Wired.com, 7-3-02


Zodiackiller.com Message Board: General Zodiac Discussion: 2002 Zodiackiller.com Task-Force Meeting: Wired.com, 7-3-02

By Tom Voigt (Tom_Voigt) (204.120.48.40) on Wednesday, July 03, 2002 - 05:02 pm:

A Party for a Serial Murderer
By Randy Dotinga
2:00 a.m. July 3, 2002 PDT


The man behind zodiackiller.com thinks his website's namesake may actually show up on Thursday when some 200 amateur and professional detectives gather to try to identify the elusive serial murderer.

And why wouldn't the killer drop by a Bay Area confab that will feature souvenirs, book sales and barbecue? One answer is that he may be dead, as many police and lay experts theorize.

But many think he is still alive.

Thanks to the Internet, the mystery of the Zodiac killer -- the brazen and boastful Jack the Ripper of his time -- has never been more popular. Thousands of armchair sleuths now have access to police reports, crime scene photos and each other's theories.

They set up field trips, bicker among themselves and swap e-mails about the murderer's famous letters to police and the press.

"I'm hoping this event will bring together a lot of people who might have the solution but don't realize it," said Tom Voigt, a Web designer in Portland, Oregon, who runs zodiackiller.com. "This case will be solved by the public, not the police."

Voigt is the prime mover behind the first-ever Zodiackiller.com Task Force Meeting. He claims about 200 people plan to gather at a public park in Vallejo, California, northeast of San Francisco, where the Zodiac killer murdered a 22-year-old woman and shot her male friend on July 4, 1969. The killer is considered responsible for at least four other murders that terrorized Northern California in the late 1960s.

Book authors, reporters, police detectives and even relatives of victims and suspects are planning to attend, Voigt said. "And there will be quite a few of the amateur elements," some of who have linked the Zodiac killer to people like Charles Manson and the Unabomber.

Voigt will even provide free goodies for the first 125 people to arrive -- buttons emblazoned with the Zodiac killer's symbol, a circle drawn over a cross like a rifle's crosshairs. A 1970 letter purportedly from the Zodiac killer asked Bay Area residents to wear buttons emblazoned with the symbol.

The killings began in December 1968 when someone opened fire on a young couple as they sat in a car outside Vallejo. Both were killed. The murders were followed by the July 1969 shooting, an attack on a young couple in Napa County in September 1969 that left a young woman dead, and the shooting death of a 29-year-old San Francisco cab driver a month later.

Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, someone wrote taunting and cryptic letters to the police and several California newspapers, claiming credit for the murders and making more threats.

Like Jack the Ripper, the writer sent along evidence -- part of the cab driver's bloody shirt -- to prove his involvement. He -- experts agree the killer was a man -- began his letters with a chilling phrase: "This is the Zodiac speaking." Some letters were in ciphers and still haven't been deciphered.

Many "Zodiacologists" think the killer is responsible for dozens of murders and may even still be in business. The letters, however, stopped in the 1970s.

"Everybody has to have a vice, and this happens to be mine," said Edward Neil, a 36-year-old massage therapist and Zodiac killer theorist who acknowledges that some people think he's an oddball. "A lot of people have different hobbies and pastimes, and they're just as crazy as mine. To each their own."

The Zodiac killer still has a long way to go to become a cultural icon like his Victorian predecessor. A search for "Jack the Ripper" turns up 174,000 results on Lycos (Wired News' parent company), compared to just 5,000 for "Zodiac killer."

Even so, Voigt said his 4-year-old site received about 800,000 pageviews in May, and many visitors come bearing tips and theories. "In the last four years, more new and significant information has come out than in the previous 28 years," he said. "It's because people have a place to go."

Zodiackiller.com isn't subtle -- the cursor turns into two crosshairs -- and the task force meeting won't be either. In addition to the buttons giveaway, Voigt, 35, will also hand out poster-sized photographs of 1969 victim Darlene Ferrin standing outside her home next to the car in which she was killed. An 8-foot-long banner will announce the task force meeting to passersby.

"If I'd thought of it earlier, I would have gotten a balloon," Voigt said.

Not everyone is thrilled about the Zodiac killer's public profile. Some police detectives are annoyed by the obsessed theorists, and a sister of Ferrin thinks the attention is a mixed blessing, even though she provided materials to Voigt for his website.

"I thought it would be great," said Ruth Huckaby, 53. "With the new technology, maybe we could flush this guy out."

But she stopped answering e-mail, after getting more than 100 messages a day about the case, and she doesn't go to the Zodiac chat rooms anymore.

"All they do is argue," said Huckaby, who moved to northern Oregon from the Bay Area and doesn't plan to attend the task force meeting.

While Huckaby won't make an appearance, Voigt isn't the only one who expects the Zodiac killer to pick up a button and eat a hot dog or two.

"One thing we know about the Zodiac for sure is that he had a bit of an ego," Neil said. "I know he's read most, if not all, of the books about him and has been on all the websites. I'm sure he does a lot of Web searches on 'Zodiac' to see what he comes up with."

By Peter H (Peter_H) (pool-141-154-17-202.bos.east.verizon.net - 141.154.17.202) on Thursday, July 04, 2002 - 06:31 am:

Tom:

Great story. Uh ... "Ruth"?

By Alan Cabal (Alan_Cabal) (253.sanfrancisco-12rh16rt-ca.dial-access.att.net - 12.81.119.253) on Thursday, July 04, 2002 - 09:23 am:

Didn't our beloved president warn people to "look out for anything out of the ordinary" today? If booze was allowed, I'd be there. I'm a creature of habit, and if I'm not hung over on July 5th, the Republic is in trouble.

Have fun. Play nice. Avoid the potato salad.

By Ed N (Ed_N) (acc2bfe0.ipt.aol.com - 172.194.191.224) on Saturday, July 06, 2002 - 10:16 pm:

"Everybody has to have a vice, and this happens to be mine," said Edward Neil, a 36-year-old massage therapist and Zodiac killer theorist who acknowledges that some people think he's an oddball. "A lot of people have different hobbies and pastimes, and they're just as crazy as mine. To each their own."

I have a feeling I'll be known for that statement for a long time to come...

By John Prisk (Prisk29) (lbv-ca23-254.rasserver.net - 199.182.116.254) on Saturday, July 06, 2002 - 11:48 pm:

couldda picked someting less controversial like prostitution.....

By Sylvie (Sylvie14) (spider-ntc-td014.proxy.aol.com - 198.81.17.154) on Sunday, July 07, 2002 - 10:15 am:

I'm still surprised about the "massage therapist" bit, I thought you were a professional historian.

By Sandy (Sandy) (ppp-64-175-141-88.dialup.wnck11.pacbell.net - 64.175.141.88) on Sunday, July 07, 2002 - 01:14 pm:

Sylvie, Ed gives great massage!

By Ed N (Ed_N) (acc137f9.ipt.aol.com - 172.193.55.249) on Sunday, July 07, 2002 - 09:51 pm:

Sylvie: how many people would expect a massage therapist to be interested in serial killers??? Kinda mutually exclusive, methinks... I love ancient history, actually, and majored in general history at Sonoma State (Allen's alma mater). However, the only thing one can do with such a degree is teach, which I don't have much interest in, so I decided to do something I loved instead. I still can't believe people are willing to pay big bucks for massage!

By John Prisk (Prisk29) (lbv-ca21-151.rasserver.net - 199.182.113.151) on Tuesday, July 09, 2002 - 11:52 pm:

What, are you kidding? Have you ever been to Chinatown? Ohh la la.