Introduction: Suspect Zero


In 1968, a notorious serial killer, who chose the moniker “Zodiac,” began his lethal career with a horrific double homicide in the city of Vallejo, California, just east of San Francisco. Within a year, he had brutally attacked 7 individuals at random, mostly young couples, killing 5 of them. This murderer would eventually lay claim to more than three dozen victims in a series of bizarre and disturbing letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle that continued until 1978. In the end, after two dozen of these letters, Zodiac inexplicably disappeared from the Bay Area scene, leaving investigators confused and empty-handed.

While an army of law enforcement personnel was unsuccessfully chasing after California’s most notorious fugitive in the late 1960s and 1970s, another series of murders was taking place less than an hour north of San Francisco, in the semi-rural community of Santa Rosa. Between early 1972 and late 1973, at least 7 girls and young women were slain in a similar way by an unknown male assailant. These crimes took place during the same period of time that Zodiac was feverishly writing to the San Francisco Chronicle, claiming more victims with each of his taunting and convoluted missives. Since Zodiac had attacked at a variety of locations around the Bay Area, including Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco, many investigators assumed that the Santa Rosa murders were his doing, although the fugitive himself never took credit for them. These crimes came to be known in the press as the Highway 101 Murders, and, like the Zodiac killings, the case has never been officially closed.

However, even unsolved cases of serial murder do have a resolution, somewhere. There is often a sea of certainty and understanding that lies forgotten or ignored between what is known and what can be proved in such cases. This was certainly true with the Highway 101 Murders. It was true for Lieutenant Manny Bruin of the Sonoma County Criminal Investigations Division—the agency in charge of the investigation—and for those who worked the case with him. It was horribly, unspeakably true for the victims of Byron Avion.

When traditional justice fails because of unexpected circumstances, lack of hard facts, insufficient resources, or unremitting confusion, there is still the possibility of a resolution, somewhere. What happened in Sonoma County, California, a few years ago is evidence enough to believe in that possibility, even when fiction must, of necessity, take the reins from fact.



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