Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chasing the Zodiac, Part II: The anniversary of the Lake Herman Road murders

Mt. Diablo, from the scene of Zodiac's first attack.  
Click for larger image    © Pseudocognitive

Originally posted on December 20, 2010
I wrote the following report after visiting the scene on the 40th anniversary in 2008 and amended it the following September. This report holds no new information of interest to anyone who’s followed the Zodiac murders with any significant level of attention over the last several years.  It’s simply a description of my own experiences visiting one of the crime scenes.  This is the second part of a series on Zodiac (read Part 1 first). The sequence of these two reports is opposite the order of the actual crimes because this is the order in which I visited the scenes. Before I begin, allow me to restate in no uncertain terms that this tale in no way seeks to celebrate the acts of such a depraved waste of oxygen as the Zodiac killer, nor is it an obsessive or misguided attempt to "investigate" the crimes.

My brother and I set out early on the morning of the 40th anniversary of the first murders that can be indisputably linked to Zodiac. We planned to get over to the site, take a few pictures, and be gone before the crowds who take this stuff far more seriously started showing up. I exclude myself from the ranks of the truly obsessed because my case is one of mild and intermittent manifestation. Almost all of my doctors (and most of the time, my wife) agree with that assessment. Once again, however, I warn you that this kind of thing isn’t for everyone, and I am fully aware of the fact that some of you may find it rather bizarre that a person who’s been drawing breath for over half a century spends any time at all visiting a site of an infamous crime. All I will say in my own defense is that I know it’s a bit strange, but I only have a high degree of interest for this specific case (for reasons described in the first installment of this series), and I do not allow this mild obsession to interfere with real life. Still, I’ll grant you, it is offbeat.

Enough already with the apologetic tone. Stop watching Hollywood movies that depict such things. Put down your true crime novels. Turn off those shows on A&E like “The First 48.” Sell your Stephen King books at a garage sale. Then tell me I’m weird.

On the frigid night of December 20, 1968, Zodiac killed high school sweethearts David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen in a little dirt turn-out on Lake Herman Road, about 2/3 of the way from Vallejo to Benicia.

Zodiac approached the victims–who were seated in David Faraday’s car–on foot. He shot and killed both young people, and the crime provoked intense media attention from the start. You can Google this and get tons of hits, so I won't chronicle all the details. All you really need to know is that on a dark, cold winter night 40 years ago, a psychopath murdered two young people on a lonely road.

Faraday's Rambler -
That road and the surrounding countryside have changed little since 1968. No development has occurred along that stretch, and some of the original ranch houses stand exactly as they did before. The turn-out where the victims parked in David Faraday’s Rambler is also pretty much the same, save for the addition of a guard rail, a few traffic warning signs, and a new gate across the gravel road that leads to an undisclosed location. Pictured above is the scene in 1968, the morning after the murders.  Note the location of the victim vehicle.
Same place, 40 years later (12/20/08) © Pseudocognitive
Rambler had been parked near where the motorcycles are.
Click for larger image    © Pseudocognitive
Detective Les Lundblad at the crime scene the next day.
Much has been written about this case over the years.  Some of it is solid reporting that excludes or at least limits any groundless speculation, but a lot of it is sensationalistic tripe.  Given the choice between a simple explanation and one so convoluted that it may attract the attention of a former practitioner of editorial cartoonerism and prompt him to write a yellow-jacketed book that will sell millions and millions of copies despite its many factual errors and outright fabrications, I choose the former. That is, unless and until I write my own book, at which time I might decide to shift strata a bit, since nobody buys books that promote reason and judgment. Here’s one explanation for why Zodiac chose this particular crime scene (besides the obvious reasons that the road is dark and semi-secluded and young people in the area were known to park at night in its turn-outs): Supposedly, Zodiac had a fascination with Montaña del Diablo, and that very place is readily visible from the Lake Herman Road site. Somebody came up with the idea that this symbol,

which Zodiac drew on his famous Halloween card to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery,            

matches up with the profile of  Mt.Diablo. Let’s check:

© Pseudocognitive

So much for that.  Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.

