A new day, and a new episode of “The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer” (S01 E02, in programme guide speak) to trawl through. Luckily, though, this week’s episode proved to be fairly lightweight:
I’m sorry to have to say it, but as this series goes on, I’m getting less and less comfortable with the presentation. Televisually, the editing conceit has been to make it look as though all the evidence is being considered and discovered for the first time (and sort of ‘in real time’), but just about everything that pops up (hey, what magic beans has CARMEL found this time?) has previously been floated, shot down, raked over, partially resurrected and left hanging in a kind of evidential limbo ten or twenty times over. And so it’s more than a little bit grating to see so many creaky old ideas being dredged up and presented as if they were not only new, but also generated by a piece of software.
So, for all the potential cleverness of the software toolkit, CARMEL has been largely reduced here to a panto linking device, not a million miles from “And now for something completely different: a man with a tape recorder up his nose”. (Which, tape recorder reference aside, originally came from Blue Peter’s Christopher Trace, UK TV buffs might be interested to know.)
The connection the programme makers float between TWICH/TWICHED and SQUIRM/SQWIRM in the Cheri Jo Bates typed “Confession” letter and the Zodiac’s 1970 letter is interesting (of course, Michael Butterfield discussed this in 2009, though doubtless it was already old news by then). But in every other sense the Confession letter comes across to me as a crock, a simulation of a confession letter that says nothing actually new. And though two of the three notes that arrived six months later said that “BATES HAD TO DIE THERE WILL BE MORE Z”, these also come across to me as fakes, or rather someone simulating nuttiness.
At the same time, according to this Quester Files website page, “[t]he envelopes carried double postage. This is something the Zodiac did.” And moreover, “Sherwood Morrill, the Questioned Document’s examiner in Sacramento, examined the envelopes and writing. He said it was indeed The Zodiac’s handwriting.”
Putting all this together, even though I could comfortably accept the idea that the 1966 Cheri Jo Bates “Confession” letter and even the three (somewhat belated) nutty-looking handwritten notes were by the same person who would later become the Zodiac Killer, I would struggle to accept without any obvious supporting evidence the claim that he also killed Cheri Jo Bates, in the unquestioning way the programme makers seem to think their audience should. To me, it seems far safer to conclude that in 1966 Zodiac was instead merely fantasizing about killing, and that he instead wrote the suite of letters as a kind of performative role play theatre, projecting his incipient psychopathy onto the stabby, bloody, horrible backdrop of some other properly mad person’s crime (which was very probably driven by enraged sexual inadequacy and/or spurned passion).
Lone Wolf, or Sea Wolf?
As a side note, the question of the origin of the Zodiac and his ‘cross-hair’ symbol comes up again and again: an obvious issue is that his chosen symbol is not in any way connected with astrological or zodiacal symbols, which is also true of the (for the most part letter, reflected letter, and part-filled geometrical) shapes he uses in his ciphertexts. So, then: why ‘Zodiac’?
However, I have to say that the answer to this question seems to me to be very simple and indeed painfully obvious (though it has of course previously been pointed out a thousand times or more): that the most likely inspiration for the Zodiac’s symbol and name was the Zodiac Watch Company, which had during the 1950s achieved great renown with their Sea Wolf diving watch (and very similar symbol).
Note that the Zodiac Sea Wolf watch had (of course it did) a movable bezel, much as per the Mt Diablo note: which is not anything like proof, of course, but it’s definitely something to think about. (As a further aside, perhaps a watch historian might like to tell us which movable watch bezels of the 1960s had 0 / 3 / 6 / 9 markings on them.)
All of which finally spins this post back round again to poor Cheri Jo Bates’ murder: for, as the zodiackillerfacts site points out, it was there that “[I]nvestigators came upon a man’s Timex watch lying on the ground near the body”. Honestly, does anyone truly believe that a psychopath who specifically named himself after a macho Swiss watch brand would be seen dead – if you’ll pardon the phrase – in an American Timex?