As the 1980s came to an end, the story of California’s unsolved “Zodiac” murders became nationwide news again when a so-called “copy-cat” killer surfaced on the East Coast. Dubbed “Zodiac II” by the media, the copycat killer shot several people in New York and sent bizarre handwritten notes to the local newspapers in which he claimed to be the California Zodiac. The saga of Zodiac II began on the heels of the sensational media coverage surrounding the 1986 release of Robert Graysmith’s book Zodiac, and some observers believed that the author’s somewhat glamorous portrayal of the Zodiac killer had somehow influenced and inspired the New York impostor. The renewed media frenzy also attracted those seeking attention and their own fifteen minutes of fame.
In 1991, television personality Geraldo Rivera was the host and producer of a syndicated tabloid program titled NOW IT CAN BE TOLD. One of Rivera’s “investigative reporters” was author Maury Terry, famous for his book, The Ultimate Evil, which claimed that convicted killer David Berkowitz had committed New York’s notorious “Son of Sam” shootings with the help of a massive network of satanic conspirators. Some New York authorities and others embraced Terry’s conspiracy theory and Berkowitz himself joined in blaming mysterious and unnamed co-conspirators, however the evidence clearly demonstrated that Berkowitz had acted alone as he originally told investigators. Terry’s book became a best-seller and the author became one of the many new “experts” on the occult.
Maury Terry was a central figure in sensational media reports throughout the 1980s which warned of devil worshipers engaged in ritualistic child abuse and murder. This period in history is often referred to as “the satanic panic,” a public hysteria which generated modern “witch-hunts” and led to the wrongful prosecution and conviction of many innocent people. Teachers, day-care workers and others were routinely accused of “satanic ritual abuse” which purportedly included sexual molestation and death sacrifices of children. The McMartin family ran a popular day care center but their lives became a nightmare when they were charged with 321 counts of child abuse against 48 different children. An ambitious social worker, a zealous television reporter and others exploited the case and helped to railroad the McMartin family. After more than seven years and several trials, the McMartin family was exonerated, but the damage had been done. The satanic conspiracy claims had a lasting effect and influenced many other criminal cases, including the now-infamous story of Memphis West Three and even the notorious Monster of Florence case in Italy. In her article, The Devil in The Nursery, New York Times writer Margaret Talbot described the age of satanic panic: “When you once believed something that now strikes you as absurd, even unhinged, it can be almost impossible to summon that feeling of credulity again. Maybe that is why it is easier for most of us to forget, rather than to try and explain, the Satanic-abuse scare that gripped this country in the early 80’s – the myth that Devil-worshipers had set up shop in our day-care centers, where their clever adepts were raping and sodomizing children, practicing ritual sacrifice, shedding their clothes, drinking blood and eating feces, all unnoticed by parents, neighbors and the authorities.”
In 1988, at the height of the frenzy surrounding the “satanic panic,” the NBC network aired a two-hour television special produced by Geralo Rivera titled Devil Worship: Exploring Satan’s Underground. Rivera warned parents that the broadcast was too disturbing for children, and he also warned viewers of the dangers lurking in their own communities. Rivera said, “Estimates are that there are over 1 million Satanists in this country…The majority of them are linked in a highly organized, very secretive network. From small towns to large cities, they have attracted police and FBI attention to their Satanic ritual child abuse, child pornography and grisly Satanic murders. The odds are that this is happening in your town.” The broadcast included sensational claims that satanists had infiltrated the American military and featured various “experts,” including Maury Terry and the daughter of infamous satanist Anton LeVay. The parents of several children living in the area of the McMartin family day care center also appeared on the program and expressed outrage over the alleged acts of satanic ritual abuse against the children in their California community. Other guests explained that the public was largely misinformed about satanism, wicans, pagans and the occult in general, but Rivera and the studio audience were not impressed by such denials. Ozzy Osbourne, the heavy metal singer known for his devilish performances, also appeared via satelite in an effort to debunk the claims that so-called “satanic” lyrics somehow inspired acts of violence. Rivera and others repeatedly claimed that satanic cults were actively engaged in ritualistic abuse and murder, yet no evidence was ever presented to support these sensational claims.
