Gareth Sewell Penn was born on January 1st 1941 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, who inadvertently or otherwise thrust himself into the Zodiac limelight when he set about University of California, Berkeley professor Michael O' Hare, convinced that this man was indeed the killer everybody had been searching for. He was also convinced Michael O' Hare was involved in the murder of Joan Webster, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate, who disappeared after her arrival at Boston's Logan International Airport on 28th November 1981, with her remains identified nearly nine years later on April 30th 1990 in Hamilton, Massachusetts. The cause of her death remains undetermined and nobody has been charged with her presumed abduction and murder.
Gareth Sewell Penn contacted the missing girl's parents, George and Eleanor Webster, suggesting that the missing woman may have been the work of the Zodiac Killer. Gareth Penn would write to the family on March 3rd 1982 [PT1] [PT2], linking Joan Webster's disappearance to the Zodiac Killer and his suspect. This was followed on March 5th 1982 by the Zodiac Familiarization Kit giving a brief overview of his thoughts, but describing the article “Portrait of the Artist as a Mass Murderer" featured in "California Magazine" last November, as sensationalized and trivialized, and not to his liking [PT1] [PT2] [PT3] [PT4]. Another letter was sent to the Webster family on March 26th 1982 attached with some examples of Zodiac handwriting for them to look at, but at the foot of this correspondence was a request for a Santa Claus greeting card mailed to the Webster family by an unknown individual.
He would ultimately become convinced that the Santa Claus greeting card was fashioned by the Bay Area murderer (possibly mailed on or shortly after January 20th 1982), just after the $10,000 reward offered in the New York Daily News. After receiving photocopies of the card and analyzing it, he would liken it to the November 29th 1966 Confession letter by use of Morse and binary code, along with a whole host of mathematical trickery in his attempt to forge a link. Gareth Penn would elaborate on this in a further communication to the Webster family on April 5th 1982, in which he acknowledged receipt of the photocopies of the Santa Claus card and envelope, to which can be seen in the communication retrieved from the FBI files, shown below.
To read the whole story regarding the Santa Claus card and envelope, with more images, click the envelope above.
Gareth Penn would later write about the disappearance of Joan Webster in Issue #32 of The Ecphorizer on April 1985, under the changed name of Jane Brewster. Entitled The Geometry of Jane Brewster, it outlines his thoughts on the day of her disappearance from Boston's Logan International Airport, as well as Salvatore "the Lobster" Ragusa, who was in jail on suspicion of having murdered another woman, whose corpse was found out in the marsh near where Jane's wallet and purse were left.
Having thrust himself into the Zodiac search, he himself became the focus of much scrutiny, effectively having the tables turned on him as he now became promulgated as the possible Zodiac Killer. Gareth Penn, a California writer with an interest in cryptography, was born in 1941, making him 27 years of age at the time of the Lake Herman Road murders on December 20th 1968.
He was of high intellect, having graduated in Germanic languages and Medieval Germanic languages from the University of California, Berkeley. He was stationed in the US Army in Berlin in 1965, becoming an expert marksman, before being honorably discharged in 1971 and resuming his academic career in Berkeley. He received artillery survey training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he became an Artillery Surveyor Instructor. His interest in the Zodiac case was influenced by his father, an army cryptographer during World War 2, who had extensive knowledge of coding.
Stadiametric rangefinding is a technique of measuring distances with a telescopic instrument. The term stadia comes from a Greek unit of length Stadiametric rangefinding is used for surveying and in the telescopic sights of firearms, artillery pieces, or tank guns, as well as some binoculars and other optics. It is still widely used in long-range military sniping, but in many professional applications it is being replaced with microwave, infrared, or laser rangefinding methods. Stadiametric rangefinding often uses the milliradian ("mil" or "mrad") as the unit of angular measurement. Since a radian is defined as the angle formed when the length of a circular arc equals the radius of the circle, a milliradian is the angle formed when the length of a circular arc equals 1/1000 of the radius of the circle. Wikipedia.
Although three of the four 1974 Zodiac communications are highly debatable, the February 3rd 1974 SLA letter did refer to Old Norse, a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and their overseas settlements from about the 9th to the 13th centuries. The statement in the SLA letter that "sla" was an old Norse word meaning "kill" was in fact true.
Sla in Old Norse can be inferred as "kill", to which the author of the communication claimed. Sla in Old Norse means "to strike" or "to smite". The archaic use of the word "smite" as shown by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines "smite" as to kill or severely injure. In Wiktionary it is shown as the ability to strike down or kill with deadly force. So (in archaic usage like Old Norse) "sla" means "smite", and "smite" is used as "kill". Here is a PDF of Old Norse from York University, compiled by Ross G. Arthur. Gareth Penn, having studied Germanic languages and Medieval Germanic languages would have known this. The only way somebody would have been aware of this fact, is if the individual themselves were Scandinavian, had Scandinavian origin or ancestry, or had studied the languages of other countries such as Gareth Penn.
