three years ended up going by and the police no longer heard from the Zodiac Killer. They figured he might have died or moved away because killers like this can’t stop on their own. Then the cartoon artist once again figured something out the police should’ve taken into consideration. He went back to one of the witnesses who received a call from the killer years before and asked her a question. He thought she said something about the Zodiac claiming he was going to go on a killing spree because it was his birthday. The reason she remembered the date was that it was a few days before Christmas and her husband was supposed to come home that day and she was anxious to tell him about the phone call.
This was a huge detail the police missed. He matched the birth date to the man he thought was the Zodiac Killer. Next he had to figure out why his suspect stopped writing and killing and decided to check the prison system. He was right as the man he suspected had been incarcerated for three years for child molestation. It just so happens the time he was in prison was an exact fit to the timeline of when the killer stopped killing and sending letters. He told the police about his find and they took a picture of the suspect and brought it to the only eye witness they had including seven other pictures for due process. Without hesitation he chose the one who the cartoonist suspected.
The police were then able to get a warrant and went into his trailer and they found boots that fit the crime scene. They found the same size gloves that he left at one of the crime scenes. They found a variety of weapons but not the ones used in the murders. He was out of jail at this point and found the police tossing his place. He wasn’t upset he just sat down at the kitchen table all calm and collected.
The detectives sat down and asked him some questions one was whether or not he was ambidextrous which he admitted he was. The reason this was so important is the letters they received had slightly different writing on them. For example maybe a “k” was a great fit on both letters but several other letters were off slightly. This is why the letters they received weren’t considered usable evidence if they found something to match against.
The writing analyst said that handwriting wasn’t something an individual can fake but writing both left and right handed made perfect sense with what he analyzed. The detectives noticed a nice watch on his wrist and it just so happened to be a Zodiac watch. Feeling confident they had their guy they shored up their case to make an arrest. Two days before they were going to make an official arrest the suspect died of a heart attack; the killing and letters stopped after he died.
The police and the men who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle were devastated because the case would never be officially closed because they didn’t have a chance to try the man who they thought was the Zodiac Killer in a court of law. Once DNA testing was available they conducted one on their suspected killer and it came back inconclusive. This means it wasn’t a match but it also meant they couldn’t say it wasn’t the killer; this doesn’t happen often but it did in this case which only seems to fit.
The file is still open in the three police departments involved although none of them are actively working the case. The cartoonist still keeps to his original theory and thought they had the right man especially since the killing stopped when he had his heart attack.
The journalist who helped out left the paper and the cartoonist (Robert Graysmith), who pretty much solved the case, wrote a number one selling book called: The Zodiac Killer along with a follow up hit called: The Zodiac Killer Unmasked.
Robert Graysmith worked at the San Francisco Chronicle and was 24 years old when the killing began. Keep in mind he was a cartoonist and had little credentials at the paper. When researching the case he’d often hear the question: “Are you a reporter?” and he had to answer “No, I’m a cartoonist.” You get the picture.
He was extremely intelligent and taught himself how to crack codes which he did in this case. I think one of the most amazing things is for someone his age to be brave enough to meet with telephone contacts because just one call could end up being the Zodiac Killer and he could’ve ended up being murdered.
He was an Eagle Scout who didn’t smoke or drink which was unusual for that particular industry and time period (people even had alcohol in their offices). He never gave up even when the police departments kept turning him away; even though they secretly fed him information they weren’t allowed to check out for themselves. He spent countless hours poring over their case files because the police weren’t allowed to do it because it was a cold case; cold case divisions didn’t exist back then. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize as a cartoonist but gave up this career to become a writer. He wrote five books and two of them became movies: “Auto Focus” (2002) and “Zodiac” (2007). Jake Gyllenhaal played Mr. Graysmith and Robert Downey Jr., played the reporter. Mr. Graysmith is 70 years old and lives in San Francisco,