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Chasing Zodiac: Identifying the Mystery Killer

The identity of the zodiac killer has been one of the greatest mysteries for law enforcement and internet sleuths since his crime debuted in the late 1960s. But on Wednesday, a group of over 40 volunteers with backgrounds in law enforcement, who call themselves the Case Breakers, say they have finally identified the elusive suspect. 

The Zodiac Killer, or often times just called the Zodiac, was a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco, California area from 1968 to 1974 by murdering seemingly random targets and taunting police about his crimes in letters and codes he sent to area newspapers. He claimed to have murdered 37 people but only five murders have actually been confirmed to be committed by the Zodiac, and two of his attempted victims survived their near-death experience to give descriptions of their attacker.

Even with two surviving victims to describe their attacks, a handprint from a crime scene and 50 years of investigative work done by California police departments, a suspect has never been confirmed to be the Zodiac Killer. In fact, the Case Breakers had to consider and link a completely different murder that happened seven hours away and two years prior to the first confirmed Zodiac murder to piece together his true identity. 

On Oct. 30, 1966, 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates was murdered on her college campus of Riverside City College after leaving the library shortly after 10 p.m.. It is theorized by investigators that her killer disabled her car so he could lure her away from it and attack her in a shielded area with fewer potential witnesses. During the struggle, Bates managed to rip her attacker’s watch off, pull his hair out and collect his DNA under her nails. Her attacker also left a shoe print at the crime scene. A month after the murder, Riverside police and a Riverside newspaper received typed letters describing how the author claimed he killed Bates and his motive of “making her pay for the brush-offs that she had given (him) during the years prior.” The letters and clues from this Cheri Jo Bates murder would make the breakthrough that the Case Breakers needed. 

Gary Francis Poste was a U.S. Air Force Veteran and house painter who died in 2018. In 1959, Poste and another airman were in a car crash which is thought to have caused Poste to gain the distinctive scar lines that he had stretching horizontally across his forehead. These scars, along with Poste’s general description, match the descriptions and witness sketches made of the Zodiac Killer.

Along with the scars, Poste also wears the same type and size shoes as the ones found at the scene of Cheri Jo Bates’ murder. The print was from a military-style boot size ten and the same print was found at three other Zodiac crime scenes.

As aforementioned, Bates was able to take the wristwatch off of her attacker and managed to save some DNA under her nails. This specific watch could only be bought on a military base exchange and had paint on its face. Poste was capable of buying items on base as a veteran of the Air Force and the paint could’ve come from his new job as a house painter. Poste also attended checkups from an injury only 15 minutes away from the crime scene at March Air Force Base, giving him familiarity and proximity to the area. 

The letter sent to police after Cheri Jo Bates’ death also had hidden clues and similarities to the letters that were confirmed to be written by the Zodiac. Letters from both cases contain similar misspellings like the word “twich” instead of “twitch.” They also both use the phrase “I shall,” describe how their victims “squirm” and refer to murdering people as “The Game” that he is playing. 

The DNA found at the scene of the Bates case is the most essential evidence to prove the identity of her murderer and confirm suspicions of him being the Zodiac Killer. The Vallejo Police Department in California has samples of Poste’s DNA to compare to the DNA found at Bates’ crime scene, but the Riverside Police Department, who have the Bates’ case DNA, won’t allow the testing to be done. In fact, Riverside law enforcement has a long history of disagreeing with the Zodiac’s involvement in the Bates case at all as they believe the cases to be completely unrelated.

Ultimately, the Case Breakers’ claim that Gary Francis Poste is the Zodiac Killer and that the Zodiac was involved in the murder of Cheri Jo Bates cannot be confirmed without matching DNA or obtaining more evidence to prove their case. In the past, many people have been suspected of being the Zodiac Killer, most prominently Arthur Leigh Allen, but they have been eliminated by DNA and handwriting experts. However, the Case Breakers are still working to find other ways to prove their suspicions and close the Zodiac case once and for all. 

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Florida State University Double Major in Marketing and Digital Media Productions
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