Thought I’d add my ideas on Z, then I’m gonna take cover while you all tear them apart lol!
This was the first case I really immersed myself in, I suddenly realised about 10 years ago that I didn’t know much about the Zodiac case and then when I found there were unsolved ciphers I was hooked. I’ve never made any attempt to identify him but I feel like I figured a few things out about him and the type of guy he was at that time….
I don’t see Z as a serial killer in the usual way, okay he is technically because he’s taken 5 lives but I don’t believe he was ever fulfilling a need, desire or urge to kill like most other serials and therefore stopping was no problem for him.
For me, the crucial point of this story comes in the 2nd week of August 69, but I’ll lay out the important parts of the timeline in order!
So if we start before the beginning with Cherry Jo Bates, I know lots of people think this was Z but I don’t agree, Cherry Jo’s murder was really brutal, her throat had been cut so deep she was almost decapitated according to reports. That murder is filled with rage, most probably aimed directly at the victim and I don’t see anything in the Zodiac crimes that resembles it. Z’s attacks feel more like assassinations to me, with him getting nothing out of them except taking lives. I also don’t think that someone that committed such a brutal attack in 66 would have made such a bad job of stabbing 2 people in 69, with Brian Hartnell surviving and Cecilia Shepherd only dying after 2 days in hospital.
So why did he start? Well we can only guess but I’ve never understood why people think he was particularly intelligent, personally I think he was a loser, a nobody desperate to be somebody, getting gradually more angry at his life going nowhere while everybody else seemed happy, certainly in the latter part of the 60s anyway.
Who knows what the final straw was, maybe a failed relationship or losing a job he liked, could have been anything like that that pushed him over the edge.
I do think there’s a very good chance he’d been to Vietnam (definitely not doing any cryptography though), not because of the boot print but he’s clearly capable of taking someone’s life without dwelling on it or feeling guilt, seeing people shot in war maybe somewhat numbed him to death? I also think there’s a decent chance he’d tried to join the PD and been refused, it feels very central to his plan to prove himself smarter than them. Another thing that gives me the military feeling is his overall crime spree, it feels like a campaign of terror against society to me aimed at causing wide scale panic with the PD looking useless at the heart of it, so I think it’s quite likely he saw his attacks simply as missions he needed to complete to achieve his larger goal, rather than murders he had some twisted desire to commit.
20 December 1968. He shoots 2 people dead at Lake Herman rd, doesn’t linger around, just fires multiple shots to get the job done and gets himself out of there! Why them? It may be that he felt particularly annoyed at young couples when he felt his own life sucked but I tend to think it was more about location, simply where he could find 2 people isolated and get away with it easily.
He doesn’t start sending letters afterwards and just lays low for 7 months, before striking again. That was one of the biggest puzzles to me, WHY such a long gap? My theory is that it was because it was his first major crime and afterwards he was panicked about now being guilty of a double homicide. I imaging him scouring media for quite some time, paranoid that there was going to be a lead in the case and then a knock on his door, so maybe it just took him 6-7 months to regain his composure and confidence to continue?
4 July 69. He attacks again, very similar to the first crime, a blitz attack on a couple in an isolated location, except this time one of them survives! At this scene though he initially pulls in behind them then drives away again before returning to commit the crime, is this hesitation? It could be he saw another car somewhere and didn’t want any witnesses but I tend to think he got a little overwhelmed by what he was then going to do and drove away for a few minutes to get his head together.
31 July 69. The SF Chronicle, SF Examiner and Vallejo Times all receive 1 section each of the first cipher, demanding it be printed on their front covers or he’ll go shoot a dozen people! This to me is the real start of Z’s plan and game, I believe the 2 crimes he’s committed so far are just to get him into position to be able to start this correspondence and cause fear.
As for the cipher itself, I don’t know how many of you have ever really looked at them closely, but if you spend an hour or 2 reverse engineering this first one you’ll soon see there’s nothing at all complicated or clever about it’s construction, it’s created in pretty much the same way any of us would have done it, he started with 1 symbol for each letter then thought how he could make it much harder and just decided to use a load more symbols for many of the letters, NO reason to think he had any cryptography experience at all, if anything it kinda proves that he didn’t, if you do sit and decode it back to its key you’ll also notice he doesn’t even shuffle the order he uses the symbols in, the symbols for every letter repeat in perfect sequence right through the message, proving that he was sitting there with the key beside him carefully coding it letter by letter.
