The self-proclaimed Zodiac was a serial killer who took the lives of victims in the San Francisco Bay Area, including parts of Solano County, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Despite speculation in numerous books and in a hit 2007 movie, the killer has never been identified, much less tried, for his ghastly crimes.
The Zodiac’s Solano County victims included Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday, who were shot to death Dec. 20, 1968, while parked on Lake Herman Road in Benicia.
On July 4, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau were shot multiple times by the Zodiac while parked at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo. Ferrin died, but Mageau miraculously survived.
On Sept. 27, 1969, college students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were picnicking at Lake Berryessa when the Zodiac threatened them with a gun then stabbed both of them repeatedly. Shepard was able to give a description of the attacker before she died. Hartnell survived.
The Zodiac taunted police with bragging/threatening letters, some of which he demanded be printed in Bay Area newspapers. He also included ciphers and cryptograms, which supposedly pointed to his identity.
On Oct. 14, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac that threatened to kill children riding school buses. He wrote he would “just shoot out the front tire and then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”
Coming as it did right before Halloween, the note created a panic and plainclothes police officers followed buses all over the Bay Area. Locally, the Daily Republic recommended trick-or-treating be done from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
Many local residents look back on it as the scariest Halloween ever.
Julie Huffenberger: The Zodiac killer taught me, at a very young age, that evil exists and exists right outside my window at night. Our parents’ reactions of caution and safety were justified, yet in my mind ineffective, because the Zodiac could not be caught and punished.
Dave Woodruff: That was when they first put the radios in the school buses.
Christy Thompson: One of my most-vivid memories is of doing a “Zodiac drill” on the school bus, in which we all had to duck and cover on the floor.
Bev Friedrichsen: Was I the only kid who thought it was kind of exciting? He was the talk of the Bransford Elementary playground.
David Taylor-Garcia: I remember that back then everybody knew somebody who knew who the real Zodiac was.
Lynn Root: The late 1960s was a scary time. California had just experienced the Manson killings and then this happened literally in our own backyard. That year, the innocent ghost and witch stories that usually accompanied the holiday gave way to something much more frightening because it was true. I remember my parents seriously considering not letting my brother Chuck and me go trick-or-treating. Lucky for us, we had a superhero of sorts on the block named Bill Miles. He was a sheriff who volunteered to take us trick-or-treating that year in full uniform. It was the closest to having a bodyguard that I will ever see.
Sharon Kastens Lopez: My mother always told me there was no such thing as the Zodiac killer and I was young enough to believe her. I think she thought she was protecting me from being scared. In the late 1980s I watched a true crime story about the Zodiac. When they stated he was never caught, I almost came unglued. I had even camped out overnight at Lake Berryessa in the early ’80s with friends. If I’d known that there really had been a Zodiac killer that had never been caught, I doubt I would have ever done that.
Carl Lamera: I remember the school bus talk and how the Zodiac would snag one full of kids. We had a plan for handling Zodiac if he attempted to go after our bus. It included making distractions and then the rest of the bus clobbering him with multiple books over the head. Not sure if our plan would have worked, but it did empower us in handling the threat.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com.