Hoffman's "15 minutes"

Zodiackiller.com Message Board: Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau: Hoffman's "15 minutes"

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-dh03.proxy.aol.com - on Monday, July 14, 2003 - 11:48 pm:

On page_5 of the VPD police report, in the first paragraph, Richard Hoffman, who was the RO the night Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were attacked, wrote something that may give us some added insight into the way events transpired that evening. I've been contemplating the significance of this for a few days now, and have also run it across the brains of a few individuals who have a deep knowledge of this case. All agreed that it is a somewhat curious 'find' and that they've never heard any mention of it. So, at this point, I feel compelled to mention it.

Hoffman clearly states that he'd been in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs "approx. 15 min." prior to receiving the dispatch to respond to the BRS crime scene, and that he had found the area "clear of people or motor vehicles." In essence, this gives us something of a timeframe to work with: Mageau and Ferrin had to have entered the lot after Officer Hoffman had left it, the crime against them took place, the shooting was reported, and Hoffman received the dispatch "approx. 15 minutes" after having just been there. Now, unless we assume that Darlene and Mike entered the parking lot at the exact moment that Hoffman left it, this rough 15 minute timeframe is going to have to be cut down even further in terms of how long D & M were actually in the park before Hoffman received the dispatch.

I'm still trying to decipher what exactly to make of all of this, perhaps it's nothing, perhaps it's everything; I honestly have no idea. But my gut feeling is that there is some nugget of significance to be mined from this information, and I'm soliciting the members of the message board for help. [If someone wants to start an identical thread in the public section of the board, that's fine, too.]

In my opinion, there are three things that come immediately to mind:

1) Zodiac closely 'tailed' [I'm not necessarily implying that Darlene was stalked, just that they were followed into the park with Z close on their tail] them into the lot.

2) Zodiac was 'scouting' or 'trolling' BRS and entered the park once he knew there were victims 'in his trap'.

3) It's entirely coincidental that a police officer patrolled the area, after which D & M entered the parking lot, then Z entered the parking lot completely at random not knowing that anybody was there, gunned Darlene and Mike down, took off without being seen, a second group of young folk enter the park, see Mike wailing on the pavement, screech off for help, and "approx. 15 min." after having just been there, Hoffman receives the dispatch to respond to the crime scene.

Granted, there may be some other possibilities that I didn't mention, so please feel free to include those in any comments you may have. Is there some significance, however small, to be gleamed from this timeline, or am I shooting off at the mouth for nothing?


By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-151-197-32-171.phil.east.verizon.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 03:44 am:

Maybe Hoffman did the shooting, eh? Notice how he doesn't drop the ending "e" in the word "caseings." The word "tryed" is also very Zodiac-like. Just who was this Hoffman guy?

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-dh03.proxy.aol.com - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 04:01 am:

Here is a scaled down version of my line of questioning and reasoning: Given what we know about the timeline, and from what can be gathered from the VPD report of the initial and subsequent investigation, what would Ockham's Razor tell us about the '15 minute timeframe' I've described? Zodiac tailed them into the park; he scouted or trolled the area that particular evening and launched an attack when the ideal situation presented itself; or, Zodiac came upon Darlene and Mike completely at random with no regard to a particular area or set [type] of victim/s?

Well, I intended for this post to be scaled down, but I sincerely hope that this line of intrigue is taken somewhat seriously, because I've honestly been tossing it about for some time now...

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-dh03.proxy.aol.com - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 04:12 am:

Doug, notice that Hoffman also misspelled "prior" in the report, in the same paragraph, in fact. But this is not about a particular suspect, I swear; simply the timeframe involved at Blue Rock Springs. I can't tell if your being facetious, humorous, or serious...

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-141-152-252-183.phil.east.verizon.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 07:50 am:

Well, Scott, I hardly think Hoffman would have had time to pull off the crime, change back into his uniform, retrieve his squad car and then get back to the crime scene, all in fifteen minutes. But you've got to admit, that's a fairly unusual spelling, and he was near the scene! It's the kind of thing investigators have to look at, whether they think it's preposterous or not. But no, I'm not really serious.

On the other hand, I think your #2 option may be correct. Zodiac might simply have cruised up and down Columbus Parkway waiting to see if someone would enter the parking lot. It's not at all an improbable scenario.

