The San Francisco Chronicle and The Zodiac
In 1865, The Chronicle was founded by brothers Charles and M.H. de Young. It was first "The Daily Dramatic Chronicle," and inside of 10 years, it had the largest circulation of any newspaper on the entire west coast. It is located in San Francisco was commissioned in 1924. It became popular and well-known nationally in the late 1960’s and 70’s when the Zodiac killer sent cryptic letters to The Chronicle, along with other news outlets.
Backstory and Context
The Zodiac killer was a serial killer in the San Francisco area who has never been identified. They were responsible for six murders. What is believed to be the first victim was an 18 year old college student who was stabbed to death. Soon after the murder, The Chronicle received a letter that provided details of the crime, and declared that the victim was not the first or the last. Over the span of the next 3 years, there were reportedly 5 murders committed by this killer. The thing that tied this killer to The San Francisco Chronicle was all the letters and phone calls they made to the newspaper. There were multiple letters sent which claimed responsibility for the murders and included horrific details describing what happened. One of the letters even contained a bloody cloth that was a piece of clothing from one of the victims. The letters also contained cryptograms about the killings.
The Zodiac killer, which was the name they gave themselves, would purposely send letters to The Chronicle and even would have certain demands. In one letter sent to The Chronicle, the killer demanded that his letter to be printed on the front page or else they would “go on a kill rampage” until they kill twelve people by the weekend. Also, in order to have help with breaking the Zodiac’s secret codes, The Chronicle put his letter in the newspaper with hopes someone could help crack it. That turned out to be a great idea as within about a week, schoolteacher Donald Harden and his wife Bettye contacted The San Francisco Chronicle with their solution. Bettye is credited with discovering phrases suspected to appear in the message. Inspired by the killer’s obvious craving for attention, Bettye guessed that the message would begin with the word “I.” She also believed the word “kill” or “killing”,or even the phrase “I like killing,”would appear somewhere in the message, which was correct.The Zodiac killer was never caught or identified. There were multiple people who the police suspected, but there was never enough evidence to prove anything. Although police did key in on one man, he died before police were able to amass enough evidence against him. Some people, including crime writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, Robert Graysmith, argued that the Zodiac killer remained active through the 1980s and murdered dozens more people. The true identity of the Zodiac may never be found.
“San Francisco Chronicle.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_Chronicle.
“The Zodiac Ciphers: What We Know.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, www.history.com/news/the-zodiac-ciphers-what-we-know.