By Julia Kemp
On August 1 of 1968, a mysterious letter arrived in the mailboxes of three newspaper headquarters in San Francisco and Vallejo, California. The letters, all identical and handwritten, described the killings of two teenagers. His letter then included his signature, a symbol of a circle with a cross through it, and a cipher to find the identity of the killer. The writer of these letters, introduced as “the Zodiac”, threatened the newspapers of further attacks if they did not publish these letters on the front page of their papers. As Bay Area police departments along with the FBI worked tirelessly to crack the Zodiac’s codes, the killer kept commiting more murders and sending more cryptic letters to local newspapers.
Finally, local high school teacher Donald Harden solved the ciphers given in the Zodiac’s letters. “I like killing people because it is fun,” said the letters, “It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.” The Zodiac Killer eventually revealed that he had murdered 37 individuals, however only seven murders have been directly connected to the Zodiac.
One of the Zodiac Killer’s most famous homicides are known as the Lake Herman Road murders. These murders are widely attributed to be the Zodiac’s first kills. Taking place on December 20, 1968, these murders consisted of the shootings of high school students Betty Lou Jensen and David Arthur Faraday. Betty and David were known for being an all-American, popular young couple; David was a Boy Scout and a good student and Betty a talented artist with many friends. When their romance began to blossom, the young couple decided to go to a Christmas party together. They promised Betty Lou Jensen’s parents that she would be home by 11:00, but they never returned. While on the way to the event, David parked his Rambler station wagon at a lovers’ spot on Lake Herman Road. Many drivers recall seeing the Rambler while driving past, but only one passerby stopped his car to check on the couple. That driver saw a vehicle deeply penetrated with bullet holes and covered with blood. David could be seen on the ground just beside the car, with a gunshot behind his left ear and in his brain. Betty’s body was found further away from the Rambler. Detectives say that she had attempted to run away before being shot five times in the back by the Zodiac. Betty died on site, but David was breathing when first responders arrived at the crime scene. Though David was able to be transported onto an ambulance, he died before ever reaching a hospital.
The death of this young couple created a horrified and paranoid community. With an unknown gunman on the loose, investigators searched for the perpetrator to no avail. It wasn’t until more murders of young couples just like Betty Lou Jensen and David Arthur Faraday took place that the Zodiac Killer made themselves known, and the mad scramble to determine the identity of the murderer began.
Though the Zodiac Killer made major headlines not only in the Bay Area but nationwide, no suspect was ever arrested, and the Zodiac Killer was never identified.