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Late last year, Fayçal Ziraoui, a French-Moroccan business consultant, was in his home in a Paris suburb looking through satellite images of the Sierra Nevada when he came across an image that surprised him.
It was a collection of stones arranged in a way that resembled the crosshairs of a giant crossbow – a circle with a cross through it – surrounded by a larger circle. It looked to him like the symbol used by the Zodiac killer in his correspondence half a century ago.
One of my colleagues in the Paris bureau of The New York Times, Constant Méheut,wrote about Ziraouitwo years ago and his interest in the Zodiac case, a series of murders that terrorized the Bay Area. In December, Ziraoui searched for satellite images of the Sierra after believing a postcard and code sent by the Zodiac killer pointed to those coordinates.
Ziraoui spent the winter counting down the days until the snow melted, and in mid-May he flew to San Francisco. I traveled with him to a place west of Lake Tahoe. It's a four-hour drive from the Bay Area, the last dozen miles on bumpy dirt roads occasionally blocked by the remains of fallen trees from the 2014 King fire.
We arrived at the site by driving along the cobbled stretch of road you see in four-wheel-drive commercials, up a steep climb to the top of an unnamed small plateau, 6,000 feet above sea level, overlooking Hell's Hole Reservoir. Despite its name, it's an idyllic spot with patches of bright purple and yellow wildflowers and views of the snowy peaks surrounding Tahoe.
The outer circle of the rock is about 25 feet wide, and some of the stones are large enough that it looks like it took several people to move them. In the inner circle were various objects: a small caliber bullet, some broken glasses, three pieces of obsidian, and a poker chip. Outside the circle, a stone track pointed north.
After visiting the site, Ziraoui spent days trying to figure out who could be behind the rock and if it had anything to do with the Zodiac killer. He showed photos of the site to an archaeologist at the local US Forest Service office, who said he had never seen the site and was unaware of anything similar in the area. He researched medicine wheels — round symbols used by many native tribes — and contacted the Auburn United Indian Community, a group of Miwok and Maidu tribes in the area. A spokesman for United Auburn's conservation department said the tribal group did not know about the site and declined to look at photos of it.
Maybe the walkers put the stones together? Or were they lovers? Inside the circle was a smooth stone with a professional-looking engraving: "Cal and Margaret together forever."
The search for the Zodiac Killer has spawned a cottage industry of detectives, each with their own ideas about how to crack the Zodiac codes and their own theories about the killer's identity. With each new "reveal," a strong dose of skepticism seems warranted.
For Ziraoui, research into the Zodiac Killer began as a hobby, he was bored at home during the pandemic. Speaking to The Times two years ago, Ziraoui concluded through an examination of one of the Zodiac's killer codes, known as Z13, that the Zodiac was Lawrence Kaye, a South Lake Tahoe resident who was a suspect in the case. And in an attempt to decipher another one of the codes, known as Z32, Ziraoui came up with the coordinates that led him to the school in South Lake Tahoe.
Last year, however, Ziraoui adjusted his calculations by using a different calculation for magnetic north, and his new coordinates pointed to the Hell Hole reservoir. He got the same general result when he tried to decipher another coded message believed to have been sent by the Zodiac killer on a postcard sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1971.
Some Zodiac detectives linked that postcard to the disappearance of Donna Lass, a nurse who worked at a Lake Tahoe casino. She disappeared in 1970 and may or may not have been a victim of the Zodiac killer. Needless to say, Ziraoui was intrigued to find poker chips in the Hell Hole rock formation, even if they weren't from a particular casino.
Shortly after Ziraoui returned to the Bay Area, he went to the F.B.I. office in San Francisco. He submitted his calculations and the coordinates of the Hellhole location.
Ziraoui says he realizes his decryption attempt is just one of many.
"You always have to keep a cool head with these things," he said. "It is not for me to say that this is the last word."
Thomas Fuller is the San Francisco bureau chief of The New York Times.
If you read one story, let it be this one
During the controversial period of legislation,red states became redder and blue states became bluer.
