One of the great unsolved cases in recent memory concerns the Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac Killer operated throughout Northern Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming a serial killer. Despite years of investigations, the killer was never found. Over the course of his reign of terror, the killer claimed to have killed 37 people – with 5 confirmed dead. He attained the name ‘Zodiac’ after sending a series of letters to newspapers – signing them off with a customised zodiac sign. Over fifty years after the killings took place, the case officially remains open. In this article, we take a look at the history behind the case – and some theories. This article is also this week’s Sunday Read.
The first murder attributed to the Zodiac killer took place in 1968, with a young couple shot. A similar crime was committed in 1969. Both murders followed the same process – with the couples sat in a car at the time of the attack. Another car would park alongside them, before going to shoot them. In the aftermath of the second shooting, a man phoned the nearby Police department to report and claim responsibility for both murders. The call was traced to a gas station. In the first case, a girl survived and was able to provide a description of the man – a white male, around 5’8″ tall, and with short light-brown hair.
A few weeks later, three letters from the killer were sent to three newspapers. The letters were near-identical, and claimed credit for both killings. Each letter contained a part of a cryptogram – a complex puzzle. The letters suggested that once solved, that the cryptogram would reveal his identity. He threatened to kill again if the cryptograms weren’t published on the front page of the three newspapers. All three parts were published, and no killings happened in the immediate future.
A few weeks later, another letter was sent by the killer, who referred to himself as the Zodiac for the first time. To prove his authenticity, he included details of the murders which hadn’t been made public. The cryptogram was solved soon after by a couple from California – though no name was included. Instead, the cryptogram suggested the killer liked ‘killing people because it is so much fun’ and that he was collecting ‘slaves’ for the afterlife, which he referred to as ‘paradise’.
Further confirmed murders took place a few weeks later. In one case, a man claimed to be an escaped convict to another young couple, before stabbing them. He drew his personal symbol on the car door. The killer used a pay telephone again to report the crime. However one of the victims, prior to succumbing to her injuries, was able to provide a detailed description of the killer. The male survived. Another murder would take place the week after, with a taxi driver killed. Following this murder, sketches were created and the case became a priority.
Communications from the Zodiac would continue in the weeks around these cases. Another incident involving the Zodiac took place a few months later. A woman and her daughter were travelling in a car, when the car behind them urged them to stop, citing a loose tyre. He offered to fix it, yet upon driving away, the woman’s tyre fell off. The man offered to take the duo to a nearby gas station. However he subsequently drove for ninety minutes without stopping. Fortunately, the woman and daughter were able to escape while the car was stationery. The woman confirmed it was the Zodiac killer, after seeing the sketches. Her car was destroyed.
More communications took place in 1970. The killer threatened to explode a school bus, before sending another cryptogram – which to this day hasn’t been solved. In other letters, he claimed to have committed more murders. Investigators were able to find several links between the Zodiac and other murders, some dating back further than ten years. The final confirmed letter from the Zodiac came in 1974, which lauded the film ‘The Exorcist’. As was customary, he signed off the letter with a running tally of the murders he had committed – ostensibly 37. Further letters would arrive, though investigators suggested they weren’t ever authentic. He was never officially heard from after 1974.
Despite years of investigations taking place by multiple agencies, no one was ever brought to justice. There have been some suspects suggested. The book ‘Zodiac’ by Robert Graysmith produced considerable evidence tying the murders to Arthur Leigh Allen. The book, which is a riveting read and can be seen/bought below, appears to have a strong argument. The evidence used includes conversations he had with acquaintances, his location, a supposed hatred of women and couples, and a brand of typewriter used among other areas. There have also been other theories, with many making claims that their father/brother was the killer.
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The case was eventually marked as ‘inactive’ in 2004, but was re-opened in 2007. To this day, the case remains open, and there is still some hope. However, no one has ever heard from the Zodiac since his final letter in 1974. The chances of him still being alive and brought to justice appear to be low. This is unfortunate, due to the pain he unleashed on the world. Part of the legacy behind these killings is the fact that no one knows who did it. It appears that this is a mystery that will never be solved.