Believing he was indicating a fault with her vehicle, Kathleen Johns drew 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 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.
In the police report she described the man as a WMA, approximately 30 years, 5'9", 160 lbs, dark hair, wearing dark rimmed plastic glasses, wearing 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 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 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."
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- why did the suspect drive into a service station, when he had no intention to aid her in repairing her vehicle, yet had the cloak of seclusion since it was closed. Was he trying to help or not.
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 apparently driven to Tracy and doubled back to near Highway 132, that ends near Chrisman Road. She was driven by the people who found her on the roadside edge to Patterson Police Station, where she spotted 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 was located by Deputy Lovett, burnt out near Bird Road, slightly west of Interstate 5 and exactly where she had left it earlier that night. It had not been moved, despite reports claiming it had.
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 had apparently been rescued by Highway 132, the extreme westerly edge of which is slightly over 2 miles from where her 1957 Chevrolet was found burnt out.
Kathleen Johns entered the suspect's vehicle around 11.45 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 01.15 am, almost an hour before she received help. Even at the higher end estimate of a 2 hour journey around Tracy, she is now in the field at 01.45 am, at least 25 minutes before help arrived. Had the suspect left Kathleen Johns and immediately traveled the short distance to burn her vehicle, it is plausible that anybody rescuing her and driving on Highway 132 in a westerly direction, would have passed the torched vehicle. She was likely in the field for 25-55 minutes, therefore by the time of her rescue her car was likely already burning. She didn't mention the burning vehicle to the police officers, so it's likely this route to Patterson was taken by the unknown persons from Missouri, thereby avoiding Highway 132 and the burning vehicle. The only other option is the suspect waited a prolonged period of time before torching Kathleen Johns car- but why. The whole act of torching the vehicle is unusual- it seems on the face of it unnecessary, but it must have some significance to the arsonist.
During the murder of Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside in 1966, it seemed strange that Cheri after supposedly being offered help, after 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, her vehicle totally vulnerable. That's because it likely never happened the way it was conceived to have gone down. Likewise, 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.
The problem however with this identification, is that Kathleen Johns described the abductor in the police report at 'approximately 30 years'. Lawrence Kane was born in 1924, which would have made him nearly 46 years of age by the time Kathleen Johns was abducted. Furthermore he didn't look a great likeness to the Presidio Heights sketch of the Zodiac Killer. It may be a case of subtle enthusiasm on the part of Harvey Hines and Kathleen Johns eagerness to please. Attempting to identity your abductor from pre-selected photographs, some 22 years after the crime, is fraught with danger, as George Bawart did with Michael Mageau to identity Arthur Leigh Allen as his attacker.
Four months after the Modesto abduction, the Zodiac Killer would lay claim to this night, 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 nothing new on existing newspaper reports, this letter shows a different side. One could easily suggest that this confirms the Zodiac Killer was responsible for the abduction of Kathleen Johns. Why would a previously cold hearted killer, who loved to boast of his exploits, admit to a crime where he was seemingly outfoxed by a young woman carrying a 10 month old child. On March 22nd 1970 he failed to kill Kathleen Johns and appeared to allow her to escape easily across a field during a hesitation filled night. But then we are assuming his intention was to kill her all along, when maybe it wasn'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', however a fake accident that never quite materialized as he had expected, and the rest was just improvisation as you might say.