Kathleen Johns – March 22, 1970
Sunday, March 15, 1970
3-4 a.m. – In Santa Rosa, a man frightened three separate women motorist in an identical manner.
5:10 a.m. – The police stopped a man whose auto and license number matched their descriptions. He was identified as a Vallejo resident in a “1962-64 white Chevrolet.” The man, “about 23,” was stopped after he had followed a woman right into the post office parking lot. He claimed that he was lost and looking for a way out of town. The police let the man go and escorted him out of town.
Tuesday, March 17, 1970
A Vallejo woman was on her way to Travis Air Force Base when a white Chevrolet began to tailgate her. The driver kept looking at her and then began “blinking lights, banging his horn” and tried to get her to stop. She raced ahead and was eventually able to outdistance the car.
Sunday, March 22, 1970
7 p.m. – Mrs. Kathleen Johns left her home in San Bernardino with her 10-month-old daughter Jennifer for the trip to Petaluma where her mother lived. She drove north on I-5 and onto Highway 99 just before Bakersfield, through Fresno, Merced and Modesto, where she swung left onto Highway 132, a rarely used road. In her rearview mirror she noticed a car she seemed to have picked up on her tail in Modesto. She later recalled that it was “junky” and wasn’t as new as a ’68 model.
12 a.m. – At approximately midnight, Kathleen attempted to let the car pass her. Abruptly, the driver behind began to blink his lights and honk his horn. He drove up alongside Kathleen’s 1957 maroon-and-white Chevrolet station wagon and yelled through his passenger window that her left rear wheel was wobbling. Kathleen, who was seven months pregnant, was very concerned about stopping on a lightly traveled road at night with a stranger. She waited until she was close to I-5 to stop.
Kathleen pulled off to the edge of Maze Road near I-5, and the light-colored car parked on the shoulder in back of her. A “clean-shaven and neatly dressed man” got out with a lug wrench in his left hand and approached her, gesturing toward the back of her car. She later described the man as being around 30 years old.
“He seemed like a reliable person,” she later told Graysmith. “Nobody that looked in any way freaky. As a matter of fact, I remember thinking he may have been a service man or something. He was that kind of clean-cut. He had the tire iron when he got out.”
“Your left rear wheel is wobbling,” he said in a soft voice, leaning down on her door and looking into her car. “I’ll tighten your lugs if you’d like . . . Don’t worry, I’ll be glad to fix it for you.” Kathleen could hear him working on the wheel, but he was out of her view. After a while he stood up and came around to her window. “OK, that should do it,” he said, and waved and returned to his car.
“He went ahead and pulled back on the freeway,” Kathleen recalled. She had driven only five or six car lengths before her whole rear tire spun off, crashing and banging, into the weeds at the side of the road. She turned off the engine, leaving the keys in the ignition, and got out of the car to see what had happened. Meanwhile, the stranger backed up to the front of Kathleen’s car, got out, and ran up to her. For the first time she got a good look at him as he crossed in front of her headlights.
“Oh no, the trouble’s worse than I thought,” he said. “I’ll give you a ride to the service station.” Kathleen noticed that not more than a quarter of a mile away was an ARCO service station. She agreed to the ride, later recalling that she “really wouldn’t have gotten in his car if I had had any bad vibes about it.”
Kathleen gathered up her baby and got in the stranger’s car. Just as they were pulling out, she noticed that her lights were still on and remembered she had left the keys in the ignition. The man smiled, went back to her car, turned off the lights and pocketed the keys. Then the stranger drove away from her car. When he approached the ARCO station, he didn’t slow down.
“When he missed it, I really didn’t think much about it. I didn’t say anything. When he passed the next exit, it dawned on me something wasn’t right. As long as he wasn’t talking, neither was I. We went down several more exits before he got off, and then I just didn’t say anything. He was doing the driving.” The man started down a rocky, deserted farm road. Nothing was said for a long time. His windbreaker was open and she could see the white of his shirt glowing dully in the moonlight. The man started to pull over to the roadside and then sped back up several times. Kathleen thought he was going to make a pass at her.
She was the one to finally break the silence. “Do you always go around helping people on the road like this?” she asked sarcastically. “When I get through with them they don’t need any help,” said the man. After about 30 minutes, he turned his head to look at her and said: “You know you’re going to die. You know I’m going to kill you . . . I’m going to throw the baby out.”
The man drove Kathleen through a maze of winding lanes, rarely speaking but occasionally looking over at her and repeating either “You know I’m going to kill you” or “You know you’re going to die.” Kathleen knew he meant it. She said that altogether he drove down those back country roads for two or three hours. She tried to remember everything she could about this man. First she noticed that the stranger’s shoes had been shined so brightly that the reflected the yellow interior lights of the car. “They weren’t boot types. They were like Navy shoes. His general appearance, come to think of it, was Navy.” He was dressed in a dark blue-black nylon windbreaker over black woolen bell-bottom pants. The black, thick-rimmed glasses he wore were held firmly in place by a thin band of elastic. His chin was traced with scars of some past acne infection.
“I got the distinct impression that he might not be aware of what he was doing. I think he could even be the man next door and might not know it was himself. Obviously he was sick.” Kathleen took in everything she could about the man and his car. The car’s interior was messy, with papers, books and clothes strewn about the front and back seats and even on the dashboard. The clothing was mostly a man’s, but mixed in were some small T-shirts with patterns such as a child age eight to 12 would wear. She also noticed a black, four-celled flashlight with a rubber grip.
After a while longer, the driver accidentally started up a freeway onramp from the isolated road. Just as he skid to a halt, Kathleen scooped up her baby and fled from the car, leaping into an irrigation ditch surrounded by tall grass in the middle of a field. She had to lay on top of little Jennifer to keep her from crying. The driver got out and searched for her with a flashlight.
Within moments, a semi-truck was passing by on the freeway and caught the bizarre scene in its headlights. The driver got out and asked “What the hell is going on?” Kathleen’s abductor jumped into his car and sped off. Kathleen refused a ride from the truck driver, waiting for a woman to drive by and give her a ride to the closest police station. It was there that she recognized her abductor as Zodiac from the composite drawing made following the Stine murder.
Kathleen’s car was found completely burned out in a different spot from where she left it. The stranger had had to reattach the tire to the car and drive it to its new location.
Zodiac did not acknowledge this incident for months. He finally mentioned Kathleen in her baby in a threat within his July 24, 1970 letter. It was after this letter was received that Kathleen Johns went into hiding and changed her name. Robert Graysmith searched for her for years and finally found her in 1982.