Anniversary Post: Zodiac Killer’s First Victims

Zodiac Killer Artist RenderingOn this day in 1968, teenagers David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen were murdered by the Zodiac Killer. They were his first of five confirmed murders. There were two others who he shot or stabbed but who survived. There are four other victims who may have been killed by him: three before this and one after.

Growing up in the Bay Area, the Zodiac Killer was a big deal. He was everything you could ask for in a serial killer. First, he wasn’t into necrophilia; Second, he didn’t torture; he just killed people. I know these might seem like small things to appreciate, but they matter — especially the second one.

More important is that the man had style. He wrote letters to the newspapers. And he created ciphers — only one of which has been decoded. In it, he explains that all the people that he killed would be his slaves in the afterlife. Given his penchant for killing couples, you have to wonder about his repressed sexual desires. Then again, the man was probably just a psychopath.

Zodiac Killer SymbolHis various correspondences included exactly the kind of games that we know from the movies. These included his tally of the game he was supposedly playing with the San Francisco Police Department with things like, “Zodiac = 13, SFPD = 0” but there was his symbol rather than the word “Zodiac.” He also took credit for murders that apparently weren’t his. And he made numerous threats that he never carried out, like bombing a school bus.

All his confirmed killings are confined to a ten month period. Then maybe something a year later. There have been numerous suspects, but everything has fallen through. It’s curious. I tend to think he was someone like Neal Falls: the serial killer who seems to have moved around the country. I don’t know that I care. Even if we determined who he was, it wouldn’t explain anything. We’d be left with the same conclusion: mentally ill murderer.

10 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Zodiac Killer’s First Victims

  1. Ever see the movie “Zodiac”? It is a movie directed by David Fincher. I saw this movie. It was the first time I’d seen a movie directed by David Fincher. There won’t be a second time.

    “Zodiac” is really two movies. One movie — the one I was interested in — is about the search for the killer, how to decode his clues, etc. That movie is slapshoddily done; aside from a great tense scene where cops interview a suspect, the whole investigation side of the movie is an unfocused mess.

    Then there’s the murders. That’s what “Zodiac” really cares about.

    Those scenes are done with exquisite love and precision. They are among the most vividly spooky things I’ve ever seen (I do not spook easily.) Over and over, the killer approaches people, making small talk, putting them at ease. This shit scared me so hard, when somebody mistakenly knocked on my door while I was watching the film, I turned off every light in my apartment and sat clutching a sharp screwdriver for ten minutes before daring to peek through the door peephole. (Nobody there, naturally. And why didn’t I grab a kitchen knife?)

    I found it really wrong that a movie would spend that much time and effort making every shot of the killer scenes into absolutely, perfectly realized cinema, then blow off the investigation stuff. So I won’t be seeing any more movies by Mr. Fincher.

    • I saw the film about ten years ago. I remember liking it a lot more than I had expected but not thinking it was particularly good. The main thing I remember now is that the film uses one particular suspect when in fact it is a muddle. I think you could write a comedy based upon all the theories. There is even the theory that the guy writing to the police wasn’t the murderer and that the different murders were by different people. It’s a very frustrating case.

  2. Never been particularly interested in the Zodiac Killer but since people like puzzles, I understand why people find it fascinating.

    I live on the street where a pair of people who did similar attacks killed a bunch of people a few years ago here. It seems like it is so random even now that you could just be minding your own business and then bam, you are dead and now are known as just a victim of someone who gets more attention and show up on one of those weird Youtube videos about serial killers.

    • There’s another aspect that I think is important. Most murders are so mundane: husband gets mad at wife and kills her. That sort of thing. But serial killers are more like the kind of thing you see on television. It’s not surprising that they are hard to find, given that they are murdering more or less at random.

      • Yes, it takes a while before the pattern of deaths emerges. I read an article in Slate about a Texan serial killer and the author was mocking the FBI asking for help because he thought it was stupid of them to not be able to magically figure out who this guy truly randomly killed.

        Police agencies do do their best but since it does take a long time before the pattern emerges, it does seem completely random to everyone but the killer. :/

        • It’s also the case that it’s hard to get inside the head of such a person. I mean, I really have no idea what one would get from killing people like this. I can understand other forms of murder because they have causes. But this stuff just doesn’t make sense. Bad wiring in the brain, I assume.

            • Yeah, I’m a Raskolnikov. If I killed someone, it would drive me to turn myself in. But I wouldn’t need any encouragement. That would be hell on earth. I’m tortured by people who died unnecessarily who I didn’t even know, much less killed.

    • I thought that was an excellent film. But I’m very into formalism, and that film was perfect. The only thing it was lacking was was a great line like, “It puts the lotion on its skin.”

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