New info may link Zodiac to Tahoe disappearance

Vallejo Times-Herald

Sept. 2, 2000

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Thirty-one years after the Zodiac killer began his spree of death and cryptic messages with the shooting of a pair of Vallejo teenagers, the family of another possible victim has gathered to share information with law enforcement officials.

Donna Lass disappeared from her job at a Tahoe casino first-aid station on Labor Day 30 years ago. The 25-year-old registered nurse was never found and is believed to be the final victim of the cryptic killer.

Information presented to authorities Thursday suggests the woman was a victim of the yet unidentified serial killed who is believed to have killed several people in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"There are suspicions that Donna Lass was a victim of the Zodiac," said South Lake Tahoe Sgt. Tom O' Conner. "But we haven't actually ever established that she was murdered. We haven't even found the body."

Harvey Hines, a retired detective from Groveland, believes Donna was abducted and murdered by the Zodiac. After retiring from a police career in 1992, he has been investigating the Zodiac serial murders since 1973.

"What I've wanted to do for a long time is hand my case over to some agency and let them run with it," Hines said. "I don't care if I don't get a dime's worth of credit as long as someone closes it out."

Lass was working a swing shift at the nurse's station. The last entry in her log at work was listed as 1:45 a.m.

Hines thinks she was abducted at work. He said she left behind personal items including an opened letter and a dirty uniform - "and on her log, a pen was dragged from the last word she wrote to the bottom of the page."

Donna was never seen again. Family members came to Tahoe to search for her in 1970. Then they went back home to Sioux Falls, S.D.

"We drove her convertible home, packed all her things," Mary said. "And we were scared the whole way home."

Mary Pilker, Donna's sister who is working with Hines, said she believes Hines' report is the key to solving Donna's case. She said been in contact with him since 1974, but only recently did her family take a serious look at the information he compiled.

Vallejo roots?

Zodiac's first reported murder victim was Bettilou Jensen, 16, who was shot to death in a lovers' lane along Lake Herman road near Vallejo on Dec. 20, 1968. Her boyfriend, Thomas Faraday, 17, was critically injured in the attack.

Police say the Zodiac murdered another four people and wounded one other in attacks around the San Francisco Bay Area, although the serial killer claimed nearly 40 slayings in his letters.

In a series of letters to the Times-Herald, the cryptic killer included a group of symbols and mirror-image alphanumerics. He dared police to unscramble his messages which he said revealed his identity.

Although the cypher was studied by many experts, including a Navy cryptographer, a clue was never discovered in the ominous code.

The Zodiac also plead for help in some of the letters.

"I cannot remain in control for much longer," one letter said. "Please help me, I am drowning."

The Zodiac was never caught. But Mike Rustigan, a criminology professor at San Francisco State University, has said many investigators believe he was Arthur Leigh Allen, who died in August 1992. Rustigan said police found evidence in Allen's Vallejo home linking him to the case.