We spent about thirty minutes at the site, taking pictures and observing sullen, muddy horses walk back and forth in the pasture on the other side of the road.  

We left the Faraday/Jensen site shortly thereafter and rode over to Fresno Street in Vallejo, stopping by the house once owned by the man whom many still consider to be the best suspect among those identified as potential Zodiacs, Arthur Leigh Allen. Whereas Graysmith’s second Zodiac book, “Zodiac Unmasked,” and the 2007 film “Zodiac” portray Allen
as the guy, there’s no physical evidence linking him to any of the crimes.
In fact, his DNA did not match that which was found on one of the stamps stuck on a confirmed Zodiac letter. Still, there are intriguing facts that seem to point to him. His status as a potential Zodiac notwithstanding, Allen, who claimed that law enforcement hounded him mercilessly and who died of natural causes over a decade ago, was a very bad guy. The crimes for which he was imprisoned were sufficiently heinous to dissuade us from having any sympathy for him whatsoever. In other words, the world’s a better place without him.

I didn’t want to bother the current occupants of the house, so I parked very briefly in front and took a couple of photos. These do not appear here. As I was framing the  final shot, my brother advised me that someone was peering out at me, and I observed what appeared to be a brindle pit bull of placid affect silently watching through a big picture window. At that point I began to feel guilty for intruding, so I packed away my camera, put on my helmet and gloves and rode off down the street, expecting that my brother was on his way as well. He did not follow, however. I figured he was writing in that little memo book he carries, the one in which he has recorded every last drop of petrol he’s fed the red and chrome Triumph Rocket III beast, so I stopped and waited. What he was actually doing was talking to the owner of the house, who had come out to move his car down the street in order to produce a less cluttered photographic milieu.

That’s the sequel. I am not proud of stopping in front of dead Allen’s ex-house (I must take steps to ensure that act will serve as the absolute limit of my obsession), for, although I was there for only three or four minutes, I know exactly how I would respond if someone stopped on the street and began taking pictures of my house. I wouldn’t move my car to give the photographer a better view, that’s for sure. I suppose the guy figured that it goes with the territory of living in a home once occupied by a man suspected of being the Zodiac killer, and he didn’t seem bothered by any of it, so no harm, no foul, I reckon.

After we finished in Vallejo, city of one cop for every 100,000 residents, we dodged 4-wheeled bullets on I-80 to Fairfield, ate some tasty giant cheeseburgers at Nation’s on West Texas Street, and then slabbed on home to beat the cold. I still feel somethin’ in my marrow, though, and it ain’t exactly warm.

•    •    •

Update: Ten months later
The number nine is or is not important in Zodiac symbology, according to one or two things I may or may not have read. That made September 19th a perfect day to lose my ambitions for a longer ride to the coast (instead of allowing people to believe that I simply lacked the endurance for a longer trip due to my characteristic idiopathic slackerdom) and instead revisit one of the sites covered in previous reports. And to try out the new Nikon D5000, which had languished in its box, unexamined, ever since the big brown truck delivered it the week before. And because a major national travel magazine had expressed interest in paying me to write a series of hastily written semi-factual articles. The preceding statement is not true.

There was nothing of interest to be found at the Berryessa Zodiac site, which was expected yet still disappointing, especially after I had gone through the trouble of persuading the friendly personnel staffing the gate to the camping area to let us in for free. The only item of note is that the place heretofore referred to as Zodiac Island is now a campsite. There’s a picnic table and BBQ pit right there at the scene of Zodiac's attack on 9/27/69. No replacement trees, 90-something degrees. Water level dropping to near subterranean levels. It was not an attractive place to set up camp. I will not show you any pictures of this place because it is now so utterly devoid of interest. Also on account of the fact that, in my usual state of impatience-inspired idiocy, I forgot to change the factory default setting for JPEG quality on the D5000 and everything was shot at “Normal” instead of “Fine.” And because my efforts were not very productive that day anyway. I make no excuses. Except for the idiopathic malaise, ADD, and the heat. And a creeping sense of dread, because the next day was Monday Eve.

