On this day, Dec. 20, in 1968, the self-named Zodiac Killer murdered his first victims.
The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer whose brutal murders, cryptic letters and haunting phone calls terrorized Northern California residents and confounded investigators for decades, even though the last confirmed killing was in 1969.
The first victims were San Francisco Bay area high school students Betty Lou Jensen, 16, and David Faraday, 17. The couple had driven up to a lover’s lane where they parked Faraday’s mother’s Rambler.
About 45 minutes later, another car pulled up beside them. A gunman ordered the couple out of the car. He shot Faraday in the head. As Jensen fled, he shot her five times through her back.
The shooter began sending chilling and taunting letters to area newspapers. He called himself the Zodiac, and claimed to have murdered more than 30 people. Police attributed seven victims to the writer, two of whom survived.
The Zodiac Killer began taunting detectives and sending them coded letters, some of which have never been cracked. He claimed that he was killing people to keep as slaves in the afterlife.
The mystery inspired several films and television shows. “Dirty Harry,” starring Clint Eastwood, is loosely based on the Zodiac case. In 2007, the film “Zodiac,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr, focused on police attempts to catch him.
The California Department of Justice has maintained an open case file on the Zodiac murders since 1969.
- Scott McCabe