VALLEJO — Zodiac. The name alone strikes fear in the hearts of Solano County residents old enough to remember the horrific killings, public taunting of police and cryptograms sent to newspapers.
It was Solano County, after all, where the elusive killer struck first, beginning his reign of terror in the Bay Area during the late 1960s and ’70s.
And according to a team of Zodiac hunters, Solano County has been the serial killer’s home. It still is today, they say. The team’s suspect is a 91-year-old alcoholic living in Fairfield. They won’t give out his name or address.
“He’s going to be undoubtedly reading this,” Lyndon Lafferty said recently at his Vallejo home.
Though the Zodiac has claimed as many as 37 victims, investigators have only agreed on seven of them, including five deaths. Zodiac was never caught.
There have been plenty of suspects and plenty of unofficial Zodiac hunters. But Lafferty’s team is different. It includes a retired Vallejo police detective, a Naval Investigative Service retiree and Lafferty, a retired CHP officer from Vallejo.
Lafferty and Jerry Johnson, who is retired from the Naval Investigative Service, began working on the case unofficially in the 1970s, interviewing witnesses after work and tailing their suspect on occasion. The others joined along the way, including James Dean, who investigated the case as a Vallejo detective.
The group doesn’t do as much sleuthing these days, but Lafferty has put it all down in a book he says is near publication. The book is called “Zodiac Killer Cover-Up (AKA The Silenced Badge).”
Lafferty, in some people’s eyes, grew up with the Zodiac. Lafferty went to high school in Vallejo with Arthur Leigh Allen, the prime suspect for many, including Robert Graysmith, who wrote a book about the Zodiac that was later turned into a movie.
To Lafferty, Allen, who died in 1992, was nothing more than a loner. Allen was a diver in high school, studious and popular, Lafferty said.
“Everybody liked him,” Lafferty said.
Lafferty’s hunt began in 1970. Lafferty, who has graying, thinning hair, tells the story of his first encounter with his suspect like a man who has relived it many times.
The 91-year-old living in Fairfield is called “Andrew Todd Walker” in Graysmith’s book. Lafferty calls him that, too, though it is a phony name.
Walker for several days had parked his car near a rest stop in Vallejo, catching Lafferty’s attention because he sat there watching people. On one occasion, Walker sped toward Lafferty — who was in his patrol car — and parked within inches of him.
“I looked into a quivering, snarling face like I was looking to the face of death,” Lafferty said. “It scared the hell out of me.”
At that time, most police officers in the area were carrying a sketch of the Zodiac. The similarities jarred Lafferty. His hunt began.
Lafferty has spent 40 years amassing evidence he says points to Walker. Walker was a regular at Terry’s Restaurant in Vallejo, where victim Darlen Ferrin worked, strange graffiti markings were found outside his Cordelia home and Lafferty claims to have found his name spelled in one of the cryptograms.
Some of Zodiac’s letters also hint at Walker. Walker was a member of the Sierra Club, which was mentioned in one letter. His home was covered by pine trees, which is perhaps another clue. Zodiac wrote “Peek through the pines” in one letter.
Johnson, who is retired from the Naval Investigative Service, interviewed Ferrin’s baby sitter. The baby sitter said she saw a man in a car matching Walker’s outside Ferrin’s home in the weeks before her death.
Johnson, too, is convinced Walker is the famed killer.
Lafferty said Walker was motivated to kill because his wife was having an affair with a Solano County Superior Court judge.
“It is my opinion that all of Zodiac’s murders . . . was to prove just like his letters and the use of his codes that he is better, brighter, smarter, more clever than all the judges and all the police put together and he will never be caught,” Lafferty said.
For a time Walker was investigated by Vallejo police. But Dean, a retired Vallejo detective working with Lafferty, said police were suddenly told to drop the case.
“Tear up your s—,” Dean remembers being told.
Reach David DeBolt at 427-6935 or [email protected]