How 'Zodiac Killer' Gary Francis Poste tormented 5 victims' families with cipher before case was cracked 50 years later

THE Zodiac Killer's reign of terror over San Francisco is back in the spotlight after a group of independent investigators claimed to have cracked the case.

The Zodiac's identity has been shrouded in mystery for nearly 52 years since he launched his killing spree in 1968.

The killer captured international attention by claiming responsibility for his slayings in taunting letters with complex ciphers.

He is known to have targeted at least seven victims – three couples and a lone taxi driver. Two of them survived gun and knife ambushes.

The same killer has been linked to as many as 28 murders — and he claimed to have killed 37 people in his letters to newspapers and police.

The case was deemed inactive in 2004 but the San Francisco Police Department reopened it in March of 2007.

A cipher in one of the letters remained unsolved for five decades until the San Francisco Chronicle cracked it late last year.

Eleven months later, a new development was revealed today by the Case Breakers, a team of specialists who have investigated some of America's most high-profile crimes.

The man they say is responsible for the string of five murders in 1968 and 1969 is Gary Francis Poste, who died in 2018.

They also claim to have linked Poste to a sixth killing hundreds of miles away that police previously determined was not committed by the Zodiac.


Authorities believe the Zodiac claimed his first two victims on December 20, 1968, when 17-year-old David Arthur Faraday and 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen were shot and killed in Benicia.

The second two victims – Michael Renault Mageau, 19; and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22 – were found shot in a parking lot in Vallejo on July 4, 1969. Ferrin was killed and Mageau survived.

Nearly three months later, 20-year-old Bryan Calvin Harnell and 22-year-old Cecelia Ann Shepard were found stabbed at Lake Berryessa in Napa County on September 27, 1969. Shepard was killed and Hartnell survived.

Taxi driver Paul Lee Stine, 29, was shot and killed in his car in San Francisco's Presidio Heights neighborhood on October 11, 1969.


The killer earned his nickname by signing his fourth letter to the press with "Zodiac" on August 7, 1969.

In it, he wrote: "Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking." 

From then on the press called him the 'Zodiac Killer' – but it is not known why the killer gave himself that name.

He also signed his letters with a circle and a cross over it, resembling a target or a coordinate symbol.

Authorities believe that the signature symbols were meant to represent coordinates possibly indicating future killing locations.

However, authorities have never fully decoded the symbols.


Over the years, many independent sleuths have claimed to have decoded the Zodiac's true identity.

One of the most convincing names to emerge was an alleged pedophile named Arthur Leigh Allen.

He had been discharged without honor from the US Navy and was fired as a primary school teacher after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Allen was first interviewed as a suspect in 1969 after he was seen near the scene of one attack.

He came to police attention again in 1971 when his friend told officers he had spoken of his desire to kill people and used the name Zodiac.

San Francisco police searched his home the following year but found no evidence linking him to the murders.


The case was revived in December 2020 when the San Francisco Chronicle revealed it had solved the 340 cipher it received back in November 1969.

"I am not afraid of the gas chamber," the killer wrote, according to a Chronicle journalist, noting the serial killer gave no name when he penned it a whopping 51 years ago.

The coded letter – full of letters, numbers and symbols – read: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me.

“I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me.”

The Chronicle credited a group of citizen coding experts who submitted their findings to the FBI.

“Last weekend, a team I’m on solved the 340 and submitted it to the FBI,” coding expert David Oranchak said. “They have confirmed the solution. No joke! This is the real deal.”

The FBI acknowledged the achievement in a statement, writing: "The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac killer was recently solved by private citizens.

"The Zodiac Killer remains an ongoing investigation for the FBI San Francisco Division and our local law enforcement partners."


While authorities continue their search, the Case Breakers crew is confident that Poste is the Zodiac.

The team – comprised of more than 40 former law enforcement investigators, journalists and military intelligence officers – said they discovered Poste's identity after years of digging through new forensic evidence and his darkroom.

One image uncovered from the darkroom purportedly featured scars on Poste's forehead which match a sketch of the Zodiac.

The team said the Zodiac's ciphers also point to Poste.

In one note, removing the letters of Poste's full name revealed an alternate message, according to former Army counterintelligence agent Jen Bucholtz.

"So you've got to know Gary's full name in order to decipher these anagrams," Bucholtz told Fox News.

"I just don't think there's any other way anybody would have figured it out."


The Case Breakers have asserted that the Zodiac is also responsible for a sixth killing in Riverside, California, on October 31, 1966.

Cheri Jo Bates was 18 years old when she was found dead in an alley on the Riverside City College campus.

In 1967, police received a handwritten letter which later led them to believe Bates' killing may have been committed by the Zodiac.

That theory was quashed in 2016 when investigators received an anonymous note from someone who claimed they'd written the earlier note as a "sick joke."

However, the Case Breakers have maintained that the Zodiac did kill Bates and claim investigators have blocked them from comparing her DNA to Poste's.

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