Rivera’s exploitation of the satanic panic was touted as the highest-rated television documentary of all time, but the show also created controversy. In an article in The New York Times, Peter J. Boyer wrote, “When NBC commissioned a prime-time program about Satan worship narrated by Geraldo Rivera, they had hopes for a sure-fire ratings winner. But the show, which was broadcast last night, stirred such stout advertiser resistance that the network had to sell some commercials at rates as low as half-price, advertisers and NBC officials said.” Columnist Tom Shales echoed the opinions of many other critics when he wrote, “We can stop worrying about the breakdown of standards in broadcasting because there are almost no standards left to break down. A last few of them fell on Tuesday, Oct. 25, when NBC gave Geraldo Rivera the first two hours of prime time to talk about butchered babies, dismembered corpses, cannibal cults and sex orgies. Rivera’s special, “Devil Worship: Exploring Satan’s Underground,” was his first network show since ABC News got rid of him in 1985. Since then, Rivera has prospered with a series of cheesy and sleazy syndicated specials exploring the twilight zones of American society… “Devil Worship” was just like the syndicated shows, only worse. It was a cheap, lurid and low-minded shocker aired in a time slot early enough for millions of children to be watching — the same time slot where, on other nights, kids see ALF and The COSBY SHOW.”
Rivera’s reputation had been damaged by the embarrassing live television event The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults which promised that waiting viewers would see the hidden treasures belonging to the notorious gangster. After hours of hype, disappointed viewers discovered that Rivera had wasted their time and the televised disaster was a turning point in his career. His subsequent syndicated talk show GERALDO was cited as the worst of television exploitation and “sleaze,” and his provocative episodes were designed to titillate and shock. In January 1990, Rivera told the National Enquirer, “I’m sick of trash TV! Shows like Oprah and Donahue and even my own have gone over the line, and we’ve all got to stop piping sleazy, perverted material into America’s homes!” Rivera then launched a syndicated “news” series titled NOW IT CAN BE TOLD. Rivera claimed that his new show combined “the best of 20/20 and 60 MINUTES” and featured “hard-hitting” reports which exposed corruption and crime. NOW IT CAN BE TOLD was one of many so-called “tabloid news” shows which were popular at the time, including HARD COPY, INSIDE EDITION, and others featuring coverage of current events, “human interest stories,” sex scandals, and bizarre conspiracy claims. In the early 1970s, Rivera began his career as a credible journalist exposing the tragic abuse in a mental institution, but two decades later he was introducing stories about celebrity gossip, Bigfoot, UFOs, and satanic cults. After the media frenzy surrounding the release of the book Zodiac and the terror created by the so-called “copy-cat” Zodiac killer in New York, Rivera and his team launched a “new investigation” of the unsolved “Zodiac” murders.
Robert Graysmith’s best-selling book Zodiac presented a largely fictional account of the unsolved case and perpetuated many myths regarding the life and death of Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin. Graysmith’s book stated that Darlene had known the Zodiac and had been killed because she planned to report him to police. Graysmith repeated many of the debunked claims linking Darlene to a mysterious stalker. Police had identified one individual who had bothered Darlene but he was cleared as a suspect; later, Graysmith and others transformed these stories into tales of a menacing stranger who had terrified Darlene in the weeks and months before she was murdered. Most of the strange stories regarding Darlene could be traced back to her sisters, Linda and Pam, who told psychics, reporters and TV audiences that Darlene was stalked by a murderous stranger. Linda and Pam never bothered to share any of this information with police during the original investigation and both had reputations as prevaricators who were not to be trusted. Even police investigators noted that the many stories told by some members of Darlene’s family were false. Pam then claimed that Darlene was part of a satanic cult, had known some of the other Zodiac victims, and had witnessed one or more murders. By the late 1980s, Pam was talking to reporters and appearing on talks shows such as The Sally Jessy Raphael Show. Despite her credibility problems, Pam was the ideal guest for those producing sensational tabloid television like NOW IT CAN BE TOLD.
Geraldo Rivera introduced the Zodiac segment titled “Maniac in the Mask,” and bragged that his investigative reporters had unearthed new evidence due to “an open-minded approach which may have been lacking in the original investigation” by law enforcement. Satanic-conspiracy expert Maury Terry and correspondent Alexander Johnson presented their report, which relied heavily on Graysmith’s revisionist version of the Zodiac case as well as the dubious stories told by Pam and a few others. Those familiar with Terry’s work were not surprised when he then claimed to have discovered a shocking conspiracy behind the Zodiac murders with possible connections to a satanic cult. Terry cited possible suspects such as convicted “cannibal killer” Stanley Dean Baker, responsible for the “copy-cat” Zodiac killing of Robert Salem in San Francisco and other crimes. Alexander Johnson asserted that the NOW investigation had proved that Darlene had known the Zodiac, citing the same stories about the mysterious stalker which had been told by Pam and had appeared in the book ZODIAC. (Links to the video segments of NOW IT CAN BE TOLD and the documentary DEVIL WORSHIP: EXPLORING SATAN’S UNDERGROUND are available at the bottom of this page.)
