Kathleen Johns, pregnant and accompanied by her 10-month-old daughter, Jennifer, were traveling along Highway 132, west of Modesto, en route to Petaluma, California, when her routine journey, she had taken many times before, was to become slightly less routine. She was to make the near fatal mistake of stopping on a deserted highway at approximately 11:15 pm at night, ushered to the side of the road by a passing motorist who was flashing his headlights and gesturing towards her 1957 Chevrolet.
Believing he was indicating a fault with her vehicle, Kathleen Johns pulled over to the side of the road. The man reversed his vehicle, described as a light tan, late model, American made, 2-door, with old style California plates, and parked up behind her, before approaching her vehicle. He explained that her wheel appeared loose, offering to tighten it up for her, and she duly obliged. This innocent error was to begin a chain of events that are still not fully understood to this day, and have initiated countless years of debate on whether the man who approached Kathleen Johns car that fateful night was actually the Zodiac Killer, and the 'proposed madman' responsible for unleashing terror in the Bay Area of Northern California, and bringing the 'Summer of Love' into the summer of fear, just two short years later.
The man appeared to be tightening the lug bolts on Kathleen Johns 1957 Chevrolet, before bidding her farewell. However, after continuing her journey for just a matter of yards along the road, she was forced to bring her vehicle to an abrupt full stop. It seemed that whatever the man had done resulted in her vehicle being temporarily disabled. A short time later the man reappeared offering her further assistance and a lift to the nearest service station. Obviously, Kathleen Johns, stranded in the middle of nowhere with a 10-month-old infant was left with limited options, and with an Arco Service Station nearby, in all likelihood reluctantly accepted. In Robert Graysmith's book Zodiac he stated that when the abductor offered Kathleen a lift to the nearest service station "Kathleen gathered up Jennifer and got into the man's car. Just as they were pulling out, she noticed that the lights to her car were still on and remembered that the keys were still in the ignition. The man smiled, went back to her car, snapped off the lights, and pocketed the keys." This is where her supposed ordeal began.
Despite passing several service stations the man did not stop - and when quizzed by the nervous Johns, he claimed they were not open. She was driven around for approximately one to two hours through the outskirts of Tracy, California with her fate in the balance.
In an Stanislaus County interview with police on 3.23.1970 and one of many conflicting statements, she said that the mystery man "Drove around in the county area, possibly near Tracy for approximately one hour, to one and a half hours, and several times she had asked the suspect if he intended to stop at a station in order for her to seek help to have her vehicle repaired. Complainant stated the suspect was quite friendly with her, did not make any advances toward her, or threats toward her and when asked if he was going to stop he would merely elude the question and start talking about something else." On the flip side, however, she went on to say "She gets quite frightened, feeling that possibly the suspect intended to do some physical injury to her and that when the suspect stopped at a stop sign, the exact area or location unknown, she jumped from the vehicle carrying her daughter and ran into a field nearby, hiding from the suspect. Complainant said the suspect merely closed the door, and then had driven away." Kathleen Johns described the interior of the vehicle "as messy, she had noticed men's and children's clothing scattered about, books and papers, a black rubber handled flashlight, and two colored plastic scouring pads on the console dashboard. Kathleen estimated that the smaller patterned T-shirts were of the age range 8-12 years."
Eventually the man halted at an intersection on ramp stop sign, but before he could remedy his mistake the young woman grabbed her daughter and made good her escape across a vineyard where she hid in a drainage ditch.
The mysterious character doused his headlights and did not exit the vehicle, according to a San Joaquin Sheriff Office report, but waited approximately five minutes before he drove off into the night, despite there being conflicting reports which suggested the man exited his vehicle with a flashlight and beckoned the frightened Johns with the promise of no escape, before being interrupted by a passing truck. Also documented in this report, Johns seemed to relate a different version to the previous: "she stated that at one time they did come into a lighted city which she believed to be Tracy and the suspect told her it was Tracy. She said that she was very scared of this man, did want to get out, but did not tell him to stop the vehicle to let her out although she did say a few times, what's wrong with this station or why can't we go in that station and he said it was not the right one."
Earlier in proceedings, Kathleen Johns stated in the police report that the suspect "went west on Highway 132 and pulled into a Richfield service station that was closed. It is believed by undersigned to be Chrisman Road," and "At one time they did come into a lighted city, which she believed to be Tracy."
The question has to be asked - if the responsible wasn't really trying to assist her, why would he drive into a service station? If he knew in advance it was closed, one would assume he therefore drove into the service station and away from the road with malicious intent. But again, he did nothing.
