The “Zodiac” was and potentially still is, one of the most famous serial killers in American history. As defined by Oxford dictionary, a serial killer is “a person who commits a series of murders, often with no apparent motive and typically following a characteristic, predictable pattern behavior.” Zodiac terrorized both southern and northern California from the period of June 4th 1963 – March 22nd 1971, during this period he kept up an active correspondence with law enforcement officials and often taunted their inability to find him. After 1971 however, his communications with law enforcement abruptly ended. The Zodiac’s kill count is officially listed at 5 confirmed dead, 2 injured, and possibly 20-28 more total dead (he claims 37 total). His crimes include stabbing two people in Santa Barbara, murdering a student at Riverside Community College, shooting two teens in a parked car in Benicia, executing a man’s wife in Vallejo, and robbing then stabbing a couple at Lake Berryessa. The Zodiac’s identity, whereabouts, and his connections with potentially more killings still remain unknown.
See, somewhere deep in the core of our brains we are hard coded to fear dangers to our well-being. We put up signposts to warn of dangers in an area, cage animals that pose a threat to us, label items as potentially hazardous and we do so in an effort to make the danger known, to make it less dangerous. Monsters however lie in the danger that is unknown. Serial killers for example fall perfectly into this mentally prepared slot of things to be afraid of. The killers without a motive, that haven’t been caught, that kill without pattern, those murderers are the real monsters. The Zodiac killer for one example perfectly fits into Jeffrey Cohens second monster theory: The monster that always gets away. The Zodiac appeared in one place, did damage to the population, taunted the police department and then moved on to do damage elsewhere. He was feared by both the public for the imminent danger he posed to them through his threats of violence, and to law enforcement officials as well as news agency correspondents, due to direct threats made. With every threat sent to law enforcement the acts of violence described increased and changed, ranging from announcing a killing spree to saying he’d pick off the “little kiddies” as they left the school bus. Not only did he manage to elude capture, but his killings evolved and changed as time went on.
If we follow the 2007 film “Zodiac” we get an attempt to represent the motives, modus operandi, show the true identity of the Zodiac. Though the depictions of the crimes and events that took place were portrayed as they occurred, I do not feel they adequately captured the fear instilled residents of the cities where the killings took place. What set Zodiac apart from your everyday run of the mill murderer, killer, and doom bringer, was his manipulation of narrative through the use of media. He brought fear directly to the hearts of the everyday man, woman, and child by demanding his ciphers be posted front page of the paper or he’d kill again, as well as by going on the Jim Dunbar show and having audiences across the nation know that a serial killer was on the other end of the line. Zodiac was a showman who made sure to instill fear in the masses, often going on to claim crimes that were verified to be not his just to ensure there was a looming sense of peril in the population.
Furthermore, in their choosing to focus on the suspect Arthur Lee Allen without a positive ID yet to be made the “Zodiac” film made a poor choice in my opinion, as his true identity is yet to be 100% verified. The attention to detail kept up by the writers was superb, the timing of events as they occurred was followed to the tee, and they went so far even as to include the direction Zodiac walked as given by eyewitness testimony. The level of detail was near perfect, and if you don’t take into consideration that the film took heavy influence from Robert Graysmith’s “Zodiac Unmasked” book, hired him on payroll to help during production, and failed to highlight key pieces of evidence tying Richard Geikowski to the suspects (which is conrtradictory to his theory on Allen being the Zodiac), then it was great. The film even went so far as to acknowledge that Lee Allen was later exonerated due to insufficient fingerprint and handwriting matches.
“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 all to kill something gives me the most thrilling experience it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl the best part of it is that when I die I will be reborn in paradise and all the (people) I have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to slow down or stop my collecting of slaves for my afterlife.” – 408 Zodiac Cipher
Zodiac terrorized the population of California by sending ciphers such as the above mentioned “408” cryptogram to news agencies and law enforcement departments. In terms of brutality he was no Jack the Ripper and in terms of numbers he did not make a significant impact murder rates over the years, as his body count was relatively low. Where he excelled as a monster, was in his ability to loom peril through forced “in your face” publishing of brutal crimes, through his popularization of the “game” he was playing and the depiction of this game being clearly lost by those sworn to serve and protect. He was the monster that killed indiscriminately, could seemingly be in any city in California, and could be the result of your untimely demise if you were at the “wrong place at the wrong time.” Zodiac was dangerous, elusive, evolving and a man that was no longer a man, he was a monster.
Works Cited Zodiac
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture: Seven Theses.” From Monster Theory: Reading Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. 3-25.Gotta use this one, look at monster theory #2
Collis, Clark. “To CATCH the ZODIAC Killer.” Entertainment Weekly, June 2017, pp.72-78. Ebscohost,chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?Url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?Direct =true&db=a9h&AN=123231413&site=ehost-live.
The article discusses the 1971 film “The Zodiac Killer,” directed by Tom Hanson, which he created in an effort to catch the man responsible for at least five murders in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Topics include the American Genre Film Archive’s release of the film on Blu-ray July 25, 2017, the inability of the 50 police officers and 10 inspectors assigned to the case to catch the murderer, and Hanson’s use of a raffle to try and identify the murderer by his handwriting.
Campbell, macgregor. “The Zodiac Killer.” New Scientist, May 2011, Ebscohost,chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?Url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?Direct=true&db=a9h&AN=61044325&site=ehost-live.
The article presents information on a series of coded messages which were allegedly sent to police and newspapers in San Francisco, California by a serial murderer nicknamed Zodiac during the 1960s.
Sawyer, Michael. “Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (Book Review).” Library Journal. Ebscohost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?Url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?Direct=true&db=a9h&AN=2806346&site=ehost-live.
Reviews the book ‘Encyclopedia of Serial Killers: A Study of the Chilling Criminal Phenomenon from the Angels of Death to the Zodiac Killer,’ by Michael Newton.
“Signs Point to a Zodiac Suspect.” U.S. News & World Report, vol. 121, no. 1, July 1996, p. 18. Ebscohost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?Url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?Direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9606247830&site=ehost-live.
Reports that Heriberto Seda confessed to the crimes attributed to the so-called Zodiac killer in New York City. Fact that Seda killed his half-sister; How police connected Seda to the Zodiac crimes; Number of people killed by the Zodiac gunman.