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Who was the Zodiac Killer?

In 1980 conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell identified Robert Linkletter, son of the famous Hollywood entertainer and celebrity Art Linkletter as the Zodiac Killer. Brussell’s source of information was a letter from a woman who lived in Woodland Hills who knew Robert personally and also knew him as the Zodiac.

Zodiac, a serial killer in the San Francisco Bay area, wrote a series of letters to local newspapers boasting of his murders and appending sophisticated cryptograms that defied the best efforts of amateur and professional codebreakers. Using many deliberately misspelled words, he made mocking jabs at the police, laughed at their futile efforts to catch him, and described in detail how he would dispatch future victims. In a letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on October 13, 1969, he wrote, “School children make nice targets, I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning.” A letter sent to the same newspaper on June 26, 1970 threatened that if people did not start wearing Zodiac buttons, he would punish them “by anilating a full School Buss.” The disappearance of a school bus full of children in 1976 prompted many to believe that this was the work of the Zodiac. It also prompted Mae Brussell to reveal on her weekly program Dialogue: Conspiracy the existence of a letter that identified the Zodiac by his real name. [1]

The afternoon of July 15, the last day of summer school at Dairyland Elementary in the farming community of Chowchilla, a school bus departed with thirty-one children, ages ranging from five to fourteen. Traveling on ruler-straight roads past cotton fields and almond groves, the driver, Frank Ray, dropped off five youngsters at three separate stops.

Proceeding west on Avenue 21 toward the intersection at Road 15, he noticed a white van straddling the road with its door open. As he came around to pass, he saw jumping out of the van a man wearing a nylon stocking mask and brandishing a shotgun and revolver. He signaled Ray to stop the bus and in a deep voice demanded that he open the door. He was a big man, 6 foot 2, medium to heavy build, tan short-sleeve shirt, white gloves, light tan corduroy pants, light brown belt with horsehead buckle, cowboy boots, and an eagle tattoo on his right arm. Grayish white hair and moustache were discernible through the nylon. He appeared to be about 50 years old.

Two more men wearing stocking masks came out of the van. One of them was armed with a pump shotgun, about 23 to 27 years old, very thin, 5 foot 7, collar length brown hair, light complexion, moustache, and a hairy mole on the right side of his chin. He wore a white T-shirt, white gloves, blue corduroy pants, cowboy boots, and silver watch. He had a blue-green tattoo on his right wrist. He spoke with a foreign accent, possibly French. He came into the bus and ordered Ray to go to the back seat.

The third man was unarmed, stocky, 5 foot 6, white hat, white gloves, blue-checkered shirt, brown pants, and blue tennis shoes. Over his mask, he wore black, thick-framed glasses. His age might have been anywhere from 28 to 45. He had sideburns, a one-inch scar on his right cheek, and a chipped front tooth. His stocky appearance was deceptive, for up close one boy observed that he had “a pillow stuffed in his shirt to make him look fat.” He settled into the driver’s seat and took control of the wheel.

Continuing west about a mile, the bus and van turned left into a clearing off the road and drove into a dry creek bed. After hiding the bus in a heavy thicket of bamboo, the three men herded their captives into the white van and into a green van parked nearby. As Ray climbed in through the back doors of the green van, he glanced at the license plate number of the white van.

Chowchilla bamboo grove

Aerial view of the bamboo grove where kidnappers abandoned the school bus.

Neither Ray nor the children could see where they were going – plywood and a coat of paint blocked the windows. They sped along highways for many hours, never stopping at a gas station. Those who needed to urinate had to do so in their pants. Several times along the way, the abductors stopped to put more fuel in the gas tanks from gas cans stowed onboard. After eleven hours on the road, they finally stopped at their destination. They told Ray and the children to get out and directed them to descend a ladder through a three-foot opening in the ground into an underground chamber. As they went in, one by one, a man asked for their names, ages, parent’s names, and took from each a shoe or an article of clothing.

Using a flashlight given to him to guide the children in, Ray could see that they were inside the trailer of a truck about eight feet wide and sixteen feet long, buried underground. He saw some mattresses and box springs, two wooden boxes with holes on top that served as improvised toilets, ten five-gallon containers of water, some dry breakfast food, bags of potato chips, two loaves of bread, and six 4×4 vertical posts that extended eight feet from floor to ceiling. Mounted in two holes, one cut through the front and the other through the right side, were battery-operated fans that circulated air through flexible hoses, four inches in diameter. (One hose was thirty-five-feet long, hidden from view in the branches of a tree.)

After pulling up the ladder, the captors put a heavy metal plate on top of the hole and weighed it down with a pair of hundred-pound truck batteries and a wooden box full of dirt. Using wire-cutters, they cut cables holding back a wire-mesh fence. An avalanche of dirt and gravel poured down upon the roof of the trailer, covering the plate, batteries and box to a depth of six to seven feet above the roof of the trailer. Inside, the captives watched fearfully as the ceiling buckled from the weight of earthen material, but the standing posts kept the roof from collapsing.

Trapped in the darkness of their dungeon with only the flashlight and a candle for illumination, children cried from terror and despair. As the hours dragged on, the heat inside rose to an oppressive level. The makeshift ventilation system was inadequate for proper airflow. One of the air vents stopped working, and the children gathered together trying to breathe around the one air vent remaining. Many were coughing from the lack of fresh air, or vomiting amid the odors of urine and filth.

As the driver and children viewed with increasing alarm the horror of their situation, in the world outside they became the number one news story, pushing aside Jimmy Carter’s speech accepting the nomination for president at the Democratic Convention in New York City. One major news development was the discovery of the missing bus just before dark by an airplane doing an aerial search. Reporters found people who blamed the kidnapping on black radicals or anti-capitalist leftists. An anonymous person called the San Francisco Chronicle and said “Chowchilla, Weatherman,” obviously referring to a radical leftist group. A spokeswoman for New World Liberation Front, when questioned by reporters, denied that the group had anything to do with the kidnapping. The following day, a group of birdwatchers found children’s notebooks, shoes, clothing, and Frank Ray’s wallet and pants, on an embankment near Saratoga in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The discovery indicated that hippies dwelling in communes nearby might be responsible for the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, the people of Chowchilla prayed for their children. God heard their prayers, and a miracle occurred.

After some hours passed, the sound of shoes above the captives ceased. The kidnappers had apparently left the site. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, the oldest boy, Mike Marshall, age fourteen years, decided he was going to dig his way to freedom. The bus driver, who had already given up in hopeless despair, discouraged him from trying and told him that their time had come “to kick the bucket.” Mike refused to give up.

He kicked one of the box springs apart and found a suitable stick of wood, eighteen inches long. Piling up mattresses to reach the plate covering the hole in the ceiling, he dug and clawed around the plate. At last Ray and another boy came to help. Using all their strength, they pushed up on the plate and managed to open a gap sufficient to jam a stick underneath it. The gap was enough to enable continued digging. As they dug upward, increasing amounts of earth trickled down. Periodically the diggers doused themselves with water to keep from passing out in the suffocating heat.

Their efforts were finally rewarded when they saw a streak of sunlight and felt the fresh cool air. Continuing to tunnel upward, they moved the plate and opened a space large enough for a boy to squeeze through. It was 7 pm, and the sun was still up. He saw around him the heavy machinery of a rock quarry. It had been sixteen hours since they descended into their underground tomb. After climbing out, Ray and the children wandered around until they found a welder on a nearby elevator, who notified the police.

The quarry belonged to the California Rock and Gravel Company, near the city of Livermore in Alameda County, 95 miles north of Chowchilla. Since travel time from Chowchilla to Livermore was normally an hour and a half, the eleven hours on the road indicated the abductors used a roundabout way to get to the quarry.

Chowchilla trailer

Interior view of trailer.

Once they returned everyone home, law enforcement officials began collecting information. The bus driver remembered the last three digits of the license plate for the white van, 414. This corresponded with the license number 1C91414, obtained from an insurance secretary in Los Banos, Mrs. Mary Phillips. She had observed a suspicious white van parked in front of her Chowchilla office the evening of July 14. It was still in the same spot when she came back the following morning. At about 1:30 in the afternoon a second van identical in every way except in color parked next to the white van. A passenger got out and conferred with the driver of the white van for a few minutes. There appeared to be an exchange of money. Then the passenger climbed behind the wheel of the white van, and the two vehicles left the area and headed east on Highway 152. Before the vans drove off, Mrs. Phillips jotted on a piece of paper the license number of the white van. She gave this information to sheriff’s officers later that same day after hearing about the disappearance of the children and bus driver. 

The solid lead of the plate number enabled investigators to trace the two vans to a San Jose warehouse. An unidentified individual purchased them at an auction of military vehicles in Alameda on November 24, 1975. The trailer used to entomb the captives came from a moving and storage company in Palo Alto, purchased four days before the two vans. The man who bought it used the alias “Mark Hall,” and gave a non-existent address.

Thanks to information garnered from the driver and children, apprehension of the culprits was almost within reach. They were not, as initially believed, scruffy hippies or hotheaded radicals. Frederick Newhall Woods III, a member of one of California’s wealthiest and most prominent families, rented the San Jose warehouse where the two vans were found. He was also the owner of the rock quarry. His home was sixty miles from the quarry in Portola Valley, a lavish estate in San Mateo County – 100 acres of oak-studded rolling hills near Stanford University. Woods was a major stockholder in the Newhall Land and Farming Co., which had enormous investments in agriculture, cattle, oil, gas, and real estate. Its best-known asset was Magic Mountain, a popular and immensely profitable amusement park near Los Angeles. In May 1976, just two months earlier, it opened a spectacular rollercoaster ride called the Great American Revolution.

Newhall estate

Vehicles and buildings on the Portola Valley estate of Frederick Newhall Woods III.

Some sixty lawmen armed with riot guns, tear gas, and automatic weapons surrounded the family home in Portola Valley to search for evidence. Welcoming them graciously was an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Woods, the only persons around. As they searched, they gazed with curiosity at the dusty, rusting, second-hand vehicles lined up in rows among the buildings, including Malibus, Impalas, Thunderbirds, station wagons, jeeps, bulldozer, fire engine, red hearse, orange vans, school bus, tow truck, an Allied Van Lines moving trailer, vintage campers, police cars, police motorcycles, many in working order. These vehicles, numbering about a hundred, might have been used in other previously unknown criminal activities, according to a suggestion made by Mae Brussell on one of her programs [2]. Among the vehicles on the property was a World War Two-era truck-tractor that matched the buried trailer in the Livermore quarry. With the help of a bulldozer, it was used to pull the trailer out of the pit.