An article authored by Gareth Penn in The Ecphorizer in July 1982, entitled "Lima Riki" would refer to Old Norse:
"Marvin Grosswirth's remarks on the limerick in the Mensa Bulletin deserve a response. He doesn't know beans about it. Lima beans. Limerick is a county in Ireland which takes its name from the Old Norse Lima ríki (there was a Norse settlement by that name there.) For obscure reasons, the name "Limerick" became attached to a type of verse characterized by the stuffy 1911 Britannica as a "burlesque epigram." The earliest example is attested in 1820, and the form is virtually unknown outside the English-speaking world. Limericks don't have to be written in English, however; in a previous incarnation, I used to write them in Old Norse. I would adduce examples, but they were so dirty I am afraid that some readers would be offended. There's another aspect in which Old Norse provides a suitable backdrop to a discussion of the limerick. The formal requirements of the limerick are exceeded in rigidity only by an Old Norse verseform called drottkvaett (courtly verse). Drottkvaett is composed in four pairs of couplets. Each couplet is written with three alliterations, preferably falling on syllables 1 and 5 of line 1 and syllable 1 of line 2; two vowel-rhymes falling on syllables 2 and 5 of line 1; and two syllabic rhymes falling on syllables 1 and 5 of line 2. There are three beats to the line and no end-rhyme".
The SLA letter had not been publicized by the July of 1982, and is but a recent addition to the portfolio of suspected Zodiac communications. The Ecphorizer was a literary journal originally published from 1981 to 1995 by members of San Francisco Regional Mensa, a local chapter of American Mensa. To view other articles by Gareth Penn in The Ecphorizer, click here.
He would recall his time in Berkeley, noting a German linguistics scholar who taught in the same department: "Speaking of my undergraduate years at Berkeley, at that time, there was a professor in my department named Erwin Gudde. Professor Gudde was a linguistics scholar who had devoted years of study to California Indian languages. This led him to compile a list of place names derived from those languages, and, since he was a German, a Teutonic compulsion to thoroughness drove him to expand his list into a dictionary of all California place names; that dictionary is now the standard work on the subject. In the entry on the town of Paradise (Butte County), Gudde notes that a railroad map published in 1900 misspells the place name as “Paradice.” The Zodiac murderer misspells the word the same way in four documents; Gudde and I were in the same department, so it is amazing that none of those who comment on my criminal activities has ever brought up this stunning piece of circumstantial evidence. I never took a course from Gudde, and I don’t even know what he looked like, but he must have been influential; the results speak for themselves".
Penn became obsessed with the Zodiac case and laid out his thoughts on the subject matter, evolving the Radian Theory in which the killer was orchestrating his murders based on specific coordinates on the map. This idea seemed to carry some merit when we consider the designs of certain Zodiac communications. The Button letter & Phillips 66 map, the Bus Bomb letter crosshairs and the phrase "PS. The Mt. Diablo Code concerns Radians & # inches along the radians" at the foot of the Little List letter, were all suggestive of a search for angles. Gareth Penn's radian theory for the Mount Diablo map claimed that one radian value subtended from the center of Mount Diablo would pass over the Blue Rock Springs Park and Presidio Heights murder scenes, thus forming an angle of 57.3 degrees (one radian). Unfortunately, due to a grid positioning error, the subtended lines actually created a 60 degree angle and therefore negated the claim they were separated by the value of one radian.
But crucially, Gareth Penn failed to read the instruction manual that came with the June 26th 1970 Button letter map and code, which explicitly stated that "the map coupled with the code will tell you where the bomb is set". We had to use radians and inches subtended from Mount Diablo to unearth his hidden bomb. The Zodiac Killer's instructions had nothing whatsoever to do with measuring angles between crime scenes.
In "California Magazine" in the November of 1981, Gareth Penn authored the article “Portrait of the Artist as a Mass Murderer" under the pseudonym George Oakes, using an array of binary numbers and Morse code, along with his radian theory to explain the maps, letters and cards mailed by the Zodiac Killer. Police were left understandably baffled. Above is a diagram from that article.
A cryptic postcard arrived at the Vallejo Times-Herald on September 25th 1990 entitled the Celebrity Cypher. It contained 63 visible characters (but possibly 64) designed in the style of Luis Campos, an inventor, poet and cryptographer who created puzzles and ciphers for the United Features Syndicate of New York, beginning in 1983. He would create six celebrity ciphers a week featuring famous quotes from well-known people, past and present. The reader had to identify the person and quote from the encoded text. The characters in the cryptograms were deliberately spaced into separate words. This communication was postmarked Oakland, California, but the picture on the postcard was Carmel-by-the-Sea, the birthplace of Gareth Sewell Penn.
