Citizens Police Academy: Signs of the Zodiac

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Citizens Police Academy: Signs of the Zodiac

Post by JohnFester on June 30th 2015, 12:48 am

From the Benecia Herald June 2, 2013

Former police chief recalls famous case

By Donna Beth Weilenman
Staff Reporter

Former Benicia police Chief Pierre Bidou, a detective at the time, was among the first on the scene of the double murder later credited to the Zodiac — that famous, never-caught serial killer’s first known slayings.

Bidou and his partner had served a warrant on a Lake Herman Road cabin Dec. 20, 1968, and were on their way to deposit some marijuana in the police department’s evidence locker when they were dispatched back to Lake Herman Road.

Initially, they were told a woman was lying outside a car; they thought they were being sent to a crash. Police at first speculated it might have been a crank call, but the officers headed back north.

But when they arrived, Bidou realized it was no crank call and no car accident.

Instead, it was a sinister crime scene.

Two bodies lay outside a two-toned Rambler station wagon. Its lights were still on.

David Arthur Faraday, 17, an Eagle Scout, was found lying by the passenger side door. He had been shot in the head near his left ear.

He appeared to be breathing. But, Bidou said, it was only the last reflexes of expiring lungs. Faraday actually was dead at the scene, though he was officially pronounced deceased later at a hospital.

There was no question Betty Lou Jensen, 16, who had been on her first date with Faraday, was dead. She had been shot multiple times, and appeared to have tried to flee the assailant. Though her body was still warm, Bidou said, she had bled out.

Bidou shared his experiences as a longtime police officer last month during a class of the Benicia Citizens Police Academy. But it was his stories of the Zodiac Killer that dominated academy members’ attention.

First of all, he told the students, the Zodiac never became a “Benicia” case.

At the time, the spot where the two teenagers were murdered was in Solano County, not within city limits, even if it was within the city’s range. So Benicia police assisted, but evidence went to Solano County Sheriff’s Office.

And while Bidou discounts some cases initially ascribed to the Zodiac, he suspects the Lake Herman killings weren’t his — or her — first. The Zodiac never has been identified, though followers of the case have their suspects, usually men.

While Bidou isn’t convinced the Zodiac came from Benicia, he does suspect he was familiar with Lake Herman Road, and like local law enforcement officers he may have known that the turnoff was a popular “makeout” site for area high school students.

The unprecedented double murders horrified Benicians, who were unaccustomed to such violent crimes. “We hadn’t seen anything like this before,” he said.

Lake Herman was seldom driven late at night, he said. Those who did either were teens heading for the turnout, or those working later shifts who finally were driving home.

The town had 5,000 or so residents at the time. Southampton was years from development. Crime in Benicia usually was a theft, a stolen car, or a domestic or neighborhood dispute.

As the case wore on, nervous parents worried about their children. Police officers would ride aboard school buses, with others following in patrol cars.

The talk about town centered on one thing: “The crazed killer.”

Berta Aceves was 9 years old when the first killings were reported.

“I remember how scary it was,” she told Bidou. “It was very frightening.”

The closest thing to an eyewitness to the Lake Herman murders was Stella Borges, who passed by the spot as she drove from her family ranch to Benicia High School to pick up her grandson, Danny, who had participated in a recital. With her was “Baby Stella,” her daughter and Danny’s mother.

They saw the car parked in the “lovers’ lane” turnout near the Benicia Water Pumping Station. They also saw the bodies.

This was before everyone had cell phones, Bidou said. Borges drove into town, flashing her car’s headlights to attract attention. She finally spotted a law enforcement officer and related what they had seen.

Bidou and his partner had been in the vicinity a short time before, but they hadn’t seen any traffic, let alone Faraday’s car parked in the turnout.

The former chief, who has watched Benicia and its police force grow — and has seen his own son, Andrew, become the department’s current chief — said he believes that if such a case happened now the killer would be found.

Bidou lamented the lack of cell phones and other technological advances that have been developed since the late 1960s. Procedures have improved, too. Police then weren’t as well trained in evidence gathering and processing, he said. And record-keeping wasn’t as precise as it is today.

Communication among agencies was limited — a phone call, a chat over coffee. There was no Internet, no personal computers, and little inter-agency radio communication. Police departments didn’t have fax machines. Reports were handwritten; longer ones were typed.

And the different agencies all wanted to be the one to solve the Zodiac murder, so some information wasn’t shared from one department to another, Bidou said. “Everyone wanted to crack the case.”

Police officers used bare hands to gather evidence that would be placed in paper bags. While fingerprints could be detected, the use of DNA to determine a suspect would have sounded like science fiction.

