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Riverside – October 30, 1966

In the latter half of 1970, Chronicle reporter Paul Avery received an anonymous letter from southern California which suggested that Zodiac had killed someone in Riverside, Ca., back in 1966. Sergeant Lynch of the Vallejo P.D. received a similar letter. The handwriting on the letter did not match Zodiac’s. The letter read:

“Please forward the contents of this letter to the detective in charge of “The Zodiac Murder Case.” I hope this information will also help you, as we both would like to see this case solved. As for myself, I wish to remain anonymous and I know that you will understand why!

“A few years ago in Riverside, California, a young girl was murdered, just about, I believe, on “Halloween” evening! I could write a much longer letter, citing the similarities between Zodiac’s case and the murder, which occurred in Riverside but if the police department cannot see said comparative similarities between these two cases, then I will take a “slow boat to China,” even if these crimes were committed by two different people! I think, after all the facts are studied regarding both these cases, if the police have not already investigated these possibilities and are not already aware of the “Riverside case,” then, even so perhaps they should look into it . . .

“Letters to newspapers, “similar erratic printing” find out about these two different cases . . . Give Captain Cross a call on the phone, he knows “I do not quit.”

“Mr. Avery, I will give you a call in the near future, please look into this case, the Riverside police have a wealth of information, so does San Francisco, let us hope they are not too proud to work together and if they already are, let us hope there has been an exchange of information.”

After checking with the Riverside P.D., Avery flew to Riverside to investigate the connection. There had indeed been a murder somewhat similar to those in the Bay Area. Here is the account that he and Graysmith discovered regarding Cheri Jo Bates, murdered in Riverside, Ca., on Oct. 30, 1966.

Oct. 30, 1966

Cheri Jo Bates had been an 18-year-old college freshman, an honor student, whose main ambition had been to become an airline stewardess. She had been a cheerleader at her high school and was also one at Riverside Community College, where she attended classes. She lived with her father at 4195 Via San Jose in Riverside. Her mother had left in 1965 and her brother was serving in the Navy in Florida.

9 a.m. – After Cheri Jo and Joseph attended Mass at St. Catherine’s Church on Brockton, they ate breakfast at Sandy’s Restaurant in Hardman Center.

10 a.m. – Joseph left the house to spend the day at the beach.

3 p.m. – Cheri Jo called a friend. There was no answer.

3:45 p.m. – Cheri Jo called the same friend and this time she was home. Cheri Jo asked if she wanted to go to the RCC library to get some books and study a little. The friend declined.

4:30 p.m. – Some of Cheri Jo’s friends passed by her house and noticed her lime-green Volkswagen parked in front.

5 p.m. – Joseph returned home. Cheri Jo was gone, having left sometime within the previous half hour. He found a note taped to the fridge: “Dad Went to RCC Library.” Joseph went back out again. When Cheri Jo left the house, she was wearing a pair of faded red Capri pants and a long-sleeved pale yellow blouse with a ribbon tie at the throat.

5:30 p.m. – Cheri Jo noticed that she had misplaced her term paper bibliography and called a co-worker at the Riverside National Bank. The friend hadn’t seen the paper and the two talked for a while.

6:10 p.m. – One of Cheri Jo’s friends saw her go by in her V.W. headed towards RCC. A short while later, a witness reported seeing Cheri Jo’s car driving up an alley near the college followed closely by a 1965-66 bronze Oldsmobile.

Sometime between 6 and 9 p.m., while Cheri Jo was in the library, her killer evidently gained access to the engine of her car and pulled out the distributor coil and the condenser, and disconnected the middle wire of the distributor, which would run the battery down quickly once Cheri Jo tried to start her car.

The library closed at 9 p.m. The killer must have waited for Cheri Jo either inside or outside of the library. After she emerged and tried to start her car to no avail, the killer probably offered her help or a ride. He led her down an unlit gravel road towards the parking lot he claimed his car was in. They were 75 feet from Cheri Jo’s car when the killer placed one hand over her mouth and with the other pressed the knife against her throat. She scratched his face and must have screamed. Two separate reports of screams place the time of death between 10:15 and 10:45 p.m. One neighbor claimed to hear an “awful scream,” two minutes of silence and finally the sound of a car starting sometime between 10:15 and 10:45 p.m. Another man who was returning to the area at 10:30 claimed he heard two screams then.

A medical report said that Cheri Jo had been kicked in the head. A short knife (one and one-half inches wide and three and one-half inches long) had been plunged into her chest twice. Her left cheek and upper lip were cut, and in three slashes to her throat her jugular was severed as well as her voice box, and she was almost decapitated. She was face down on the ground when the killer plunged the knife into her left shoulder blade. The police report stated that the “churned-up ground where they had struggled looked like a freshly plowed field.” The killer’s watch was ripped off during the struggle and police theorized that he had spent some time after the killing looking for the watch before leaving. The police found the paint-spattered watch, a Timex, the next morning.

Oct. 31, 1966

12 a.m. – Joseph Bates returned home and found the note that he had left for Cheri Jo undisturbed. He figured his daughter was out with her friends and went to sleep.

5:43 a.m. – After awakening, noticing that Cheri Jo had not returned and calling a friend of hers, he reported her missing to the police.

6:30 a.m. – RCC groundskeeper Cleophus Martin turned his sweeping machine onto Terracina. He saw the body, lying face down, her straw purse next to her. He called the Riverside Police Department, who subsequently roped off the area. A shoeprint was found in the vicinity. The shoe was only sold in military outlets, size 8 to 10, and had been produced by Leavenworth prisoners. Also found were scrapings of human skin and hair under Cheri Jo’s fingernails. On the front seat of her car they found the greasy prints of a palm.

Nine days after Cheri Jo’s funeral, the Riverside P.D. asked all persons who had been in the library on the night of the murder to recreate their movements. Sixty-five people total showed up. The only one’s missing were a woman (Cheri Jo) and a heavyset young man about 5’11” with a beard. The police were looking for any young man with scratches on his face. The man was never found, nor was the ’47-’52 tan-gray Studebaker with oxidized paint that was seen that night.

The police also received a typed confession letter from the killer shortly after the murder. In the letter, the killer took credit for Cheri Jo’s murder, indicated that he would kill again, mentioned “the game,” and insisted the letter must be published in the local newspaper all trademarks of the Zodiac killer. The letter spoke of details of the crime that had not been made public, confirming that it was indeed written by the real killer. Whether that killer was Zodiac, however, has remained unclear.

Six months after the murder, the Riverside Press-Enterprise ran an article on the Bates case. The next day, three letters were sent from the killer to the police, the Press-Enterprise and Joseph Bates. The letter read:


It was signed with either a small number 2 or the letter Z. Also uncovered was writing on a desktop at the RCC Library, written in blue ballpoint pen around the time of Cheri Jo’s murder. This one was signed with two letters r and h. (Initials of the killer? Or possibly short for “red herring.”)

That Cheri Jo Bates was indeed a victim of Zodiac at all has remain contested. The Riverside Police were pretty set on a local suspect but never had enough evidence to convict him and some involved with the case are still adamant to this day that it was not Zodiac but this local man. Handwriting analysis ruled out this local suspect as being Zodiac.

What is certain, however, is that Zodiac did have ties to Riverside. Cecelia Ann Shepard, the Berryessa murder victim, had been a student at Riverside. The handwriting of the desktop poem and the three April 1967 letters are definitely those of Zodiac (though some feel those letters were sent by Zodiac in an attempt to capitalize on the publicity of the case months later).