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Experts rule Zodiac killer letter phony

VALLEJO, Calif. -- A letter signed by someone claiming to be the notorious Zodiac killer and threatening to run down children on Halloween is phony, state handwriting experts said.

The Zodiac killer has never been identified, but is believed to have murdered five people in the Bay Area in the late 1960s although he later claimed in letters that he had 37 victims.

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The fake letter sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald at midweek was a simulation of a hoax letter written in 1978, police Capt. Roy Conway said Thursday. The determination was made by experts in the state Department of Justice, he said.

The first of several letters from the Zodiac killer, who identified himself by using astrological signs arranged on paper, was written in August 1969 and received by the Times-Herald.

Filled with grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors, the latest letter said, 'Tell the blue pigs if want me I will be out driving arround on Holoween in my death machine looking for some kiddies to run over Cars make nice weapons The pigs can catch me if They can find me out there. Just like in the movie The car. Tell the kiddies watch before They cross the streets on holloween nite. Tell Tochi my new plans'

The Tochi reference is to David Toschi, who was the prime investigator of the Zodiac killings, which began in 1968. He was demoted after being accused of sending a fake Zodiac letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1978.

In Sacramento, spokeswoman Melinda Stehr of the attorney general's office said handwriting experts confirmed the letter was a simulation of a letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle a decade ago, which was also considered to be a hoax.

'Someone saw the letter and was using it as a copy,' Stehr said. 'It's a fake. It's a hoax.

The letter was being examined by fingerprint experts, and Attorney General John Van De Kamp said he would prosecute anyone found to have sent the letter.

Conway said that although the letter was a hoax, additional steps were being taken to protect the public on Halloween but did not elaborate.

The first known Zodiac slayings were committed Dec. 20, 1968, when a couple parked on a lover's lane-type road was shot in Vallejo. In July 1969, a young woman was shot to death and her companion wounded on another lover's lane-type road near Vallejo.

In September 1969, a woman was stabbed to death by a hooded man and her boyfriend was wounded while picnicking on Lake Berryessa about 40 miles north of Vallejo, and a month later a San Francisco cab driver was shot to death.

The last possibly authentic letter was received by the Chronicle Jan. 30, 1984.

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