At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

Who is the Zodiac Killer?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

In the world of serial killers, one might consider the Zodiac Killer to be a step above the rest. A serial murderer active in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, he was notable not only for his killing spree and mysterious ciphers sent to news outlets and police, but also for the fact that he got away with the crimes, as his identity was never discovered. The police's prime suspect was Arthur Leigh Allen, but his DNA, fingerprints, and handwriting did not match that left behind by the killer.

The Zodiac Killer's activity began with the shooting deaths of David Farraday and Betty Lou Jensen in 1968, but police suspect his killing spree may have begun five years earlier, with the 1963 murders of Robert Domingos and Linda Edwards. This has not been confirmed, however. The next attack produced one survivor, Michael Mageau, who is only one of a handful of people who have seen the killer's face. He and Darlene Ferrin were parked at a well known lover's lane when the killer blocked them in, blinded them with a flashlight, then shot and killed Ferrin. Mageau had been seriously injured but lived.

After several of his murders, the killer sent ciphers — encoded messages — to newspapers and police, saying that the messages would reveal his identity. Usually, however, they revealed nothing but cryptic rants and threats against further victims.


The Zodiac Killer was never caught, but one survivor of his attacks say he had the Zodiac's symbol on his chest.
The Zodiac Killer was never caught, but one survivor of his attacks say he had the Zodiac's symbol on his chest.

While the Zodiac Killer claimed responsibility for 37 victims, only seven have been confirmed. All were young couples, except for cab driver Paul Stine, who was shot in the back of the head after driving the killer to the corner of Washington and Maple Streets in San Francisco. One other victim survived: Bryan Hartnell, who was stabbed several times by a man wearing a black hood with the Zodiac's symbol on his chest. Cecilia Shepard was killed in the attack.

The Zodiac Killer was active in the 1960s and 70s.
The Zodiac Killer was active in the 1960s and 70s.

The prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, was linked by an abundance of circumstantial evidence to the Zodiac killings, though police could not find conclusive evidence; his fingerprints and handwriting did not match that of the killer, and he was therefore never charged. He died in 1992 of a heart attack. The most recent Zodiac Killer suspect is Jack Tarrance, whose stepson found a black hood resembling that of the killer, as well as undeveloped rolls of film that Tarrance's stepson says contain gruesome photos of the murders. None of the evidence has been substantiated, though the case is still open and active.

Discussion Comments


If I am going off just the letters and ciphers, the zodiac killer was/is (hey he could have been 20 when he started killing, so he may still be alive) a man with the initials JKF,who is from Oakland,and his last name is Fry.


All i know is that the zodiac killer has the initials jkf (no not jfk) and his last name is Fry, and no man like that has come up,so all the suspects are clear of suspicion, except for the tarbox, since the identity never came out.


Most likely A.L.A was Zodiac. A series of blunders and a dash of good luck allowed him to more or less get away with it - though he was hounded and tormented in his final years. I think this is not unlike the Jack The Ripper story, Aaron Kosminski probably was Jack but got away with it due to errors and luck - though he was finally put into an asylum and the murders stopped. I think we love mystery too much. Like A.L.A., Kozminski was positively ID'edd by a witness, and other suspects in either case ever were.


Debra Perez! Now there is one lady I feel so bad for. I mean, first she calls a press conference to announce to the world that she is, without question, the illegitimate child of one John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I mean, being put up for adoption to be abandoned by JFK is devastating news in and of itself, but who turns up and adopts her as his own daughter? The San Francisco Zodiac killer! Deb forgot all about her stepfather being a serial killing lunatic who took her along to wait in the car while he "did his thing" at Lake Berryessa and only remembered that her father was a homicidal serial killing lunatic, calling himself the astrological one. I mean, it happens to the best of us.

Only yesterday, while having a coffee in the garden and admiring the scenery, I suddenly recalled my mother sacrificing female virgins to Satan in the basement of our house when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. I'd forgotten all about it to be honest, because such things are not really significant life changing events that could traumatise a child seeing it. Anyway, my sympathies go out to Debra, given away by the most loved and recognized U.S. president in America's history, then adopted into the loving arms of her adoptive father who used to read her the same bed time story each and every night, "I like killing people because it is so much fun."


Everything points to the Hardens themselves. If they aren't the ones, there was no Zodiac killer.


Lyndon lafferty says he knows who the zodiac killer is, and after researching I have found his suspect. It is a man who served in the U.S.Air Force during World War II and Korea. He died Feb. 2, 2012 at age 92. Initials R.S.


Has anyone thought that maybe he had multiple personality disorder? I mean, as a kid, maybe something so traumatic happened that he tried to repress it, making himself a different personality, that he wouldn't have to relate to. Kind of a hidden part of himself?

I still believe its Leigh Allen; the evidence leads to him.


For the one who said that the zodiac killer is not a coward. Yes he is a coward! If he hadn't been, then why didn't he come forward to face the punishment?


Look through the woods? Perhaps Reno or somewhere else in Nevada. Get this guy, please.


Let us assume to begin with that we know nothing about the case. Let us rewind everything to the very beginning. All of the seeming complexity and confusion with ciphers, etc., could have been created to divert our attention from the truth. So let us assume that the Zodiac was the same person responsible for the Riverside incident.