With modern police methods and technologies, the case would have been solved, Bidou said. He’s convinced. He said the Zodiac “wasn’t that smart.”

New methods of investigative testing can’t be used on much of the Zodiac evidence, the class learned.

Through the decades, evidence has deteriorated. And by today’s standards, it has been contaminated through handling.

Should modern tests be performed on a shell casing or sheet of paper, there is no assurance the indicators would lead to a suspect.

After the Faraday-Jensen killings, the Zodiac would continue his spree, killing another woman, Darlene Ferrin, and wounding her friend, Mike Mageau, at Blue Rock Springs Park on July 4, 1969. This time, the killer used a different type of gun, switching from a .22 to a 9mm pistol.

After the shootings, a caller used a pay phone a few blocks from Vallejo Police Department to report the crime, speaking to Vallejo Police Department dispatcher Nancy Slover. “I also killed those kids last year,” the voice on the other line said.

A few weeks later, area newspapers received carefully printed letters with cryptic symbols added. Those letters included descriptions of elements of the crime police had not made available to the public, such as the Super X brand of ammunition used in the shootings. The writer made dire promises to continue a rampage of killing.

Subsequent Zodiac letters contained more withheld information, and corrected news reports of the murders.

The Zodiac also sent messages in code, one of which was translated, but another that remains a mystery. And the murders continued.

At Lake Berryessa Sept. 27, 1969, Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were lying on the ground near the shoreline when someone in a hooded costume and an insignia that resembled a gun’s crosshairs attacked them with a knife after binding them with clothesline. Then he marked Hartnell’s car with magic marker to indicate who was responsible for what had happened.

Shepard died a few days after the ordeal. Hartnell became the second survivor of a Zodiac attack.

Hartnell described their attacker as a hooded man whose clothing bore an image, a circle over a cross or plus sign. However, after reading Hartnell’s testimony, Benicia police Lt. Frank Hartig has questioned whether Hartnell was a strong witness to the frightening assault.

Later, Napa police received a call from someone who claimed credit for the Berryessa attack and provided additional information about the stabbing.

Bidou said he believes the three attacks genuinely belong to the assailant known only as the Zodiac.

He’s not as confident about other attacks. For instance, he said a Riverside murder ascribed to the Zodiac “didn’t pan out,” though others are convinced it is a Zodiac case.

When the Lake Herman Road murders happened, Benicia police didn’t realize initially that it may have been committed by a serial killer, Bidou said.

It took more information and, unfortunately, more deaths to lead investigators in that direction.

And the case remains open, if not as active as others. The Zodiac case is a puzzle, Bidou said, and it still affects modern law enforcement officers and their training.

That’s because the Zodiac isn’t just a serial killer. He appears to be a serial killer with no pattern to his murders, and no motive other than the joy of killing.

Most serial killers develop a specific method of operation, setting a pattern for each of their slayings, Bidou explained.

The Zodiac was different. He used different guns, and even employed a knife. “This was all over the charts,” he said.

Bidou said he believes the murders were crimes of opportunity, rather than planned events. That denies police an important and helpful investigative tool — motive.

“If you can find the motive, you can find who’s responsible,” Bidou said.

But in the Zodiac case, “What was his motive? They couldn’t figure it out.” It wasn’t robbery. It wasn’t revenge. It wasn’t sex. It appeared to be simply murder for murder’s sake.

The killer’s methods were so random — the use of different types of guns, then a switch to knives — that the case is used in training future police officers.

Other cases were credited to the Zodiac.

One was the Oct. 11, 1969 shooting of cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco.

Stine picked up a man who claimed to be “the Zodiac,” who later sent San Francisco newspapers a scrap of Stine’s bloodstained shirt accompanied by a letter threatening to murder school children. Three people said they saw a man leaving the cab, and provided a description that led to a police sketch.

A person claiming to be the Zodiac took credit for the Oct. 30, 1966, murder of Cheri Jo Bates near Riverside City College, the case that Bidou said “didn’t pan out.”

Subsequent “Zodiac” letters taunted police and made more demands of the public. They also contained claims of credit for even more murders.

The case became complicated by copycat killers and Zodiac enthusiasts bent on solving the case.

Then it stopped — the killings, the letters and the strange ciphers they often contained. That’s one characteristic the Zodiac case has in common with other serial killers, Bidou said. They just stop.

The former chief speculates that the perpetrator died or was arrested and imprisoned for other crimes. Meanwhile, the case still has its followers, including those who are still trying to accumulate evidence they hope will prove they’ve found the identity of the real Zodiac.

But Bidou reiterated to the Citizens Academy class that Zodiac never was a Benicia police case. And as for the identity of the infamous killer, he said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
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JohnFester

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