Kathleen Johns upon leaving the field and flagging down assistance, was given a ride to a local police station in Patterson, approximately 20 minutes away, where she noticed a composite sketch on the wall in connection with the Paul Stine taxi murder on October 11th 1969, subsequently claiming this was the same man who abducted her and her daughter only minutes earlier. The duty sergeant, Charles McNatt struggled to understand Johns because of her hysterical demeanor, but after she had notified him of the wanted poster image and her abductor as one and the same, it soon elevated this apparently isolated kidnapping to another level.
The police report went on to say "Mrs Johns then got to a roadway or highway, this part is not clear to undersigned or to the Stanislaus Deputy, Mr Lovett, but finally did get back on highway or near Highway 132, where she was given a ride by some people from Missouri." If Kathleen Johns was back on Highway 132, the suspect had effectively driven to Tracy for an extended period of time, achieved nothing, and then had doubled back to Highway 132.
The resultant search for her car found it had been set alight, by all accounts, at the same location it was disabled. Her vehicle was retrieved just west of the I-5 and Vernalis Road crossover point, on Bird Road. Shown here on Google Maps. Kathleen Johns had apparently been rescued by Highway 132 near the vineyards (see image at foot of page), which is just slightly west of where her 1957 Chevrolet was found burnt out.
The abductor of Kathleen Johns had apparently left her in the field and returned back to her car to set it on fire. In the police report it states "On the morning of 23rd March 1970, at about 02.30 hours Mrs Kathleen Johns was brought to the Patterson Police Department in a hysterical condition." Patterson Police Station is approximately a 20-25 minute journey from both the intersection of the I-5 and Highway 132 or from the western tip of Highway 132. See here. Therefore, she was likely rescued by the people from Missouri around 2:10 am and taken southeast to the police station. This gives us a vague timeline.
Kathleen Johns entered the suspect's vehicle around 11.15 pm, she was driven in and around Tracy for upwards of 90 minutes, before she managed to escape. This would place her in the field at 12:45 am at the latest, one hour and 25 minutes before she received help. Even at the higher end estimate of a 2 hour journey around Tracy, she is now in the field at 01:15 am, at least 55 minutes before help arrived.. Had the suspect left Kathleen Johns and immediately traveled the short distance to burn her vehicle, it is reasonable to suggest that anybody rescuing her and driving on Highway 132 in a westerly direction, would have passed the torched vehicle. According to this timeline, she would have been in the field for 55-85 minutes, therefore by the time of her rescue, her car may have already been burning. She didn't mention the burning vehicle to law enforcement, so it's likely this route to Patterson Police Station was taken by the unknown people from Missouri, thereby avoiding Highway 132 and the burning vehicle. However, a burning car just a few hundred meters away, one could argue, would have been visible at night. The only other possibility, is the suspect waited a prolonged period of time before torching Kathleen Johns car - but why?
He would later receive a visit from police inquiring about the missing keys to the 1957 Chevrolet, after they were thought to have been spotted by an officer on the back seat of the car shortly after the fire had been extinguished, however, no keys were located. In the police record it was stated "Mr Reed of 'Reed and Son Towing Services' advised that he personally had not observed any keys in the vehicle when he towed the vehicle in from Highway 132, just east of Bird Road." Mr Reed would go on to say that on the afternoon of March 23rd 1970 a man and a woman, he assumed were the owners of the vehicle, had asked about Kathleen Johns station wagon, but was not certain whether or not they had taken any keys. In Robert Graysmith's book Zodiac, he stated that when the abductor offered Kathleen a lift to the nearest service station "Kathleen gathered up Jennifer and got into the man's car. Just as they were pulling out, she noticed that the lights to her car were still on and remembered that the keys were still in the ignition. The man smiled, went back to her car, snapped off the lights, and pocketed the keys."
Kathleen Johns would recall that within the car, described as messy, she had noticed men's and children's clothing scattered about, books and papers, a black rubber handled flashlight, and two colored plastic scouring pads on the console dashboard. Kathleen estimated that the smaller patterned T-shirts were of the age range 8-12 years. She described her abductor as white, around 30 years of age, 5'9" in height, 160 lbs, dark hair and clean-cut, having the traits of a serviceman. During her ordeal in the car she recalled his highly polished shoes reflecting the yellow lights from the car interior, likening them to Navy shoes - he wore a dark windbreaker, commonly called a windcheater in the UK, black/dark blue bell-bottom pants, along with black plastic eyeglasses that were affixed to his head by a band of elastic.
Skepticism surrounds this story by Kathleen Johns and has been considered by many not to be the work of the Zodiac Killer, particularly in light of Kathleen Johns ever changing version of events in her multiple interviews.
