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. 
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 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.
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, and many coughed from lack of fresh air.
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 maintenance man, 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.
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 green van, 414. This corresponded with the number 1C91414, obtained from a Chowchilla woman who jotted it down when she became suspicious of strangers loitering in the area a day or two before the kidnapping. Investigators traced 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.
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 . 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.
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.”
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.” 
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. Repeat broadcasts of this announcement 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. 
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.
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.  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 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.  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,  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.
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. 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.
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.
Mae Brussell David Toschi
“We had that name five years ago” .
“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.  (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.  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.
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.
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.
Below is the complete article:
Letter-Writer Links Frazier and ‘Zodiac’
By Duane Sandul, Tribune Staff Writer 
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 …. 
“… 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
Mrs. Marie P. Vigil” 
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.  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.
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.”
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.  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.
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.  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.”
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. 
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.
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.
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.
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  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.” 
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.
- 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.
- Dialogue: Conspiracy, July 26, 1976 at 16:20. This and other programs are accessible at the Worldwatchers Archive website.
- Dialogue: Conspiracy, August 2, 1976 at 34:30.
- 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.
- Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 17-19.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 197.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Graysmith, Robert, The Zodiac, Berkley Books, 1987, pp. 170-173.
- Dialogue: Conspiracy, July 14, 1978 on side one at 12:03 and September 28, 1980 on side two at 03:18.
- “Second Homicide Investigation Progress Report” on the website vdocuments.net.
- 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.
- 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.
- Los Angeles Times, supplement section, October 19, 1980.
Author: William Weston, researcher of conspiracies for over twenty-five years