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50 Years After The Zodiac Killer’s Last Letter: What Do We Know?

Almost fifty years ago, on July 8th 1974, The Zodiac Killer sent his final letter to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper after years of tormenting areas of Northern California. The Zodiac Killer still remains a mystery to this day and is regarded as one of American history’s most famous unsolved murder cases. There is still debate as to the number of victims the serial killer murdered, as it stands, five people are confirmed to be killed at the hands of The Zodiac, even though there are links to over thirty murders. So what happened? How has the killer not been found after all this time?


One of the first cases with a possible association to The Zodiac Killer dates back to June 4th 1963 in Santa Barbara. Two teenagers, Linda Edwards and her fiance Robert Domingos were shot dead with a 22-calibre on a beach near Gaviota State Park. However, the case wasn’t linked to The Zodiac until 1972. 

Another alleged murder carried out by the killer was that of Cheri Jo Bates on October 30th 1966 in Riverside. She was stabbed and beaten to death after leaving Riverside City College’s library. A month later, a letter titled ‘The Confession’ was sent to Bates’ father, the police and the local newspaper, where the perpetrator wrote, “She is not the first and she will not be the last.” The Zodiac Killer admitted to killing Bates in 1970, but it has never been confirmed by officials.

The first confirmed murder The Zodiac Killer committed was on December 20th 1968 in Benicia. David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen were on their first date when they were shot in David’s car with a .22-calibre; similar to Linda Edwards and Robert Domingos’ deaths.

On July 4th 1969, Darlene Ferrin and her friend Michael “Mike” Mageau drove to Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo when they were shot with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. Mike survived but Darlene died from the gunshots. This murder was also confirmed to be The Zodiac Killer. Shortly after, on August 1st, three letters were sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the Vallejo Times by the killer, admitting to killing Betty Lou Jensen, David Faraday and Darlene Ferrin. The letter included a 408-symbol cryptogram that was solved a week later. The cryptogram translated to:

“I like killing people because it is so much fun it is 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 all the people I have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down or stop my collecting of slaves for my afterlife.”

After this letter, the pseudonym “The Zodiac Killer” was given to the perpetrator, but the murders didn’t stop there. 

The next time The Zodiac struck was September 27th 1969 when he stabbed Cecelia Shephard and Bryan Hartwell by Lake Berryessa in Napa County. Bryan survived but Cecelia succumbed to her injuries. After assaulting these victims, the killer called the Napa County Sheriff’s Department from a nearby phone box to “report a murder… no, a double murder.” Despite this, The Zodiac Killer was still not caught. 

A few weeks later, on October 11th, cab driver Paul Stine was in Presidio Heights, San Francisco when he was shot in his car on route to a job. Two days later, the Chronicle received another letter from The Zodiac where he admitted to killing Stine by including a piece of the victim’s shirt in the letter. In the letter he seemed to mock the police when he wrote, “The S.F Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly” before proceeding to threaten to bomb a children’s school bus. However, there was a slight turning point after Stine’s murder; a composite sketch was created of the killer based off of eyewitness accounts. Another piece of the victim’s shirt was sent to a lawyer a few months after.

Just under a month later, a cryptogram containing 340 symbols was sent to the Chronicle, as well as another letter claiming the police actually stopped the killer on the night he murdered Paul Stine. The cryptogram wasn’t solved until 2020, it was translated as, “I hope you are having lots of fun trying to catch me that wasn’t me on the tv show which brings up a point about me I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradise so they are afraid of death I am not afraid of death because I know that my new life is life will be an easy one in paradise death.”

Over the course of the next few years, numerous letters from The Zodiac Killer were sent predominantly to the San Francisco Chronicle admitting to multiple crimes, including the failed abduction of a woman called Kathleen Johns and her young daughter in 1970. The letters also included demands of publishing the letters on the front pages of the newspaper, as well as descriptions of the ways he had killed his victims and other bomb threats. He even implied he had murder far more people than police thought with, “Me - 37, SFPD - 0”. The final letter from the killer was postmarked on July 8th, 1974 in which he attacked a columnist of the Chronicle, Count Marco Spinelli, and signed off with, “The Red Phantom (red with rage).”

The Zodiac Killer case has gripped not only the United States, but the world, and has been ever present in popular culture since the early 1970s. There have been references to the killer in many films, like in The Exorcist III (1990) where a ‘Gemini Killer’ was featured as well as in popular television shows like American Horror Story (2011-) and Riverdale (2017-2023). Perhaps the most well-known example of the killer’s presence in today’s culture is David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr and Mark Ruffalo. The popularity of this film caused the case, which was closed in 2004, to be reopened by the FBI. 

In the fifty years since The Zodiac’s last letter, there have only been a few possible suspects, most notably Arthur Leigh Allen, a convicted sex offender who died in 1992, and more recently in 2023, a man called Gary Francis Poste, who died in 2018. Both of these suspects remained unconfirmed, leaving the case unsolved. 

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image ‘Crimewave - Zodiac’ by Bongwater-bandit licensed by CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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