By William Baker (Bill_Baker) (lsanca1-ar17-4-61-193-034.lsanca1.elnk.dsl.genuity.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 10:45 am:

There is also a possibility that Hoffman's 15-minutes was not accurate. All of us, in retrospection, recall the chronology and passage of time regarding a set of events with varying degrees of accuracy. Even though he wrote this report close in time to the events of that night, 15 minutes could have been 10, or 20, or even longer. Unless he called dispatch to advise he was checking the park, or called in to advise them of a particular observation he made while at the park, there would have been no time stamp, per se, indicating when he drove through. Of course, he could have made his own notations at the time in a patrolman's log, documenting his patrol activities during his shift, but unless there was something more to it than a drive-through, it's doubtful.

Spelling, for cops especially, is characteristically not a strong point with the majority of the population. I spent an inordinate share of my career proofreading and correcting some very ham-handed efforts at written expression. That is not to say that cops are exceptionally dumb (as in flat-foot), as this same weakness can be found in other professionals, such as lawyers and doctors, for example. With no intended aspersions, look at past posts of Peter or even Muskogee. They are both quite intelligent and articulate, but they'd be the first to admit that spelling is not their forte, I'm sure.

Scott, reviewing and questioning such details represents a key reason why cold cases can be and are solved many years later. It is this focus and exploration of previously overlooked or seemingly insignficant aspects which often opens the door to a solution. And the elision or omission of certain details by the officer (and witnesses, for that matter) at the time, circumstances not recognized as having relevance or materiality to a crime, can also make the difference in whether a case is solved or grows cold with time. You have the makings of a good candidate for a cold-case investigator.

By Muskogee (Muskogee) (209-223-48-7-dyndsl.oplnk.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 02:22 pm:

Ok. It's time for me to come clean. I never made it past the second round in elementary school spelling bees! I agree with Bill 100%. And I, too, have noticed that many police officers' strengths lie in fields other than spelling and grammar.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-141-151-92-105.phil.east.verizon.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 02:46 pm:

Bill, it wasn't just the fact that words were misspelled, it was the particular misspelling of "caseings" that caught my eye. Not too many people do it that way, I think. But I don't really think Hoffman did the shooting. I would be very surprised to find that Zodiac belonged to any police organization, or worked at any job requiring that kind of public contact.

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) (12-231-193-32.client.attbi.com - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 02:56 pm:

Regarding spelling errors, Hoffman didn't type his own reports. In fact, neither did most of the other officers...

By William Baker (Bill_Baker) (lsanca1-ar17-4-61-193-034.lsanca1.elnk.dsl.genuity.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 03:56 pm:

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a patrolman, coincidentally at the same time as BRS, we handwrote the reports, then turned them in for a secretary to type into their finished form. The detectives usually had a steno with shorthand skills, who put everything into English. Although most secretaries go ahead and make spelling corrections, some don't, and not all of them are necessarily whizzes at spelling and grammar. It could have been any combination thereof, with a patrolman who couldn't spell and a secretary who couldn't either, or one who typed it as writen (sic). I can't tell you how many finished reports said dinning room, or wading from a shotgun round, or even bullet caseings. Coincidental, but nothing unusual.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-141-151-77-88.phil.east.verizon.net - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 04:26 pm:

Sad, but all too true.

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-rp06.proxy.aol.com - on Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - 07:06 pm:

To be honest, that certain words were misspelled in Hoffman's report is not really the point I was trying to make in this thread, and no, I don't believe for a minute that Hoffman was the Zodiac. I'm merely pointing out the fact that something of a general timeline can be established for the sequence of events at BRS based on what can be found in Hoffman's report. Of course, Bill is right, "approx. 15 min." could mean anything from 10 minutes to half an hour, but I'm hoping that the fact that the report was written only 5 hours after the incident might aid in corroborating this 15 minute timeframe. I have no idea if Hoffman kept a logbook, or if there is any other information to be had which would help nail this timeframe to the floor, but I'm looking.

Having said all of that, I'm still inclined to believe that there is some modicum of significance to the timeline. I believe that it shows that Zodiac was either keeping a close tab on the parking lot by trolling it, or that he followed Ferrin and Mageau into the lot. The idea that Zodiac happened upon Mike and Darlene completely at random is virtually absurd in light of this 15 minute timeframe; at least, in my opinion.

Bill, thanks for the kind words and the vote of confidence, which means a lot to me coming from a person such as you.

By Lapumo (Lapumo) (p51-64.as1.clm.clonmel.eircom.net - on Wednesday, July 16, 2003 - 08:19 am:

Good find Scott.I wonder if Officer Hoffman's statement implies that he was actually in the parking lot.I am not familiar with the scene but judging by the sketch I wonder if the victims car could have been in a blind spot.
What I am suggesting is that perhaps the officer just slowed down at the entrance and missed the car rather that actually entering the lot.
The reason I suggest this is because there was a report of a car coming along a couple of minutes before the murder and driving away.
There was much speculation that this was Zodiac returning but that was never proven.
Alternately,it could mean that it actually was Zodiac.Perhaps he had seen or passed the Patrol car and was making sure it was well gone before returning himself.
Of course this case is full of Zynchronicities. In the circumstances it is interesting that Darlene and Mike were under the impression that it was the Police that pulled in behind them and of course Richard Hoffman (RH) is a better suspect than Hunter LOL!

