The Ecphorizer

Gareth Penn

Issue #41 (January 1985)

About ten o'clock in the evening on October 11, 1969, Yellow Cab driver Paul Stine picked up a fare in the financial district of San Francisco. His passenger asked to be taken to the corner of Washington and Maple in fashionable Presidio Heights. Stine wrote down the destination in his trip book and also notified his dispatcher, who made a note of it.

[quoteright]Somewhere near the end of the trip, Stine's passenger changed his mind. He asked to be let out at the corner of Cherry Street, a block farther up Washington. Stine pulled over to the curb in front of a fire hydrant at the northwest corner of the intersection and set the handbrake. His passenger was fumbling inside his jacket as if for his wallet.

Two teenagers in the second story of the house across the street heard the shot.

From the window, they could see a man leaning into the cab through the driver's open door. It appeared to them that he was dabbing at something with his hand. They called the police emergency number, and, within seconds, a dispatcher alerted SFPD units in the area to respond, advising them to apprehend a black suspect. The eyewitnesses had not described the man at the cab as black. The police dispatcher used that adjective just from force of habit.

One of the units responding to the alert pulled up alongside a man walking down Washington in the direction away from the scene of the shooting, which was a block away. He was of medium height, white, with close-cropped blond hair, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a blue windbreaker, and gray trousers. They told him to stop, then asked him if he had seen a suspicious-looking black man running past.

The man in the blue windbreaker answered that he had, and he indicated the direction in which he had seen the black man disappear. The SFPD officers left the spot with tires screeching. When they arrived at the scene of the shooting, they found Stine slumped over dead. He had been shot once in the head. There was blood all over the front seat and dashboard. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The police on the scene tried to seal off the area to search it, but they had no success.

In the meantime, the eyewitnesses described to the responding officers the man they had seen at the cab. He was white, of medium height, with close-cropped blond hair, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, a blue windbreaker, and gray trousers. His description tallied exactly with that of the pedestrian the officers had questioned over a block away, who had told them the fiction about the fleeing black suspect. They had had the murderer in hand, but because of a slip of the police dispatcher's tongue, they had let him slip through their clutches. And something curious came to light at the hospital when Stine's corpse was being undressed. Someone had hacked off one of his shirttails with a knife.

On the 15th, the editors of the [San Francisco] Chronicle received a letter from a reader who opened with this pseudonymous salutation: "This is the Zodiac speaking." The author claimed to have murdered a number of people in the North Bay Area, and he identified himself also as the murderer of the cab driver "over by Maple & Washington" three days before. He authenticated his identity with a snippet of fabric that matched that of Stine's shirt. It was stained with human blood--Stine's type. A photograph of the letter was reproduced in the Chronicle but no commentary was offered on the one-block discrepancy between where the murderer said the killing had taken place and where the site actually was. Previous stories on the murder had accurately named the site as the corner of Washington and Cherry, but there had been no mention of the entry in Stine's trip book or the Yellow Cab dispatcher's records.

The murder weapon was identified in all the newspaper stories as a 9mm automatic pistol. The killer calling himself "the Zodiac" had used such a weapon to shoot a couple parked in a lovers' lane near Vallejo the previous July. In December, 1968, he had murdered a teen-age couple near Benicia with a .22-caliber firearm. Two weeks before the Stine murder, he had held another couple at Lake Berryessa at gunpoint while he tied them up, then stabbed them repeatedly with a butcher knife. This was the first time that he had used the same weapon twice. Or so it seemed.

The greater part of the letter postmarked October 14 was devoted to crowing over the author's escape from the police. He was positively exultant about his triumph. He also mused about attacking a bus, a threat that appeared in every subsequent letter through the end of April, 1970. He never carried it out, but he did keep the word "bus" prominent for some six months. In response to this letter, the SFPD held a press conference in which the Zodiac's story about the encounter with the two police officers was stoutly denied. To this day, the SFPD has never admitted that the Zodiac was telling the truth. They were lying.

Late in June, 1970, the Zodiac sent the Chronicle a letter in which, among other things, he claimed to have "shot a man sitting in a parked car with a 38." The police gave out that they had searched the records of every law-enforcement agency west of the Rockies without turning up a shooting victim who fit the description. The Zodiac's claim was dismissed as an idle boast. They were lying again. There was a recent shooting victim who had been shot with a .38 in a parked car, and his car had been parked in San Francisco at the time: Paul Stine. SFPD ballistics experts had typed the murder weapon as a .38-caliber revolver, but it was identified for public consumption as a 9mm automatic in order to fabricate one of those shared secrets that the police reason will enable them to separate the real criminal from compulsive confessors.

For similar reasons, the authorities hushed up the facts about the trip book even though the Zodiac's version, Maple and Washington, had been published in the Chronicle for all to see. Why had he claimed to have murdered Stine at the Maple intersection? Even if he had not been aware of the street names at the time of the shooting, he had had ample opportunity during the next three days to inform himself of the facts from the newspaper accounts. Had he just dithered around for three days with a hot letter in his pocket, like some homicidal Dagwood Bumstead? Or did he give the location as Maple and Washington simply because he had seen nothing in print in those three days about that having been his original destination? His letter would give him an opportunity to harp on the one-block discrepancy in a way that nobody could ignore, even if they had overlooked the trip book.

The Zodiac had never murdered a cabby before, and he had never used a .38. But on the one occasion that he did, he used it to kill a cab driver whom he had asked to take him to two different locations that happen to lie on either side of the 3800 block of Washington Street. Between Maple and Cherry, all the house numbers on Washington begin with 38, and Paul Stine's life ended there with the same number.

In a previous contribution ("11.00100100001111110110101," The Ecphorizer December, 1981), I published another bit of suppressed information, that the Zodiac had suggested to the police (in the same letter in which he claimed to have used a .38) that if they put a radian on Mount Diablo, they would find "something interesting." The "something interesting" that the police studiously avoided finding for the next ten years was a gigantic geometric structure on the map of the Bay Area: the murder sites in Vallejo and San Francisco lie on the legs of a radian whose apex sits atop Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. This geometric behavior, when it was pointed out to them in 1980, immediately made obvious even to the police why it was that the murderer had departed from his perceived pattern of attacking couples in the rural parts of the North Bay to killing a cabby in the big city. His behavior stopped being anomalous when examined geometrically.

In another contribution to this periodical ("The Geometry of Jane Brewster," The Ecphorizer, April, 1984), I described similarly anomalous-seeming behavior on the part of the murderer of a yound woman on the East Coast to whom I gave the pseudonym "Jane Brewster." I concluded by observing that the site from which Jane disappeared and the widely separated points at which her killer left her suitcase and wallet form a gigantic triangle on the map of "Ivytown," which is visible only from the perspective of outer space. In this scheme, the bus station, at which Jane's murderer left her suitcase, forms the apex of a huge 38° angle.

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