Donna Ann Lass (25), born November 3rd 1944 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, disappeared from Stateline, Nevada on September 6th 1970, having finished her shift that day at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel, (now the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino). where she was employed as a nurse. A few months earlier in June she had moved to South Lake Tahoe from San Francisco, where she had previously worked as a nurse at the Letterman General Hospital in the Presidio, near the Paul Stine murder scene. She was scheduled to work her night shift at the Sahara Tahoe Hotel from 6.00 pm to 2.00 am, but was logged out at 1.45 am that morning for the last time.
Sometime following, an unknown man, who could possibly have been the abductor contacted her employers, along with her landlord stating that Donna Ann Lass had been called out of town due to a family illness, all of which proved to be fiction and the young 25 year old woman was never heard from again.
Harvey Hines (see right), a law officer who retired from the California Police Department in 1992 had an avid interest in the Donna Lass case and remained resolute in his determination to solve her disappearance, forming close associations with the Lass family members. Along with Mary and Don Pilker, the sister and nephew of Donna Lass, they became convinced the Zodiac Killer was responsible for the abduction in South Lake Tahoe, in addition to his crimes in the north Bay Area.
Harvey Hines interviewed by the Tahoe Daily Tribune stated, "There was a lot of evidence inside Sahara Tahoe Casino that she left directly from there. She was a very personal person and she left a lot of personal items behind; an opened letter, a dirty uniform and on her log, a pen was dragged from the last word she wrote to the bottom of the page".
Donna Lass had recently moved into the Monte Verdi apartments on 3893 Pioneer Trail Road (street view), located just a three minute drive from the Sahara Tahoe Hotel and Casino. When she first arrived in South Lake Tahoe in June she stayed with Ann and Larry Lowe at 4054 US Highway 50 and was just finding her feet in the new residence when she went missing. Although her 1968 Chevrolet Camaro convertible was discovered outside the Monte Verdi apartment complex in its usual parking spot, it is believed she had not driven it to work on the evening of her disappearance, having walked to work from this previous residence, which was a short walking distance to the Sahara Tahoe Hotel of approximately 8-10 minutes. She had made plans to meet up with her friend Jo Anne Goettsche, intending to travel back to the Monte Verdi apartments in her vehicle, once her shift at the casino had finished. Harvey Hines is firmly of the conviction that Donna Lass was abducted from work, and there is a high probability that this is actually what happened. Donna Lass was a conscientious worker, described as very reliable. This allied to the dragged pen mark from her nurses log, seemed to suggest she was either physically assaulted here, or more likely lured from her work station on the ruse of an emergency in the car park, where she was likely abducted. However many observers speculate that Donna Lass arrived at her Monte Verdi apartment complex in her car, where her abductor lay in wait close by, or possibly she was trailed from her workplace to the apartment complex.
The phone call informing people of Donna Lass' family illness is strange. The caller is not boasting of murder like Zodiac did after the Blue Rock Springs and Lake Berryessa attacks, he seemingly is trying to give the impression nothing sinister has happened, suggesting the act of the phone call is simply to 'buy time'. If the abductor is affording himself some extra breathing space, then the real possibility he is local to the area or known to Donna Lass is a credible argument, and he is either holding Donna Lass or needs time to dispose of her body and remove any incriminating evidence before the police come knocking. And the only way this is likely to occur, is if they move in the circle of Donna Lass, such as friends and work colleagues, who are inevitably the first people to be questioned by police.
If the author of the Pines postcard mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle six months later was the Zodiac Killer, then it opens the door on him being resident to the area at the time of Donna Lass' disappearance or having been connected to her in some way. The counter argument is that the Pines Card, similar in vein to the 13 Hole Postcard, was designed by the real murderer of Donna Lass to deflect attention away from the South Lake Tahoe region to the killer of five in the Bay Area of Northern California.
Sheriff's Inspector Stanley Parsons stated "If the Zodiac claims he killed the missing nurse at Lake Tahoe, and if in fact he did slay her, then there is a very good chance he also killed Miss Hakari and Miss Bennalack."
Judith Hakari had been working at the Sutter Hospital in Sacramento on March 7th 1970 and later had pulled into the parking lot of the Markston Apartments, where she was likely abducted. One and a half months later she was discovered in a shallow grave, she had been beaten and strangled, but not sexually assaulted.
Shortly after the disappearance of Donna Lass and two days prior to the Halloween Card, on October 25th 1970 Nancy Bennallack, a court reporter was found murdered, brutally stabbed numerous times at the Talutian Apartments, only a block away from the Markston Apartments. This, if indeed it was the Zodiac Killer would suggest a marked deviation from his previous crimes, however she was described as strikingly similar in appearance to Judith Hakari and was murdered just one block away. (see video on right).
For more information on Judith Hakari and Nancy Bennallack visit here:
A letter mailed in 1986 claiming to be from the Zodiac Killer detailed a further crime in Sacramento, extremely close to the murders of these two young women. The letter seemingly described the murders of Koy Ien Saechao (48) and Choy Fow Salee (40), as they rested in their parked car by a Sacramento freeway. See here.