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-dh03.proxy.aol.com - on Wednesday, July 16, 2003 - 11:33 am:

Thanks, Lapumo. I'm pretty certain that Hoffman is saying that he actually entered the parking lot before determining it to be "clear of people or vehicles." The entrance into the lot is quite a bit north of the location where Mageau and Ferrin were attacked, and there is only 1 way into, and out of, the parking lot. Additionally, the location where they were attacked is tucked up against a grassy area in the southeast corner of the lot, and there is considerable foliage overhead and in the general area. Have a look: BRS_attack site.

I'm reasonably certain that someone driving along Columbus Parkway wouldn’t have seen Darlene and Mike. In my opinion, in order for Hoffman to have made the statement he did, he would have to have entered the park to make the determination that it was "clear of people or vehicles." I don't think it out of the ordinary to assume that he didn't enter the park. After all, he was a police officer out on on patrol.

As for Hoffman being the Z, well, weirder things have happened. It is interesting that his initials are R.H., that he misspelled words, and we know that he was armed and was within proximity to the area at the time of the crime, and we've all heard rumors of scandal and corruption within VPD. Maybe by admitting that he’d been in the parking lot 15 minutes prior to receiving the dispatch he was an attempt to create an alibi for himself. Of course, I'm only being half serious here, but there do seem to be a lot of Zynchronicities...

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-dh03.proxy.aol.com - on Wednesday, July 16, 2003 - 11:43 am:

Correction: I wrote, "Maybe by admitting that he’d been in the parking lot 15 minutes prior to receiving the dispatch he was an attempt to create an alibi for himself."

That should read, "he was attempting..."

Also, I don't believe there are lights in the park because it closes at sunset now. I'm not sure if there were lights in the park in '69 or not, but it seems to me that I recall that there wasn't. Ed, would you care to delve into the discussion here?

By Ed N. (Ed_N) (acc1e384.ipt.aol.com - on Wednesday, July 16, 2003 - 09:56 pm:

Scott: while I never went to BRS before they renovated the area ca. 1990 (so I really can't say with any certainty), and judging from the crime scene sketch compared to how it looks today, the "entrance" didn't appear to be one at all (such as it is today), but the entire parking lot seemed to be open to Columbus Parkway. If that's the case, then anyone driving by would be able to see any car parked there. I believe there are a couple of lights there now to illuminate the lot at night, but I have no idea if there were any in 1969.

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (coral.tci.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 02:14 am:

I'm not too sure about that, Ed, but you could be right. But, to be honest, I'm having a little difficulty making heads and tails of the BRS sketch. There is an area that is clearly marked as the driveway which, if it doesn't lead in and out of the park, I have no idea where it would lead. I'll have to investigate this further. Of course, any help that you're willing to offer is greatly appreciated... :o}

By Ed N. (Ed_N) (acc035c5.ipt.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 02:22 am:

Now you have me thinking... I haven't had a look at that sketch in a while. That driveway might have led up to the groundskeeper's house...

By Ann (Ann) (cache-rp06.proxy.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 10:14 am:

I have a good typing speed and make few errors, and used to do some secretarial type work. One thing I've always noticed is that people make spelling errors when typing that they'd never make if they were writing, pen and paper. You just accidentally hit the wrong key without even realizing it.

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-rp06.proxy.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 11:11 am:

Thanks for that information, Ann. Do you have an opinion with regard to the '15 minute' timeline I'm proposing? Anything, good or bad...

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-rp06.proxy.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 11:31 am:

"That driveway might have led up to the groundskeeper's_ house..."

You could be right about that, Ed. There must have been major renovations to the area or something. I'm having a hard time reconciling Ed Rust's sketch with the area as it looks today. I will say, however, that I don't believe the lot was accessible along its entire length via Columbus Parkway. That is not the impression that I get from the sketch of the area. I'm almost certain that the park had to be entered and exited at the same entrance then as it is today. How can we find out for certain?

By Julia (Julia) (user-2ivfmdu.dialup.mindspring.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 01:42 pm:

It IS hard to reconcile the sketch with the modern reality, isn't it? It certainly would've helped if he'd placed the groundskeeper's house in the picture.