Insurance:Allstate, the fourth largest provider of property and casualty insurance in California, hasstopped selling new home, apartment or business insurance policiesi staten.
Migrants:California leadersthey say they trust the state of floridais behind the transport of 16 migrants from Texas to a church building in Sacramento.
Vaccine policy:A draft law that would have required school children to be vaccinated against HPV has been watered down due to growing opposition to vaccine requirements,I took Politico.(Video) The Horrifying Terrors Of The Zodiac Killer
Law on helmets:Laws exempting motorcyclists wearing religious or cultural headgearmust wear a helmetwas overturned by the state Senate, The Los Angeles Times reports.
The case against Cosby:Bill Cosby wassued by Victoria Valentino, a former Playboy model who says he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 1969, under a California law that temporarily set the statute of limitations in sexual assault cases.
The board reached an agreement:The Directors Guild of America reached outpreliminary agreementwith the Hollywood studios on a three-year contract.
Protest:Hundreds of game workers at Dodger Stadium could go on strike as early as next month if the Dodgersthey do not meet their contractual requirements, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Removing the statue:Some San Diegans are looking forremoval of the statueby former Mayor and Gov. Pete Wilson, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Budget:Some Fresno City Council members are warning that Mayor Jerry Dyer's budget for the upcoming fiscal year "dead on arrival", the Fresno Bee reports.
Driverless cars:The number of reported traffic accidents with self-driving taxis isincreased this yearin San Francisco, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
"Hmm honey":Roger Craig, who managed the San Francisco Giants for eight seasons and led them to the National League pennant in 1989.died on Sundayat the age of 93.
Where we travel
Today's tip comes from Allie Weill, who lives in Sacramento:
“It has become one of my favorite places to visitLake Natoma25 minutes east of downtown Sacramento. It's not the most scenic or serene lake in California—although it has abundant wildlife and morning mist on the water, pink sunsets, and views of the Sierra from just the right spot—but it might be the best place to see it all. kind of people who enjoy a sunny day in different ways.
Serious kayakers and paddlers pass by in long, elegant boats. The students sunbathe on paddleboards, five or six of them go rafting together. Families who dare to rent plastic kayaks, with a small child between their parents or with a child in kindergarten learning to paddle for the first time. Even adults row for the first time! I once saw a guy taking his pet bird out on his little sailboat like a would-be pirate.
The Sac State Aquatic Center offers rentals and classes, and several state parks surround the lake, making it easier to get out on the water than many other places, and there are no speedboats, making it a great spot for both beginners and experienced paddlers. I love visiting quiet morning paddles in search of herons, golden eagles and the occasional otter, but perhaps I love it even more when paddling amidst the happy din of busy afternoons.”
Tell us about your favorite places in California.Email your suggestions toCAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future newsletters.
What are the best things that have happened to you in 2023 so far? What are your winnings? Or your unexpected joys, big or small?
Let me know at CAToday@nytimes.com. Enter your full name and city where you live.
And before you go, good news
Shaina Shealy and Benjamin Glickstein were connected through the dating app OkCupid in October 2019. She lived in Oakland, he lived in Berkeley.
They started dating, but Shealy also dated two other men - both also named Ben.
Two months later, when Shealy was looking for a last-minute date to a work holiday party, she thought about which Ben would be least offended by an 11 o'clock call and decided on Glickstein. He carried her lipstick and phone all night.
Shealy and Glickstein eventually decided to date exclusively and were married last month.
Read more about their love story in The Times.
Thanks for reading along. We'll be back tomorrow.
p.s. Evotoday's mini crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can get the team atCAtoday@nytimes.com.
