As the Zodiac story continues without end into another new decade, we are reminded that our own time on earth is all too short. I was saddened by the recent news that Donald Harden had died. Those who study the Zodiac mystery owe a debt to Donald and his wife Bettye for their diligent work to solve the Zodiac’s first cipher in the summer of 1969. I never met the Hardens but I was fortunate to meet their daughter Leslie in 2007. According to Leslie, Bettye Harden continued to study the Zodiac’s three unsolved ciphers over the years and believed that she may have produced another possible solution to one of the messages. Like her parents, Leslie wanted to help in the search for answers, and the Harden family made a significant contribution to this case as citizens.
On Friday March 23, 2012, another noted figure in the Zodiac mystery passed away. Former Vallejo police dispatcher Nancy Slover (Earp) answered the Zodiac’s call after the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park on the night of July 4th, 1969. The brief conversation left a lasting impression on Nancy and she shared her memories with many curious Zodiac researchers, reporters, crime buffs and producers over the following decades. I had the opportunity to talk with Nancy in 2007 and again in 2009 during the filming of the television documentary MYSTERYQUEST. Nancy debunked persistent myths about the Zodiac case, particularly the story that her telephone conversation with the killer had been recorded on tape. According to Nancy, the Vallejo police department did not have the equipment installed to record incoming calls to the police dispather and no such tape was ever produced (although a handful of people did claim that they had listened to this recording). Nancy’s descriptions of the Zodiac’s behavior during the now-notorious phone call were chilling and always kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Nancy was one of only three people who spoke to the Zodiac and lived to talk about her encounter. She became a part of true crime history and will always be remembered fondly and with respect by everyone who knew her. I am grateful that I was able to learn from Nancy during our conversations and my condolences go out to her family and friends.
In one of his more famous letters, the Zodiac quoted from the Gilbert and Sullivan musical The MIKADO and declared of certain individuals, “They’d none of them be missed.” In the last year, several individuals have left this mortal coil, including Napa County Sheriff’s Investigator Ken Narlow, the man originally assigned to the case of the Zodiac’s knife attack at Lake Berryessa. Ken was known for his candor and professionalism as he continued his search for the Zodiac long into his retirement. Those who knew Ken were deeply saddened to learn that he had passed away. Now, Donald Harden and Nancy Slover have joined Ken, and I think it’s safe to say that they will be missed by anyone who cares about the Zodiac story.
* Read the Vallejo Times-Herald Obituary for Nancy Slover *