I know virtually nothing about this sort of research, but surely it's necessary to submit plans, get permits and funding, and so forth, when renovations are done on a public park? I assume there are records somewhere. Woefully ignorant as I am, I assume BRS is a public park, not a private enterprise.

One might also simply place a cheap ad in the local paper, asking for info/old pictures of Blue Rock Springs Park/parking lot. Folks do this sort of weird stuff all the time; it's a collector thing. There's a guy in the Classified Flea who, for many years, advertised fanatically for memorabilia of a certain Northern California dairy.

Tracking down the former groundskeeper(s) and/or their friends and relatives is also a possibility. If anyone would remember, they would.

As a last resort, chatting up oldsters in bars often yields fascinating local stories and remembrances. Frankly, I'm very much in the mood to do that lately. But it must be done in the daytime, of course--that's when the old folks head out for a nip.

Ed, Sandy, any thoughts? I really wish I just had a couple of weeks free to do this. Beats working.

Scott, I'm finding this thread extremely interesting. And for what it's worth, I remember your thread about trolling vs. stalking and so forth, and agree that he probably did both at different times. Your points about the night of the Ferrin/Mageau attack timeframe seem right on to me. I think of the assertion I've read more than once, that Darlene and Mike were followed from downtown Vallejo; but indeed, unless Z got very lucky in terms of Hoffman's timing, his avoidance of the R.O. does possibly seem to indicate that he'd been watching BRS. A host of associated questions come to mind, but I'll keep this simple(r) for now...

Does anyone know what ever became of Richard Hoffman?

Thanks--oh, one last thought, Scott: you and Bill Baker are two of the VERY FEW people I have ever known who possess that rarest of talents, good spelling. Hence, I fear spelling issues don't mean much here. Would be interesting to see Hoffman's handwriting, I suppose...

By Ed N. (Ed_N) (acc2a962.ipt.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 02:51 pm:

All of that information should be available, I just need to look for it; a map of the park and Columbus Parkway before and after should make it easy to pinpoint exactly where the Corvair was.

Scott: so I understand, there were major renovations to BRS and the road; a few years back, I was told by a local that Columbus Parkway used to resemble LHR, ie, narrow and twisted, but it obviously doesn't now. That's why I don't think that the parking lot at BRS even closely resembles what it did in 1969.

By Ann (Ann) (cache-mtc-ak04.proxy.aol.com - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 03:16 pm:

Scott, You've obviously picked up on something that no one has ever looked at before and I do think that the 15 minute timeline is questionable, without a doubt. Is there any possibility that he had previously radioed in that he was patrolling that area, when in truth, he wasn't? Maybe he called in to say he was out there, when he really wasn't. Could have been ready for a nap or a donut? Yes? No? or Oh gee, that wouldn't happen.

By William Baker (Bill_Baker) (lsanca1-ar17-4-61-195-135.lsanca1.elnk.dsl.genuity.net - on Thursday, July 17, 2003 - 03:30 pm:

Julia, you are two kind with youre remarks reggarding Scott's and my speling abillities. Of coarse their are others hear who spell just as well. But let's face it, the majoraty of people, in most walks of life, who due mispell words, are not even aware of it. Schooling provides a leg-up on proper speling, but it is certinally not any gaurantee that it will have any lasting effect.

In the case of the mispelt words on the officer's report, I wouldent imagin that this failing is any reflecksion of his law enforcment skills. If he said he observed no people or vehicals in the park on his erlier drive-threw, I tend to beleive him, and his aproxamation of how long befor the shotting call came in that the check was maid, is probabally pretty close.

Dang, I almost write like Howard when he deliberately misspells, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, of course.

By Peter H (Peter_H) (pool-68-160-0-179.bos.east.verizon.net - on Friday, July 18, 2003 - 07:29 pm:

The timing is an interesting circumstance, but I wouldn't make too much of the spelling in the police report. There is a significant differecne between misspellings and typographical errors. For example, I certainly know how to spell "diifference", I just didn't take the time to correct it back there. Spelling does happen to be one of my fortes: typ9ng isn't. No one makes a typo when hand writing or printing: any misspelling in Z's letters is just that, deliberate or not. A cop or steno typing a police report in 1969, probably on a manual or early non-correcting Selectric, is not about to stop and erase and retype every mistake: so they are probably just that: typos, not mispellings.

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-rp06.proxy.aol.com - on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 11:51 am:

Hey Peter, where have you been? I too am not making much of a deal out of the misspellings in Hoffman's report, but I could use another analytical observation on the timeframe issue that has been observed. "Interesting circumstance?" That's not really what you think, is it; that it is nothing more than "circumstance"? That would certainly be an interesting whirlwind of events if it were true, I believe.

