Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Zodiac


The final unsolved serial killer of our list is The Zodiac.  These ended up in chronological order, but that was an accident.  I saved The Zodiac for last because of what he did; he terrorized San Francisco.  Both Jack the Ripper and The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run had a type; Jack liked prostitutes and The Mad Butcher liked the poor.  The Zodiac was not targeting a specific gender, a specific socioeconomic group, or even a consist pattern of killing lovers parked in cars.  The potential was there for anyone to be a target.  Now for some of the lesser known facts.

  • The pattern most associated with Zodiac is his targeting of couples. However, there are at least three incidents when it appears that he targeted individuals.  For a serial killer with 5 confirmed dead and 2 others injured, that isn’t a great proportion of couples to individuals.
  • Having said the above, it should be noted that at least one of the individuals he targeted got away. Kathleen Johns walked into a police station in the wee hours of the morning, terrified because someone had attempted to kidnap her and her infant.  The composite sketch of Zodiac was hanging near the duty station desk and she immediately identified him as her kidnapper.
  • The origins of the Zodiac symbol are debated. Some say it was stolen from the Zodiac Watch company who does use a circle with a cross through it as their symbol and was the brand of watch worn by Arthur Leigh Allen, the prime suspect in the Zodiac killings.  Other believe it to be a sniper’s crosshairs.  There is also some who believe it is part of a mystic sect and the symbol is actually a Zodiac sign.  Whatever it meant or where it came from, Zodiac never said.
  • Arthur Leigh Allen was the prime suspect for many years by the SFPD and Robert Graysmith (who wrote the book Zodiac and is the basis for the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Graysmith). However, in the last twenty years, a few more suspects have surfaced that are just as good.  One is a mystery man.  His identity was never discovered, but he is pictured in a photograph with one of the confirmed victims Darlene Ferrin.  He remarkably resembles the composite sketch and attended a party Ferrin had just a few months before she was shot and killed by Zodiac.  However, no one at the party could remember his name and despite what the movie says, he does not look like Arthur Leigh Allen.  The second is Richard Gaikowski.  Gaikowski worked for a small alternative lifestyle newspaper.  He does resemble the sketch.  After his death, some of the people that knew him suggested he might be the Zodiac based on things he had said.  Later, the 911 operator who took the Zodiac call regarding the shooting of Darlene Ferrin, identified Gaikowski’s voice as belonging to that of Zodiac – which did air in an episode of MysteryQuest.  Then in 2002, a man walked into the police department to state his friend had confessed to the murders on his death bed.  Surprisingly, that man also matched the composite sketch.  He was stationed in Japan during for 3 years when the Zodiac went silent (1970-1973) and he provided a motive for Zodiac – he had just gone through a very bad break up when he came across his victim and her boyfriend on a deserted lover’s lane.  He shot them in a fit of rage and found he enjoyed it.
  • Of course, not much stock is given to death bed confessions of being Zodiac because there have been over 100 of them. Even more surprising, living people are still confessing to being the Zodiac.  Nearly 3,000 people have confessed to being Zodiac at one time or another.  It is one of the highest confessed to crimes in the United States.  Even the very prominent BTK murders did not have that many false confessions.
  • Police may have interviewed the real Zodiac. When taxi driver Paul Stine was shot; police stopped and interviewed a white male walking away from the area.  However, dispatch said the taxi driver had been shot by a black male.  They did not get his name or any information about him and only remembered the encounter after Zodiac sent pieces of Stine’s shirt to the newspaper.  Some have called it the biggest snafu in serial killer history.
  • 2 male victims survived and reported that Zodiac had a minor, but noticeable limp. At the time of the killings however, this information was not made public.  Kathleen Johns said the man that attempted to kidnap her had a limp.  And in an ironic twist, the man the police stopped and talked to after the Stine murder also had a limp.  Both Arthur Leigh Allen and Richard Gaikowski had a limp and favored the same leg as Zodiac.
  • In 2015, a French school teacher thought he cracked the Zodiac name cypher sent in 1968. He claims it is some kind of ancient Celtic text and that he found the name Hodel in it.  However, cryptographers have not independently verified his work and he is known to have read all of Steve Hodel’s books about his father; Dr. George Hill Hodel Jr.  In 1969, the name Gyke was found in one of the Zodiac cyphers.  Gaikowski did use the nickname Gaik, but it wasn’t spelled the same way.
  • Speaking of the cyphers: Are they real? We don’t really know.  One of them was cracked, to be sure, but it is the only one we know has been cracked.  It was also one of the earliest cyphers sent.  So, just because it was real doesn’t mean the others are.  However, just because the others aren’t cracked yet, doesn’t mean they can’t be.  The problem seems to be that some of the world’s greatest cryptographers have attempted to break them without success.  It’s hard to imagine an unbreakable cypher, but it isn’t entirely impossible.  As a matter of fact, it has been done once before, during World War II, when the US began using the Navajo to create their cyphers.  The Navajo codes were unbreakable by the Nazis because they were completely unfamiliar with the language used.  The same could be true of the Zodiac cyphers or they could just be gibberish.
  • We may have Zodiac’s DNA or he may have outsmarted us there too. The FBI does have a DNA profile from the envelopes and stamps sent by Zodiac.  So far, it hasn’t matched anyone it’s been compared to, including Arthur Leigh Allen.  Of course, he may have had some random homeless guy lick all his stamps and envelopes too.  It has not been compared to Richard Gaikowski or George Hill Hodel Jr because we lack DNA samples from them.
  • Finally, Zodiac had to be relatively average. It’s hard to imagine a notorious serial killer as average, but that’s how it goes.  As a matter of fact, Zodiac, Jack the Ripper, and The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run all had to be average.  They had to be average looking and average acting.  The reason they were all uncaught was because there wasn’t a single detail in their behavior or appearance that made people jump out and say “You’re a serial killer!”  Sure, people suspected other people of being each of these killers; Allen was turned in by a work friend, Gaikowski by people who knew him after he died, etc, but people turned in a lot of people as being all of these killers and yet, they were never caught.  Police spent months and months going through the tips that Person X or Person Y was the killer and none of it ever panned out.  This means they had to be as ordinary as you and me.
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