There’s no new Zodiac info in this addendum to the sequel to the report on Zodiac. That’s due partly to the fact that I have already explored the Zodiac deal to the point where there’s very little left to interest me, and mostly because the only reason I’m posting at all is to tell you that the best rib eye steak I have ever eaten is available a short distance south of Zodiac Island at Cucina Italiana. With pepper sauce, made with whole black peppercorns. And roasted fennel on the side, and all of the bread and really excellent Balsamic dipping stuff you want. Want to know just how good it really is? I’m sitting there, with my D5000 in the saddle bag just outside the window, and some guy comes in and says, “Stefano, I got a buck, dude! Come out and see it!!!” As the guy with the old “Good Chevrolet, Sacramento” license plate frame and Chef Stefano go out front, I’m thinking about the cool shots I could compose if I could talk the hunter into taking the deer out of the truck and propping him up on the seat of the Rocket III while my brother lies inert under the front wheel of the red behemoth. I’m starting to get motivated to put some effort into picture-takin’, but then I look back down at that rib eye and decide that nothing is gonna pry me away from it. It was that good.

With just the right level of attentiveness from Chef Stefano and his business partner Sharyn, we continued our excellent dining experience. I am telling you, I have never been disappointed by anything I have eaten at Cucina Italiana. Let the crotch-rocket riders patronize those places farther south and east—all they need is bread, sandwich meat, and beer and then they’re off on their next double-yellow scofflaw Team Berryessa adventure, like a flock of angry, buzzing mosquitoes. You want real food? Go see Chef Stefano.

On the ride home we gassed up the bikes and then observed the strange behavior of locals and travelers at the Chevron station at the east end of Winters. It is not rumored that this place has some significant connection with Zodiac lore. I just missed an opportunity to get a shot or two of Winters PD in the process stopping a red car with two occupants, but they were past my vantage point before I could raise the camera. All I have to show for my efforts is an unprintable snapshot of the physical environment. There was a dire warning inside the gas station, though:
© Pseudocognitive
And that’s the word.¹

¹Apologies to S. Colbert.

© Pseudocognitive
RELATED POSTS: The Zodiac Killer on the pages of Pseudocognitive

For detailed information about all of the Zodiac crimes, I recommend Tom Voigt’s The discussion forum can be over the top at times and is best sampled as an entertained observer, but the information on the main site is extensive and well-organized.

© Pseudocognitive  


  1. Very well written and I enjoyed the ride. There is only one mistake that I found. Being that I have been to the Lake Berryessa crime spot many times, I can tell you that there is not a picnic table or a BQ at the crime scene. Several yards away there is a picnic table.

    1. Below is the URL of an image taken from Google Earth in early 2012 that shows three picnic tables close to the site; the uppermost is extremely close to the exact spot of the attack. Park employees move the tables in and out of certain areas in response to water level and seasonal camping/picnicking demand.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. I'm curious as to how you came to find this post, since this blog is quiescent now and doesn't get too many hits anymore;-)

    On the date mentioned above-9/19/09-there most definitely was a picnic table and BBQ pit on high ground very near the spot where the murders took place. I estimate that it was within a 20 ft. radius. Last time I stopped by (a couple of years ago, if I recall correctly), that table had been removed. I didn't mean to imply that it was at the exact, precise spot where the attack occurred. I guess it comes down to how precisely one defines "right there at the scene."

  3. I just viewed this in Chrome for the first time. It displays correctly in Firefox, but some of the text is re positioned in Chrome, on my computer anyway, showing up near the wrong picture. Weird.