|Still chasing the Zodiac
Amateur sleuths gather to reflect on years of fright
Napa Valley Register
Sept. 29, 2003
By Carlos Villatoro
For the past two years they have gathered together at the sites of some of the Bay Area's most notorious killings; Murders linked to the elusive Zodiac Killer.
This weekend, on the 34th anniversary of the death of Cecilia Shepard near the shores of Lake Berryessa, a group of amateur researchers known as the Taskforce on the Zodiac Killer visited the scene of Shepard's death as well as those of other victims. Their purpose; to talk about the crimes, remember the victims and swap theories about who the killer really was.
"This is not to glorify the Zodiac," said Ed Neil, a 38-year-old massage therapist from Napa. "It's a way of remembering the victims. To make it more real."
In addition to visiting the site where Shepard was stabbed on Sept. 27, 1969, Neil and his comrades also visited Lake Herman Road in Vallejo, scene of the Dec. 20, 1968, murder of Betty Lou Jensen, 16, and David Faraday, 17. They also traveled to Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, where 22 year-old Darlene Ferrin died on July 4, 1969.
But their look to the past did not stop with the Zodiac's victims. They visited the former home, high school and workplaces of one-time Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. Allen, now deceased, was considered a top suspect during the time of the killings, but task force members say recent DNA tests show that he wasn't the Zodiac Killer, despite the wealth of circumstantial evidence against him.
The task force also visited a parking lot in downtown Napa where the Zodiac made a phone call to the Napa Police Department, claiming responsibility for the murder at Lake Berryessa. Police traced the call immediately, but when they arrived at the phone booth where it originated, the Zodiac was gone.
All these years later, the force still aims to catch the stealthy killer.
"He still needs to be brought to justice," Neil said. His fellow researchers echo his statements.
"I want this guy caught," said Sandy Betts, former Napan and waitress who knew Ferrin.
Although she and Ferrin were never friends, Betts said they dated in the same circles, and that she frequently went to the restaurant where Ferrin worked.
Betts said a man, who she believes was the same person who killed Ferrin, followed her one night as she was driving home from her work at Flamingo Joe's in Vallejo. She got a good look at the man and has a theory on his identity.
But she isn't the only one with theories.
Sean O'Brian, 40, came all the way from Ireland to share his theories with not only the force, but also the San Francisco Police Department.
"We have a fairly complex theory, it's not published," O'Brian said. "It involves the Zodiac letters and ciphers. We have a name."
His interest in the case peaked when he read a book about the Zodiac case three years ago. He did an online search on the topic and ZodiacKiller.com popped up. His Zodiac tour and subsequent contact of the police department was facilitated by the task force's web site.
Site creator and web master Tom Voigt, 36, of Oregon, said the site began as a place where people could learn and talk about the killings, but evolved into something more.
"The (site) idea came from a nephew," Voigt said. His nephew knew a lot about computers and encouraged him to start ZodiacKiller.com.
Voigt launched the site in March 20, 1998, but he has been researching the crimes since 1997 and his interest in the Zodiac Killer began when he read that book.
Neil and Voigt met on the site and began to e-mail each other bits of information about the Zodiac Killer. Their friendship grew and Neil became the moderator of ZodiacKiller.com's message board.
Using each other as resources and gathering details from others -- including various law enforcement officials, victim's families, reporters and other researchers like themselves -- they amassed a mountain of data. Their Web site offers information, pictures and videos about the crimes.
Throughout the late 1960s and early '70s, the Zodiac Killer was a source of fear for many Bay Area residents.
"People were scared," said Kei Sugaoka, a 51-year-old corporate security consultant from Martinez who joined the weekend events. "There was so many things going around."
Sugaoka's theory is that there were two individuals responsible for the slayings.
The Zodiac killer claimed responsibility for at least 37 murders and taunted various police departments and newspapers by sending them letters that began, "This is the Zodiac speaking."
His letters gave detailed information about the crime scenes that were not known by the general public, but only described five of the cases. He was never caught and is believed to be dead because his letters stopped.
But the members of the task force aren't so sure, and they are still out there looking.