Chowchilla quarry

Truck-tractor found at the Portola Valley estate being used to haul trailer out of pit at the rock quarry

A search of the main house yielded a paper bag with the scribbled names of the twenty-six children and a ransom note demanding five million dollars. All totaled, from various locations searched, investigators piled up “an astronomical amount of physical evidence,” according to a spokesman for the Alameda County sheriff’s office. According to the Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee, at least seven members of a gun and drug cult, sons of wealthy San Mateo County families, were suspects in the hijacking of the school bus. Soon after this article appeared, the police took into custody three suspects:

(1) Frederick Newhall Woods IV, son of the quarry owner, 25 years old, 6 foot, 145 pounds, brown hair and blue eyes;

(2) James Schoenfeld, son of a podiatrist in Atherton, 25 years old, 6 foot, 170 pounds, red hair and blue eyes;

(3) James’ brother Richard Schoenfeld, 22 years old, 5 foot 11 inches, 150 pounds, blonde hair and blue eyes.

Whatever part these men had in the Chowchilla plot, if any, they were not the ones seen by Ray and the children. According to AP reporter Mike Dunston on July 26, “The victims’ descriptions of their abductors appeared quite different from the descriptions of the Schoenfeld brothers and Woods in an all-points bulletin issued Thursday night.… Investigators said some of the apparent discrepancies in the original descriptions can be explained, but they declined to offer an explanation.”

Chowchilla kidnappers

Left to right: Frederick Woods IV, James Schoenfeld, and Richard Schoenfeld leaving courthouse August 26, 1976.

Law enforcement officials assigned to the case got an earful from Mae Brussell, who pointed out to them that the suspects arrested lacked the specific details mentioned by the bus driver and the children – gray hair, glasses, tattoos, chipped tooth, hairy mole, foreign accent, shortness of stature. They tried to brush her off with superficially plausible explanations or evasive non-sequiturs. An assistant to the Alameda County Sheriff said the children were too young to give credible descriptions of people.

“What about the bus driver?”

“Oh, the bus driver? He has no concept of what was involved, or who was involved.” [3]

On August 2, the expiration of a gag order on evidence found at the Woods estate allowed sources within law enforcement to provide reporters of the Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee a few more specifics. The ransom note demanding five million dollars was signed, “We are Beelsabub,” a misspelling of Beelzebub, which is the biblical name for the devil. Several other documents contained “strange references to Satan,” and others were coded in Sanskrit. Also found were paraphernalia indicating an obsession with satanic ritual. The following day, Stan Bohrman, on the six o’clock news for a television station in San Francisco, reported on these same findings, but he went one step further by mentioning the Zodiac. He said, “The [ransom] letter found in the home of Frederick Woods resembled the writing of the Zodiac killer. The markings above and below the letter and references to the occult were on this letter.”

The importance of this information can be measured by how quickly it was suppressed. One hour after the letter was released, Judge Howard Green put a new gag order effective at that moment. Repeat broadcasts of Bohrman’s report on the letter scheduled for the seven o’clock and the eleven o’clock news were cancelled, Bohrman was fired, and the Zodiac connection made no further appearances in the news media. Except for updates on insignificant court matters from time to time, there was almost a complete news blackout on the Chowchilla case from that evening on. [4]

Since schoolchildren were a prime target of the Zodiac, the Zodiac-style markings on the ransom note is another clue to his participation in the hijacking of the Chowchilla bus. A comparison of the Zodiac on the left shows resemblance to a composite sketch made of the kidnapper wearing the hat and glasses.

Zodiac                          Zodiac Chowchilla

Heavy dark-rimmed glasses are a characteristic feature of the Zodiac. Bryan Hartnell, who survived an attack on September 27, 1969 near Vallejo, said the Zodiac was wearing a black executioner-style outfit. Over his hood, he had clip-on sunglasses and underneath the hood was another pair of glasses. The killer was about 5 foot 8 inches, light brown curly hair, possibly a wig, 26 to 30 years old, 195 to 200 lbs.

The composite sketch of the Zodiac wearing heavy, horn-rimmed glasses came from three teenagers who witnessed the murder of cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco on October 11, 1969. They said he was about 25 to 30 years old, 5 foot 8 to 9 inches tall, heavy build, short brown hair.

Kathleen Johns saw the composite sketch of the Zodiac on a poster at a local police station in Patterson and recognized him as the man who tried to kidnap her and her baby on March 22, 1970. She said he wore black, heavy-rimmed, plastic-lensed glasses held firmly in place by a thin band of elastic around his head. He was about 30 years old, 5 foot 9 inches, 160 pounds, short dark hair, jaw “not weak”, dark windbreaker jacket, navy blue bell-bottom pants, military shoes highly polished. After surreptitiously disabling her car, he posed as someone trying to help and lured her and her baby into his own car. Alarmed by his menacing manner, she managed to get out of the car and escape with her baby at a freeway off-ramp. Four months later, the Zodiac wrote in a letter, “So I now have a little list, starting with the woeman + her baby that I gave a rather intersting ride for a couple howers one evening a few months back that ended in my burning her car where I found them.”

A man wearing black-rimmed glasses, overweight, 5 foot 8 inches, curly hair, neatly dressed, frightened Darlene Ferrin with his visits. [5] Mike Mageau, boyfriend of Darlene and survivor of the shooting on July 4, 1969, said that the shooter was about 5 feet 8 inches, “real heavy set, beefy build… possibly 195 to 200, or maybe even larger… short curly hair, light brown almost blond”, combed up in a pompadour style. Mageau further said he was not wearing glasses. Evidently, the Zodiac did not need them all the time.

Glasses of a similar type was a prominent feature in the Manson case. When Charles Manson announced to his followers at Spahn Ranch on August 8, 1969 “Now is the time for Helter Skelter,” he told Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Linda Kasabian to get knives and changes of clothes. Shortly after midnight, they entered the home of actress Sharon Tate at 10500 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon and brutally murdered her and four other people. The following night the same four and two others killed Leo and Rosemary LaBianca at 3301 Waverly Drive in the Los Feliz Hills.

Originally, the police believed the slaughter at the Tate house was the work of one man. A clue to his identity was a pair of glasses found in the living room.  A lieutenant for the Los Angeles Police Department, Robert Helder, showed them to the press on October 23 and said that the killer probably lost them during the struggle with the victims. There were fingerprint smudges on it but no identifiable ridges. The owner was extremely near-sighted and could not operate a vehicle without them. An unusual feature was the plastic lenses. Unlike glass lenses, plastic resisted shattering and was the choice of very active people such as athletes. The amber-colored, horn-rimmed frames were of a specific type manufactured by the American Optical Corp. The customized bend of the temple shafts showed that the left ear was about one-fourth to one-half inch higher than the right. Police sent flyers to thousands of eye doctors, hoping that someone might provide information about the man who bought them. (The article Zodiac Killer at the Tate House has more details on the glasses.)

Glasses Tate House

Glasses found at the Tate house.

What the news media hailed as a major breakthrough in October quickly became an almost forgotten loose end in December after the arrest of Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, none of whom wore glasses.

When the case came to trial, prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi feared that defense attorneys might bring up the glasses and make the reasonable assertion that at least one killer was still at large. From that standpoint, they could argue that the wrong people were on trial. [6] Augmenting the effectiveness of this strategy would be to identify and locate the doctor who prescribed the glasses. That man, as will be shown below, was Dr. Victor Ohta, a wealthy ophthalmologist in the town of Soquel in the Santa Cruz area, 350 miles north of Los Angeles. As one of the state’s busiest eye surgeons, he specialized in the removal of cataracts. He and his family lived in a secluded mansion designed by Aaron Green, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, on a hilltop ten-acre site overlooking Monterey Bay.

On October 19, 1970, three days before the glasses came up during the testimony of prosecution witness Roseanne Walker at the Manson family trial, [7] Mrs. Ohta was driving her green Oldsmobile station wagon home at about 5:00 pm. Calvin Penrod, a sales manager for mobile home parks, who knew Mrs. Ohta, was driving in close proximity to her car and noticed she had three passengers, young people with long hair. Behind Mrs. Ohta in the back seat was a man with a moustache; next to him was a woman with straight, long black hair; and a second man sat in the rear compartment behind the back seat. As it shortly turned out, the three passengers were highly trained, well-prepared killers. At the house they bound, blindfolded, and shot from behind Dr. and Mrs. Ohta, their two young sons, and the doctor’s secretary. Then they set fire to the house. The fierce blaze attracted the attention of two sheriff’s deputies, who called the fire department. Firemen attempting to reach the scene found both driveways blocked, one by Dr. Ohta’s Rolls Royce and the other by the secretary’s Continental, with the ignition keys snapped off in both locks. By the time they could push the cars aside, the mansion had already suffered extensive damage. While looking for a source of water, they found five bodies in the swimming pool.

Ohta map

Map showing locations of the murder site and sightings of Mrs. Ohta’s car

On the windshield of the Rolls Royce was a note, typed on Dr. Ohta’s typewriter, declaring war against those who “misuse the environment,” presumably referring to the bulldozers used to cut a driveway on the steep wooded hillside and to clear off a place for the mansion. Signing the note were Knight of Wands, Knight of Cups, Knight of Pentacles, and Knight of Swords, figures represented on tarot cards. Pentacles is a five-sided figure associated with witchcraft and Satan. It appeared to be a note written by crazed hippies enamored with the environment and the occult.

Mrs. Ohta’s station wagon served as the getaway car, driven wildly, nearly running other cars off the road. Witnesses saw three long-haired people in the careening car. At a campsite in the Bonny Doon area, witnesses saw three long-haired people, one of them a woman, near the station wagon. The following day the car was about a mile inside the Rincon railroad tunnel. An off-schedule Southern Pacific switch engine banged into it at 4:45 pm. Someone had driven it into the tunnel and set the seat cushions on fire (a destructive act similar to what happened to Kathleen Johns’ car). The engineer put out the flames with a fire extinguisher and then used his engine to push the car out of the tunnel. The motor was still warm from recent use. Three sets of footprints led from the spot where the car was abandoned to outside the tunnel.

Mrs Ohtas car

Mrs. Ohta’s car at the entrance to the railroad tunnel

Alerted by a tip from “three long-haired persons” who provided the address of a woman who in turn gave directions to her husband’s tiny ramshackle hut in a wooded area in the Santa Cruz Mountains, sheriff’s deputies arrested John Linley Frazier, an auto mechanic who had dropped out of society and was living the hippie life-style. As soon as they took him into custody, the search for more suspects was discontinued. When newsmen asked District Attorney Peter Chang how one man could have bound, blindfolded, and shot five people with two pistols, a .38 and a .22, he said, “It sounds ridiculous, but it’s possible that it happened.”

Originally, Frazier denied killing the Ohtas. He said that three persons went into the Ohta house while he waited outside at the driveway entrance. He changed his story later, confessing to a psychologist that he killed the Ohtas single-handedly. The original story is probably the correct one, and his role that day was to serve as lookout.

