Cheri-Jo Bates walked from her campus library into the darkness towards her car. The battery was flat. A man appeared and offered to help her. He tinkered with the engine but having no luck he offered to take her home.
He led Cheri-Jo to an alleyway between two houses, where the pair spent at least half an hour, then he stabbed her in the chest and back, slashing her throat until her head was almost off.
Cherie-Jo was the Zodiac Killer’s first confirmed kill. She died on 30 October 1966 in Riverside, California.
A letter to the local press declared Cheri-Jo was not the first, nor would she be the last.
In the next 15 years, the Zodiac Killer committed six known murders and may have been responsible for 40 unsolved killings, 39 of which were women.
Next to die was 17-year-old David Faraday and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Betty Lou Jensen.
A few days before Christmas in 1968 the lovers sat parked up in a rural lane outside Vallejo, North California, a gunman jumped out shooting Faraday in the head, Betty Lou managed to run 10 meters before five bullets hit her in the back.
Six months later another young couple was similarly shot in their car. The boy – Michael Mageau (19) – lived but his girlfriend – Darlene Ferrin (22) – died.
Forty minutes later Vallejo police received an anonymous call from a man telling officers of the killing and claiming responsibility for Faraday’s death the previous year.
Weeks later, the killer sent coded letters to the local press saying “I like killing people because it is so much fun.”
He claimed that his purpose was to collect slaves for the afterlife. The letters were signed with a crossed-circle symbol.
In 1969, college students Cecelia Ann Shepard (22) and Bryan Calvin Hartnell (20) were attacked while they had a picnic at Lake Berryessa near Napa.
A man in a hooded costume approached them carrying a gun. Telling the terrified pair he was an escaped convict, he demanded cash and their car.
The couple co-operated fully but the man gave Cecelia pieces of clothesline and told her to use them to tie up Bryan. The masked man then tied up Cecelia and told them: “I’m going to have to stab you people.”
He stabbed Bryan six times and Cecelia 10 times. Before leaving, he drew a crossed-circle symbol on the car. Barely alive, the students were found by a fisherman. Cecelia died two days later but Bryan survived.
Months later, cab driver Paul Stine (29) was shot dead in San Francisco. The killer tore off a piece of Paul’s shirt and three days later, the Chronicle received a letter with a piece of the blood-soaked shirt.
Unsolved killings and letters continued through the 70s, but the police were uncertain what crimes to attribute to the Zodiac.
On three occasions victims managed to evade their attacker and later identify the Zodiac Killer from sketches drawn up from witnesses statements.
The last letter definitely penned by the Zodiac was in 1978 when he warned residents of the Bay Area that “I am back with you”.
No traceable crimes were then committed though. The case remains open.