10-22-02 Press Democrat story

Zodiackiller.com Message Board: Zodiac Media: 10-22-02 Press Democrat story

By Ed N. (Ed_N) (acc3b02d.ipt.aol.com - on Tuesday, October 22, 2002 - 01:37 pm:

Sniper's grip on capital recalls Zodiac killer

October 22, 2002


The cases have striking similarities: multiple random victims, taunting messages left for police, a massive law enforcement hunt, and ultimately, a fearful hold over an entire region.

The nine deaths linked to the Washington-area sniper evoke the elusive Zodiac killer, who terrorized the Bay Area with at least five murders in the late 1960s. The mystery remains unsolved.

Petaluma writer Mike Kelleher and Sonoma State University psychology professor David Van Nuys, who wrote the recent book "This is the Zodiac Speaking," note the parallels but also significant differences.

The sniper attacks, the subject of cable TV news-talk channels nearly 24 hours a day, have refueled interest in the Zodiac case, which, despite the 33 years since the last confirmed killing, has remained a subject of amateur investigations and online discussion groups.

Last week, San Francisco police, who now lead the multi-jurisdictional investigation, announced that DNA recovered from a 1969 Zodiac-penned letter was not that of a deceased Vallejo man identified as a possible suspect.

Kelleher, a criminologist, threat-assessment specialist and author of a dozen true crime books, called the sniper more of a "thrill killer" than a traditional serial killer like the Zodiac, who killed at least five people over several months in 1968 and 1969.

"The Beltway sniper is a lot more pernicious and lot more determined. He's probably a better planner," Kelleher said.

The Zodiac's confirmed slayings started Dec. 20, 1968, when he killed two teen-agers at a lover's lane outside Vallejo. On July 4, 1969, he killed a 22-year-old woman near Vallejo; her male companion survived.

Three months later, he killed another 22-year-old woman at Lake Berryessa in Napa County, an attack her boyfriend survived as well. Finally, cab driver Paul Stine was shot in the back of the head Oct. 11, 1969, in San Francisco.

The Zodiac killer left his calling card, a drawing of crosshairs, at murder scenes and for years sent cryptic messages to police and newspapers, cultivating widespread media attention and instilling panic throughout the Bay Area. He dubbed himself "Zodiac" in one of his earlier letters, and from then on introduced his missives with "This is the Zodiac speaking ..."

The sniper also has communicated with authorities, including a tarot card with the words "Dear Policeman, I am God" left at one scene, and apparently has traded phone messages with police.

"That immediately makes me think of the Zodiac," said Van Nuys, who analyzed the killer's letters in working with Kelleher on their book.

"The word zodiac has an astrological, mystical connotation, as does the idea of the tarot," he said. "It's the same kind of mystical connection."

The Zodiac killer had an inordinate need for attention, a mentality that wants to thumb its nose at society and be disruptive, Van Nuys said.

"I don't see a similar play for attention in the sniper case. He hasn't demanded that kind of attention," he said. "Of course, he's getting some, so there might be an element of that."

While the Zodiac was an "up-close and personal killer," stabbing and shooting his victims at close range, Van Nuys said the sniper wants to put distance, literally and figuratively, between himself and his targets.

"The serial sniper is much more sanitary, removed, impersonal," he said. "He is somebody who is very angry about something, and I don't know what. There's something about power."

Kelleher said the Zodiac killer gained his power in great part through the Bay Area media, which published his threats and cryptic messages on the front pages.

"He evolved beyond murder to a larger and more grandiose form of domination," he said. "He had the area pretty well locked down."

The Zodiac eventually stopped killing, although he continued to write letters to newspapers, and clues to his identity still are hotly contested. Zodiac theorists think he could be dead, jailed for other crimes or recovered from whatever mental illness drove him to kill.

But both Kelleher and Van Nuys said the sniper probably won't be as lucky because of advanced forensics techniques, better law enforcement cooperation and just plain odds.

"The sniper will absolutely be caught," Kelleher said. "The question is how many more will he take down. My personal view is he's near the end of the road. There are too many good, solid pieces of evidence over the three-week period that can narrow the field of suspects."

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 521-5205 or lcarter@pressdemocrat.com.