Graysmith’s book included the claim that the Zodiac’s telephone call to the Vallejo Police Department had been recorded yet mysteriously vanished. The NOW broadcast included the source of this story, former Vallejo police officer Steve Baldino, who claimed that a police dispatcher had played the Zodiac recording for him shortly after the killer’s call. Baldino, Graysmith and others suggested that someone had stolen or destroyed this recording because this evidence somehow implicated an individual or individuals who were responsible for Darlene’s death yet also enjoyed the protection of the police. This theory implicated members of the Vallejo police department as co-conspirators in the entire Zodiac crime spree, including the murders on Lake Herman Road, the stabbing at Lake Berryessa, the killing of a San Francisco cab driver, and the many letters linked to the Zodiac. The NOW broadcast also suggested that Darlene was murdered because she was planning to expose one or more individuals involved in other crimes and killings.
Steve Baldino was the only member of the Vallejo Police Department who ever claimed that such a recording had ever existed. During a conversation with a television producer, retired Vallejo police Detective Jack Mulanax stated that he had never located the recording in question, and retired Detective Ed Rust stated that the Zodiac’s call had never been recorded. Former Vallejo police dispatcher Nancy Slover answered the Zodiac’s call to the Vallejo Police Department. Slover stated that the Vallejo Police Department did not have the equipment installed to record incoming calls to the police dispatcher and that the call had not been recorded.
Ed Rust was interviewed for the 1991 NOW segment, and he stated that he believed that Darlene may have been killed as part of some conspiracy and that Michael Mageau, who had survived the shooting, was withholding some information. Rust’s statements were included in a larger presentation linking Darlene’s death to his own department and satanic cult activity, yet Rust did not endorse this theory of the crime. Later, he explained that his opinions at that time were colored by much of the misinformation regarding Darlene and by the confusion created by the seemingly-reliable book by Robert Graysmith. Like many Zodiac investigators and unsuspecting readers, Rust at first believed that some of the information included in Graysmith’s book was accurate and he therefore believed that the theories about Darlene were compelling. Years later, Rust has stated that he does not believe that Michael Mageau has withheld any important information relevant to the investigation, and he did not believe that Darlene was the victim of a conspiracy. Rust has expressed his belief that suspect Larry Kane may be the Zodiac, but Rust does not believe that Kane was working in concert with any members of the Vallejo Police Department. [ Watch the HARD COPY episode regarding suspect Larry Kane. ]
NOW IT CAN BE TOLD also featured retired Vallejo police Detective John Lynch, who had also been assigned to the Ferrin investigation. He stated that he had received calls from anonymous informants telling him that Darlene was somehow connected to “a witch” and a cult, but Lynch added that he never developed any further information in that regard. The calls in question were apparently made after the mid-1970s, after Pam and others began telling stories about Darlene’s alleged connection to the Zodiac and the occult. According to the Vallejo police reports, including those written by Lynch himself, no one had ever contacted police to report any possible connection between Darlene and any occult or satanic activity of any kind. The same reports demonstrate that the Vallejo police and investigators in other jurisdictions did not believe that the Zodiac had any connection to Darlene Ferrin or any of the other Zodiac victims.
After Darlene’s murder, Vallejo police knew that someone had called police to take responsibility for the Ferrin/Mageau shooting as well as the murders on Lake Herman Road in December, 1968. Police investigated the possibility that Darlene had been killed by someone she had known. After the first Zodiac letters arrived, police continued to investigate any possibility that Darlene had known the killer or any of the other Zodiac victims, but this investigation failed to produce any evidence of any connections. Police interviewed many of the people who had known Darlene, including her family, friends, co-workers, employers, acquaintances and others. As part of standard investigative procedure, police asked if there was anyone who had bothered Darlene or had reason to harm her. None of the individuals who were interviewed provided any information which would indicate that Darlene had known her killer or that anyone had been bothering or stalking her before the murder. Darlene’s sisters, Pam and Linda, were both interviewed and neither provided any information to indicate that Darlene was afraid of anyone, that she had been stalked, that she had witnessed a murder, that she had known any of the Zodiac victims, or that she was part of a satanic cult. No one who had known Darlene Ferrin could think of anyone who had bothered or stalked her or anyone who would want to kill her. The only individual who was described as a possible suspect was George Waters, who had apparently bothered Darlene while she worked as a waitress. Police interviewed George and he denied any involvement in Darlene’s murder. Police concluded that George was not a viable suspect, yet the some of the stories about George were later transformed by others to create the myths about Darlene’s mysterious and murderous stalker.