Donna's Chevrolet Camaro convertible was found locked outside her Monte Verdi apartments on 3893 Pioneer Trail Road. Her flat showed no signs of disturbance or suggestion of a violent struggle and in addition no suspicious activity subsequent to September 6th had been noted on her credit card or savings account. On September 6th Jo Anne Goettsche, a former roommate and work colleague of Donna Lass at the Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, mentioned above, had planned to visit her friend at the Lake Tahoe Casino and spend Labor Day evening with her, however with Donna Lass nowhere to be found after her shift, her friend returned back to San Francisco none the wiser and from here on in the mystery deepened.
On April 20th 1970, a letter was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, containing a cipher of only 13 symbols, widely known as, the 'My Name Is...Letter'. Harvey Hines believed he had decoded it to reveal the name of proposed Zodiac suspect Lawrence Kane, closely aligned to the missing woman, on the grounds he worked at the same South Lake Tahoe Casino as Donna Lass. In fact he worked for Alan Dorfman selling Arizona real estate and his office was located just down the hallway from Donna Lass' work station. Harvey Hines drew further parallels to his suspect, citing the similar writing styles of the Zodiac and Lawrence Kane. To view a video of Harvey Hines and his proposed solution to the 13 Symbol Cipher (My Name is Letter), click the banner link top right of this page.
Kathleen Johns and her 10 month old daughter Jennifer were abducted on Highway 132, near Modesto on March 22nd 1970, that became known as the Modesto Attack. This is a crime that sits on the edge of the Zodiac Killer story, with many enthusiasts feeling it has received unwarranted attention on such flimsy evidence, that basically relies on two key focal points. Firstly, the identification of her abductor from a composite drawing at the Patterson Police Station, in connection to the Paul Stine murder at Presidio Heights on October 11th 1969. And secondly, the Zodiac Killer himself claiming to be responsible for the abduction four months later in a mailed letter to the San Francisco Chronicle on July 24th 1970. Kathleen Johns was lured into the abductor's car on a ruse that the wheel of her car was coming loose, ultimately offering her a lift to the nearest service station, however he took her on a two hour mystery tour through the outskirts of Tracy, California, before she managed to escape across a field clutching her infant child. According to Harvey Hines, Kathleen Johns in the 1980's would recount her ordeal that night, pinpointing Larry Kane as her likely abductor.
Also Pam Huckaby, the sister of Darlene Ferrin, who tragically died at Blue Rock Springs Park on July 4th 1969, stated that Lawrence Kane had been trailing her sister in the run up to that fateful night at the Blue Rock Springs parking lot. Unfortunately her recollections and suspicions have changed many times throughout the years, having now placed her faith in Lyndon Lafferty's claim that William Grant was the Zodiac Killer.
The Pines Card, 3.22.71, was mailed six and a half months after the disappearance of Donna Lass and on the first anniversary of the Modesto abduction of Kathleen Johns, and its authenticity as a Zodiac communication has divided the community ever since. It contained six phrases pasted onto a postcard, but their meaning has yet to be fully determined. It was mailed personally to Paul Avery, a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. To view the original undoctored Pines Card advertisement, click here.
The text on the card read;  'Sierra Club'  'Sought Victim 12'  'Peek through the pines'  'pass Lake Tahoe areas'  'around in the snow' (pasted upside down).
However the Pines card never made any direct reference to the missing Donna Lass, only insinuated a connection through the 'Tahoe' and 'Sierra Club' references. If Donna Lass was murdered by the Zodiac Killer, then the Pines Card may hold a cryptic message, if not, it is simply just another blind alley and another cruel hoax.
The 'Button' letter and Phillips 66 map mailed on June 26th 1970, as well as the 'Little List' letter mailed on July 26th 1970 were withheld from publication by the San Francisco Chronicle to generate a reaction from the Zodiac and possibly force him into a mistake. A San Francisco Chronicle article on June 30th 1970 detailed the Button letter stating that Zodiac was now boasting 12 victims, but withheld the images and code contained within the correspondence. The Zodiac Killer certainly did not like it if he didn't receive 'front page coverage'. However he did not bite on this occasion. On October 12th 1970 the Chronicle finally published the 'Little List' letter and the '13 Hole' postcard, which was mailed on October 5th 1970 a week earlier. These communications displayed the Zodiac victim count at 13. Then the Halloween Card on October 27th 1970 raised the Zodiac total to 14, before his March 13th 1971 'Los Angeles' letter claiming 17+ victims. The question therefore is why did his 'Pines Card' on March 22nd 1971 display 'sought victim 12'. Even if we return to the date Donna Lass went missing on September 6th 1970, he had already claimed 12 and 13 in two previous letters. Does this indicate a hoaxer and pour scorn on the 'Pines Card' as genuine Zodiac material, or is there a rational explanation for this apparent retrograde step.
Despite little in the way of handwriting on the postcard, Questioned Documents Examiner Sherwood Morrill determined that the postcard was authentic Zodiac material. He was confident of recognizing Zodiac's handwriting "I've got him down cold. If he were standing beside me, say, in a bank, filing out a deposit slip, I know I'd recognize that printing anywhere. Basically I identity handwriting, inks, typing, erasures, obliterations, alterations, even the paper itself. Handwriting is as individual as fingerprints. With sufficient samples of a person's handwriting or in Zodiac's case, printing - I can tell if he wrote the document in question."
The two immediate communications after the Donna Lass disappearance were both mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, as stated above, the first was the 13 Hole Postcard on October 5th 1970, and the second the Halloween Card, on October 27th 1970 and the Zodiac Killer's first direct address to Paul Avery.
The search for Donna Lass would be badly affected by the inclement weather in the coming months, highlighted by Police Chief Ray Lauritzen from the outset "We don't know where we're going to begin. There's a four or five foot pack of snow out there and it's still snowing heavily."
The Pines Card made reference to the snow, but in a sinister way inferred Donna Lass may be buried under it, hence the phrase 'around in the snow' being placed at ground level and pasted upside down. In a newspaper article it stated the site depicted on the Pines Card 'was from an advertisement published last Sunday by several newspapers. It was an artist's rendition of houses among the trees at a Boise Cascade Company project at Incline Village. Construction has just begun on the development. While much of the Sierra area is under several feet of snow, Incline Village has only two feet on the ground. Police went to the area to determine if a search is possible.' Lauritzen said "There's no point to a search at this time. It's unlikely a victim would be uncovered before spring."
Clifton Calvez, a retired Air Force colonel thought he knew where Donna Lass's body may be found, employing the unusual approach of satellite imagery, before venturing to the area to put his theory to the test. He entered the Lake Tahoe region via Highway 89, however due to a fire in the region was abruptly halted at Emerald Bay, so proceeded another way around the lake to eventually arrive at his predetermined destination of Antelope Way, when he received that eureka moment.
Placing a line through Antelope Way to the Rubicon Peaks summit, it bisected the trees [peek through the pines]. When he progressed into the woods, he found two trees had been carved into, one depicted a baboon, the other a satyr. He took photographs of the area where he believed Donna Lass's gravesite could possibly be located, but after a thorough excavation of the site no remains were found. A second location was identified but again he came up empty handed. Nevertheless he is still of the opinion that the body of Donna Lass is located somewhere in this region and remains optimistic of a resolution some day.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
South Lake Tahoe Police Department
530-542-6110 Agency Case Number: 706436
Harvey Hines believed the punch-hole in the top right corner of the Pines Card may have indicated a burial site or at least revealed key information to the disappearance of Donna Lass.
An area near Clair Tappaan Lodge, Norden, California, on Sierra Club groundsi was identified, where a rock configuration of 13 stones were positioned in the form of a cross. This area had initially been discovered by Otto Fredericks while out hiking in 1976 and revealed to Hines several years later. Harvey Hines informed Zodiac expert Dave Peterson, and an excavation the site was undertaken, but no remains were found.
Lawrence Kane, Hines' main suspect was questioned by police but through lack of evidence no case could be brought against him.
In the August of 2000 the South Shore law agencies were presented with an 80 page report from Harvey Hines. Detective Tom O' Conner reviewed the issues it raised and although not in total agreement with its findings, it nevertheless generated enough to spike his interest. The South Lake detective took blood samples from Lass' sister Mary Pilker and using identity cards once owned by Donna Lass, created a record of DNA, to cross match any present unidentified remains or ones discovered in the future. Detective Conner said "There is the possibility that her remains have already been found and entered into the data bank." He went on to add "If we get a match at least we'll know where she was found. Hopefully that would be some kind of closure for the family."
The family of Donna Lass have become disillusioned with certain aspects of the case, "I haven't heard from anyone," Mary Pilker said. "It is quite a disappointment. Conner seems to be doing as much as he can and he seems to be doing it all on his own time." Mary Pilker is convinced the Harvey Hines Hines report is the key to solving Donna's case.
Harvey Hines "What I've wanted to do for a long time is hand my case over to some agency and let them run with it. I don't care if I don't get a dime's worth of credit as long as someone closes it out."
View the Hines Report at Zodiackiller.com.
Donna's nurses uniform was discovered in her office and her car found was outside her residence at the Monte Verdi apartments on Pioneer Trail Road. These apartments are only 0.4 miles from the Paradice Motel.
Street view of Paradice Hotel, 953 Park Avenue
THE FOLLOWING VIDEO RELATES TO THE MURDERS OF JUDITH HAKARI AND NANCY BENNALLACK FROM SACRAMENTO.
On December 27th 1974, a Christmas card was mailed to Mary Pilker, Donna Lass' sister, portraying trees covered in snow. Once opened it revealed a message that was part of the card itself - 'Holiday Greetings and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year', followed by the handwriting "Best Wishes, St Donna & Guardian of the Pines"
An in depth analysis of the Pines Card sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on March 22nd 1971, the concept behind the random wording on the card, its connection to the disappearance of Donna Lass on September 6th 1970 and its possible links to the 13 Symbol Cipher, sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on April 20th 1970.