According to a letter written by a woman who lived in Woodland Hills (near Los Angeles), Dr. Ohta was the man who prescribed the glasses found at the Tate house, and the owner was none other than the Zodiac himself. In late September 1970, less than a month prior to the Ohta slayings, she saw the Zodiac with Frazier in Woodland Hills. They “looked exactly alike” except that the Zodiac wore glasses. The implication is that Frazier was a Zodiac double. If he wore glasses, the resemblance would be greater. Pictures of Frazier at the time of his capture and all during his trial show him without glasses. However, a driver’s license photo released by the sheriff’s department shortly before his capture shows him wearing glasses. Perhaps he needed them to drive a car, yet the weird Zodiac-like appearance is certainly striking.

Frazier no glasses                       Frazier glasses

The author of the letter goes on to identify the Zodiac by his real name and said that he was a member of a white supremacist organization called the International White Guard.

Somehow a copy of this letter came into the possession of Mae Brussell. On July 19, 1976, she called up Sherwood Morrill, a documents specialist for the Bureau of Criminal Identification in Sacramento and chief expert on the handwriting of the Zodiac. She read the letter to him and stated her belief that the Zodiac was involved in the Chowchilla case. He was not a deranged man working alone, as commonly believed, but rather he was part of a group of extreme rightwing fascist killers. She urged him to be on the lookout for a ransom note and check it for Zodiac handwriting characteristics. (A few days later, newspapers reported the finding of a ransom note at the Woods house. Bohrman’s revelation of the Zodiac markings would not emerge until almost two weeks later.)

After speaking with Morrill, she called David Toschi, the detective for the San Francisco Police Department in charge of the Zodiac files. After reading the letter, she asked him if he knew the name of the man identified as the Zodiac. He said he did. As she continued to ask more questions, he became increasingly angry, rude, and hostile.

Brussell                                                                            Toschi

   Mae Brussell                                                                                          David Toschi

“We had that name five years ago” [1971].

Has he been cleared?”

“No, he has not been cleared.”

“Has he ever been arrested or called before a grand jury?”

“No, he has never been arrested or called before a grand jury.

“Have you asked him any questions about it?”

“No, we’re not asking him any questions.”

“Have you seen the composite sketch of the Chowchilla suspect wearing the hat and eyeglasses, who looks like the Zodiac?”

“Where did you see that picture?”

“On the front page of the San Francisco Examiner. Did you talk to the Chowchilla police department?”

“I am not involved in the Chowchilla case.”

“If the Chowchilla authorities and the Los Angeles authorities think the Zodiac might be involved, how come you have not thought of it?”

Toschi said they would never bring him in, and he had no interest in pursuing Brussell’s proffered lead. [8] (Five days later, his partner, Bill Armstrong, suddenly quit and transferred to the Bunco division, leaving Toschi to become the only San Francisco detective working on the Zodiac case. [9] The dispute between them might, or might not, have something to do with a Zodiac connection to Chowchilla.)

While relating these conversations on her Dialogue: Conspiracy program on radio station KRLB in Carmel, Brussell never mentioned the name of the woman who wrote the letter and only said that she lived in Woodland Hills and worked as a school bus driver. She did however reveal the name of the Zodiac – after an interval of four years. At the end of her program on September 21, 1980, she said:

[Next week I want to bring up] the death of Art Linkletter’s son. He was killed in an automobile accident. I have hinted many times and suggested through a letter that I have that went to a judge at the time of the trial of John Frazier for the killing of the Ohta family in California, that Robert Linkletter was the Zodiac. Now that he’s dead, I feel it’s safe that I can mention that I did call David Toschi, the chief [investigator assigned to the Zodiac case] of police in San Francisco in 1976 and talked to him about this. He said that they would never bring him in. They had this information, that they didn’t clear it, that they had no interest in pursuing it. It’s a subject that has to do with a massive entanglement of California violences. Mr. Toschi was later removed from the police department for forging letters of the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco. Now, I am not saying this is true, or not true. It will be interesting to see if the Zodiac letters, or that person, ever surfaces again. But next week I’ll read to you a letter that was sent to the judge about a group, of the white organization. It’s like the “Hooded Ones,” the Cagoulards in France, and it has to do with an organization of killers called the International White Guard. This letter to the judge at the time of the trial did mention Robert Linkletter. He was killed this last week in an automobile accident. No charges have been filed against the [driver who caused the] head-on collision. We’ll bring that up next week, because there isn’t time for the details. It has to do with Reagan and the California violences.

On September 12, 1980, Robert Preston Linkletter, son of television interviewer and Hollywood celebrity Art Linkletter, was at his apartment, where his mother came to visit him. An hour later, he got into his car, a 1979 Saab. With him was his lawyer, Charles Crozier. Shortly after leaving his apartment, as he was driving west on Santa Monica Boulevard near Thayer Avenue, Gracie Jones travelling eastbound in a 1976 Buick crossed the center divider and rammed head on into the Saab. Robert died an hour later at the Los Angeles New Hospital from chest injuries. His passenger, Mr. Crozier, survived the accident, suffering from rib and face injuries. Jones’ explanation was that a car made a U-turn in front of her, forcing her to swerve into oncoming traffic. In January 1981, she pleaded no contest to the charge of vehicular manslaughter and was given a year probation.

Linkletter family

The Linkletter family. Behind Art in the back are Jack, his wife Lois, Robert, and Dawn. In front are Diane and Sharon.

The letter that Brussell read on her program of September 28, 1980 was the second of two letters written by the Woodland Hills woman. Excerpts of the earlier letter appeared in an article on the front page of the Redwood City Tribune, Saturday, November 20, 1971.

RWC heading 2

RWC title

Below is the complete article:

Letter-Writer Links Frazier and ‘Zodiac’

By Duane Sandul, Tribune Staff Writer [10]

The Zodiac killer also was an accomplice of John Linley Frazier in the mass murders of Soquel eye surgeon Victor Ohta and four others on Oct. 19, 1970, a woman from Woodland Hills claims in a letter to the Tribune.

The woman, Mrs. Marie Vigil, asked the Tribune to forward the letter to Frazier’s attorney.

She said that Dr. Ohta once prescribed glasses for the Zodiac killer, sought for multiple murders in San Francisco. Mrs. Vigil identified the Zodiac killer as Robert Linkletter and said she saw Linkletter with Frazier before the Ohta murders.

She said she knew Linkletter as a man who has been killing since 1966 but declined to elaborate in a telephone conversation with the Tribune from her San Fernando Valley home. She said she had not intended her letter to become public information but as “confidential” to the defense.

James Jackson, attorney for Frazier, said last night the letter writer “probably is eccentric,” but that he would have an agent “check out the letter.”

“I’ve received seemingly wild letters before which indeed did help produce witnesses,” Jackson said. He added he had received other letters linking the Zodiac killer with Ohta.

The typewritten letter claims that the Zodiac killer also is one of the killers of Sharon Tate and the LaBiancas. Charles Manson and his “family” were convicted for those murders earlier this year.

When the Tribune spoke with Mrs. Vigil, she declined to discuss specifics “over the telephone.”

Frazier’s trial, shifted to Redwood City from Santa Cruz by order of the California Supreme Court, ended Wednesday. The four-man, eight-woman jury which must decide his guilt or innocence will begin deliberations Friday.

Frazier has pleaded innocent and innocent by reason of insanity.

Mrs. Vigil, who said she is over 50 years old, told the Tribune she had reported her information to police departments linking the Zodiac killer with Frazier although she wouldn’t say which police departments.

Sgt. Frank Witt of the Woodland Police Department told the Tribune police have no record of Mrs. Vigil filing a report with them.

Asked why she thought Frazier and the Zodiac killer are accomplices, Mrs. Vigil said, “Because they were together.” She added, “I’ve seen them; they were in Woodland Hills.”

She would give no further information about her acquaintance with the “Zodiac killer.”

Excerpts from the letter:

“I do have some information about the accomplice of Frazier. He is Robert Linkletter, one of the killers of Miss Tate, La Bianca never brought to trial here, the killer who lost one pair of glasses the night of the Tate killings.

“Less than one month prior to the execution of Dr. and Mrs. Ohta and three other people, Robert was with them here one Sunday pointing me out to them because I knew those glasses did belonged (sic) to him. Dr. Ohta must have prescribed them. A few days later, I was to see Robert again with Frazier driving a light-colored van, kind of old. Robert was driving, was also wearing a blonde wig and some round oversized glasses with pink lenses …

“If the two daughters of Dr. and Mrs. Ohta know of some connection with their father and Robert Linkletter, their lives are in danger …. [11]

“… This killer has been dropping bodies since 1966, a knife killing in Riverside he has admitted. He moves constantly from San Diego to the High Sierra killing here and there. He must believe the Law and Order is willing to cover up all of his murders

Sincerely,

Mrs. Marie P. Vigil” [12]

According to the above excerpts, Robert Linkletter had a discussion with Dr. and Mrs. Ohta on a Sunday in late September. Mrs. Vigil apparently was not part of this discussion but somewhere nearby, close enough so that Robert could point her out as someone who knew about the glasses at the Tate house. A few days later she saw him with Frazier.

The last paragraph says he “has been dropping bodies since 1966, a knife killing in Riverside he has admitted.” On October 30, 1966, Cheri Jo Bates, a student of Riverside Community College, was brutally beaten and stabbed to death. One month later, nearly identical typewritten letters were mailed to the Riverside police and the Riverside Press-Enterprise, titled “The Confession,” describing how he killed her. A third letter, handwritten, was sent to Cheri Jo’s father, Joseph Bates. It said, “Bates had to die, there will be more,” and it was signed with the letter “Z.” Going on an anonymous tip, Paul Avery wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle on November 16, 1970, linking the Zodiac to the Bates murder. Five months later, on March 13, 1971, the Zodiac mailed a letter to the Los Angeles Times acknowledging he had indeed killed Bates.

Avery further said in his article that a janitor found a poem carved into the bottom side of a desktop in the Riverside College library. [13] Its language and handwriting resembled that of the Zodiac. Titled “Sick of living/unwilling to die,” it was signed with the initials rh. It is possible that the h was originally an l. There are three h’s in the poem. The first two were made with a continuous motion without lifting the pen, and the descending part of the arch ends at, or near, the baseline. Unlike the first two h’s, the slight overlap of the left foot of the arch on the vertical line in the third h indicates a two-step operation. Furthermore, the termination of the descending part of the arch in the first two h’s have an assurance that is lacking in the third h, with the right side of the arch trailing hesitantly below the baseline. Since Sherwood Morrill saw distortion and disguise in the formation of letters in the letter to Joseph Bates, the initials at the end of the desktop poem might been subjected to the same treatment to disguise the writer’s identity.