Retired reporter Dave Peterson often repeated many of the stories told by Pam and Linda, including the myth that Darlene had been spending more money than she could have made as a waitress. This claim was based on the notion that Darlene had magically obtained a large sum of money in order to buy a house, yet Darlene’s husband Dean explained that they had purchased the home with the financial assistance of Darlene’s father. Peterson was convinced that Darlene had known the Zodiac and that her alleged involvement in a satanic cult had somehow led to her murder. Peterson became an associate of Howard Davis, who claimed that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and other officials had orchestrated a massive conspiracy to conceal the connection between the Zodiac murders and the notorious Manson “family” of cult killers.
During the NOW broadcast, author Maury Terry stated that Darlene Ferrin had an argument with an unidentified man shortly before the shooting that she and Micheal Mageau were then chased to the scene of the crime. This was not the story which Mageau told police in 1969, but a story which Darlene’s sister Pam claimed she had been told by Darlene’s cousin, Sue Ayers. According to Pam, Sue heard the story from Michael Mageau while she visited him in the hospital shortly after the shooting. Sue Ayers denied that she had ever visited Mageau and stated that he had never told her such a story. During the investigation which spanned from the night of the shooting into the 1980s, no one had ever told police that Darlene had argued with anyone on the night she was killed. The story had appeared in Robert Graysmith’s book. Graysmith claimed that a man had been driving by Darlene’s place of work and saw a woman in a waitress uniform arguing with an unidentified man. The actual police report regarding the alleged incident stated that the witness saw a man and a woman in the parking lot, that they appeared to be talking not arguing, and that the woman was dressed as a waitress– there was no evidence that this woman was Darlene Ferrin. The witness also stated that this sighting occurred in the afternoon, during daylight hours, not at night as Graysmith and others claimed. The stories about the argument with a stranger and the chase to Blue Rock Springs Park became popular myths due to constant repetition in the age of modern media.
Geraldo Rivera, Maury Terry and the rest of NOW IT CAN BE TOLD team produced a second television segment about the Zodiac mystery titled “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” Correspondent Alexander Johnson stated that the previous NOW investigation had produced evidence that the Zodiac had known at least one of his victims, waitress Darlene Ferrin. After a summary of the earlier broadcast, Darlene’s sister Pam led a film crew to the home of surviving victim Michael Mageau. Pam confronted the confused Mageau and demanded to know the identity of the Zodiac. Mageau remained detached and offered no answers while Pam pointed her finger in his face and sobbed, “I know you know who did it. You can’t tell me you don’t know.” Despite the title of the show, Mageau appeared to know nothing which would help identify the man who had murdered Darlene Ferrin. The program repeated the interview with Ed Rust, and the detective said that he believed that Michael Mageau may have withheld some information. Rust later stated that he did not believe that Mageau had withheld any important information or any information which would have been relevant to the investigation. The theory that Michael Mageau held the secret which would unlock the mystery of the Zodiac was not supported by any known facts, and the various stories about Mageau and Darlene had circulated for two decades before Mageau appeared in another interview. An aging and clearly unstable Mageau was interviewed for the documentary which accompanied the 2007 DVD release of the film ZODIAC. The film presented a largely fictional version of the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park and other issues concerning Darlene Ferrin. Mageau stated that he and Darlene had been followed to the scene of the shooting and that Darlene had warned him that the shooter was a man named Richard. According to Mageau, Richard was so jealous that he would kill if he found Mike and Darlene together. Mageau’s new story contradicted his previous statements and seemed to be a mixture of rumors and stories which had become part of the popular myth. At the time of his interview, the makers of the film ZODIAC had only included two real suspects in the movie version of the story, Arthur Leigh Allen and Richard Marshall (aka Rick Martin). Despite the fact that he had reportedly identified Allen as the man who shot him in 1969, Mageau’s 2007 interview included his wish that the killer would someday be identified and executed.
The myths regarding the life and death of Darlene Ferrin persist, thanks to those who have chosen to exploit her murder and the Zodiac case for personal gain. In a recent example of this irresponsible exploitation, Tom Voigt of the website Zodiackiller.com has worked to convince the public that a photograph depicting Darlene Ferrin with an “unknown man” may be important evidence which could help solve the case. This claim is based on the notion that Darlene may have known her killer and that the “unknown man” may have been involved in her murder. To learn more about this photograph and the rest of the story, read the article Darlene Ferrin and the “Unidentified Man.”
Watch the episodes of NOW IT CAN BE TOLD:
Watch the video documentary DEVIL WORSHIP: EXPOSING SATAN’S UNDERGROUND: