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Zodiac murders still unsolved after two decades

SAN FRANCISCO -- A serial murderer who called himself 'Zodiac' and boasted in letters to newspapers and homicide detectives that he would never be caught remains at large 20 years after his first known attack.

On Dec. 20, 1968, the first murders attributed to Zodiac occurred at a lovers' lane near Vallejo, Calif., 20 miles northeast of San Francisco. David Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, were forced from their car and fatally shot.

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The case went into the books as an unsolved double homicide, and Zodiac didn't claim responsibility at the time.

Six months later, in July 1969, a 22-year-old woman was shot dead and her companion severely wounded in an attack at another Bay Area lovers' lane. About an hour after the shootings, a man called the Vallejo police department.

'I want to report a double murder,' the caller said in a monotone. 'Go 1 mile east on Columbus Parkway to the public park. You will find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year.'

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Police were unsure whether the caller was the murderer until Aug. 1, 1969, when three newspapers -- the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the Vallejo Times-Herald -- received letters containing information about the two lovers' lane attacks that could have been known only the killer.

The letter also contained a cipher composed of strange symbols that baffled investigators.

One week later, the Vallejo newspaper received a second letter which began, 'This is the Zodiac speaking...' and was signed with what would become his trademark -- a circle drawn with a cross running through it.

Shortly after the second letter, a Salinas, Calif., schoolteacher cracked the cipher and revealed the message sent with the first Zodiac note. It read:

'I like killing people because it is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of them all.'

Just as police were beginning to realize they had a crazed but obviously crafty murderer on their hands, he struck again. On Sept. 27, 1969, Cecilia Ann Shepard, 22, and Breian Hatnell, 20, students at Pacific Union College in Napa County, were stabbed repeatedly during a picnic.

The stabber had approached the couple wearing an executioner's mask and holding a gun, and told them, 'I'm going to have to stab you people.'

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Shepard was stabbed 24 times and died from her wounds. Hartnell was stabbed a dozen times but survived.

After stabbing the couple, Zodiac walked to Hartnell's car and with a felt-tip pen drew the crossed-circle symbol on the door. An hour later, he telephoned the Napa Police Department.

As in the second Zodiac attack, the caller incorrectly assumed both victims were dead and boasted of a 'double murder.'

The next murder was that of San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine, 29, who was shot in the head after driving the killer from Union Square to Presidio Heights. Three days after the Oct. 11, 1969, murder, Zodiac claimed the slaying in a letter to the Chronicle.

He also threatened to shoot up a school bus and 'pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.' To prove he had killed Stine, Zodiac included in his letter a bloody swatch of the cabbie's shirt.

Unlike the other murders, there had been witnesses to Stine's shooting. From their descripptions, a police artist put together a sketch of the suspect.

There was no school bus attack, but for several weeks armed officers escorted buses to and from school across Northern California.

Zodiac continued to send letters to newspapers for a couple of years, and while he stopped identifying victims he claimed 37 victims in one of his last letters, received by the Chronicle in 1972.

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The publicity surrounding the case prompted authorities to reopen the investigation into a 1966 stabbing murder in Riverside, Calif. The murder bore similarities to the Zodiac killings and it was eventually determined that Zodiac had killed 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates, making a total of six known murder victims.

Twenty years after Zodiac terrorized the Bay Area, he is more of a mystery than ever. Dave Toschi, a retired San Francisco police inspector who worked on the case, believes Zodiac is still alive and is 'out there somewhere.'

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