In one of the most head scratching and mysterious crimes of all time, the Zodiac Killer is remembered as the murderer who baffled teams of high-ranking detectives who worked tirelessly in an attempt to crack the code of puzzling letters put before them.
Taunting police for years on end, the still unknown murderer of at least five people in Northern California used cryptic messages to hide his identity and continue his killing spree.
It all began on August 1, 1969 when American newspapers the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallego Times-Herald each received a handwritten letter from the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer with no return address.
“Dear Editor: I am the killer of the two teenagers last Christmas at Lake Herman,” the letter began, followed by specific details on how the murders were undertaken that would only be known to the killer.
The murderer continued by threatening to commit further crimes if the letters weren’t printed on the front page of the newspapers, ending the correspondence with a unique symbol, a circle with a cross through it, that would later be referred to as the Zodiac Killer’s symbol.
In addition a mysterious three-part cipher was included, claiming to contain the killer’s identity.
This was later revealed to say: “I like killing people it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.”
The letters continued until 1974, containing a collection of ciphers and murder claims, and while police worked vigorously to solve the mystery and track down the killer, dead ends were always met.
A sketch of the man was even drawn up using descriptions from witnesses who had seen him leaving the scene of a murder in 1969, but the killer remained at large.
In the end a total of five murders in the region were linked directly to the Zodiac Killer, however, it is believed there could have been more.
Over time speculations of the man’s identity began to pop up, with one of the most recent claims by Louisiana man Gary Stewart, who is convinced his biological father, Earl Van Best, Jr, who died in 1984, is to blame.
Speaking with CNN shortly after the book’s release in 2014, he explained how it all started to piece together when he saw a wanted poster for the Zodiac Killer on the television screen in 1969 that his son had thought was him.
“I walked back to my office…where I had the only photo I’ve ever had of my father, which I was told was an old DMV photo. But it turned out to be his 1962 mug shot for his rape of my mother. And I said, ‘no, son, it’s not me. It’s my father’,” Gary told the publication.
While the letters stopped some 44 years ago, the case still remains on the investigation list, with police only earlier this year submitting evidence to a private DNA lab in hopes of obtaining a genetic profile of the killer.
According to The Sacramento Beetwo envelopes that formally contained letters from the Zodiac Killer were sent to the facility, with saliva on the envelope flap and stamps used to obtain a DNA profile.
“They were confident they would be able to get something off it,” police detective Terry Poyser told the publication.
“It really comes down to DNA. Without it, you have nothing. It’s a 50-years-old case.”
Due to the bizarreness of the case and the still unknown identity of the killer, the crime spree has numerous times been the subject of books and movies, including 2007 feature Zodiac and Awakening the Zodiac in 2017.