Paul Stine — A Victim of Opportunity

Although, at first glance, this article may seem to address a rather narrow aspect of the Zodiac saga, it has implications that can impact the unsolved mystery on a much broader basis. The question posed here is a simple one: did Paul Stine know his killer or was he a victim of opportunity? Also, what can we learn about Stine’s movements on the night of his murder that might shed some light on this question?

First, a brief word about sources, and an acknowledgment. There are many excellent documents, diagrams, and photographs available on the Internet that speak to the Stine murder. Copies of official documents are also available, such as the Pelissetti Report, which provide a wealth of background information. Many of these were used in preparing this article and the reader is encouraged to hunt them down and study what is available. As horrific as it was, the Stine murder remains an important element in the Zodiac story, and it does so in many ways that are not immediately obvious. Also, I would like to acknowledge the work of Ray Grant on the Riverside Timeline. I’ve discussed his material elsewhere on this website. It was his method that prompted me to look at the Stine case in a similar way.


The Yellow Cab Company was a fixture in San Francisco decades before Paul Stine was murdered. The company was in its heyday in the 1960s and well into the 1970s before it went through bankruptcy and reorganization. Yellow Cab still exists today but in a different structure and as a co-operative operation. However, at the time Paul Stine worked for Yellow Cab, their taxis were ubiquitous, especially in the downtown areas of the city. Fares were reasonable, courtesy was the order of the day, and cabbies were well known for their intimate familiarity with San Francisco. Although there were a few competitors at the time, Yellow Cab was, by far, the biggest game in town.

The cabbies worked hard for their tips, which could be significant if the driver was able to maximize his fares on short trips in a city that was relatively small in terms of geographical area. Hailing a cab in any of the downtown areas was common and easy. This was especially true of what was known as the Theater District or near Union Square, Chinatown, the Financial District or any of the other bustling areas of the inner city.

Jobs were relatively easy to come by in those days, and driving a cab allowed a good deal of flexibly if, like Paul Stine, your days were busy with other matters. That Stine became a Yellow Cab driver is not surprising, given his educational pursuits and other demands. That Stine would want to work nights and weekends seems obvious. That’s where the action was to be found, particularly shuttling fares back and forth from the downtown areas.

Paul Stine’s Timeline

Fortunately, we can assemble a reasonably accurate timeline for Paul Stine’s movements on the night of his murder. While reading through this timeline, it’s important to remember that a cabbie could not predict his movements with any certainty. His movements were dictated by the demands of his fares and the occasional radio dispatch from the Yellow Cab operations center. So, once Stine set foot into his cab that night, he was not typically able to control his movements beyond the choice of routes to his destination, which was not great in a city like San Francisco. His travels would be dictated by events and opportunity. With that in mind, here is a reconstruction of Paul Stine’s movements that night:

20:45 Time approximate. Stine reports to work at the Yellow Cab Company. His arrival time is later confirmed by Yellow Cab to investigators. Upon his arrival, Stine is given a waiting fare from Pier 64, San Francisco, to the San Francisco Airport.

20:55 Time approximate. Stine arrives at Pier 64 to pick up his fare. The driving time from the Yellow Cab garage to Pier 64 was no more than 9 minutes using the most likely route. At the time, Pier 64 was an “open pier” that accommodated houseboats and other vessels with occupants, a small but vibrant artist colony, and minor peripheral businesses (mostly cottage businesses). Yellow cab calls from this location were not unusual and customers typically waited at the entrance to Pier 64 for a quick pick-up by arriving taxis.

21:20 Time approximate. Stine arrives at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to drop off his fare. At this point, he has two options: 1) to wait for a return fare to take him back to San Francisco, or 2) to return directly to San Francisco to take advantage of the busy evening demands for a taxi in the downtown area. Stine likely noticed that the queue for available taxis was long and that he would be sitting idle for some time, waiting for a fare. He would have decided to return to San Francisco alone and head for the Theater District/Downtown to maximize his chance of fares. The quickest route from the Airport in those days was via Highway 101, with an average travel time of 21-25 minutes, depending upon traffic. The return trip would use the same route and, despite a different destination, would take the same travel time.

21:45 Latest. Stine arrives at the Theater District/Downtown, probably at Mason and Geary streets, the heart of the busiest part of the city, where taxis would most likely be needed. He immediately receives a radio dispatch to 500 Ninth Avenue. This address is in the Richmond District of San Francisco, about 3.3 miles from his current location with a traveling time of about 13 minutes. However, before he could begin the trip, Stine was hailed by a single male on foot who requested a destination of Washington and Maple Streets. Although this was not the most convenient direction for his planned destination, it was close enough that he could deliver his fare, cut across city streets, and still arrive on Ninth Avenue within a reasonable response time.

21:57 Latest. Stine drives past Washington and Maple to Cherry Street, stops his taxi, and is shot and killed. His most likely route to this destination would have been via Geary to California, to Parker, to Maple, which is a distance of 3 miles and a travel time of no more than 12 minutes, probably slightly less.

22:10 Stine is pronounced dead at the crime scene.

What Can We Learn?

Given that Stine’s movements were relatively certain that night, it seems unlikely that he made any “off the radar” trips or stops for personal reasons. There simply wasn’t enough time for that to happen. He was also in his first hour of work and wanted to be available to as many potential fares as possible. This accounts for his attraction to the downtown area where he knew, from experience, there would be a good deal of activity at that time of night. Trips meant tips, so the more trips the better for the driver.

The fact that Stine positioned himself in the Theater District was a decision of opportunity based upon experience. He had already been on a relatively long trip from the Airport without a fare, so his decision made good sense. It seems impossible that a potential attacker would know Stine’s location that evening since the driver, himself, made that decision based upon an event he could not have foreseen (the Pier 64, Airport fare, and return trip).

The most likely scenario is that Stine was in the wrong place at the wrong time, by sheer happenstance. The unpredictable nature of the events from his check-in time at Yellow Cab that evening led him to his unfortunate situation without any additional planning.

Was Stine hailed by someone he knew, who then turned out to be his killer? The forensics of the murder cannot validate this point and there is no reason to make this assumption. The fact that Stine picked up a random hail with the intent of filling the fare on his way to a dispatch call not only makes sense from a cabbie’s point of view but makes financial sense. There is no compelling reason to go beyond these relatively simple facts, and Stine’s understandable actions.

So, it seems that the issue of whether or not Paul Stine knew his killer can be addressed simply by looking closely at his actions and movements that night. Stine was a victim of opportunity. There is nothing in the case that is of significant weight to come to a different conclusion.

This of course, raises a much broader question: were Zodiac’s other victims also opportunistic or was Paul Stine an exception? It’s a fascinating and lingering question that has been addressed in many ways by many individuals. Until the case is solved and the results made public, each reader must come to his or her own conclusions. In the meantime, the most persistent unresolved issue surrounding the Stine murder is why Zodiac selected such a precise location for his attack. What was it about this location that was so crucial to the crime, that held so much meaning for the killer?



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