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Continue reading the main story
Case Breakers said it found DNA on a hiking mat once owned by Poste and connected it to him after securing DNA from a relative of Poste's. The group wants law enforcement to compare that DNA to hairs found on Cheri Jo Bates, who it believes was a sixth victim of the Zodiac killer in 1966.What was the Zodiac killer's real name? ›
Who was Arthur Leigh Allen? Arthur Leigh Allen, a schoolteacher in Vallejo, California is the only suspect to be publicly named by authorities in the case of the Zodiac killer. Allen was institutionalized for sexually abusing children in 1975. He was never officially identified as the Zodiac killer.Is Gary Francis Poste dead? › Have the zodiac ciphers been solved? ›
“The Zodiac cipher was almost certainly constructed by pencil and paper, but it was complex enough that it survived attacks for 51 years.” While the Zodiac's message has been decrypted, the identity of the killer remains an unsolved mystery.Did the FBI find out who the Zodiac Killer was? ›
The FBI believe that they have finally discovered the identity of the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who was active in the 1960s and murdered five people. Although the killings stopped, the person behind the crimes was never caught.Who is the new Zodiac suspect Gary? ›
Gary Francis Poste, the Air Force veteran-turned-house painter who may or may not have been the notorious Zodiac Killer, has been revealed as the ringleader of a group of men he trained as “killing machines.”How old was Poste when he died? ›
For those who aren't doctors, dysphagia means difficulty swallowing. The certificate, obtained by TMZ, also says Poste suffered from hypertension, osteoporosis, hypothyroidism and atrial fibrillation ... and he died at age 80 on Aug.Do they have DNA from the Zodiac Killer? ›
Today, there's a possibility forensic techniques could yield genetic material from the killer, but in 1969 that technology was decades away. The only possible DNA sample comes from beneath a stamp stuck to one of his infamous letters. The sample, developed in 2002 by San Francisco police, is only a partial profile.Why was the Zodiac Killer never found? ›
There's no clear-cut DNA evidence
Even decades-old evidence can be re-examined with modern technology for blood or semen. But detectives aren't as lucky with Zodiac. Most of his murders involved him shooting the victim and running away.
According to Oranchak, the cipher attributed to the killer says, "I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. ... I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me."
Serial killers with the highest known victim count. The most prolific modern serial killer is arguably doctor Harold Shipman, with 218 probable murders and possibly as many as 250 (see "Medical professionals", below). However, he was actually convicted of a sample of 15 murders.Who was the first letter zodiac killer? ›
On August 7, 1969, The San Francisco Examiner received a letter with the salutation, "Dear Editor This is the Zodiac speaking." This was the first time the killer had used this name for identification.When was the last Zodiac killing? ›
The last known victim, a taxi driver, was shot in October 1969. The murders were the subject of intense investigation and media coverage, particularly because of the killer's taunting letters to newspapers and phone calls to police.Did they find Jack the Ripper? ›
Five of the cases, between August and November 1888, show such marked similarities that they are generally agreed to be the work of a single serial killer, known as "Jack the Ripper". Despite an extensive police investigation, the Ripper was never identified and the crimes remained unsolved.Who was the main investigator of the zodiac killer? ›
David Ramon Toschi (/ˈtɒski/; July 11, 1931 – January 6, 2018) was an American law enforcement officer widely known for his efforts in the San Francisco Police Department as an inspector in the Zodiac Killer case.How is Gary Poste linked to the zodiac killer? ›
Poste apparently shared certain identifying marks with the Zodiac—forehead scars and a shoe size—and one witness that spoke to the team said that he saw Poste burying weapons in the woods.What evidence is there for Gary Poste? ›
Among their evidence is a paint-splattered watch found after one of the murders, a heelprint from some of the crime scenes that apparently matches Mr Poste's shoes, and the fact that facial markings in a police sketch of the killer appear to match scars from a car accident Mr Poste was in.What is the evidence against Poste? ›
Among the evidence: a furrowed brow on the sketch artist's drawing that matches Poste's forehead scarring; an allegation that one of the Zodiac's mysterious ciphers could be unlocked using Poste's full name; and claims that Poste perhaps killed a waitress named Cheri Jo Bates, an assumed-but-not-definite Zodiac victim.How did Zodiac not get caught? ›
However, if DNA were to be found, it would not have been able to be tested as that sort of technology did not exist at the time. Even years later, government forces have not cracked this case because there was simply no DNA evidence. The zodiac killer also sent police a total of four coded messages.