Penn wrote two self-published books: Times 17: The Amazing Story of the Zodiac Murders in California and Massachusetts, 1966-1981 released in 1987 and The Second Power: A Mathematical Analysis of the letters attributed to the Zodiac murderer and supplement to Times 17 in 1999. View "Times 17" online via the website Zodiac Killer Ciphers.
But it was these theories, some believed were indicative of a man upset and annoyed that no one was clever enough to solve the clues the Zodiac Killer laid out for everyone, that he was giving us a little nudge in the right direction without being overtly obvious - and thereby placing himself, Gareth Penn, under close scrutiny as a prime suspect in the killings.
His D550 blog describes his residential history from 1947 to 1982 as:
September 1947-August 1958: Campbell, California
September 1958-August 1962: Berkeley, California
September 1962-August 1963: Berlin, Germany
August 1963-July 1965: Berkeley, California
August-November 1965: Berlin, Germany
November-December 1965: Fort Dix, New Jersey
January 1966-October 1967: Fort Sill, Oklahoma
November 1967-June 1968: Europe (mostly Greece)
July 1968-December 1972: Berkeley, California
1973 (January-May): Vallejo, California
1973 (May-December)-1982: Napa, California
Gareth Penn also gives us his vehicle ownership from 1958 to 1985: "One topic that doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention but probably should is car ownership. Here’s a time line of the Penn family surface fleet":
1958-1966: no vehicle
December 1966-October 1967: Triumph Spitfire (blue)
November 1967-March 1971: 1968 model VW beetle (white)
March 1971-May 1975: 1971 model VW campmobile (also white)
September 1972-February 1985: 1972 model Mazda pickup (red)
Gareth Penn briefly addresses the speculation regarding his involvement in the murder of Darlene Ferrin at Blue Rock Springs Park on July 4th 1969, stating "I gather that there is considerable interest in an article of mine that appeared in The Ecphorizer in May 1982 titled “Gone with the 25-cent potroast", which some see as evidence of my having committed a murder in Vallejo in 1969 (thirteen years before publication of my article), since the subject is a Vallejo resident who died twenty-five years even earlier than that in the Pacific theater of the Second World War. I would like to put this article — the only one of sixty that I published in that magazine (or anywhere else) that has anything to do with Vallejo — in perspective and suggest other material which researchers will certainly find more useful".
He describes himself as 160-170 lbs in the 1960s, 6'0" tall, with a shoe size of 12. Further adding that his "fingerprints have been on file with the FBI since October 1965, when I joined the Army; they received a second set when I was hired as a federal civilian employee in April 1991. As of 2010, my fingerprints have been accessible to law enforcement agencies for 45 years. In 1985, the FBI’s holdings were digitized, enabling investigators to compare an evidence fingerprint taken from the scene of a crime with all fingerprints ever recorded in the U.S., including mine". Therefore, Gareth Penn's fingerprints can be compared to any retrieved from the Zodiac letters, along with any of the Bay Area crime scenes, including the blooded print retrieved from left dividing panel of Paul Stine's taxicab. Assuming this is the Zodiac Killer's fingerprint, its partial status could only exclude suspects as being the donor. Whether Gareth Penn's fingerprints have been compared to any of the Zodiac prints is unknown. Regardless, he remains an unlikely candidate for the Bay Area murders in the eyes of most Zodiac researchers. One notable exception is the creator of the A Shattered Mirror true crime show on Youtube, who in 2019 in a phone interview with Gareth Sewell Penn posed a series of questions to him regarding the Zodiac murders. It is a brief but interesting exchange.
"The decades since Penn fixed his sights on me have not been a living hell, much as that would spice up this story. They have been an ordinary life, punctuated by one or another flurry of fuss from Penn, sometimes involving pages of numbers (for example, the data pages from my PhD thesis) with this or that sequence picked out, circled, and "decoded" into words that fit somehow into Penn’s model of the crimes. I don't want to be cute about the murders, which not only left victims and grieving relatives in their wake, but also frightened a lot of people, and frustrated California and Massachusetts law enforcement. So, for the record: I am not the Zodiac killer, had absolutely nothing to do with those (or any other) murders. As far as I know, I wasn't even in California when any of them happened. Similarly, I had nothing to do with the death of Joan Webster, a Boston college student whose murder Penn has also tried to pin on me".
(19th August 1956-28th November 1981)
Joan Lucinda Webster, a 25-year-old Harvard graduate, disappeared after her arrival at Boston's Logan International Airport on 28th November 1981, and her remains were discovered nearly nine years later in April 1990 in Hamilton, Massachusetts.
The cause of her death remains undetermined and nobody has been charged with her supposed abduction and murder. The case is constantly kept alive by determined individuals keen for a resolution to this thirty-two year old murder mystery. http://joanwebstermurder.yolasite.com/