Contra Costa Times, 6-30-02 Message Board: General Zodiac Discussion: 2002 Task-Force Meeting: Contra Costa Times, 6-30-02

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) ( on Monday, July 01, 2002 - 12:40 pm:

Zodiac killer still fascinates sleuths

More than 30 years after his chilling slayings terrorized Northern California, amateurs will meet to share notes

By Corey Lyons

They come from all walks of life -- investigators, investment bankers, loners and lawyers -- all linked by a common obsession: unmasking the Zodiac killer.

But while the baffling, decades-old case left scant evidence behind, a growing legion of armchair sleuths continues to sniff out leads and track down aging sources.

In an unprecedented gathering July 4, about 200 amateur detectives captivated by the case are expected to descend on a Vallejo park to swap notes and share stories.

A kind of holiday who-done-it, the unusual event at Blue Rock Springs Park is being held at the site of a Zodiac slaying 33 years ago.

Macabre? Perhaps.

"The case is still open," said Tom Voigt, an Oregon-based Web site operator who organized the meeting. "And these cases are solved through the public, not through a fingerprint match or someone confessing. It's too old."

The Zodiac killer terrorized Northern California in the late 1960s, stalking young lovers with guns and knives.

He struck fear across the region for years because he was so brazen and arrogant, once wearing a hooded executioner's robe while attacking a couple with a foot-long knife at Lake Berryessa.

No one felt safe.

"This is the Zodiac speaking," is how he began the chilling letters and coded messages that he sent to law enforcement agencies and area newspapers.

In one particular gruesome dispatch, he sent a bloody swatch of a victim's clothing to the San Francisco Chronicle from the execution-style slaying of a city cab driver days earlier.

The killer, described by witnesses as husky, bespectacled and crew-cut, is often referred to as Northern California's Jack the Ripper.

He is linked to five homicides between December 1968 and October 1969, a crime spree that stretched from the streets of San Francisco to a lake in Napa County.

But while police sorted through a suspect list that grew to 2,500, no one was ever charged in connection with the crimes.

Vallejo's Arthur Leigh Allen, long regarded as the most promising of the bunch, died of natural causes in 1992.

Over the years, the original police detectives either retired or died; the case grew cold.

Now, it's mostly a quirky assortment of amateur detectives and conspiracy theorists who keep the case simmering.

Voigt, 35, operates a wildly popular Web site in Portland called, which he said recorded 850,000 hits in May.

He invited a wide variety of people to participate in the task force meeting, including former detectives, family members of victims, psychics, mathematicians, even a few Zodiac suspects.

"I'm looking for fresh information that advances the case," he said. "I know there are a lot of people with information who don't realize its significance."

Since the Zodiac's first confirmed killing on Dec. 20, 1968, along a rural stretch of Lake Herman Road outside Vallejo, theorists have pointed fingers in nearly every direction.

Some amateur detectives have spent years trying to solve the killer's mysterious ciphers, while others have dug up previously unpublished reports about key suspects.

Jerry Johnson, a 71-year-old retired federal agent who lives in Orinda, has worked on the case with a former Highway Patrol officer since 1970.

Their suspect, who is still alive, was accused of stalking a schoolteacher in Cordelia, writing threatening letters and otherwise engaging in erratic behavior during the Zodiac crime spree.

Johnson, who meets monthly to discuss a case he keeps outlined in a thick red binder, said he will never give it up.

"We think that it's solved, but not resolved," he said.

Edward Neil, a 36-year-old massage therapist in Napa, got ensnared in the mystery after spotting a Zodiac book nine years ago.

For several years, he paid twice-weekly visits to the crime scene at Lake Herman Road, trying to imagine what happened and who could have been responsible.

"I'm one of the main amateur investigators who live right in the middle of it," he said. "I live only a couple of miles from where the Zodiac made his call to Napa police after the stabbing at Lake Berryessa.

"I know that sounds kind of macabre," he added, "but I get a kick out of telling that to people."

Another longtime investigator, Howard A. Davis, is the author of "The Zodiac/Manson Connection," in which he fingers former Manson family member Bruce Davis as the enigmatic killer.

On the case for about 15 years, the 58-year-old vice president of a Los Angeles-based research and development firm hopes DNA from letters can help implicate his suspect.

"My view is that (Manson) wanted to start helter-skelter in Northern California, as well as Southern California," said Howard Davis, who grew up in Pittsburg.

For law enforcement authorities whose agencies have worked the Zodiac case, amateur detectives are often dismissed as bothersome.

Capt. Mike Loughran, of the Napa County sheriff's department, said he was aware of the upcoming Zodiac gathering -- and wished them luck.

"It's interesting. I can see why people are still excited about it," he said. "But oftentimes not everyone has every piece of the pie to put things together. And had they known, they would be able to eliminate a person they're suspecting."

By Howard Davis (Howard) ( - on Sunday, June 30, 2002 - 12:11 pm:

I have just read the Contra Costa Times June 30,2002 article on "Zodiac killer still fascinates sleuths" by Corey Lyons.The story mentions the upcoming meeting at Blue Rock Springs Park July Fourth.
I think the article is well writtenand to the point and gives the basics of the case.
I was delighted that our Zodiac expert and historian(this includes a legion of other subjects-don't let "massage therapist" fool you ,as many brilliant people enjoy positions that don't seem to fit their intellectualty)Ed N.,finally got some news space,which he deserves big time!Great.
Only one thing, from my point of view ,was that Corey Lyons indicates that I hope that DNA analysis will "imlicate" my suspect.While this is a true statement- not only from my perspective,but for anyone that has a Zodiac suspect,it is not the full picture.
From the very beginning of the Z case(and as recently expressed again by Graysmith)it was thought by some that Zodiac could have had someone that was a trusted associate write the "Zodiac"letters.I hold to the possibility of this view(knowing the comlexity and pitfalls of the case)but with great reservations,because of the 11/29/66 Confession letter and the three Riverside '67 notes.I do not think that the young Zodiac had the need for someone to compose letters for him at this early date.Of course,some can say Morrell was incorrect in his Z analysis of the same author connection he made to the Z BaY area letters.
The one thing that really bothers me is the slim possibility of someone else mailing the letters and SEALING them,including the stamp.I know some Manson letters were written by him smuggled out of jail and then placed in an envelope sealed-which included the stamp, and mailed.What if he were unidentified at the time?Something to dwell on.
GS is correct in saying that there was saliva analysis in the 60's.I know this was known to antidetection authors in the 60's ,as it is in their books-'do not seal envelopes and stamps(they suggested using a sponge and then tossing it) or leave cigarettes behind because the authorities can type your saliva,'etc.
If Zodiac was so concerned about prints and their detection ,that he used glue coating(another technique from in antidetection books-one booklet mentioned even leaving 'fake prints'using reverse imaging with latex)then why not saliva analysis?
The'66/7 envelopes held by the RSPD should be DNA typed ,if possible and if they have not already,should make comparisons with all of the known suspects-at least the prominent ones.