Why the Hunt for the Zodiac Killer Turned Right into a Terrifying Puzzle for the Ages

But while the Zodiac killings seemingly stopped in October 1969 as the country’s attention headed south, to the capture of the people responsible for the August murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in Los Angeles, the messages did not.

He sent a greeting card to the Chronicle on Nov. 8, 1969, as well as a new cipher—the 340 cipher that wouldn’t be decoded until December 2020. A seven-page letter declaring “The police will never catch me, because I have been too clever for them” arrived the next day, decorated with a drawing of the inside of a bomb.

The Zodiac also wrote to famed attorney Melvin Belli, who had been a guest on Jim Dunbar’s AM San Francisco show that October when a man purporting to be the Zodiac killer called in. The letter was sent to the lawyer’s residence, where it was lost in a pile of Christmas mail and not opened until Dec. 27, after which an associate flew with a photocopy of the letter to Munich to hand it to Belli in person. In it, the Zodiac seemed to be taking credit for another murder. 

“I believe he wants to stop killing,” Belli, who via the Chronicle relayed a message that he’d meet in person with the Zodiac any time at a place of his choosing, told reporters afterward. “I have carefully studied his letter…and feel it was written at a time when he calmly and rationally was considering a future.”

Belli wouldn’t hear from him again for months. (Incidentally, the 340 Cipher also notes, “That wasnt (sic) me on the TV show,” seemingly referring to the Dunbar call-in.)

In the ensuing months, killings that shared attributes with the crimes Zodiac had admitted to were investigated for ties to the serial killer, and his own tally continued to climb in his letters, but the aforementioned five deaths and two other victims remain the only confirmed Zodiac murders. (A Vallejo woman named Kathleen Johns was widely considered to have been his intended next victim in March 1970, but she—and her 10-month-old daughter who was in the car with her—got away. Grayson surmised that he never took credit for the attack because Johns had gotten a clear look at his face.)

He alluded to bombs, created more ciphers of varying lengths, drew ultimately unhelpful maps and, on July 27, 1970, two letters arrived at the Chronicle.

It was then they decided to see what would happen if they didn’t print his messages.

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