First h                    Second h                      initials

Vigil said that Robert travelled constantly between San Diego and the High Sierra. In the second letter that will be quoted below, he is said to have sometimes stayed with his sister at Lake Tahoe and that he was a member of the Sierra Club. His parents often spent their weekends at a skiing cabin in Alpine Meadows.

Six weeks prior to the Ohta massacre, on September 6, 1970, Donna Lass, a nurse at the Sahara Tahoe hotel and casino, disappeared. Six months later, the Zodiac sent a postcard to the San Francisco Chronicle claiming responsibility for the nurse’s disappearance. The postcard was a collage featuring a scene from an advertisement for Forest Pines condominiums in Incline Village and pasted letters and texts from magazines including one that read “Sierra Club.”

Lake Tahoe postcard

Vigil wrote her second letter on November 21, 1971 to Judge Charles Franich, the presiding judge of the Frazier trial, forwarded through the Redwood City Tribune. [14] Apparently it never appeared in print, and its contents are only known through Mae Brussell. She read excerpts on two of her programs, sometimes word for word, sometimes paraphrasing, in order to leave out information she wanted to keep confidential. Below is one excerpt:

“The Los Angeles Times of today finally had a story about the trial and murder of the Ohtas and their secretary. You asked if I was certain it was John Frazier who was with Robert Linkletter. They were here in Woodland Hills less than a month prior to those killings. He looked exactly like Frazier, when they were arrested, except for one thing. He also wears glasses. About the van, there were two people in the car and it was Robert who was driving it. I do not recall something in the newspaper about that at the time.

According to Frazier’s original story, he drove a white van to the Ohta house where he met three persons. They went into the house, while Frazier stood in the driveway. After they came out, Frazier drove Mrs. Ohta’s car. Witnesses saw three people in the car. That leaves one to drive the white van. Probably on the following day, in accordance with Vigil’s letter, two people were in the white van and the other two were in Mrs. Ohta’s car as they drove toward the railroad tunnel.

I have some reason to believe that Robert was driving north just last Thursday. So if you are observant, you will see him snickering in the courtroom to see how his murders are done and taken care of. He is the man that John Frazier is trying to find at the rear of the courtroom. Does Frazier know about the organization of killers called the International White Guard? Does he fear his wife will be killed if he were to name Robert Linkletter and his father as being heavy in this honorable organization of killers?

 On the day “Robert was driving north,” Thursday, November 18, the court had gone into recess. Frazier apparently expected to see him prior to the recess. The Los Angeles Times article mentioned in the letter, dated November 21, said, “Frazier’s appearance in court seems strangely in contrast to the magnitude of the crime he is accused of. Much of the time, the 5-foot, 6-inch defendant sits slumped in his chair, turned from the judge and jury, focusing his soft hazel eyes impassively toward the rear of the sparsely occupied courtroom.”

Linkletter might have been in the back of the courtroom on Monday to hear the closing arguments. He might have been “snickering” as the jury convicted Frazier of mass murder on November 29. Ten days later, the same jury declared him legally sane, leaving the way clear for the judge to impose the death penalty on December 30. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty on February 18, 1972.

Robert was also identified as the Zodiac by his sister three days before her death. She had read his first message, that was partly coded. I never believed that she committed suicide any more than her brother-in-law, John Zweyer, did. He had been shot by Robert. These two  were witnesses the night of the Tate murders. John did turn down a bribe that was offered to him concerning the killings. These are the kind of killers that this state has been cultivating and nurturing.

Robert is 27. Sometimes he lets his beard grow. He wears a wig, and sometimes he looks almost bald. Within the past two years, I have seen him in all colors and wig lengths. I know him as Robert Linkletter and also as the Zodiac. I drive a school bus in Los Angeles, and I used to see him on Van Nuys and Ventura Boulevards. He sometimes waits for me on Ventura Boulevard, driving on my way to pick up some children from school. He follows behind and then moves to the side until he is sure I recognize him. Someone must know how smart he is.

He stays sometimes at Lake Tahoe with his older sister, who is a widow, and belongs to the Sierra Club, which is interested in the misuse of the environment.

This Robert, may I say, has the eyes and fingerprints that should be checked. Also I believe Dr. Ohta must have prescribed those glasses that were lost the night of the Tate murders.

A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is no defense at all [referring to Frazier], because of the horror of those murders. They should convict everyone who is brought in before the courts.

 Zweyer

John and Dawn Zweyer

John Zweyer married Robert’s older sister Dawn in 1959 at the Westwood Methodist Church in Los Angeles. John was a lieutenant in the Air Force, serving as a public information officer at Stead AFB, just north of Reno, Nevada. After getting out of the Air Force, he and his wife moved to Hollywood where he became an insurance salesman. On July 15, 1969, he died of a gunshot wound to the head beside the swimming pool of their home while his wife was on the phone. The coroner ruled it as “a possible suicide.” Supposedly his failing insurance company was the cause of his depression. A more probable cause for his death was murder.

As read by Mae Brussell, the letter seems to say that Zweyer was a witness the night of the Tate murders. Probably while simultaneously reading aloud and condensing parts of the letter, she had accidentally conflated key sentences and obscured the original message. Perhaps what Vigil actually said was that Zweyer was a witness to the planning stage of the impending massacre, and his refusal to be silenced by a bribe was the reason he had to be killed.

On October 3, three months after her brother-in-law died, Diane Linkletter, a roving Hollywood reporter, left the doctor’s office in a cheerful mood. “Suicide seemed as far from her mind as the sun,” her doctor said afterwards. Later that night, at 3:00 am, her friend Ed Durston got a call from Diane asking him to come to her apartment, which was on the sixth floor of the Shoreham Towers in West Hollywood. He went there and found her to be “extremely emotional, extremely despondent, and very irrational.” Six hours later, while Durston was still there, she called Robert and told him she felt like committing suicide. He told her to calm down and said that he would be right over. Robert then spoke to Durston and asked if he could handle her until he got there. He said he could. For a few moments, Diane seemed to relax and even seemed cheerful. Then without warning, she rushed toward the kitchen window. Durston tried to grab the belt loop of her dress but could not prevent her from jumping out. Robert arrived on the scene shortly after the ambulance took her away. A private funeral service was scheduled for Tuesday, October 7, but Robert, his father, and his mother did not attend, having gone into seclusion at their cabin at Lake Tahoe.

According to Vigil, Diane Linkletter died because of what she knew about the Tate murders. She certainly had a connection to the Sharon Tate milieu. Her name was in the address book of Abigail Folger, one of the five victims killed at the Tate house. Diane’s live-in boyfriend of several months, Harvey F. Dareff, allegedly went to the Cielo house on August 8, shortly before the massacre, to buy or sell drugs. [15] A Los Angeles Police Department homicide lieutenant admitted to UPI reporter Vernon Scott, “Yes, Diane Linkletter knew Abigail Folger, and probably was an acquaintance of Sharon Tate.” Diane’s friend, Ed Durston, knew Polish filmmaker Voityck Frokowski, another victim in the Tate house. According to Vernon Scott, “Only one element ties the death of Miss Linkletter with the multiple murders in the canyon home of Miss Tate and her director husband, Roman Polanski – drugs.” The article again quotes the lieutenant regarding this Hollywood subculture, describing it as “a patchwork of peripheral celebrities such as Sebring and Miss Tate, offspring of movie stars and jet setters, hangers-on (Frokowski) and the cast-off children of the big rich. . . . The Hollywood-oriented 600 to 800 go in for bigger kicks, the eerie, weird and freaked-out. They are not militants, protestors or idealists. They groove to their own bag and stick together in the event of a bad trip.”

According to Art Linkletter, his daughter was going with a group that was experimenting with drugs and died from the effects of ingesting LSD. He blamed LSD advocate Timothy Leary and the music industry, particularly the Beatles, for fostering a tolerance for dangerous drugs. The drug-induced suicide version of his daughter’s death was later contradicted by the autopsy report. Coroner Thomas Noguchi said, “We have not been able to pick up any trace of lysergic acid, heroin, marijuana, any narcotics or alcohol in the body of Diane Linkletter at this time.”

Monti

The day after Diane’s funeral, October 8, Toni “Connie” Monti, apparently depressed by the death of Diane, took her own life with an overdose of pills, according to her husband Nick Monti. He said he and his wife were friends of Miss Linkletter. This was contradicted by Sheriff’s Lt. Richard Griffin, who said, “There was no indication she even knew the Linkletter girl.” Connie’s mother disputed the suicide version of her daughter’s death and said she never took drugs and would never consider taking her own life. Perhaps the true reason behind her death is the fact that she lived in an apartment across the street from Shoreham Towers at 1211 N. Horn Ave. From this vantage point, she might have seen Diane’s fatal plunge. An interesting coincidence is that Ed Durston also lived at 1211 N. Horn Ave. [16]

Untitled

According to Vigil, Diane identified her brother as the Zodiac three days before her death and read the “first message, that was partly coded”. Her discovery would have been several days after the slaying of a woman and the severe wounding of a man at Lake Berryessa on September 27. The weekend following Diane’s death, the Zodiac killed cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco on October 11. The “first message, that was partly coded” had a 408-character cryptogram and was sent to three newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area on August 1. Three days later, a Vallejo newspaper dated August 4, printed the contents of a letter mailed to the San Francisco Examiner, which said, “This is the Zodiac speaking,” the first time the Zodiac name become public. Four days later Manson sent four of his followers to the home of Sharon Tate. Linkletter was also at the Tate house that fatal night and somehow lost his glasses. As mentioned earlier, the right temple stem of the glasses found at the Tate house was lower than the left. A picture of Linkletter showing both ears appears in the Minnesota Star Tribune on November 19, 1965. Since newspaper editors sometimes reverse pictures for various reasons, I have taken the liberty of changing the picture to an alternative orientation. It shows the right ear lower than the left.

RL 1965 front view

Robert Linkletter was born in San Francisco on October 15, 1944. He was a “free-spirited, curious explorer,” according to his brother Jack, very capable of designing and making things. As a teenager, he built his own electric guitar, when his father refused to buy him one. He went to Santa Monica City College, where he acted in a musical comedy. His goal was to become a theater arts major at the University of Southern California and then become an actor. Instead of going to college, he became the guitarist for a surfing music band, called the Cornells. From December 1962 to November 1963, the band released four singles and one record. In May 1963, it appeared on a television show called “I’ve Got a Secret.” Their secret was “We’re all the sons of Hollywood celebrities.”

