Much ado has been made about the
supposed dissimilarities in style and modus operandi between Zodiac and Theodore
Kaczynski. This concern has less to do with our understanding of Kaczynski's nature than
with the general inability of the police and public to perceive the Zodiac murders as
unique manifestations of a particular type of murderer, and their steadfast insistence
upon typecasting Zodiac as a typical serial killer of the sexual-sadistic variety.
This is unfortunate, because over the years such miscalculation
has placed a stumblingblock in the path of any person who has devoted his time to solving
the crimes and bringing the identity of the killer to light.
Contemporary thought divides multiple killers into two broad
categories: mass murderers and serial killers. On the subject of mass murder, the National Center for the Victims of Crime opines, "[m]ass murderers differ from serial murderers in that
the former appear to suddenly act out and indiscriminately kill numerous people in a
specific time period." In brief, mass murderers act in a single, violent paroxysm of
inexplicable rage, exposing themselves to identification, capture, and often death at the
hands of the police. The murders are acts of desperation, serving as vehicles for bringing
the perpetrator into the public eye and drawing attention to his sense of impotence, his
frustration, his anger and hostility.
This definition is contrasted with that given for serial murder,
in which the same source states,
Serial murder is the supreme manifestation of violent
criminality as evidenced by the horrifying acts perpetrated against innocent victims. The
crime is often an interrelation and culmination of extreme sexual perversity and brutal
homicide which generally leaves the victim in a condition far worse tha[n] simply the
infliction of death. Many victims of serial killers endure prolonged periods of suffering
until the lethal assault saves them from further torment...Although serial murder is
relatively rare in comparison to homicide or violent crime in general, the serial killer
receives much more disdain from society because of the agony he inflicts upon the victim
in what the public considers a senseless occurrence. [Quoting Waters, Kevin.
"Understanding Society's Most Dangerous Offender: A Typology and Corresponding
Dynamic Analysis for the Substantive Theory Formulation of Serial Murder," (Masters
Thesis). Florida State University, School of Criminology, 1987.]
Much evidence exists to suggest that the classical serial killer
suffers from the same sense of frustrated rage, inadequacy and loss of control as the mass
murderer described above. Be that as it may, a pair of distinctive differences separate
First, the serial killer seeks to compensate for his sense of
powerlessness through the direct manipulation and control of a specific victim. He effects
that control through the direct application of torture, brutality, sexual outrage, and
Second, unlike the mass murderer, the serial killer comes to
enjoy the continuing sense of power that his crimes afford him, and he seeks to conceal
the evidence of his crimes in order to continue in their enjoyment for the longest
possible period of time. He does not desire to draw attention to himself by "going
out" in a blaze of glory. First and foremost his desire is to kill, and to continue
in the enjoyment of killing for as long as it is humanly possible.
Now, although it may be tempting to lump killers into one of
these two categories (i.e., mass murderer/serial killer) it seems obvious, based on actual
studies, that in a certain number of cases the paradigms do not hold true.
Serial bombers, whose victimology often follows the pattern of
taking individual victims, yet whose psychology favors that of the mass murderer, engage
in no physical contact with their victims that might allow them to meet the definitions of
brutality and sexual perversion that are the hallmarks of the serial killer. The mad
bomber kills, not for any sense of immediate sensual gratification, nor to exercise
control over any specific individual, but to manipulate and control society at large
through the use of terror. In that sense his psychology is closer to that of the mass
murderer than it is to the classical serial killer. The key difference between the mass
murderer and the mad bomber seems to repose in the willingness of the former to commit
suicide, and in the unwillingness of the latter to expose himself to risk.
Similarly, unique cases such as that of David Berkowitz (the
"Son of Sam") present a clear picture of a "serial" killer whose
psychology resembles that of the mass murderer, in that his crimes were apparently without
motivation, were perpetrated quickly at arm's length, and failed to manifest the physical
brutality, torture, or sexual perversion that define the "serial killer"
With this in mind, it is difficult to perceive the rationale by
which Zodiac became known as a classical serial killer of the sexual-sadistic type. Like
the murders of Berkowitz, Zodiac's killings manifested none of the true
"hands-on" elements customarily ascribed to the classical serial killer. The
four known Zodiac events can be summarized as follows:
Lake Herman Road. More than two years passed
between the time of the Bates slaying and the next authenticated Zodiac murder at Lake
Herman Road, just outside the city limits of Vallejo, California. Staking out a lonely
lovers' lane, Zodiac gunned down David Faraday and his date, Betty Lou Jensen, in an
incident lasting no more (and perhaps less) than 90 seconds. There were no living
witnesses to the crime. Forensic examination of the victims and the crime scene revealed
no evidence of physical brutality, sexual assault or any activity on the part of the
killer other than the act of shooting at the victims and their car.
