MYSTERYQUEST: Pierre Bidou and The Lake Herman Road Murders

The recent History Channel broadcast MYSTERYQUEST included footage taken during interviews with the original investigators at the actual crime scenes. Unfortunately, the program focused more on a theory and a suspect than the case itself and, therefore, viewers never heard these men tell their stories, share their memories, or offer their insights. Anyone who researches the Zodiac crimes would welcome the opportunity to tour the crime scenes with retired investigators Pierre Bidou, Ed Rust, and Ken Narlow, and the experience was, to say the least, unforgettable. Both Rust and Narlow have given many media interviews in the past, but Pierre Bidou has rarely spoken about what he witnessed on that dark night in December, 1968. Since viewers of MYSTERYQUEST missed this opportunity, I’d like to share a few highlights from our visit to the crime scene on Lake Herman Road.

Four decades ago, Bidou worked for the Benicia Police Department, and on the night of the murders, he and another officer were in a patrol car, on the road. “…we got the call from the dispatcher that an accident, or something, had occurred on Lake Herman Road, so we turned around and came by.”

At the scene, a Rambler station wagon sat parked on the side of the road, the passenger door open and the window rolled down. In the darkness, Bidou noticed the bodies of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen lying on the ground; Faraday was still breathing and clinging to life while Jensen had already died from the five gunshot wounds in her back. Faraday was taken to the hospital but did not survive the damage caused by one bullet fired into his skull. Shell casings found at the scene– and the number of wounds identified on the victims– indicated that the assailant had fired at least 10 shots; six entered the bodies of Faraday and Jensen, two were lodged in the Rambler station wagon, and two more had apparently disappeared into the cold night air.

The subsequent investigation failed to uncover any significant leads or evidence. Initially, investigators considered the possibility that the victims had been killed by someone who had known the victims and sought revenge for some perceived slight or wrong. One of Jensen’s high school boyfriends quickly became a suspect according to local gossip, but investigation proved that the boy had no access to a vehicle that night and most likely did not commit the crime. Authorities were forced to conclude that the two teenagers had been killed by a stranger in an apparently random act of inexplicable violence. Bidou stated that it would not be unusual to find young couples parked at the lovers’ lane spot. I asked, “If you were familiar with this area, would you expect to find couples out here at night?” Bidou answered, “Yes.”

David and Betty Lou had not planned to be on Lake Herman Road that night; in fact, they had promised Mr. and Mrs. Jensen that they would return home by 11:00 PM. However, a passing motorist saw the couple parked at the crime scene shortly after 11:00PM, and when another driver passed minutes later, another vehicle was parked along side Faraday’s Rambler station wagon. Despite the brief sighting of the killer’s vehicle, police were unable to produce any further information. “We never got a decent description of the vehicle,” Bidou explained.

Bidou offered his opinion on the theory that the killer chose the location or the victims at random. “I don’t believe personally that he was just passing by, and the kids were just here. I think, it was planned out, by him, for whatever sadistic reason, to some extent…”

Shortly before the murders on Lake Herman Road, Bidou had been involved in the investigation of marijuana distribution in the area; he recalled, “We even looked at the person who was involved.” I asked Bidou about the theory that David Faraday had been targeted by the pot dealer he allegedly confronted at a local restaurant. “There was nothing to it,” he replied. “Nothing came of it.”

When asked about other theories raised over the decades, Bidou endorsed none. He also dismissed the claim that authorities had obtained a credible confession from a suspect then in custody for another crime. The retired investigator laughed aloud at the notion that the notorious Manson family of killers were somehow behind the Zodiac crimes. “I don’t believe in that theory, either.”

The MYSTERYQUEST production was based in a Benicia hotel, located on the corner where witness Stella Borges had stopped to talk with local police on the night of December 20, 1968. Most of the interviews for the program were filmed in one of the hotel rooms, so a cast of Zodiac characters passed through the lobby at various times, including former police dispatcher Nancy Slover and retired detective Ed Rust of the Vallejo Police Department. As we chatted in the lobby, Rust expressed his doubts that the Zodiac was responsible for the murders on Lake Herman Road. When I asked him to explain the reasons for his doubts, Rust could only cite the fact that some of the investigators who had worked on that case did not believe that the Zodiac had committed the crime.

Prior to the interview at the Lake Herman Road crime scene with Bidou, criminalist Paul Holes also raised the possibility that the murders were not committed by the same individual responsible for the Zodiac crimes. Holes speculated that the Zodiac may have had access to a police teletype which contained the details of the Lake Herman Road crime. At the crime scene, Holes asked Bidou about the details provided in the teletype, and Bidou answered without hesitation, “It was sketchy.” He further explained that this was the result of a deliberate decision to keep certain details from the public so not to aid the killer by releasing information about their investigation and to avoid false confessions.

The notion that the Zodiac simply took credit for the crime has persisted for years, so I asked Bidou for his opinion on the issue. Could the details in the Zodiac’s letters come from a false confessor armed with information contained in news accounts or the police teletype? Bidou answered, “No, I don’t think so … there was too much detail.” After examining the case for decades, Bidou was convinced that the crimes were, in fact, connected. “I do believe the Zodiac was responsible.”

Like so many others, he admitted that he had no idea who the Zodiac was or what had happened to him. “Who knows if the Zodiac is alive today, or is incarcerated for something else, or if he just stopped killing.”

The passing years had not diminished Bidou’s hope that the killer would someday be identified. As I listened to him describe his memories from forty years ago, I could see in his eyes that need for answers. Like Rust and Narlow, Bidou carried the weight of the unsolved crimes on his face, in his shoulders, and in his voice. The notion that the murderer responsible for so much bloodshed, so much terror, and so much grief, was still walking among us greatly troubled the retired investigator. Bidou looked up at the clear blue sky and quietly sighed. “I want to see the case closed.”

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet with Pierre Bidou and listen as he shared his memories of that horrific night more than four decades ago. Like Bidou, I want to see the case closed. If there is any justice in this world or the next, the cowardly killer who claimed the lives of David Faraday, Betty Lou Jensen, and so many others, will someday be called to account for the carnage and sorrow he has created.

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