The Surprising Thing The Zodiac Killer Once Sent Police

The Zodiac Killer was a self-titled serial killer who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s. He was not only known for his brutal and seemingly random murders, but also for the tantalizing handwritten letters he sent to a number of news outlets, Biography writes. He also sent encoded notes he claimed held clues to his identity, The Guardian reports, though when they were decoded that proved to be a ruse to mislead the police. The letters contained details that had never been released publicly about the murders.

The killer claimed to have taken 37 lives, although there are only five confirmed victims. He received a significant amount of notoriety when the press released his letters, which some suspect was part of his motivation, writes Screenrant. The police knew for certain that he had nothing to do with some of the murders he claimed to have committed, which led them to believe in some cases he was looking for more attention and wanted to confuse or mislead the investigation. While there were a couple of primary suspects, despite the efforts of the local police and the FBI — including handwriting experts — and descriptions from two surviving victims, the Zodiac Killer has not been identified to this day; the composite police sketch (above) is as close as anyone has come.

The Zodiac Killer wanted police to know he was the murderer

After the murder of taxi driver Paul Stine, the Zodiac Killer sent a piece of the victim's bloody shirt to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper in an effort to prove that he was indeed the killer, reported United Press International. The surprising and grisly souvenir was tested and confirmed to have come from Stine's clothing, but no other DNA was found on the piece that could help lead to the killer's identity. Stine was Zodiac's last confirmed victim.

In a strange twist, it's believed that the police actually had an encounter with the Zodiac Killer. Police on the lookout for the Stine's murderer had a miscommunication and thought they were looking for a Black suspect. Two patrolmen in the area came across a man walking away from the crime scene, but because he was Caucasian they didn't stop him. The Zodiac Killer refers to the mistake in a later letter, taunting the police that they almost had him, but because of the error in identity they let him slip through their fingers (via History).