This leads us to looking at the year of 1966 in the Riverside College Yearbook. Open the book and look at the first page. A remembrance of James Hardy, English teacher, who died the first part of the year in 1966. I am not an expert in facial recognition, but doesn't he look a lot like the composite 1969 wanted poster from the San Francisco Police Department. And David McCuish dedicated a poem to him. That sounds a little odd. Didn't Zodiac write poetry?

Also the Zodiac had a Halloween theme and the colors of Riverside are black and orange, are they not? And Ramona High also has a zodiac theme: Aries. Another mystery: how could he be the suspect if he died early in 1966 and the CJB incident was in October? Back in that time period it would be possible with a slight stretch of the imagination to fake one's death if they were also capable of doing much more and much worse things. Possible, but maybe not probable. No accusations – just an observation. It should be looked into.

It does seem like a plausible theory that a guy (ex-student) or teacher seven to ten years older who had a crush on a cheerleader, jock, honor student, etc., would feel dissed and severely rejected by being "brushed off," as stated in the confession, which corroborates that he in fact did most likely have a direct connection to Ramona (as he stated that he was brushed off in years prior).

Might be worth looking into. Also re James Hardy. Is it possible he was born RJH – maybe Richard James Hardy?


You people have all these theories, but no answers. I would love to tell you who the zodiac is, but why do that when it's entertaining watching you mess up? The police shall never catch me because I have been too clever for them.


Has anyone ever pursued the idea of the Zodiac killer actually being two men? I know it seems unlikely, but maybe the whole Zodiac persona was, in fact an idea thought up by two men.

Since the 'killer' liked to talk about and brag about his exploits to police and journalists, I find it hard to believe that this person could be totally quiet about his crimes.


@anon179291: It needed to be said. Anyway, you're wrong about him being a coward; he's the farthest thing from it. Also, if Arthur was the Zodiac killer, I think he would have admitted it, and that goes for the other suspects.

Based on his letters, he was proud of what he did and that's why he sent the letters in the first place. He wanted them to know what he was doing and he wanted them to recognize his work. Trust me, I know the feeling. You see, like him, I'm an artist, although my medium is quite different from his.

Anyway, every time I paint or draw something I'm proud of or worked really hard on, I always show someone because like every other artist out there, I want to be recognized for my talent. Murder was the Zodiac's talent, it was his painting, it was his medium.


I don't think that either Jack Tarrance or Arthur Allen were the Zodiac. The Zodiac was a very controlled killer who took great care in executing his crimes and controlling his victims. Allen doesn't strike me being the killer, although the SFPD really screwed up with searching his property.

I believe that the Zodiac didn't really needed/wanted to kill the men. I don't think he got the same pleasure out of it, compared to when he killed the women.

The men needed to be taken out of the way so that he could hurt the woman without fear of reprisal. The Zodiac was a coward at heart and never really surfaced again as leaving his prints on Paul Stine's cab. The Zodiac said he was "in control of all things", but really came close to getting caught that night, and being the coward that he was, either stopped killing or moved elsewhere.


How is Harry Hines doing? Does anyone know? He's my uncle and has done extensive research on this case in his off time. I know where he lives and I had the opportunity to discuss the case with him but have lost contact with him the last five years. I'm interested in papers he has published.


what if it was allen and he had a split personality? would his handwriting be different? on the other hand, what is on the rolls of film that jack's stepson found?


I think it was A. L. Allen he has the most corroborating evidence, he was available for all of the killings he has never had a solid alibi for any of the ones he was questioned about and all the coincidental/factual threads tie him in. And no one else fits.

I just have a hard time with how anyone could be such a prolific killer with killing sprees that are so versatile in method and change ups that are unheard of as far as what we know about serial killers. I do think it is unusual that there has been a victim with the name of Allen in all of the different killings as well at least one other thread that points to whom ever did the zodiac killings. It's really hard to imagine that anyone could have been able to plan so far in advance and calculate all the times and dates without it boiling over into ones daily life.

The investigating teams dropped the ball a few times at crucial moments by not having the ability or knowing to share information. How could one man be that careful to not leave behind something? Did he really keep souvenirs or just take them to make it look like he was, did he dispose of everything when he was done with it? How would you keep it all hidden for so long.

It seems like he did everything on purpose giving us just enough rope to see it's all him even though his method is completely different. I cannot see a person that has that kind of an ego not wanting to eventually let us all know who did it and how he got over on all of us.

It wouldn't surprise me if he is dead now and that at some time in the future someone finds something that we never thought of or knew about and it will all be a mind blower, whoever it was, but it will be found only because he planned on it. Here's a thought: maybe the reason that he changed his method is so unusual is what if he is a multiple (personality)? That would be a first. It would thoroughly explain how he could have been such a different kind of a killer, yet the same man. Wow. that would be so, so weird.


The Zodiac killer was real. Just because the cops can't build a case or caught him doesn't mean he doesn't exist. It's disrespectful to the victims to dismiss it.