Linkletter went into the Air Force, spending some time in Australia. During the last six months of his enlistment, he was at Sheppard Air Force base in Wichita Falls, Texas. At that time, war protest songs such as Barry Maguire’s “Eve of Destruction” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” were becoming popular. Linkletter believed such songs, put out by “radical nuts,” had a depressing effect not only on military morale, but also on the nation as a whole, even to the extent of causing the Watts riot of 1965. He also hated “long-haired freaks” like the Beetles. When he left the Air Force in October 1965, he began a nationwide tour singing songs with a “positive” outlook, speaking out against war protesters, and urging people not to give in to the demoralizing influence of those dominating the pop music field.

RL 1965

From Detroit Free Press, November 26, 1965

Linkletter was a prolific inventor, with many patents to his credit. His best-known invention was the childproof safety cap for bottles containing medications. After his death, his father set up “Robert Linkletter Associates” to promote the safety cap and placed as its head Charles Crozier (the attorney who was with Robert in his fatal crash). In 1983, the company was expected to produce eight billion caps for the pharmaceutical industry.

A search of the newspapers.com website shows no pictures of Robert for the six years following November 1965. Then on December 13, 1971, his picture appeared in the Los Angeles Times – smiling like Cesar Romero playing the Joker in the TV series Batman. The accompanying article said he had joined the board of trustees for Los Amigos del Pueblo, a citizen’s group dedicated to preserving and restoring historic landmarks of the Old Plaza, the birthplace of Los Angeles.

RL 1971

The timing of this odd picture is interesting. On January 25, 1971, a jury found Manson and his female co-defendants guilty of murder. Defense attorney Paul Fitzgerald brought up the eyeglasses during the closing arguments at the trial, but no attempt was made to identify the owner. Neither was the owner identified during the trial of Tex Watson, who was convicted of murder on October 13, 1971. In 1971 detective David Toschi became aware of Linkletter but never questioned nor arrested him. In July of 1971 Donald Cheney told Manhattan police that his friend Arthur Leigh Allen used the name Zodiac and said he liked to kill people. Allen then became a prime suspect in the Zodiac case. On December 9, 1971, a jury found Frazier legally sane, which meant either the gas chamber or life imprisonment. Considering the favorable outcome of these related events, it is no wonder that he is smiling.

In September 1980, a few days before his fatal accident, Robert attended a social event at the Westwood Methodist Church in Los Angeles. Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark (cousin of Prince Philip, married to Queen Elizabeth) bestowed the Commander Cross of Merit on General Omar Bradley [17] and Michael DeBakey, a heart surgeon, and on Alice Tyler, the honor of Dame of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. She was the widow of John C. Tyler, one of the founders of Farmers Insurance Group. In 1973, she established the prestigious Tyler Ecology Award to honor individuals who had done significant work in preserving the environment (such as Russell Train, President of the World Wildlife Fund). Included with the article was a picture of Robert Linkletter congratulating Mrs. Tyler. The caption read, “This is the last photo of Robert Linkletter before his tragic accident a few days later . . . He was a favorite of Mrs. Tyler.” [18]

RL and Mrs. Tyler

Robert Linkletter mingled easily among the rich and powerful. He was also a man of many talents – singing, acting, guitar playing, inventing useful things. It is hard to believe that he could be the Zodiac. Yet the letters of Marie P. Vigil, corroborated by Mae Brussell’s interview of David Toschi, indicate that he was. The letters further show that he participated in the slaying of the Ohta family, and that he worked with the Manson family in murdering people at the Cielo and Waverly residences. As a member of the International White Guard, he would have been simpatico with Charles Manson, who believed in the superiority of the white race.

For those who believed in equality of rights regardless of skin color, the emergence in 1975 of a civil rights advocate for president offered a bright future. Governor Jimmy Carter from Georgia had received the endorsement of many black leaders. His principal rival was George Wallace, who was making his fourth run for president as a Democratic candidate. Despite health problems, Wallace’s role as spoiler looked promising until he suffered a setback at the Florida Democratic Convention in Orlando on November 16. A straw ballot poll of delegates gave Carter a whopping victory over Wallace. White supremacists must have seen the handwriting on the wall and believed they needed to do something to stop Carter’s march to the White House. Conceiving the diabolical idea of kidnapping a school bus, they began making arrangements by purchasing a trailer on the 20th of November and, four days later, two vans.

The Democratic National Convention of 1976 was notable for heartfelt demonstrations of racial inclusiveness. It opened on July 11 with a rousing speech by Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman to be the keynote speaker, and it closed on July 15 with a fiery benediction by Martin Luther King, Sr., which led delegates to join hands in an emotional finale, singing “We Shall Overcome.” The seizure of the school bus in Chowchilla was deliberately timed to coincide with the evening when Carter would make his acceptance speech. It effectively stole the news media spotlight just when he needed it most. His staff lost many opportunities for news updates, sound bites, and interviews with reporters to kick off the campaign. Another feature of this plot was putting the blame for the kidnapping and possible murder of twenty-six children and their bus driver on black radicals and radical leftists. The racial harmony that prevailed at the convention would dissolve in the aftermath into an ugly display of dissension and finger pointing. What saved Carter and the Democratic Party from a ruinous debacle was the unforeseen use of a piece of wood to prop open the plate so that the captives in the trailer could tunnel their way to freedom.

Just as in 1972 a piece of tape on a hotel door fundamentally changed the politics of the country by bringing down a president and his administration, so a short piece of wood prevented the overturning of a dynamic movement toward a more integrated society in 1976.

Sources

  1. Much of this article came from newspaper articles too numerous to cite individually. To find sources, go to newspapers.com or newspaperarchives.com and use their search engines.
  2. Dialogue: Conspiracy, July 26, 1976 at 16:20. This and other programs are accessible at the Worldwatchers Archive website.
  3. Dialogue: Conspiracy, August 2, 1976 at 34:30.
  4. Dialogue: Conspiracy, August 9, 1976 at 07.20; September 13, 1976 at 00.58; and July 11, 1977 at 34:30. On his popular late night television show in Los Angeles, Stan Bohrman interviewed Raymond Broshears, a friend of David Ferrie, who said he met a “Bert” who turned out to be Clay Shaw. Shortly after this interview, the television station fired him. In 1975 he interviewed the brother of Manuel Pena, a key figure in the police investigation of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. According to the brother, Manuel Pena was in the CIA.
  5. Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 17-19.
  6. Bugliosi, Vincent, Helter Skelter, W.W. Norton and Co., 1974, pp. 106, 109, 380. On May 26, 1970 Paul Fitzgerald, defense attorney for Patricia Krenwinkel submitted a formal motion charging that the police and district attorney investigators were withholding from the defense photographs of the location of the glasses in the Tate house. Seven months later, on December 28, Fitzgerald mentioned the glasses during his final argument, saying that the person who owned those glasses was the true perpetrator of the crime. This argument proved unavailing, for on January 25, 1971 the jury found all four defendants, Manson, Watson, Atkins, and Krenwinkel guilty of first degree murder.
  7. According to the testimony of Roseanne Walker, she and Atkins heard a newscast about the glasses in October 1969. Susan’s comment was “Suppose they found the person. Wouldn’t it be too much if they found the person that owned the glasses? The only thing they were guilty of was dropping a pair of glasses there.”
  8. Dialogue: Conspiracy, July 19, 1976 at 27:50; July 11, 1977 at 34:30; July 14, 1978 on side one at 05:58; September 21, 1980 on side two at 23:41; and September 28, 1980 on side two at 03:18.
  9. Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 197.
  10. One daughter, Taura Ohta, “committed suicide” by taking an overdose of pills and asphyxiating herself with carbon monoxide in her garage on May 27, 1977. Dr. Ohta’s mother, Aiko Ohta, age 78, “committed suicide” by hanging herself in the bathroom on December 5, 1979. The other daughter, Lark, is still alive but lives in seclusion, according to the website Santa Cruz Ghost Hunters.
  11. Duane Sandul was a reporter for the Redwood City Tribune and the San Mateo Times until 1985. He then became a public relations consultant for the Port of Redwood City for 30 years. When he retired in 2016, he moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I was able to contact Mr. Sandul by telephone. When asked about the article, he said he has no memory of writing it nor of any of the details mentioned in the article.
  12. A search of the internet shows a Marie P. Vigil, who at one time lived at 20412 Lander Drive, Woodland Hills, died at the age of 98 in Fort Myers, Florida on November 11, 2015.
  13. Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 170-173.
  14. Dialogue: Conspiracy, July 14, 1978 on side one at 12:03 and September 28, 1980 on side two at 03:18.
  15. “Second Homicide Investigation Progress Report” on the website vdocuments.net.
  16. Ed Durston was implicated in another mysterious death, that of blonde actress Carol Wayne who appeared as the “Matinee Girl” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. They were in Mexico in the resort town of Manzanillo for a vacation. She disappeared, and he returned to Los Angeles. Three days later, her bloated body was found in Santiago Bay. The official version was that she accidentally drowned while swimming, even though she was deathly afraid of swimming. Mexican police believed she was murdered but were never able to question the mysterious Durston. From John Austen, Hollywood’s Greatest Mysteries, S.P.I. Books, 1994, pp. 87-99.
  17. Omar Bradley was chairman of the board of Bulova watches from 1958 to 1973. On June 4, 1968 twenty-three Bulova salesmen were in the Ambassador Hotel the night Robert F. Kennedy was shot. Two of the salesmen might have been CIA agents. From Shane O’Sullivan, Who Killed Bobby? Sterling Publishing, 2008, pp. 471-474.
  18. Los Angeles Times, supplement section, October 19, 1980.

Author: William Weston, researcher of conspiracies for over 25 years. Among articles written are “On the Death of JFK: Spider’s Web at the Trade Mart” and “The USS Indianapolis Conspiracy.”

Zodiac Killer at the Tate House

D. B. Cooper Identified

Article by William Weston and Peter Heitmann

Skyjacker D. B. Cooper parachuted out of a commercial jetliner on November 24, 1971 and escaped with $200,000 in cash – a daring feat that immediately became a sensation in the news media. Ten days later, on December 4, 1971, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to the Federal Aviation Authority identifying the air pirate as Jack Linkletter, the firstborn son of Hollywood entertainer Art Linkletter, and brother of Robert Linkletter, aka the Zodiac Killer. 

Jack Linkletter

Jack Linkletter was born on November 30, 1937 in San Francisco. In 1957 he married Barbara Mae Hughes and had three children. He was a popular TV personality for about 20 years, with shows on all three networks: On the Go (CBS), Here’s Hollywood (NBC), Hootenanny (ABC), The Rebus Game (ABC), and Life with Linkletter (NBC), which he co-hosted with his father.

Jack Linkletter (left) interviewing Ruth and John Conte in 1962 on Here’s Hollywood. Three years later Ruth Conte encouraged Robert Linkletter to do a countrywide singing tour in support of the war effort in Vietnam. Video is here.

