In 1969, Los Angeles Times writer Dave Smith wrote:
“Dr Leonti Thompson, a psychiatrist at Napa State Hospital 15 miles north of Vallejo, has found a number of different meanings in the killer’s crossed-circle “signature.” In one primitive culture it represents the earth; in another, the ancient notion of the four elements that make up the world: earth, air, fire and water. Still, another symbol, the “X”, represented water in the alphabet of the legendary continent of “Mu”. ‘And the killings took place near water,’ Thompson notes speculatively.”
Dave Smith, “Zodiac Killer, chilling portrait of madness“, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1969, p. 126
In 1986, former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and writer Robert Graysmith notes in his essay on “Zodiac” that the references to water at crime scenes are not accidental, but “contained in the name” of the location chosen for the murders.
“I thought it was strange that the killings so far had taken place in locations that had a form of water in their name…”
Robert Graysmith, Zodiac, p. 146
In the 2007 movie based on Graysmith’s book, “Zodiac” directed by David Fincher, this series of observations is called “The Water Theory”. I talked about it years ago, in the first article on the Monster-Zodiac connection on tempi.it.
Zodiac victims were assaulted at Lake Herman Road, Blue Rocks Springs, Lake Berryessa. In San Francisco, where according to the criminologist Sharon Pagaling Hagan Zodiac killed a taxi driver (an “easy” victim) in order to spread his fame also in the city, the serial killer – Graysmith observes – chooses as a crime scene a place that can refer to water, Washington Street.
On closer inspection, other possible Zodiac victims are also connected to water, such as Ray Davis, a taxi driver killed in Oceanside (which contains the word “ocean”), the nurse Donna Lass, who disappeared on Lake Tahoe, and, best known of all, student Cheri Jo Bates, stabbed to death in Riverside.
Is there perhaps a connection between the serial killer and water? Graysmith wonders. And if there is, what could it be? The writer still seeks an answer in 2003, in “Zodiac Unmasked”.
“Water always figured in his crimes somewhere. Possibly Zodiac was a swimmer, boatman, or sailor.”
The nickname and the signature
Over time, I have managed to identify a number of other Zodiac references to water. In addition to the two phone booths where Zodiac called the police, located in places with names relating to water, the serial killer also referred to water in many of the various letters he sent to the press. Even the choice to almost always use a blue felt-tip pen (image below) for his correspondence seems to underline a possible connection.
Murderer’s very nickname “Zodiac” almost certainly originates from a popular watch brand in the United States at the time, “Zodiac Watches”, which has the Celtic cross for logo, symbol that also accompanies the notes by the serial killer. The advertising hype of this company in the 1960s was focused on its flagship product, the best known even today, the popular diving watch “Sea Wolf”.
In the half-page advertisements for the “Zodiac Sea Wolf” that appeared in various newspapers in 1967 (image below), above a dripping arm displaying the diver’s watch, it reads…
Not just crime scenes
You do not need scuba diving to appreciate the “Sea Wolf”, Zodiac marketing experts explain.
The nickname of the serial killer is used for the last time in one of his messages dated March 1971. It is not present, in fact, in his final letter sent to San Francisco on January 29, 1974, written (if the eyewitnesses are right) when he had about forty years old. Here is how the author of the text decides to sign…
Zodiac’s signature is an excerpt from the comic operetta “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan, which in 1969 was staged by the Lamplighters company in the Theater District of San Francisco.
“He plunged himself into the billowy wave…”. Why does the author of the message sign himself with a passage about a drowning instead of flaunting the nickname he has used in his correspondence since August 1969?