4 August 69. The “Debut of Zodiac” letter arrives, proudly naming himself and teasing PD with the idea that his identity was in the cipher, in my opinion he thought that first cipher was going to take much longer to crack and just wanted the PD to waste even more resources on it. I’m almost certain he never had any intention of giving away any real clues to who he was at all.
8 August 69. The most critical date in the whole case I think, starting with Donald Harden decoding the cipher, much quicker I imagine than Z expected. But it’s what happens over that night and the following night that I think is the crucial missing piece from the timeline….the Tate/LaBianca murders in LA!! I’m not suggesting the crimes are linked at all, just that they really bothered Zodiac and threatened to steal his limelight!
I have no idea how heavily reported those murders were in SF but I would imagine it was the headline everywhere considering Sharon Tate’s fame and the reality of the press coverage doesn’t much matter, it’s how Z perceived it that’s important! Try and put yourself in his head, he’s spent 8 months now putting his plan into action and has only jussst started communicating with the press a week and a half earlier, he’s had his ciphers on the front page and everybody talking about him then suddenly he’s hit with this curve ball, 7 dead in 2 nights and way more brutal than his own crimes! I think he felt upstaged and worried he was going to become yesterday’s news very quickly and this made him speed up his timeline, change his MO and make mistakes.
Before the Manson murders, he never tries to claim any extra kills and the only threat he makes is to get his cipher on the front cover, he’s quite content proving that he committed the 2 shootings! By the time he writes again the murders will be over with and the will begin!
Now I believe he’s thinking how to become even more feared so he plans a completely different attack, it’s during the day, it’s going to be sooner than they may expect, he’s going to use a knife and he’s even now gone to the trouble of making a creepy Zodiac costume, he’s also going to take the murders out of Vallejo, again just trying to spread the fear wider.
27 September 69. Lake Berryessa, he parks up then dressed in his Zodiac costumes walks for several minutes before coming to Cecilia Shepherd and Brian Hartnell. This was another thing I always found weird, why wear the costume then tell them he’s an escaped prisoner heading to Mexico? I can only assume it was because he felt nervous about getting them under control, worried they’d scream and run if they knew he was a killer, I don’t believe he was very comfortable committing this attack at all! I’ve seen a lot of people say this shows an escalation but I don’t believe it’s one he wanted, he’s just trying to increase the horror with a knife and the uncertainty with the different location and time of day.
He still doesn’t write any more letters yet, I think he still feels he hasn’t done enough to match the horror of LA.
13 October 69. Now he attacks in SF itself, lots of people seem to need to link him to moving there at this point and I don’t understand why….Vallejo isn’t very far away and I think the whole purpose of this attack was to spread the fear into city. I think he attacked a cab driver because he didn’t know the area well and didn’t know where he’d find a couple alone, so the next easiest thing he could think of was a cab driver. He parked fairly close to the freeway had the cab bring him to a few blocks away from his car and was rather lucky he didn’t get caught.
I think he very likely decided that very same night or the following morning (possibly even before the Stine murder) that he was done with the attacks and would just continue his reign of terror with lies and false threats, by this point they proved just as effective.
So the following day he writes to the newspaper again, proving he’s the Stine killer and also threatens a bus full of children. I don’t believe he ever had any intention to kill any children, attack a bus, plant a bomb or anything else he threatened after this point, it was just whatever popped into his head that would create panic.
I also think it’s quite likely he was either drinking heavily or using a lot of drugs, probably increasing around this time, just based on some of the nonsense in his later letters.
Either way I believe he enjoyed keeping the PD chasing shadows while he continued sending odd letters and cards for the next few years, trying to claim other people’s kills and constantly increasing his supposed number of victims, I suspect in reality his life was starting to improve at this point and by 74 he’d moved on from all this and went on to live a normal life. I feel like the New York letter could well have been him but I’m not sure, anyway I don’t believe he committed any more murders, if he did it would only be because somebody figured him out!
Hopefully genetic genealogy or a future forensic breakthrough will put us all out of our misery but I doubt the PD really have his fingerprints and I’m doubtful about the DNA too.
Having said all that I do think Arthur Leigh Allen is still a very viable suspect, there are too many links and coincidences to exclude him until someone else is proven guilty.