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 pulled up behind her, before approaching her vehicle. He explained that her wheel appeared loose, offering to tighten the lugs, to which she duly obliged. This error of judgement 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.
In Robert Graysmith's book Zodiac, he stated that when the responsible 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.
In the police report she described the man as a white male adult, approximately 30 years, 5'9", 160 lbs, dark hair, wearing dark rimmed plastic glasses, a dark ski jacket and dark bell-bottomed pants. He was 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. The suspect apparently then drove Kathleen Johns around the outskirts of Tracy, California for approximately 1-2 hours, failing to stop at any service stations, claiming they were either closed or 'not the right ones'. In the Stanislaus County police report on 3.23.1970 she said that her abductor "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, 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."
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.
The police report went on to read "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. After being rescued by the edge of the roadside, she was taken by "some people from Missouri" to Patterson Police Station, where she noticed the Presidio Heights sketch of the Zodiac Killer on the bulletin board and declared "that was the man who picked her and her daughter up." Her car would be eventually located by Deputy Lovett burnt out near Bird Road, slightly west of Interstate 5, at the exact spot she received assistance in the late hours of the previous night. It had not been moved, despite some claims you will read on the internet. 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."
Kathleen Johns entered the suspect's vehicle around 11:15 pm, then she was driven in and around Tracy for upwards of 90 minutes (according to her statement), 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?
During the murder of Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside in 1966, it seemed strange that Cheri, after supposedly being offered assistance when her Volkswagen failed to start, would then leave her vehicle unlocked with the windows down, her study books on the seat and her keys still in the ignition, and then wander off down an alley. That's because it likely never happened the way it was conceived to have gone down. Likewise, Robert Graysmith stated "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." Why would she have left her lights on and the keys in the ignition? Understandably, she may have been panicking or upset, but when the man supposedly returned to his vehicle, he would have offered them to Kathleen, or at the very least she would have asked for them. The keys incidentally were never recovered.
Then we have the mystery people from Missouri, who after supposedly finding the pregnant and extremely upset Kathleen Johns with a small child, seemingly couldn't be bothered to accompany her into Patterson Police Station for moral support. They had taken the time to rescue her and drive her the 20 minute journey to the police station, but couldn't walk the final few yards. They have never been located. It has been suggested that insurance was at the heart of this matter, but this seems rather an elaborate way of going about this, when there are far simpler ways - so one tends to dismiss this avenue.
Admittedly, the account of Kathleen Johns may not be accurate in all details, which is totally understandable. By her statements, she had been abducted close to midnight, she was terrified and 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." One cannot argue with that.
Four months after the Modesto abduction, the Zodiac Killer would lay claim to the Kathleen Johns abduction, stating in a letter mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle on July 24th 1970 "This is the Zodiac speaking. I am rather unhappy because you people will not wear some nice Zodiac 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." Although the letter writer provides no details of the abduction that weren't already described in the newspaper reports, one could suggest that this bolsters the case of the Zodiac Killer being responsible for the abduction of Kathleen Johns. Why would a previously merciless killer, who loved to boast of his exploits, admit to a crime where he was seemingly outfoxed by a young pregnant woman carrying a 10-month-old child? On March 22nd 1970 he failed to kill Kathleen Johns and appeared to allow her to easily escape across a field during a hesitation filled night. But then we are assuming his intention was to kill her all along, when maybe he didn't.
Several months prior to the Kathleen Johns abduction, Zodiac mailed a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle on November 9th 1969 stating "I have grown rather angry with the police for their telling lies about me. So I shall change the way the collecting of slaves. I shall no longer announce to anyone. When I committ my murders, they shall look like routine robberies, killings of anger, + a few fake accidents, etc." When he loosened the lugs on Kathleen Johns vehicle, maybe this was his idea of a 'fake accident', albeit a fake accident that never quite materialized as he had planned.