The Zodiac Killer became known to the public in July 1969 and did not fade from view until well into the 1970s, but his deadly spree of serial murders actually began in late 1968, just before Christmas. No one knows how many people he may have killed — or how long he continued to kill after he ended contact with the media — because he has never been found or arrested for the murders he claimed.
Following is the timeline of known incidents:
» Dec. 20, 1968: David Farraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, are killed in a gravel parking area near Lake Herman Road in Vallejo with a .22-caliber semi-automatic pistol.
» July 4, 1969: Darlene Ferrin, 22, and Mike Mageau, 19, are each shot several times with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol while parked in Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo. Ferrin dies, but Mageau lived to provide a description of their assailant. That same night, a man called the Vallejo Police Department, identifying the murder weapon and claiming responsibility for the killing and the Lake Herman Road murders.
» July 31, 1969: The San Francisco Examiner, Chronicle and the Vallejo Times-Herald receive letters from a person claiming to be the killer. The letters each contain one-third of an encoded message “cipher.” The letters are signed with a crossed circle symbol. The logo is also used on Zodiac brand watches.
» Aug. 4, 1969: In a letter to The San Francisco Examiner, the killer first uses the famous greeting: “This is the Zodiac speaking,” thus coining the name by which he would be known ever after.
» Aug. 8, 1969: Donald and Bettye Harden crack the cipher codes and produce a statement from the Zodiac describing his enjoyment of killing.
» Sept. 27, 1969: On the shores of Lake Berryessa in Napa, Cecilia Shephard, 22, and Bryan Hartnell, 20, are approached by a man in a hooded costume with the Zodiac’s symbol. Both are stabbed several times, but Hartnell survives. He, like Mageau, would later identify the late Arthur Leigh Allen of Vallejo as his attacker. The symbol and the message “Vallejo 12-20-68, 7-4-69, Sept 27-69-6:30 by knife,” that identifies the previous murders, was found written on Hartnell’s car door.
» Oct. 11, 1969: Yellow Cab driver Paul Stine, 29, was shot and killed just before 10 p.m. at the intersection of Washington and Cherry streets in San Francisco. Officers may have contacted the killer, but did not suspect it was him because the dispatcher had incorrectly informed them to look for a black assailant.
» Oct. 13, 1969: The Chronicle receives a letter and a portion of Stine’s bloodied shirt from the Zodiac.
» Nov. 8, 1969: A fourth cipher, 340-symbols long, is sent to the Chronicle. That cipher has yet to be solved.
» Letters would be sent until the late 1970s, but there were no further confirmed Zodiac victims.
The Zodiac Killer coined his name in a 1969 letter to the Examiner. Our special section reviews the new “Zodiac” movie and looks back at his still-unsolved killing spree.