Doubts have plagued the validity of Zodiac involvement in the murder of Cecelia Shepard and attempted murder of Bryan Hartnell at Lake Berryessa on September 27th 1969, despite the fact the killer wrote on the car door of Bryan Hartnell and placed a payphone call to police dispatcher Dave Slaight just 70 minutes after leaving the crime scene. One reason touted is the failure of the murderer to identity himself as the Zodiac Killer throughout his interaction with the couple. But why should he? In all of his crimes, no doubt his intention was to leave no living eyewitnesses, so any mention to himself as being Zodiac is superfluous. Additionally, he never mentioned his pseudonym in either of his phone calls at 1231 Main Street, Napa, or the intersection of Springs Road and Tuolumne Street in Vallejo. The attack at Lake Berryessa has been further questioned regarding the handwriting on the car door of Bryan Hartnell's white 1956 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Was it really the Zodiac's handwriting or a copycat?
Writing on the car door was found (see inset), believed to have been penned by the Zodiac Killer after the attack. There was no mention of any blood being detected and analyzed from the car door in any subsequent forensic examinations, however, some fingerprints were retrieved. Bryan Hartnell clearly stated in later interviews that he could not remember whether the attacker wore gloves or not. So let us examine this conundrum.
If the killer had not wore gloves, then any fingerprints on the car door one may argue, would not have been the killer's.
He had forcefully struck both victims using a long-bladed knife at least 16 times, possibly securing them with his free hand while thrusting the knife back and forward, in what can only described as a prolonged and vicious attack. Therefore, it is practically impossible that no blood whatsoever would have transferred onto either hand. So, if the fingerprints on the car door were his, are we to believe that all the blood transferred at the scene of the horrific attack simply bypassed both his striking and accompanying hand? Or had he wiped his hands down so thoroughly after the attack that he had removed every last trace?
If he had worn gloves during the attack and leaned on the car door, blood smears would have been apparent on the vehicle but they were not. Had he worn gloves during the attack, which seemed the obvious choice from a standpoint of gripping the knife, as well as covering his fingertips, then subsequently removing them to now lean on the car door while writing the message, on the face of it seems rather illogical. He had covered his upper body with a costume to conceal his identity, so to then his expose his hands to plaster the car door with blood free fingerprints and palm prints does not sound a reasonable premise. If he wore gloves, he clearly didn't want his writing hand to smear blood onto the car door where he was trying to write, so unless he was ambidextrous, he was no doubt writing with the same hand he ferociously attacked Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell with. The same hand that was closest to any blood spatter and impact area. However, if he was ambidextrous and chose to write on the car door with his least preferred hand, then his writing may justifiably vary from the usual pattern displayed in his correspondence with the newspapers.
For example, he wrote the letter 'E' three times and each one is different. He wrote the number '6' four times and each one is different. He has just stabbed a couple 16 times in a prolonged attack with his adrenaline possibly high, he was squatting or kneeling down in front of the car door parallel to his writing surface - far removed from the position he would adopt writing from the comfort of his home - he was writing above and below his natural midpoint on a cambered door, possibly faster than normal, and his lettering was larger than usual. So any comparison to his regular correspondence cannot be applied without factoring these differences into the equation.
His palm was extremely likely to have been free of contact from the car door. If it wasn't, then one would have expected blood transfer to have occurred regardless of whether the assailant was wearing gloves or not. Yes, he could have took the gloves off - but which is worse - smearing blood on the car door or placing your hands on the car door. The Zodiac Killer was undoubtedly a merciless killer, but he was certainly no fool as some would lead us to believe. He could have stabbed the couple without gloves and then donned a pair to write on the car door, but this seems rather unnecessary when he simply needed not to touch the door with either his fingers or palm. And again, if he possessed gloves that day, why logically would any fingerprints found on the car door be his?
In terms of the handwriting, our next task is to sit at a table with pen and paper at hand, and write the wording from the car door. We then need to follow this up, by squatting in front of a wall with some paper pinned to it and write the same wording without resting your palm on the wall and note the results. One would expect a discrepancy, let alone all the contributing factors that faced the Zodiac Killer at Lake Berryessa on September 27th 1969. The final option, suggested by some, is that the killer wrote on the car door before attacking the couple. This would circumvent the blood issue, but would have relied heavily upon his method of operation going exactly as planned, otherwise the only smear on the car door may have been in black ink.
To view a comprehensive discussion on this topic and pursue other lines of reasoning, please visit the following thread at the ZodiacKillerSite Forum. Or click the banner below, to join or access the main index page.