He loved to fly and used his Baron twin engine aircraft to go on business trips around the country, such as to the Governors’ Conference on Agriculture in Jefferson City, Missouri on November 18, 1970. He also loved riding motorcycles. During the filming of the movie The Great Escape in 1962, he and actors Steve McQueen and James Garner rode Harley-Davidsons down the backstreets of Germany. In December 1970 he admitted to a reporter for The Buffalo News that he had been overweight at 202 pounds and that through dieting he hoped to get down to 175. An article in the Baltimore Sun, July 24, 1978 said that he “is going on 41 now and the spitting image of his dad, with his 6-foot-3 build, bright-as-sunshine smile, and his father’s gift of gab.” In 1978 he planned to return to television to co-host a new daytime talk/variety show called America Alive! According to the Baltimore Sun, he “had been out of the TV limelight for about eight years but he hasn’t been idle. He’s been running a big corporation, which he founded with his dad, traveling around the globe, and leading a sporting life.” His sporting life included such daredevil stunts as standing on the wing of a prop plane, as the picture below shows:

Jack Linkletter standing on the wing of a biplane as seen live on his America Alive! show in 1978. It took off from Meigs Field, Chicago’s lakefront airport. Sears Tower is in the background, the tallest building in the world.

On the eve of Thanksgiving 1971, Linkletter went to the Portland International Airport and used the name “Dan Cooper” to buy a one-way ticket to Seattle using cash. He was dressed in a black raincoat, black or brown business suit, white shirt, thin black tie, and brown slip-on shoes. He also wore dark sunglasses. An FBI description of Cooper said that he was a “white male, 6’1″ tall, 170-175 pounds, age-mid-forties, olive complexion, brown eyes, black hair, conventional cut, parted on left.” 

Artist’s sketch released by the FBI, November 27, 1971

After getting his ticket he boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines, three-engine jetliner, a Boeing 727, Flight 305, scheduled for departure at 2:50 pm with a total trip time of approximately thirty minutes. He was among thirty-seven passengers boarding the plane.

FBI photo of the airplane D. B. Cooper hijacked.

Carrying a dark briefcase and a brown paper bag, he took a seat in the last row. He chatted amiably with the stewardess as he ordered a bourbon and 7-Up. He was very polite at all times, spoke intelligently, and had no particular accent. He appeared to be quite relaxed as he drank his bourbon and smoked a Raleigh filter-tipped cigarette. Fellow passenger Robert Gregory who sat four seats from him said, “He was dark and had dark black hair and a swarthy complexion. He had very dark, black-colored glasses on. He was kind of slumped down in his seat.”

D. B. Cooper’s seat on the left

Soon after takeoff he handed a note to the stewardess, Florence Schaffner, who was sitting in the jump seat behind him. The note said: “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” Schaffner moved to sit next to him, whereupon he opened his briefcase and showed her a bomb: two rows of four red cylinders wired to a large cylindrical battery. In a low voice so as not to disturb the other passengers, he told her that he wanted $200,000 in twenty-dollar bills and four parachutes. Schaffner wrote down his demands and carried them to the cockpit. Captain William Scott contacted Northwest Flight Operations in Minnesota and said that he had a hijacker with a bomb on board and that he would blow up the plane if he did not get what he wanted.

Stewardess Tina Mucklow became the liaison between the flight crew and Cooper. Negotiations between them went so smoothly and quietly that the other passengers did not even know that the plane had been hijacked. As the plane approached Seattle, the pilot made an announcement over the intercom that landing would be delayed because of a “minor mechanical difficulty.”

A man wearing a cowboy hat approached Mucklow and tried to find out the specifics of the mechanical issue. Cooper, who was sitting nearby, was at first amused by the “cowboy’s” insistent queries but then became irritated and told him to return to his seat. The man ignored Cooper and continued to question the stewardess. Whoever the “cowboy” was remains a mystery to this day. Another passenger who exchanged words with Cooper has likewise never been identified. 

Cooper had a pilot’s knowledge of what the Seattle area looked like from the air. While looking out the window, he remarked, “Looks like Tacoma down there.” He was also familiar with Seattle on the ground. When Mucklow informed him that the parachutes were coming from McChord Air Force Base, he said that it was a twenty-minute drive from the air base to the airport.

Meanwhile, during the approximately two-hour period that the plane was in a holding pattern over Puget Sound and Seattle, the police and the FBI hurried to assemble the ransom money and parachutes. They went to Seattle First National Bank, where bundles of circulated $20 bills were kept in a safe as a contingency ransom fund with the serial numbers already recorded. The bundles were put in a white cloth sack. As soon as it was delivered to the airport, Scott landed the plane.

An airline official ascended a mobile staircase attached to the 727 and handed the money bag to Mucklow who stood just outside the front door. She carried the bag past seated passengers to the back row where Cooper was sitting. Upon receiving the money, he permitted the other passengers and two stewardesses to exit the plane. It was then that the passengers realized that the plane had been hijacked. After the last passenger had safely debarked, Mucklow brought in the four parachutes.

Cooper instructed the pilot via Mucklow to refuel the aircraft and begin a second flight to Mexico City with a refueling stop in Reno, Nevada. The pilot was to fly no higher than 10,000 feet, keep the cabin depressurized, and turn the cabin lights off. Airspeed could not be more than 150 knots, or 172 mph. This was slow enough for an experienced skydiver to make his jump safely. He gave orders to lower the landing gear after take-off and to cant the wing flaps at fifteen degrees to ensure a reduced speed.

Flight 305 took off from Seattle at 7:40 p.m. In the cockpit were Captain Scott, Co-pilot William Rataczak, and Flight Engineer Harold Anderson. Mucklow continued her role as liaison. Three military jets from McChord AFB, two F-106 fighters and a T-33 trainer, followed the slow-moving 727. Their orders were to be on the alert for any parachutist jumping out of the aircraft.

While Scott handled the task of communicating unfolding developments with the FAA and airline authorities, Rataczak piloted the plane. Normally, he would make a steep climb to 30,000 feet, where the atmosphere was serene and flying was easy, but at 10,000 feet a pilot could expect to find adverse weather conditions. As was typical for late November, a fierce storm from the Pacific Ocean pummeled western Washington. Low-hanging storm clouds, intermittent precipitation, and constant crosswinds gusting to 45 mph compelled Rataczak to disengage the autopilot and fly the big Boeing jet manually.

Alone in the cabin with Mucklow, Cooper examined the four parachutes. Using a pocketknife he cut the canopy off one of the reserve chutes and stuffed some of the money in the empty parachute bag. For his primary chute, he could have chosen either a superior performing sport chute with steering lines and toggle loops or a simple, non-steerable military backpack version. He opted for the latter after examining a record booklet that was kept inside a pocket. Mucklow was impressed by the deft way he donned the parachute and how quickly he adjusted the chest and leg straps. The remaining chute was a “dummy” unit, sewn shut to render it unusable. It was meant to be used only in classroom demonstrations. Nevertheless, he took it with him for some unknown purpose.

Cooper knew that jumping from a commercial jetliner was feasible only from a Boeing 727. Unlike other jetliners, the 727 had a rear stair ramp. Hanging vertically from the plane in flight, it was a safe place to make a jump, away from the flaps and engines. He instructed Mucklow to deploy the ramp, but she refused, fearing she would be sucked out of the plane. Cooper then said that he would do it himself. His final instructions to the stewardess were to close the curtain partition separating the coach and first class sections, go back into the cockpit, and not return. As he stood in the aisle tying the money bag around his waist, they both exchanged a friendly wave. Then she closed the curtain. 

Soon after Mucklow seated herself in the cockpit, at approximately 8:00 p.m., a cockpit warning light flashed, indicating the aft door and ventral stairway were unlatched. The pilot used the intercom to ask the hijacker if he needed help with the ramp.  He said, “No.” While inside the back compartment, Cooper closed the door behind him and locked it – just in case anyone ventured into the cabin to see what became of him. According to The Oakland Tribune, “After take-off, the hijacker locked himself in the rear compartment where the stairwell is located and did not communicate any further with the crew.”

Interior cabin towards the rear of the Boeing 727 hijacked by D. B. Cooper. His seat is visible in the last row, second to the left from aisle.

At 8:13 p.m., as the plane was passing over the northern suburbs of Portland, the aircraft’s tail section suddenly pitched upward, forcing Rataczak to trim and return the aircraft to level flight. It is possible that the sudden upward motion of the tail might have been due to the rear staircase causing a drag in the wind. 

Although the F-106s caught up with the slow-moving airliner, they lacked visibility to discern a parachutist. When they reached the vicinity of Portland Airport, they were recalled back to base.

At 11:02 p.m., with the aft staircase still deployed, Flight 305 landed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police established a perimeter around the aircraft. Below is an excerpt from a November 24, 2014 article in the Reno Gazette Journal, “A tale of the ’70s: When D.B. Cooper’s plane landed in Reno” by Guy Clifton and Emerson Marcus.

At the Reno airport, a cadre of local, state and federal law enforcement officers was waiting. A reporter from the Nevada State Journal, taking advantage of a short-wave radio operator’s capture of the conversation between the pilot and the Reno tower, monitored the conversation with the pilot.

“We will be landing with the airstairs down,” the pilot told the Reno tower. “We have not communicated with our passenger.” The pilot then said he would be landing the plane at 11 p.m. “straight up.”

“At this point, no one knew whether he was still on the plane,” said Joe Martin, a retired Washoe County Sheriff’s deputy. “We all took up positions. I was at the north end of the runway. The plane went right over us and landed. That’s when we found out he was gone.”

After landing, the pilot again radioed tower that the hijacker “took leave of us somewhere between Reno and Seattle.”

Law enforcement using police dogs searched the airport grounds. A search was also launched in a nearby Reno neighborhood.

A search inside the plane yielded the hijacker’s clip-on tie, a tie clip, and two of the four parachutes. Capt. Scott told investigators that he believed the hijacker “took leave of us” over Woodland, Washington, about 25 miles north of Portland. This would have been around 8:00 pm when he asked Cooper if he needed help with the aft staircase, and he said “No.” The next morning helicopters and airplanes crisscrossed over the brushy and timbered foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Officials told reporters that they concentrated their search around Woodland because that was the last place of contact between the crew in the cockpit and the hijacker in the cabin.

The meticulous attention to detail evident in the hijacking of the plane stands in stark contrast to the foolishness of the jump. FBI agent Larry Carr said, “No experienced parachutist would jump in the pitch-black night, in the rain, with a 200-mile an hour wind in his face, wearing loafers and a trench coat.” Additionally, cloud cover down to 5000 feet gave him no visibility of the ground. The assumed area where he jumped was a tightly packed forest of Douglas fir and other conifers commonly growing up to 250 feet. The enormous risk he took of getting stuck in a tree, entangled in dense brush, or submerged in the Columbia River is hard to believe.