By Brian_D (Brian_D) (dialup- - on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 02:12 pm:

What are the odds that the vehicle that pulled into the lot just after The Ferrin Corvair and just prior to the killers arrival was Officer Hoffman? Are we certain that it was the killer who first arrived and then departed for some as yet unknown reason only to re-appear minutes later to attack the couple? I'm not trying to advocate a tin foil hat conspiracy theory but what if, while on patrol, Officer Hoffman saw the two soon-to-be victims parked there but did not escort them out of the lot? Granted, a murder under almost identical circumstances occured almost eight months prior, there was no immediate follow up to that crime. Is it not at least possible that the officer thought they were in no particular danger? No one heard from the killer, by either word or deed for over half a year. It does seem like a hell of alot of traffic in that secluded little parking lot at that time of night and include, as Douglas mentioned in another thread, the teens who just happened onto the scene.

By Sandy (Sandy) (12-233-90-84.client.attbi.com - on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 07:06 pm:

My thought on this is that it was the same car. I think he left to get his gun and flash light out of his trunk,returned to the back of her car to block them in. Mike said the car he saw was a small brown car that looked like Dee's car but a bit larger. Then shortly after they get shot, a man in a small brown car makes a call to VPD and tells about the shooting. To me thats as black and white as it gets.

By Brian_D (Brian_D) (dialup- - on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 12:34 am:

Sandy, thanks for your reply. I don't know that Zodiac was spotted making his first phone call to the VPD and a witness describing his vehicle as a brown car for all anyone knows is just more obfuscation on his part. Planting false clews, so to speak. As far as Mike Mageau's statement goes, I don't know what is accurate and what isn't. He revised his statement a number of times in the hospital and I'd only rely on what can be corroborated through the physical evidence at the scene.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-151-197-61-202.phil.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 07:18 am:

I think there's a bit of confusion regarding who told what to whom regarding the "brown car." The report states that it was Mageau who furnished the information, while Zodiac was under the impression that it was a passerby who just happened along while he was making his call. Unless there's a report of that passerby giving going to the police with the information, I think we can assume that it was Mageau's report that led to the identification of the car as brown. I'm not aware that he ever said it was larger, but Sandy, if you've got a source for that I'd like to see it! Kaczynski was driving a light tan Chevelle at the time.

By Sandy (Sandy) (12-233-90-84.client.attbi.com - on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 05:14 pm:

Doug, It looks like It came from The News Evening Chronical a Vallejo paper tuesday Aug 19th 69. I can write from one paragraph starting with the reporter saying: He elaborated on his description of the murderer's car."It could have been a 1958 or 59 Falcon". The body type was similar to that of the 63 Corvair driven by Mrs Ferrin, Mageau said. The color was Bronze or brown.
A powerful beam of light then was shone (sic)on the couple from within the other car. They thought it was a policeman's spotlight.

By Douglas Oswell (Dowland) (pool-151-197-61-202.phil.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, July 27, 2003 - 05:44 pm:

Sandy, I'm assuming then that he didn't specifically say that the car was larger than the Corvair. Interestingly, I don't think Ford ever made a '58 or '59 model Falcon. I believe 1960 was the first model year.

By Scott Bullock (Scott_Bullock) (cache-mtc-ak04.proxy.aol.com - on Monday, July 28, 2003 - 07:08 am:

Excellent points Brian, but unless I'm misunderstanding what you're saying here, I don't think the odds are very good that "the vehicle that pulled into the lot just after The Ferrin Corvair and just prior to the killers arrival was Officer Hoffman" for 2 reasons: 1) Police patrol cars tend to be easily recognizable and Mageau's testimony doesn't reflect that this was the type of vehicle he saw. 2) Officer Hoffman's report clearly states that the BRS parking lot was devoid of people or cars when he was there "approx. 15 min." prior to receiving the dispatch to respond to the crime scene.

By Warren (Warren) (w205.z064002105.hou-tx.dsl.cnc.net - on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 03:24 pm:

And do not forget the Buick Skylark! I had a '62 and it was extremely similar to the unsafe-at-any-speed Corvair. And no, I'm not that old, it was a hand me down. But, like all teenagers, we knew the minute styling differences between cars.

By Brian_D (Brian_D) (dialup- - on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 05:18 pm:

Scott, thanks for your reply. The original motivation for the post was what seems to me an unusual amount of traffic in that lot that night. Throw the attack on top of that and then some teenagers wandering on to the scene and that seems to be a high volume of traffic for such a (then) rural area, long holiday week-end not withstanding.