The Surprising Way A Woman And Her Baby Escaped The Zodiac Killer

Update: An earlier version of this story omitted the fact that Jones was traveling with her infant daughter as well as being seven months pregnant, so that information was added to the story. 

No, despite what internet memes might tell you (via Know Your Meme), the Zodiac Killer was not Senator Ted Cruz (all confirmed Zodiac killings happened a year or two before Cruz was born — which, when you think about it, is a pretty good alibi), but the Zodiac Killer remains one of the most notorious figures in the annals of American true crime stories. The criminal behind five confirmed murders committed in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1968 and 1969, the Zodiac Killer, who claimed as many as 37 victims, was never caught, despite frequently taunting the police in letters.

"I like killing people because it's so much fun," he once wrote (via History), and he certainly lived that way. He dressed up for his murders, wearing a hood marked with a distinctive symbol, left behind clues, and sent his letters in code, essentially daring law enforcement to catch him. Despite all this, he was never caught, and the case file remains open with the San Francisco Police Department.

All told, the specter of Zodiac looms large in the public mind and has inspired everything from a David Fincher film to one of Clint Eastwood's seminal performances (via Zodiac Killer Facts). Still, Zodiac occasionally made mistakes. Some of his victims even managed to escape.

Kathleen Johns' encounter with Zodiac

On March 22, 1970, 22-year-old Kathleen Johns was driving from San Bernadino to Petaluma to visit her mother. As History reports, she was traveling with her infant daughter and was also seven months pregnant — and it was late at night — so she had plenty of reasons to be a bit nervous. Around 11:15 p.m., another vehicle pulled up beside her and the man behind the wheel began signaling to her that she should pull over. When she complied, the driver came to her window and informed her that her left rear wheel appeared loose, but that he could tighten it up for her while she waited.

Having gotten her permission, he grabbed a tire iron and apparently loosened the nuts instead of tightening them, so that when he gave her the all clear and she attempted to drive away, the wheel fell completely off. The stranger then offered her a ride to a service station, which she accepted, but once he had Johns and her baby in his car, it became clear that the driver had other plans in mind for her. The man began driving at full speed, blowing through stop signs, refusing to slow down.

According to a 1998 interview Johns gave to "America's Most Wanted" (posted on YouTube), the driver began telling her, "You know you're gonna die, right? I'm gonna kill you." It was then that Johns realized she needed to take her life into her own hands.

How Johns escaped the Zodiac Killer

Sensing that the car wasn't going to stop or even slow down anytime soon, Johns held her child tight to her chest, grabbed the door handle, jumped, and rolled. At that point, there was nothing stopping the would-be killer from pulling over and going after her on foot, but thankfully a trucker saw the incident and stopped; the killer responded by fleeing the scene.

The trucker took Johns and her child to a local police station to make a statement, but while she was doing so, a police sketch caught her eye. "I looked up on the wall and there was one of those composite drawings, of the person who I'd just spent this time with," she told "America's Most Wanted." "Turns out it was the Zodiac, and I didn't know who that was at the time."

It's not entirely clear that Johns actually encountered the Zodiac Killer. Despite Johns's later protestations, none of the police reports (which you can read at Zodiac Killer Facts) actually mention the man threatening her life. And while a letter sent by Zodiac months later mentioned taking a "rather interesting ride" with a woman and her baby (via History), it contained none of the usual details his accounts were known for, making it entirely possible that he was attempting to take credit for something he saw in the newspapers.

Whatever the case, though, it remains that Johns, afraid for her life, managed to save herself, her infant, and her unborn child, all at once. That's badass.