List of references to water by Zodiac
1. Riverside, October 30, 1966 (the city where the murder was committed);
2. Dive watch Zodiac Sea Wolf, 1967 (advertisement);
3. Lake Herman Road, Vallejo, December 20, 1968 (crime location);
4. Blue Rock Springs, Vallejo, July 4, 1969 (crime location);
5. Springs Road and Tuolumne Street (oil and gas station Joe’s Union), Vallejo, July 5, 1969 (phone booth location);
6. “I [bere e] drink and tope I’m the hit“, July 31, luglio 1969 (my recent decryption of the last words of the 408-cipher);
7. “Paradice“, July 31, 1969 (408-cipher);
8. “Water hose”, August 4, 1969 (letter);
9. Lake Berryessa, September 27, 1969 (crime location);
10. “Paradice“, November 9, 1969 (340-cipher);
11. “I am drownding (sic)”, December 20, 1969 (letter);
12. “Blue meannies (sic)”, “Yellow Submarine” (movie on The Beatles), April 20, 1970 (letter – possible reference);
13. “I was swamped out by the rain”, April 20, 1970 (letter);
14. “Paradice“, July 26, 1970 (letter);
15. “I shall listen to their pleass for water (sic)”, July 26, 1970 (letter);
16. “I am (water?) crack proof”, October 5, 1970 (postcard);
17. “Paradice“, October 27, 1970 (Halloween card);
18. “By fire, by gun, by knife, by rope (by water?)”, October 27, 1970, Halloween card (based on the cover of Tim Holt No. 30, discovery by Tahoe27 here);
19. “I am (water?) crack proof”, March 13, 1971 (letter);
20. “Blue meannies (sic)”, “Yellow Submarine“, March 13, 1971 (letter – possible reference);
21. “Signed, yours truley: He plunged himself into the billowy wave and an echo arose from the suicides grave” (a “death by water” excerpted from “The Mikado” by William S. Gilbert and Arthur S. Sullivan), January 29, 1974 (last signature). Watch the scene in this video.
Monster of Florence
Even in the Monster of Florence case, the serial killer mentions water.
It has recently been discovered that the reference to water is also in the only “written” communication attributed to the Monster of Florence, the letter mailed from San Piero a Sieve to deputy attorney Silvia Della Monica after the crime of September 1985.
In the address on the envelope made up of newspaper clippings, the only whole word essential for the identification of the issue and the magazine used (which took place in 2020) is a DELLA that addresses an article signed by Piero Chiara. Above a two-page photo of the writer at the prow of his sailing ship on Lake Maggiore, the title stands out:
“DEAR SWEET WATERS, I DO NOT KNOW YOU ANYMORE:
MY CHILDHOOD DREAM IS ENDED HERE”
From the same title, the assassin cuts only the two last letters on the envelope for the word “FIRENZE”: the Z (of… Zorro?) and the “ending” one, the E of “acque” (waters).
Water is the key that marks the beginning and end of the Monster’s activity. From the first crime, which took place a few months after Zodiac’s disappearance, in 1974, in Rabatta, in the Fontanine area, to the last letter of his “final act”, the E of “acque”.
List of references to water by the Monster of Florence
1. Le Fontantine di Rabatta, The Little Fountains of Rabatta , September 14, 1974 (crime scene);
2. E of acque (waters) and photo depicting Piero Chiara on Lake Maggiore, 14-20 December 1984 (magazine) – 9 September 1985 (letter sent to deputy prosecutor Silvia Della Monica).
I realized that the word “wash” seems to have a further autonomous meaning in the Zodiac case, given that the serial killer made his last known phone call to the police right from a phone booth at a car wash (next to a laundy), the “Napa Car Wash” (the previous call took place in Springs Road, Vallejo), two weeks before the murder in Washington Street.
Less than a month after the San Francisco crime, here is what the first postcard sent by Zodiac reads.
List of references to “wash” by Zodiac
1. Washing line, September 27, 1969 (rope used in the Lake Berryessa attack);
2. Car wash, September 27, 1969 (phone booth location from which Zodiac called the police after the Lake Berryessa attack);
3. Washington Street, October 11, 1969 (crime scene);
4. “Washington street“, October 13, 1969 (letter);
5. “I just washed my pen”, November 8, 1969 (greetings card);
6. “Paul Averly”, lav…underlined, October 27, 1970, (Halloween card, envelope).
On the envelope of the Halloween card (October 27, 1970), Zodiac underlines the letters LAV. Why?
In the Collins Italian College Dictionary (1991), most of the words starting with LAV have a link with the Italian word for “to wash”, lavare.
It is a clue on the Italian ancestry of Zodiac.
In the context of the Halloween card, that underlining provide a confirmation of the solution (that is in Italian).
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