On Wednesday, Oct. 6th, 2021, a group of retired law enforcement, military and forensic investigators claimed to have identified Gary Francis Poste as the infamous Zodiac Killer. The group, known as The Case Breakers, had connected Poste to a murder that took place in Southern California. The team also found photographs of his “darkroom” dating back to 1963. Evidence had shown that Poste had the same scar on his forehead as shown in sketches of who the Zodiac Killer could have been. Poste was a U.S Air Force veteran and died in 2018 at the age of 80.
The Zodiac Killer, also known as Zodiac, was a serial killer in the San Francisco Bay Area from December of 1968 to October of 1969. Zodiac is so well known because he would send letters to newspapers and would threaten to go on a weekend murder spree unless they published them. His letters claimed that he had murdered up to 37 victims, but only five have been confirmed. Zodiac had also sent a total of four letters containing ciphers surrounding the murders and his true name. Out of the four, only two were solved: the first one in 1969, the second one in 2020.
Zodiac was known for targeting young couples in the area. His first victims, David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, were a young couple who were shot and killed on Dec. 20th, 1968 on Lake Herman Road in Benicia, Calif. His next victims, Micheal Renualt Mageau and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, were shot on July 4th, 1969. Mageau survived the attack while Ferrin was pronounced dead at Kaiser Foundation Hospital.
In the time between July 4th and his next murders, Zodiac would send a total of four letters; three on Aug. 1st, 1969 to three news networks and one on Aug. 7th, 1969 to The San Francisco Examiner.
On August 1st, he sent a letter to the Vallejo Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner. In these letters, Zodiac took credit for the killings that took place on December 20th and July 4th. Each letter also contained a third of a 408 symbol cryptogram that supposedly contained the Zodiacs name. On August 8, Donald and Bettye Harden cracked his code, with a misspelled message of “The Most Dangerous Game” and his motivation for the murders of “collecting slaves for the afterlife”. In the August 1st letters, Zodiac stated that if weren’t published in their newspapers that he would go on a weekend killing spree, “killing lone people in the night”. Eventually all three parts of the letters were published and the murders did not happen.
A week later on August 7th, the San Francisco Examiner received a letter from Zodiac beginning with “Dear Editor, this is Zodiac speaking,”. This is the first instance they have claimed the name “Zodiac” for themself. The letter also contained more evidence that he had killed Ferrin, Jensen and Faraday. He also said he would not give out his name as it would slow his collection.
A month later on Sept. 27th, 1969, Zodiac struck again claiming to take a car from college students, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, after tying them up with plastic clothesline. He then proceeded to stab them multiple times and drew a circle with a cross inside with a black pen on Hartnell’s car door. Underneath the symbol, he listed the area and dates of previous murders and dated September 27th, the time and by his weapon, a knife. Shepard would die two days later from her injuries and Hartnell would live on another day.
An hour after he stabbed Hartnell and Shepard, he called the Napa County Sheriff’s office and reported his latest crime. He “wished to report a murder – no, a double murder,” and dropped the phone before he could take credit for it. Later, detectives would find a wet hand print on the phone that never matched any of their suspects.
His last known murder took place on Oct. 11th, 1969, when he shot and killed cab driver, Paul Stine, in his head. Zodiac would then go on to rob Stine’s body of his wallet and keys. Three teenagers from across the street witnessed the crime and called the police. Two patrol officers would respond to the call only to have let the man who killed Stine walk right past them, only they wouldn’t know that until days later when an official police sketch was made.
Zodiac would continue to send letters to news sites and police offices until 1974. The San Francisco Police Department would close the case in 2004 but reopened the case again in 2007. Other police departments in the area like Napa County and Solano County as well as the California Department of Justice has kept the case opened since 1969.