The identity of the Zodiac Killer is one of the most enduring true crime mysteries in history. Per the History Channel, after committing a confirmed 5 murders (although the killer claimed responsibility for somewhere around 37 murders) all over Northern California in the 1960s and consistently taunting law enforcement through cryptic letters about their failure to apprehend him, the murders seemingly stopped out of nowhere in the late 1970s. Aside from his crimes, Zodiac is possibly best known for the highly complex code he included with his communications and the chilling symbol he chose for his calling card. So, what does the Zodiac Killer's symbol mean?
Unfortunately, no explanation has ever been given by Zodiac himself for why he chose the infamous crosshairs symbol that is always associated with him. The symbol was first discovered after Zodiac had already killed his first two victims, David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16 on Dec. 20, 1968, per the Times Herald. He later killed 22-year-old Darlene Ferrin and injured her friend Michael Mageau, who was able to give a description of his assailant on July 4, 1969. According to BuzzFeed, it was after these crimes that Zodiac sent copies of the same letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, The Vallejo Times Herald, and The San Francisco Examiner. Per ABC News, in the letters Zodiac claimed responsibility for the murders and also included a cipher/coded message with the crosshair symbols acting as a kind of signature. The symbol was later seen again on Sept. 27, 1969 when a couple was stabbed in Napa. The man, Bryan Hartnell, survived the attack and described the killer as wearing an executioner's hood with the crosshair symbol on the chest.
There are many theories regarding the crosshair symbol and what it could possibly mean and why Zodiac chose it for himself. In the book by author Soren Roest Korsgaard called America's Jack The Ripper: The Crimes and Psychology Of The Zodiac Killer, Korsgaard relays a theory that the name Zodiac and the crosshair symbol was lifted from a Swiss watch by that same name that also happened to use a crosshair symbol on the watch face. The book theorizes that the fact that ads for the watch ran in the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 1960s (the same media outlets that received the first communication from Zodiac) could be a connection to the name and symbol chosen by Zodiac.
The fact that the symbol is representative of a crosshair to most could also be a clue as to what it means. The Zodiac was known for switching up his style and using varying M.O.'s in his crimes. Out of the five confirmed murders attributed to him, most were shot. The crosshairs symbol certainly could be linked to this method of murder, but that is only a theory and has not been confirmed.
Decades of investigation and research have provided no confirmed identity for the Zodiac Killer, but a new 5-part docuseries on the History Channel aims to provide even more insight into this true crime mystery. Per TV Insider, The Hunt For The Zodiac Killer combines the minds of code-breakers and law enforcement to try and crack the decades-old complex code that could lead to the killer's identity. Using their expertise and investigative skills, together they use "one of the most powerful computers on Earth" to try to make new developments in this infamous cold case.
The Zodiac's chosen symbol is as much a mystery as his identity. Perhaps with time and the help of seasoned investigators, someday we'll be able to crack the code.