I believe it's Allen. I do think the DNA is probably that of a cop. Allen was very good at handwriting, so it's not impossible for him to change it up just to fool the cops. I do think he was lucky to get away with it due to prejudice, poor communication between the police and luck.


It was just someone we would never suspect like BTK. BTK would have never been caught but he got tired of stupid police looking for him and not being able to find him so he basically just turned himself in for the pub. Zodiac is probably dead. Good riddance.


what if jack and lee allen were working together? just something to think about. two heads are better than one.


I'm sorry to say but maybe there was no zodiac killer, I mean there could have been a number of people out there murdering all of these people. I know there were letters from him but come on maybe they were written for publicity. I am making a pretty good point here, because look at the facts: they never found the guy, there are many suspects that could match the D.N.A, but there is no official truth that there ever was a zodiac killer.


So if they never found the zodiac killer i bet he dies around the 80s. I mean he could have just gotten to the point of suicide, it is very possible and could be true, but evidence today shows that the zodiac killer died. And it is true and not a wacky and false statement.

The zodiac killer's identity is still not known today and by fact he is dead. but the horrible out come of all of this we will honestly never know the zodiac killer and why a shooting lead to this kind of killing, there was not something right in his head. And the reason i know so much is because i did a report on him, and actually with the small amount of information i this is putting a puzzle together, and who knows maybe in the future we will truly find out who he/she was. Now the reason why i say he/she is because no evidence truly shows it was a man.


Question, this really has nothing to do with this article, but I would like to know if Zodiac Killer had a serious hatred for women? Let me elaborate. I am doing a report on him for one of my classes, and of the kills where there were a man and a woman, yes he attacked the man, but the women always got the worst of the killing. one man was stabbed five times in the back, the woman with him, stabbed 14 times!

I'm really just very curious, plus that would be a good fact to put in my paper!


There is to much evidence against allen. Footprints, same knife, same type of weapon, same ammunition as zodiac, two witness. Another suspects didn't have any evidence with zodiac. Even circumstantial evidence. No witness, no knife, no weapon, no footprint. You must remember what zodiac said in the letter.

He said he would never be found because he didn't look like zodiac. So in normal life he doesn't have eye glasses, hair and wickers boots.


has anyone thought about ted kezinski as the zodiac?


I think if the job was done right this would be solved already. Everyone makes this bigger than it is. the FBI is now looking into this not the police. now, the mystery will be solved. Jack is not the ripper but he is the so called zodiac. nevertheless, he's a killer. still no justice. jack's dead.


Arthur Lee Alan -- he was positively I.D.ed. You have to leave room for error, but we know he was in Vallejo around that time and the surviving victim took nine seconds to positively i.d. him out of a line up.

The next time he kills (at the lake) he is wearing a disguise. Obviously he had not intended to leave the kid alive and realized his mistake.

Forget the handwriting analysis. At the time they had nothing to go with and had to rely on what they had. If Mageau had not done a runner this case would have been put to sleep in the 60s.


2010 and Donna Lass, RN is still a missing person. If nursing can't kill you... That's forty years now. The last dig was 2007 and found nothing. I think she's buried out back of the Hotelcasino. She was probably involved in the Stine killing as an accomplice. Larry Kane was probably ordered to kill Lass to make his bones. Research Harry Hines.


I believe that none of the commonly named suspects is the Zodiac Killer. Law enforcement had years of time to build a case around them; they couldn't. Now it is even said on Dennis Kaufman's website that Jack Tarrance killed the Black Dahlia. Maybe Tarrance was also Jack The Ripper? Isn't the name similarity obvious?


Nope, nobody knows who the Zodiac Killer is or was, this Jack Terrence is the step father of a guy named Dennis Kaufman, who believes his step father was the Zodiac killer, nobody knows who the zodiac killer is or was, now this lady from Southern California named Debra Perez, is claiming her adoptive father Guy Ward Hendrickson, that died either in 1993 or 1983, I have read both, so it's one or the other.

Anyway, nope, no one has any evidence either way on any of them, except this Debra Perez, claims she has evidence that will prove her involvement in the case as a child. We will all see.. I hope it gets resolved, people deserve justice, especially those murdered.


how do you know that Jack Tarrance is the zodiac killer? do they have evidence that he was?


Hello to everyone reading this, I know it doesn't help, but since Arthur Lee Allen died on August 26th of either 1991 or 1992 and then this new guy, Jack Tarrance, he apparently died on August 26th too. It was 2006 I think, not sure of the year, but, I wonder, perhaps the real Zodiac is out there and he doesn't like someone else getting the attention. Why have both of these guys died on the same day? It is probably just a strange coincidence, but, I wonder.....

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • The Zodiac Killer was never caught, but one survivor of his attacks say he had the Zodiac's symbol on his chest.
      By: Arid Ocean
      The Zodiac Killer was never caught, but one survivor of his attacks say he had the Zodiac's symbol on his chest.
    • The Zodiac Killer was active in the 1960s and 70s.
      By: kilukilu
      The Zodiac Killer was active in the 1960s and 70s.
    • Police tried to use handwriting analysis to catch the Zodiac killer.
      By: sepy
      Police tried to use handwriting analysis to catch the Zodiac killer.