Could genealogy websites help solve the 50-year-old mystery of the Zodiac Killer?
In the 1960s, the killer has claimed more than 30 killings and sent a series of bizarre and detailed letters to news organisations that included cryptograms, in which he called himself “Zodiac”
Investigators are hoping to use a genealogy website to track down the Zodiac Killer – one of America’s most mysterious unsolved cases that’s left detectives and internet sleuths puzzling for over half a century.
It was a genealogy website that helped find the Golden State Killer after decades on the run, and police are hoping that the same technology might give them the break to finally solve the Zodiac case.
Authorities throughout California have been trying to hunt down the Zodiac Killer for decades. The killer, who left residents on edge in the 1960s, has been definitively linked to five killings.
However, the killer has seemingly claimed more than 30 killings and sent a series of bizarre and detailed letters to news organisations that included cryptograms, in which he called himself “Zodiac”. During his spree, the killer also left two survivors, who helped offer a description.
Now, 50 years later, the Vallejo Police Department sent envelopes that accompanied the notorious letters to a lab for an advanced DNA analysis, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Nearby departments in San Francisco and Napa counties are also re-examining their evidence to see if new technology could help catch of the nation’s most notorious serial killers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The hope in Vallejo, The Bee reported, is to obtain a full DNA profile from the killer’s saliva from stamps and the letter flaps. Then, it would be used to compile a family tree from an open-source database, Vallejo police detective Terry Poyser told The Bee.
“If we get a good profile, then you start tracking back,” Poyser said. “It really comes down to DNA. Without it, you have nothing. It’s a 50-year-old case.”
But, as Poyser said, it all comes down to the DNA and results. In the past, investigators have tried testing to obtain a DNA profile but due to mishandling of evidence before the days of DNA testing, much of the samples were compromised.
It’s unclear whether a complete-enough sample can be pulled for use on a genealogy website. Poyser said they should get results back in several weeks.
Poyser told The Bee it’s possible the suspect used someone else to lick the envelope or stamp, but a complete DNA profile could point them in the right direction.
He said the items were sent for testing a few months before investigators announced the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, who they say is the Golden State Killer.
Investigators, in that case, used a similar method to track down DeAngelo. They used DNA from one of the decades-old cases and sent it through multiple genealogy sites.
That led them to a family tree and slowly investigators narrowed down the tree using information about the killer, including his age and his residence at the times of the killings and rapes.
DeAngelo, investigators say, was behind a string of crimes that ranged from ransacking homes to rapes and the killings of at least 12 people.
Similar to DeAngelo, the Zodiac Killer seemingly disappeared after his batch of crimes.
While only a handful of killings were tied to the case, the Zodiac Killer continued to write letters taunting authorities, including one where he mocked an officer who mistakenly let him get away after one of the murders because of an inaccurate description given by witnesses.
He stopped writing the letters, which were signed with a cross over a circle, in the 1970s.
His crimes centred on California’s Bay Area and as his spree progressed, he became more arrogant, even leaving clues and messages behind for authorities at the scene.
His first victims were David Faraday and Betty Jensen in 1968. Authorities say he shot and killed the pair while they were sitting in a car. He went on to shoot and kill three others. The last confirmed victim was cab driver Paul Stine. After fatally shooting him, the killer took pieces of Stine’s shirt and sent it in letters to local news outlets.
The pieces of clothing, along with the many intimate details in his letters, helped prove it was indeed the killer writing the letters.
Poyser, who told The Bee he plans on retiring next year after four years on the case, said he hopes that an end is in sight.
“People need to know that the agencies involved in this – Napa, Vallejo and San Francisco – have been cooperating with each other for quite some time, and everybody is committed to closing it out,” he said.