Blue Rock Springs. In a near carbon-copy of the
Lake Herman Road assault, Zodiac gunned down Darlene Ferrin and seriously wounded
surviving victim Mike Mageau as the couple sat in a parked car at midnight in a lonely
golf course parking lot. As in the previous attack, the killer exited his vehicle, fired a
fusillade of shots into the victims' car, then immediately left the scene. No more than 90
seconds elapsed between the beginning of the incident and its end. No word was spoken by
the killer, and neither of the victims was touched.
Lake Berryessa. The most complex of the Zodiac
killings, and perhaps inspired by the Manson murders of one month earlier, Zodiac stabbed
Bryan Hartnell and Cecilia Shepard at a lonely site off Lake Berryessa in Napa County,
California. Wearing a garish costume and brandishing a gun, Zodiac cajoled the couple into
tying one another with lengths of clothesline, then inflicted multiple stab wounds on both
victims as they lay helpless upon the ground. Based upon the account given by surviving
victim Hartnell, the duration of the actual assault could not have been longer than one or
two minutes, while the time preceding the attack was occupied by the killer persuading the
couple that they would not be harmed provided they offered no resistance. Following the
assault the killer immediately left the scene. Other than the actual knifing, no touching
of the victims occurred, nor did the killer effect any physical brutality, torture or
San Francisco. In his final authenticated murder,
Zodiac shot cab driver Paul Stine while seated behind Stine in the back seat of his cab.
Immediately following the murder, Zodiac tore off a piece of Stine's shirt for the purpose
of identifying himself as the perpetrator of the crime. Having done so, and having wiped
down the interior of the cab, Zodiac immediately left the scene.
It is interesting to contrast these methods with those of
several other well-known serial murderers. Ted Bundy gained control of his victims by
bludgeoning them into a state of insensibility, following the initial assault with acts of
rape, torture, mutilation and death by strangulation. Following their deaths he indulged
in various acts of necrophilia and post-mortem mutilation. Ed Kemper committed rape,
stabbing, and manual strangulation upon his living victims; decapitation and necrophilia
upon the dead. John Wayne Gacy, a prolific murderer of young males, secured control of his
victims' persons through elaborate ruses, before committing various acts of torture
involving sodomy and other acts of physical brutality.
In each of these instances, and in countless others like them,
the primary signature of the perpetrators can be stated as comprising a compulsive desire,
or need, to physically overpower, dominate and control the victim. In many such cases the
actual murder can be perceived as of lesser importance to the psychological needs of the
killer than the acts preceding or following the murder.
It is easy to perceive that the crimes of Zodiac fell far short
of displaying the classical signature of the sexual-sadistic serial murderer. Zodiac
neither raped, tortured, brutalized nor attempted to possess his victims after death.
Indeed, the only unifying element in the entire gamut of the Zodiac events was the
killer's use of murder to capture and control the public at large through the widespread
terror wrought by his killings. In that regard, the murders did not serve as ends in
themselves, but rather, as means toward a greater goal.
