One of the greatest unsolved cases in recent memory concerns The Zodiac Killer. This great mystery has entered the annals of crime history as one of the most notorious unsolved crimes.
The Zodiac killer operated throughout the state of North Carolina, USA – throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the process, he became a serial killer.
Over his reign of terror, the Zodiac killer claimed to have killed 37 people – with at least 5 confirmed victims. He attained the nickname of “Zodiac” after sending a series of letters to newspapers – signing them off with a customised zodiac sign.
Despite years of investigations, the killer was never found. In this article, we take a look at the history behind the case and some theories.
The Early Murders
The first murder attributed to the Zodiac killer too place in 1968, when a young couple were shot dead. A similar crime was committed in 1969.
Both murders followed the same process – with the couples sat in a car at the time of being killed. On both occasions, a car would park alongside them, before pulling the window down and shooting 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, though in the absence of CCTV technology, there was little chance of knowing who made the call.
Law enforcement efforts
Needless to say, law enforcement officials opened up an investigation on the murders, starting a process that would plague the Police for decades.
Crucially, in one of the two shootings, one of the couple survived the shooting. This gave the Police a slight lead on their suspect.
The girl who survived was able to provide the Police with a description of the man – a white male around 5’8″ tall and with short light-brown hair.
Taunting the Media
Initial Police investigations failed to identify a suspect. Three weeks after the second murders, the next piece of the puzzle appeared.
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 – which is a complex puzzle. The letters suggested that by solving the cryptogram, that his identity would be revealed.
In the same letters, he threatened to kill again if the cryptograms were not published on the front page of each of the three newspapers.
The newspapers obeyed, and all three published their parts of the cryptogram. In the near future, no killings happened.
Just under two month later, another letter was sent by the killer, who referred to himself as “The Zodiac” for the first time. This name subsequently stuck.
To prove his authenticity, he included details of the murders which hadn’t been made public. This made the Police aware that the killer was indeed out there.
Meanwhile, the public were becoming rather worried about the killer. Soon enough, the news spread nationwide, causing mass panic, but also an element of intrigue.
Everyone attempted to play a part, with multiple citizens from many different states attempting to solve the cryptogram.
Eventually, a couple from California were able to solve the cryptogram. Yet no name was included. Instead, the cryptogram suggested that the killer liked “kiling people because it is so much fun”.
This clearly showed that a deranged sociopath was on the loose. The cryptogram went on to state that the killer was “collecting slaves for the afterlife”.
Despite the newspapers doing as commanded by the killer a few months prior, further confirmed murders took place.
In the first case, a man claiming to be an escaped convict asked for assistance from a young couple, before stabbing them. The killer then drew his personal symbol on the car door.
The killer then used a pay telephone once again to report the crime. The Police rushed to the scene, though there was no sign of the murderer.
However, one of the victims, before 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.
A few months later, another incident took place. A woman and her daughter were travelling in a car, when the car behind them signalled for them to stop.
The man told the two women that they had a loose tyre. He offered to fix it, though after driving away, the tyre fell off.
The man then offered to take the duo to a nearby service station. However, while the nearby service station was around 10 minutes away, the man took them on a 90-minute journey.
Fortunately, the woman and her daughter were able to escape whilst the car was stationery.
After seeing the sketches of the Zodiac killer, the mother stated that the man who was driving them met the description.
Upon eventually making it back to their car, they found that it had been destroyed, in the process eliminating any trace of the killer.
Communications continued in the early 1970s. In 1970, the killer threatened to explode a school bus – again using his trademark sign to confirm his authenticity.
Another cryptogram was sent in late 1969. Despite extensive efforts from a multitude of people, it took until December 2020 for the cryptogram to be solved.
A team of citizens from different nations were able to decipher the cryptogram. Programmers, developers and mathematicians were among those to partake in this team.
Unfortunately though, the cryptogram failed to give any more information. It purely stated that the Zodiac refuted the idea that someone who claimed to be him on a radio phone-in was actually him.
The cryptogram went on to say that the Zodiac was not afraid of the gas chamber, due to his belief that it would send him to paradise (wrongly spelt in the cryptogram) sooner.
In the same letter, the Zodiac claimed to have committed more murders. Investigators were able to find several links between the Zodiac and other murders – some of which dated back to the early 1960s.
The final confirmed communication from the Zodiac arrived in 1974. In this communication, he praised the film “The Exorcist.”
He signed off the letter with a running tally of the number of murders he had ostensibly committed – which claimed to be 37.
While further letters did arrive, investigators would later suggest that these were inauthentic, and the work of pranksters.
Officially, the Zodiac was never heard from after 1974. It is unknown what fate befell of the Zodiac.
Who was the Zodiac Killer: Theories
Because the Zodiac became an expert in covering his own tracks, it made tracking him down an impossible task.
Years of investigations took place by multiple agencies, but there were never any concrete leads, though several suspects have been suggested.
The book “Zodiac” by Robert Graysmith was able to produce considerable evidence that seemingly linked the murders to a man named Arthur Leigh Allen.
The book, which can be bought below, appears to have a strong argument. Evidence includes conversations Allen had with his acquaintances, his location near the killings and a supposed hatred of women and couples.
Arguably the most compelling evidence was the brand of typewriter that Allen used, which was in-keeping with the communications received from the killer.
Allen was also imprisoned in 1974, which would tie-up with the lack of communication from the Zodiac after that date. Allen passed away in 1992 from cancer.
In fairness to Allen however, his DNA profile didn’t match that of the evidence linked to the taxi driver killing, which was confirmed to be by the Zodiac.
Other theories have mainly revolved around disgruntled children making claims that their father was the killer. Brothers, uncles and even grandparents were suspected, but nothing conclusive ever came from further investigations.
The case remained open for several years, with continuous efforts made to track the killer down.
But these efforts were fruitless. The case was made “inactive” in 2004, owing to a thirty year time period without any communication.
The case was re-opened in 2007, and to this day, the case does officially remain open. But as mentioned before, there has been no correspondence since 1974.
It is presumed that the killer has since died. The chances of the killer still being at large are slim, with the chances of him ever being brought to justice remote.
This is very unfortunate, due to the pain and misery he caused so many people. Part of the legacy behind these killings is the fact that no one knows who committed the murders.
It appears that ultimately, this is a mystery that will never be solved, with someone taking this secret all the way to their grave.