How Did the Zodiac Killer Get His Name? The Serial Killer’s Story, Explained

Kelly Corbett - Author

Oct. 7 2021, Published 1:50 p.m. ET

Sketch of the Zodiac Killer on 'The Most Dangerous Animal of All'
Source: FX

After decades of being unable to put a face to the name, a team of independent investigators announced that they may have identified the notorious serial killer known as the Zodiac Killer. Although the suspect is no longer alive, this new information helps bring victims' families just one step closer to knowing the truth. While the case is still being investigated and remains open, let's take a look at everything we know about the Zodiac Killer.

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Who is the Zodiac Killer and why do people call him that?

The Zodiac Killer is a serial killer responsible for at least five murders in Northern California from 1968 to 1969, according to Britannica. He would often tease authorities and the media by penning cryptic letters. In an early letter to the press in 1969, he concealed his real identity by giving himself the name Zodiac. He would continue to send letters up until 1974 that included ciphers or cryptograms. He typically began each letter with the phrase: “This is the Zodiac speaking.”

zodiac killer sfpd sketch
Source: San Francisco Police Department
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Shortly after his murdering stint, a pair of private citizens were able to decode one of his ciphers to read: “I like killing people because it is so much fun.” However, other ciphers sent by the Zodiac Killer took decades to decode.

One cipher that was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle in November 1969 was finally decoded in December 2020 by a small team that consisted of a software developer, an applied mathematician, and a computer programmer, according to the New York Times. Its message reads: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me" and “I am not afraid of the gas chamber."

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The Case Breakers named Gary Francis Poste as a suspect in October 2021.

On Oct. 6, 2021, an independent team of 40 ex-law enforcement investigators, who call themselves the Case Breakers, claimed they had identified the Zodiac Killer, according to a press release obtained by CNN. Using new physical and forensic evidence and information from eyewitnesses, the team was able to identify the killer as a man named Gary Francis Poste. However, they noted that they believe he passed away in 2018.

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The Case Breakers also believe that Poste was responsible for the unsolved 1966 murder of Riverside County, Calif. woman Cheri Jo Bates. However, the Riverside County Police Department's public information officer Ryan Railsback does not believe that claim. He told the outlet that the only link between the Bates murder and the Zodiac Killer was that the Bates murderer sent a handwritten letter by mail claiming responsibility.

Currently, Poste is just a suspect. "We are unable to speak to potential suspects as this is still an open investigation," the San Franciso Police Department said in a statement. The FBI, which has been supporting local law enforcement in the investigation, has not yet acknowledged the Case Breakers claims.

"The Zodiac Killer case remains open. We have no new information to share at the moment," the FBI said in a statement provided to CNN.

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Interested in learning more about the Zodiac Killer? The 1971 film Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood and is currently available to stream on HBO Max, was inspired by the serial killer. The 2007 film Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. was also based on the case. You can currently watch it on Netflix.

You can also check out The Most Dangerous Animal of All, an FX series that spotlights evidence brought forth by Gary Stewart, who confessed that he's the son of the Zodiac Killer. Stewart, however, never actually met his father.

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