A theory more grounded in reality is that Cooper never did parachute out of the plane, as commonly believed, but rather he created the illusion that he did. When the plane landed at Reno, he simply hopped off the ramp as it dragged on the runway. According to a UPI article, Lt. Charles Williams said that Reno police had received a report that the hijacker was observed “sitting on the back steps” as the plane rolled along the runway. According to an Oregonian article entitled, “Bomber hijacks Portland jet flight: Man flees when plane reaches Reno”:

The trijet landed in a shower of sparks at Reno when the hijacker insisted that the pilot leave the rear door open as an escape route. . . . As the plane was taxiing toward the terminal, it stopped long enough for the man to escape safely through an emergency exit, the FAA said.

Boeing 727 with aft ramp down

Contradicting these reports was special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI office in Reno, Harold E. Campbell, who said “There’s no way he could have gotten off in Reno. We had the airport covered. We knew he didn’t get off that plane.” Notwithstanding, law enforcement authorities took reports of him getting off in Reno seriously enough to send sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents with dogs to search for him among the houses surrounding the airport as well as the sage brush wilderness. He of course eluded them and disappeared. He might have headed for a nearby safehouse or entered a getaway car driven by an accomplice.

A month after the hijacking, the FBI distributed lists of the serial numbers on the ransom bills to law enforcement agencies around the world and to financial institutions, casinos, racetracks, and other businesses that routinely conducted large cash transactions. None ever turned up.

Shortly after the spring thaw in early 1972, another extensive ground search near Woodland failed to find any trace of him.  In 1975, Northwest Orient’s insurer, Global Indemnity Co., complied with an order from the Minnesota Supreme Court and paid the airline’s $180,000 claim on the ransom money. In 1980 a boy camping with his family along the Columbia River near Vancouver, Washington (about 18 miles from Cooper’s reported jump location) found on a sandy bank three bundles of deteriorated twenty-dollar bills totaling $5800. FBI lab technicians confirmed that the money was a small portion of the ransom taken by Cooper. This finding seemed to suggest that the bulk of the money was lost and that the skyjacker did not survive.

A suggestion that the money was planted by Cooper or his accomplices after the event to confuse official investigators and amateur sleuths is given confirmation in an August 2020 scientific report by Thomas G. Kaye and Mark Meltzer in Nature entitled “Diatoms constrain forensic burial timelines: case study with DB Cooper money.”

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-70015-z

A study of diatoms, or photosynthetic eukaryotic algae, penetrating one of the bills, shows that the money was buried along the bank of the Columbia River sometime during the period of May or June. According to the authors: “A summer time immersion and subsequent burial moves the money find completely away from the hijacking event in November.”

In 2016 the FBI began releasing its records dealing with the D. B. Cooper case. Among them are three letters written by someone living in Woodland Hills. Although redacted by the FBI, the name undoubtedly was Marie Vigil:

1. A single instance of the pronoun “she” on page 23149 shows that the letter-writer was a woman. 

2. The writer had personal contact with members of the Linkletter family.

3. Marie Vigil sent two typewritten letters to Thomas Reddin, Chief of the LAPD, in June 1968. An examination of the style, shape, and spacing of the characters indicates a font identical to the one seen in the D. B. Cooper letters.

4. The 1968 letters have the lowercase  “i” going below the baseline five times, “o” once, and “e” once. A similar displacement occurs in the D. B. Cooper letters. The letter “i” goes below the baseline three times and “a” once.

Lowercase letters descending below the baseline is a consequence of someone working the shift key too quickly. Normally when pressing the shift key, the carriage rises to the upper position where the uppercase letter would be made. Upon releasing the shift key, the carriage returns to the lowercase position. If a typist types the next letter before the carriage had lowered completely down, then that letter will appear below the baseline. Vigil was prone to making this kind of error with often used words like “Hills” or “Linkletter.” See the samples below for comparison:

The opposite sequence occurred when she typed the word “Hijacker.” She tapped the “h” key as the carriage was still rising to the upper position and thus made a lowercase “h” below the baseline.  When she saw her mistake, she pushed the carriage back one space, and made the uppercase letter, thus creating a partial overlap of “h” and “H.”

On December 4, 1971, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to an FBI agent in Portland about the hijacking of Flight 305 by D. B. Cooper. What she had to say in that letter is unknown. Thanks to the skills of FBI document handlers, the text is so faded and blurred that it is virtually unreadable.

On the same day, she wrote a letter to the FAA:

Woodland Hills, Dec. 4, 1971

The F.A.A.

Seattle, Wash.

Attention Officer who spoke to the skyjacker.

There is something the brown makeup does not hide. It is the warts or moles on your skyjacker’s face, two more in the laughing lines near the mouth, also one or two others in the side of his face. You must have noticed those. You can find the same moles or warts in Jack Linkletter’s face, a master criminal who must have been in Newport Beach where he lives within the next four to five days. They do not have to run anywhere, just put on a tuxedo and have a dinner with some leaders of this nation.

[signature redacted]

Enclosed with the letter was a newspaper clipping of a composite sketch of D. B. Cooper over which were the typewritten words “Pilot, parachutist.” Below the sketch was the name “Jack Linkletter.”

The above letters are dated two weeks after Vigil’s attempts to intervene on behalf of James Frazier, who was on trial in Redwood City for murdering five people at Dr. Victor Ohta’s house in Santa Cruz. The actual perpetrators in that case were two men and a woman, among whom was Jack’s brother, Robert Linkletter. In a letter to the judge, Vigil said that Robert had gone to Redwood City on November 18 and could be seen in the back of the courtroom snickering over how his murders were being covered up. The final arguments of the prosecution and defense began on November 23 and continued through to Thanksgiving Day, November 25. That same day, seven hundred miles to the north, a massive search was underway for D. B. Cooper among the forests of southern Washington. The jury in Redwood City began deliberations on November 26 and came back with a verdict of guilty on November 29. 

Seven months later, Marie Vigil wrote a letter to American Airlines regarding the skyjacking of an airliner on June 23.

Woodland Hills, June 28, 1972

American Airlines,

St. Louis, Missouri

Attention FBI

Re: Hijacker

Here is a pretty picture of two smart birds plus a few other interesting people I could identify.

Robert Linkletter has had complexion problems that comes and goes, then return. Is about 6 feet tall, 180 to 200 lbs. Is a master of disguises, changes his appearance constantly.

Enclosed with the letter was a photograph with the following information typewritten on it:

This picture was taken May 15 1972 in Wheaton. Does include Jack and Robert Linkletter who have gone into the skyjacking business to finance gunmen, bombings, etc. They use a small jet as backpack for a soft and controlled landing. Are both bold.

Most of the details in the photo have been obscured by the photocopier. Nevertheless, an individual identified in the photo as “D. B. Cooper” might be Jack Linkletter. The redacted caption identifying a second individual is probably Robert Linkletter, the skyjacker of American Airlines Flight 119. It was the tenth skyjacking demanding a ransom since the disappearance of D. B. Cooper, and it was the sixth one involving a parachute to bail out of the plane.

Robert Linkletter in 1966

On Friday, June 23, 1972 (four days after the Watergate break-in), Linkletter went to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in St. Louis, Missouri and boarded American Airlines Flight 119, a Boeing 727 jetliner. On a previous day he used cash to purchase a half-fare round-trip ticket to Tulsa, Oklahoma using a fictitious military identification card bearing the name of “Robert Wilson.”

According to police and FBI descriptions of him, he was between 25 and 30 years old, 5 feet 11, 160 to 180 pounds, swarthy complexion, short dark black hair, covered by a dark brown, bushy wig. His face was noticeably marked with pimples, and around a large round nose were open sores. His upper lip had a shape typical of trumpet players. His bottom front teeth were crooked, one of them possibly chipped. He wore a brown suit, green pants, and purple-tinted dark glasses, the kind a jazz musician would wear. He carried a black trombone case, as he took a seat in the forward part of the coach section. A passenger named Jerry Stewart moved into the seat next to him and engaged him briefly in some small talk. The musician asked where the men’s room was, and Stewart indicated the back of the plane. As he watched the musician get out of his seat to go to the restroom, he thought it was odd that he took his case with him. The musician got a seat in the back row, where he was seen slouching into it.

FBI sketch of skyjacker of American Airlines Flight 119

At 2:40 pm the pilot taxied toward the runway with ninety-four passengers, two other crew members, and four stewardesses. He accelerated the plane down the runway, climbed into the skies, and headed for Tulsa. Five to ten minutes before reaching their destination, at 3:15, the jazz musician beckoned to stewardess Janet Furlong, saying, “Step back here, miss.” When she obeyed, he opened the trombone case and showed her a 45-calibre submachine gun, otherwise known as a “grease gun,” because of its resemblance to a tool used by mechanics. He was also armed with a hand grenade, a pistol at least 15 inches long, and a small bag of dynamite. He handed her two folded notes and asked her to deliver one to the captain and to bring back the copy.

“Tell the captain,” he said, “I want to go to St. Louis.” 

The stewardess walked down the aisle to the cockpit, opened the doors, and said to the flight crew inside, “You’re not gonna believe this, but we’re being hijacked.” 

Captain Ted Kovalenko unfolded the two notes. Both were typewritten in red ink, and both had identical messages: “Do not panic. This is a ransom hijacking. If the following demands are met, no one will get hurt.” The hijacker wanted $502,500 in cash, five parachutes, three parachute harnesses, an army-type collapsible shovel, goggles, and a radar scanning device. The money was to be divided into two parts: $500,000 in one bag and $2500 in the other. (FBI agents speculated that he was going to use the shovel to bury the larger portion of the money and use the $2500 to finance his escape.) 

The pilot gave back one of the notes to Furlong. When she returned with the requested copy, she saw that the hijacker was out of his seat and was standing at the rear of the cabin. He was wearing rubber surgical gloves, and he was holding his machinegun against his chest. The stewardess became the liaison between the hijacker and the crew in the cockpit. 

The pilot radioed the skyjacker’s demands to Lambert’s air control tower and turned the plane around to fly in the opposite direction. Speaking on the intercom to those in the cabin, he said: “There’s a guest on board who asks us to return to St. Louis.” When a passenger, F. B. Boyle, asked what was going on, the stewardess said there was a man in the back with a gun.

After landing in St. Louis at 4:25, the skyjacker released eighty-one passengers, including all women and children. He then ordered the pilot to refuel the plane and take off for Fort Worth, Texas. They were back in the air at 5:25 with thirteen passengers, the flight crew, and four stewardesses. The plane almost reached Fort Worth, when at 8:00 the hijacker directed the pilot to turn around and go back to St. Louis. The pilot obeyed. At 9:28, the plane was back at Lambert Field.