Admittedly, the account of Kathleen Johns may not be accurate in all details, but this would be totally understandable bearing in mind she had been abducted close to midnight and she was terrified by her ordeal, in which her fate lay in the balance throughout. Howard Davis wrote on the ZodiacKiller.com forum "I blame the police reporting and the fact that she, no doubt, was filled with emotion and did not remember every detail or sequence of events, as is demanded by some cold hardcore Zodiac researcher sitting in a stuffed chair behind the computer! Picture perfect testimony they demand. Well, many are not, due to mental/emotional trauma, etc. At one point in our interview, she had to stop when she was describing the abduction, as her eyes were filled with tears and her voice was choked with emotion." Kathleen Johns died of a heart attack in 2002 aged 55.
On the same evening as the Kathleen Johns abduction, two men, Frederick Beaman and William Horton, were traveling on Highway 132, near Highway 33 and Interstate 580, when a man passed them in a white 1959 Buick, continued for about a mile down the road where he pulled up and attempted to flag them down. They ignored the man's gesturing and continued on without stopping. The incident was reported to Sergeant Hall of the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office on March 23rd 1970, the day after the Kathleen Johns abduction. They had read the abduction account in the Modesto Bee newspaper and believing it to be relevant information, reported it to authorities. A follow up on their account was attempted at 300 Kerr Street, Modesto, the residence of Frederick Beaman, however, his mother Teresa Watson who also resided at the above location had no idea of his whereabouts. Future attempts to contact these two witnesses failed and the lead petered out.
According to Harvey Hines, a law officer who retired from the California Police Department in 1992, Kathleen Johns in the 1980s would recount her ordeal that night, pinpointing Larry Kane as her likely abductor. Also Pam Huckaby, the sister of Darlene Ferrin, who was tragically murdered 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 on July 4th 1969, although she, at the current time, has placed her faith in Lyndon Lafferty's claim that William Grant is the Zodiac Killer.
This correspondence was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle on on July 24th 1970, just over four months after the abduction of Kathleen Johns, and appeared to corroborate the story of Kathleen Johns abduction. However, the author of the letter failed to elaborate on any particular details already visible in the newspapers. The Zodiac Killer may simply have been taking credit for a crime he did not commit.
The wording on the letter read:
This is the Zodiac speaking
I am rather unhappy because you people will not wear some nice ( Zodiac symbol inserted ) buttons. So now I have a little list, starting with that woeman + her baby that I gave a rather intersting ride for a coupple howers one evening a few months back that ended in my burning her car where I found them. See below left.
1963 June 4th-The Domingos/Edwards Murders
1966 October 30th-The Cheri Jo Bates Murder
1966 November 29th -The Confession Letter
1966 December- The Riverside Desktop Poem
1967 April 30th- Bates Had to Die Letter
1968 December 20th- Lake Herman Murders
1969 July 4th-The Blue Rock Springs Attack
1969 July 31st- Vallejo Times Herald Letter and
408 Cipher Page1 (solved)
1969 July 31st- Examiner Letter and
408 Cipher Page 2 (solved)
1969 July 31st - Chronicle Letter and
408 Cipher Page 3 (solved)
1969 July 31st-The Complete 408 Cipher
1969 August 4th- Debut of Zodiac Letter
1969 September 27th- Lake Berryessa Attack
1969 October 11th- Presidio Heights Murder
1969 October 13th-The Paul Stine Letters
1969 October 22nd-Call to Chat Show
1969 November 8th-The Dripping Pen Card and 340 Cipher (unsolved)
1969 November 9th-The Bus Bomb Letter
1969 November 28th- Betsy Aardsma Murder
1969 December 16th-The Fairfield Letter
1969 December 20th-The Melvin Belli Letter
1970 Feb 21st- The Hood and Garcia Murders
1970 March 22nd-The Modesto Attack
1970 April 20th-"My Name is" Letter,
Cipher 3 (unsolved) and Bus Bomb Diagram
1970 April 28th-The Dragon Card
1970 June 26th-The Button Letter
Cipher 4 (unsolved) and Map
1970 July 4th-The Sleeping Bag Murders
1970 July 24th-The Kathleen Johns Letter
1970 July 26th-The Little List Letter
1970 Sept 6th- Donna Lass Disappearance
1970 October 5th-13 Hole Postcard
1970 October 27th-The Halloween Card
1971 March 13th-The Los Angeles Letter
1971 March 22nd-The Pines Card
1974 January 29th-The Exorcist Letter
1974 February 3rd-The SLA Letter
1974 May 8th-The Citizen Card
1974 July 8th-The Red Phantom Letter
1974 December 27th- Christmas Card
1978 April 24th-The 1978 Letter
1987 October 28th- The 1987 Letter
1990 December-American Greetings Card