Forty years ago today, Paul Stine climbed into his taxi cab to begin his night shift. He undoubtedly planned to finish his work and then return to his loving wife, his quiet home, and the rest of his life.
Unfortunately, Paul Stine stopped on a San Francisco street to pick up a man in need of a ride. The man climbed into the cab and directed Stine to an upscale neighborhood known as Presidio Heights. Unbeknownst to Stine, his passenger was a sociopath, a psychotic killer who called himself the Zodiac. While the man may have given Stine the impression that, once they reached the designated destination, he would simply pay the fare and go on his way, the man had other plans; he lied to Stine, knowing full well that he planned to execute the driver who was only doing his job.
Minutes later, Stine’s lifeless body lay in the front seat of the cab, his lifeblood escaping through the gunshot wound in his head. The killer walked away and has never faced the consequences of his murderous deed. He remains free today, mocking justice and living a life Paul Stine never had the chance to live.
Most people only know the victim as an image in a two-dimensional photograph; Stine’s body hangs out of the open passenger door of the cab, forever trapped in time, immortal yet devoid of life. No one knows his last thoughts as he may have seen his killer raising the gun to strike. Perhaps his entire life flashed before his eyes, as the movie-cliche goes. Perhaps he thought about his wife, or the children he would never raise. Perhaps he thought of God, and his failure to intervene.
When Stine pulled up to that curb and picked up his passenger, he planned to do his job and take the man where he wanted to go. In short, the passenger could trust Stine to do the right thing. Sadly, Stine had no such luxury, and his passenger was actually a cowardly murderer who lied in order to gain Stine’s trust just long enough to take his life. For forty years, this coward has enjoyed his freedom while his victim remains trapped in that photograph, lost to history. If there is any justice in this world, Stine’s killer will one day be identified, captured, and punished for his crimes so that Stine’s soul may finally find some peace.
As we mark the 40th anniversary of Paul Stine’s tragic and senseless death, we should remember Paul Stine the man. In order to pay his way through college, Stine worked a variety of jobs. Education meant a chance for a better life, a hope that he and his wife might live in some semblance of comfort and security. Like all of us, Paul Stine was concerned about his future, even though he would never have one.
Take a moment to remember Paul Stine, and think about the man he might have been if he had been given the chance to live, and how the world might have been a better place with his contribution. To honor his memory, then take a moment to appreciate all that you have, the air you breathe, the loved ones in your life, the freedom you enjoy, and the future that will hopefully be yours.