This was plainly manifested in Zodiac's numerous
correspondences, each of which was calculated to hold the public in the grip of
uncertainty and fear. By this we can see that through his murders, Zodiac won the
credibility necessary to sustain the general public interest and fear. In short, he was
able to exercise the classical element of control, which, however, appeared
not as control over a single individual, but, like the mass murderer, control over society
Zodiac's killings paled in significance when compared to the
effects produced by his numerous, almost ubiquitous, threats to commit mass murder:
If you do not print this cipher by the afternoon of Fry. 1st of
Aug 69, I will go on a kill rampage Fry. Night. I will cruse around all weekend killing
lone people in the night then move on to kill again, untill I end up with a dozen people
over the weekend. [Three-part Cipher]
School children make nice targets, I think I shall wipe out a
school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tire & then pick off the kiddies as
they come bouncing out. [Stine Letter]
Take one bag of ammonium nitrate fertlizer & 1 gal of stove
oil & dump a few bags of gravel on top & then set the shit off & will
positivily ventalate any thing that should be in the way of the Blast. [Seven-Page Letter]
But if I hold back too long from no nine I will loose  all
controol of my self & set the bomb up. [Belli Letter]
I hope you enjoy your selves when I have my Blast. [Jolly Roger
I promised to punish them if they did not comply, by anilating a
full School Buss. [Mt. Diablo Letter]
On the basis of the foregoing facts it can reasonably be
concluded that, although he has been classified as a serial killer, Zodiac's psychological
profile stands closer to that of the mass murderer and his near-cousin the mad bomber.
Indeed, the only real distinction between the former and the latter, other than the
willingness of the mass murderer to sacrifice his life, is that the mad bomber possesses
the requisite skills to make and deploy lethal devices that will explode at a particular
time and place.
It stands to reason that a mad bomber personality that (1) is
not willing to sacrifice his life and (2) has neither bombs nor trigger mechanisms with
which to work, may find alternative means of exercising his will against society. Because
he takes his victims one by one, such a killer becomes misidentified as a serial murderer,
when in effect his psychology is entirely at odds with the label.
Like Zodiac, Theodore Kaczynski appears from his writings to
have entertained a long-running flirtation with the idea of mass murder:
I intend to start killing people .... [i]f I am successful at
this, it is possible that, when I am caught (not alive, I fervently hope!) there will be
some speculation in the news media as to my motives for killing people (as in the case of
Charles Whitman, who killed some 13 people in Texas in the '60s). [Journal entry, date not
My first thought was to kill someone I hated and then kill
myself before the cops could get me. (I've always considered death preferable to long
imprisonment.) . So I thought, "I will kill, but I will make at least some effort to
avoid detection" . Then I thought "Well, as long as I am going to throw
everything up anyway, instead of having to shoot it out with the cops or something ."
[Autobiography, ca. 1979, referencing 1966]
but, again, I'm so terribly tired of struggling.) For these
reasons, I want to get my revenge in one big blast. By accepting death as the price, I
won't have to fret and worry about how to plan things so I won't get caught. Moreover, I
want to release all my hatred and just go out and kill. The truth is, I don't want to die!
[Journal entry, March 6, 1979]
Following that I had a vague intention of taking to the
woods--either in Montana or in some wilder place--and from ambush murdering snowmobilists,
motorcyclists, outboard motor users, or the like; in the end shooting it out with the
authorities and not permitting myself to be taken alive. [Journal entry, 1978]
These quotations show Kaczynski's musings on the subject of mass
murder to have been colored by his desire to continue living, and a general unwillingness
to sacrifice his life to the fulfillment of his desire for recognition and revenge.
The psychological profiles of both Kaczynski and Zodiac merge in
the single common denominator of mass murder and the inability of both killers to carry
out what in Zodiac is an expressed threat and in Kaczynski an unfulfilled desire.
Ultimately, mass murder is the supreme consummation of the
killer's desire to stand up in a public forum and scream forth his frustration and
impotence to an otherwise unhearing world. Absent a willingness to accept death as the
price for attaining such a forum, Zodiac and Kaczynski employed as a surrogate the
sporadic killing, followed by written communications that substituted for the single,
grandiose expression of the mass murderer.
Bearing this in mind, one perceives that Zodiac's use of knives
and guns is less an expression of psychological preference than it is simply a reflection
of the probability (as manifested by his bomb diagrams) that the killer had no other means
by which to work. Though Kaczynski had possessed a knowledge of explosives dating from his
teenage years, his repeated experimentation with timing and triggering devices did not
bear actual fruit until late in 1985. His resolution--based upon years of pent-up
hostility, anger, frustration, impotence and rage--began with the sex-change incident in
1966. One can only wonder how Kaczynski managed to cope with his aggressions for the
ensuing 19 years.
This much, however, seems clear: had Zodiac's psychology truly
been that of the classical serial killer there can be little doubt that the number,
severity and frequency of his crimes would have increased to the point where bungling and
arrogance might well have culminated in his arrest.
Such is the usual pattern of serial murders and their