The next three hours were tense as the plane was prepared for the hijacker’s escape. During the refueling, Kovalenko radioed the tower that the skyjacker wanted to fly to Toronto, make a low pass to make sure it was Toronto, then continue on to New York City. 

Refueling hijacked jetliner after it returned from Fort Worth. A fuel truck moves into position (left).

At 10:45 the ransom and the parachutes were brought into the plane by Aubrey Mallory, age 47, a passenger randomly selected by the hijacker for the task. Mallory made four trips in and out of the plane, carrying the stuff down the aisle, and depositing them at the service alcove in the back. Most of the money was in a 45-pound canvas bag. In a zippered case with a leather top was the $2500. Mallory also brought in five back-pack type parachutes that came from Scott Field. The hijacker rejected three of them, so the Air National Guard at Lambert Field had to send two more.

The hijacker next ordered the control tower to send someone who could teach him how to operate a parachute. An American Airlines parachute expert (actually FBI agent Robert H. Meredith wearing the grey suit of an American Airlines ramp attendant) came on board to show him what he needed to do. The hijacker made him pop two of the chutes open to see if they were okay, which left him two to choose from. He then had the expert show him how to get into the harness. Apparently, he was a slow learner. Mallory was amazed by how long it took him to grasp basic concepts of opening a chute. Twenty minutes passed before the expert was satisfied that he had everything right. At 11:55, the gunman dismissed the expert and released all the  remaining passengers except for one whom he wanted to keep as a hostage.

The skyjacker had more demands. He wanted a right-handed glove (believed by some to protect his hand holding the ransom during the jump). An airline official had to bring him an altimeter so that he could measure the height of the plane above the ground. Altitude must be no more than 10,000 feet, and the plane depressurized. All interior and exterior lights must be turned off, and the radar in the cockpit disconnected, so that it could not be detected in flight. He also wanted a fresh crew to fly the plane. 

When the second crew boarded the plane at 12:20 am, led by Captain L. F. Berkebile, the hijacker released the original crew and two stewardesses. Everything was ready for departure, and hundreds of spectators were watching the proceedings. Ten minutes later, the plane was ready for take-off at the eastern end of the runway, its three engines screaming at full power. At that moment, the control tower heard the voice of the pilot on the radio.

“My God, there’s a car on the runway!”

A car painted black crashed through a heavy chain-link fence on the southeast end of the field, headed toward the hijacked plane, veered toward the left, drove to the western end of the field, and moved into position facing the plane. It looked like a showdown in a Western movie, according to one journalist. Racing toward the black car in hot pursuit were four airport security vehicles and several fire engines. Suddenly the black car accelerated, drove the length of the main runway, heading straight for the plane. 

“We tried to intercept him,” said William Wells, an airport policeman, “but he was really moving. We were doing 80 and falling behind.”

The car slammed into the nose landing gear and spun around into the left landing gear. Those inside the plane felt the impact as “a big jolt.” Subsequent examination of the damaged landing gear showed that the plane was not going anywhere. 

First on the scene was Officer Wells, who said, “He [the driver] creamed into that plane something awful. There was blood all over the place.”

A view of Hanley’s car beneath the left wing. Firefighters had covered the car in foam.

The driver was in serious condition with multiple face and head lacerations. Police identified him as David J. Hanley, 30 years old, and the father of two young girls. A former insurance salesman, Hanley lived in Florrisant, a northern St. Louis suburb. He ran a small firm which specialized in marketing new inventions. For a long time, at least a month, he laid unconscious. When he opened his eyes and could speak, he said he had no memory of what happened. The car was a 1972 Cadillac convertible that he bought for his wife on Mother’s Day. (Four years later, he entered the presidential race, campaigning as a Democratic candidate.)

Police and emergency vehicles converged on the scene, their headlights and spotlights illuminating the darkened plane. Hanley was hustled into an ambulance while firemen sprayed the wrecked car and plane with fire-extinguishing foam. 

Berkebile called on the radio: “Don’t open any doors. Don’t attempt to board the plane. He thinks we’re trying to pull some shenanigans.” Moments later, he said, “He wants another 727. He says if the transfer to the new plane is not on the up and up something bad is going to happen. He wants that plane.” As the backup plane was being fueled, three FBI agents armed with rifles crept slowly toward the jetliner under the direction of SAC William A. Sullivan of the St. Louis office (not William C. Sullivan, former head of the FBI’s domestic intelligence operations, who in June 1972 became the head of the Office of Narcotics Intelligence). The riflemen stationed themselves on the south side of the plane. 

The hijacker instructed the pilot to inform the tower to have the backup plane move in front of the crippled plane and open the rear ramp. The single crew member moving the plane was instructed to leave it. 

The ransom, parachutes, and other paraphernalia were hoisted aboard the second plane. At 1:35 three white-shirted crewmen led a procession from the first plane to board the second plane. Next in line was a stewardess walking in front of the hijacker, who crouched low behind her. The hostage passenger shielded his side, while a stewardess walked closely behind. The FBI riflemen watched helplessly as the hijacker made his way safely to the second plane. Thirteen minutes later, at 1:48, the plane departed, bound for Toronto.

The hijacker took $1500 from the $2500 purse and divided it between stewardesses Jennifer Dumois and Diana Rash as a parting tip. Then he herded them and the unidentified male hostage into the cockpit and told them to stay in there. Co-pilot Art Koester was the last one to see him as he closed the curtain separating the coach and the first class sections.

One hour after take-off, at 2:53 am, those in the cockpit sensed the opening of the rear door. According to co-pilot Art Koester, “When the skyjacker went through the door it was like popping a cork from a bottle, and the cabin pressure gauges immediately showed the change in pressure.” At that point in time, they were flying over the neighborhood of Peru, Indiana. Since the skyjacker was alone in the cabin, those in the cockpit were unable to determine at what point in time he made his jump. They continued to follow their flight plan to Canada, circled back, and landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago at 4:02 am. Dragging on the runway was the rear stair ramp. An American Airlines official announced that the six persons who had been held hostage – three crew members, two stewardesses, and one passenger – were all safe.

Believing that the skyjacker made his jump as soon as the rear door was open at 2:53, an air-land search was mounted in the area of Peru, which consisted of dense foliage and rolling terrain. More than 200 lawmen and two helicopters participated in the search but could find no trace of him.

Considering the huge risk of jumping from a jetliner in the dark over potentially hazardous terrain, it is quite probable that the hijacker followed the easier method of an earlier hijacker and merely hopped off the ramp as the plane taxied around the field at O’Hare Airport.

Over the next few days, farmers near Peru, Indiana were finding things thrown out of the plane by the hijacker. (1) greenish gold trousers, size 33 or 34, found in a pumpkin patch on the southeast edge of Grissom Air Force Base; (2) brownish gold two-button sport jacket found in a corn field; (3) ransom money bag, still containing $500,000, found in a soybean field; (4) submachine gun found in a corn field. No trace of a parachute was found.

FBI agent James Martin holding m0ney bag found in a soybean field

Trousers, jacket, money, and gun, cast out in that order, were all located on roughly a straight line following a southwest to northeast direction which coincided with the path of the plane going from St. Louis to Toronto. Each item was separate from the next by a distance of approximately five miles. The total distance from trousers to gun was sixteen miles. 

FBI agent examines hijacker’s submachine gun. Clip was removed from gun by hijacker and was found elsewhere.

In spite of assertions by the pilot and co-pilot who said that no one, no matter how experienced, could survive a jump from a jetliner going 350 miles per hour, the possibility existed nonetheless that he succeeded. The FBI therefore expanded their search north to South Bend, Indiana and northeast to Detroit. Eventually they found – not the culprit – but a hapless patsy.

Below is an excerpt from Andrew Tully’s book Inside the FBI:

It was in Detroit that the FBI hit paydirt. By sleuthing methods never made public, but probably through the use of an undercover agent or informant, its investigators were put in touch with an individual who was rumored to be a friend of the skyjacker’s. The man talked freely. He identified the fugitive as Martin J. McNally, who lived in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, Michigan. He said he had been with McNally prior to the skyjacking and that McNally had talked of commandeering a jetliner – preferably a 727 because it had a rear door from which to parachute.

The informant also claimed that he met McNally after the skyjacking and that McNally had said he was “sorry” that he lost the $500,000 ransom money. FBI Agent Lawrence Bonney asked if McNally had told him any details of the skyjacking. He “sure did”, the informant replied. He went on to say McNally had told him that the bag containing the money had been strapped to the skyjacker’s body and that McNally had worn two sets of clothing and had discarded a jacket and a pair of slacks during the jump.

FBI photo of Martin J. McNally in 1972

McNally was an unemployed service station attendant in Detroit who happened to be in the area of Peru on the night in question. FBI agents arrested him on a street corner in Wyandotte late Wednesday night on June 28. He was a slender man with a longish face marred by a fresh bruise on one cheek. Evidently, his face had no pimples or open sores. The FBI also arrested Walter J, Petlikowski, age 31, who walked into a police station in River Rouge, Michigan and confessed that he drove McNally to St. Louis before the skyjacking and that he picked him up in Peru.

When McNally was on trial, Aubrey Mallory and another passenger David Spellman, testifying for the defense, said they could not positively identify McNally as the man who hijacked the plane. Nevertheless, the prosecution had a trump card: a single fingerprint on one of the torn up pieces of the typewritten note passed to the pilot at the onset of the hijacking. McNally was convicted and sent to prison.

SAC William A. Sullivan declined to check into the lead proffered by Marie Vigil and instead forwarded her correspondence and other documents to the SAC in Los Angeles to see if she were a “chronic letter writer.” An interview might have occurred to see if she had additional information, but no record of the interview seems to have surfaced.

What the motivations were that prompted the bizarre chain of events that occurred during the seizure of Flight 119 belong to the realm of speculation. However, the fact remains that Marie Vigil identified Robert Linkletter as the one who committed the skyjacking. Like his brother Jack he was too wealthy and too well-connected to be troubled by the law.

They do not have to run anywhere, just put on a tuxedo and have a dinner with some leaders of this nation.

William Weston has been researching and writing articles on conspiracies and assassinations for various periodicals and websites for the past thirty years. He has been a featured guest on Jim Fetzer’s The Real Deal and on Len Osanic’s Black Op Radio.

Peter Heitmann is an analyst and writer researching the national security state and its partnership with academia, military, and intelligence communities in pioneering breakthroughs for physical, psychological, and atmospheric sciences. His research shows that important and highly advanced scientific discoveries and resulting data are controlled by a small group of individuals and hidden sponsors. Instead of sharing these discoveries with the general public, they prefer to hide them behind official narratives that induce fear and even work against the public’s own best interests.