Cheri Jo Bates: Another Anniversary



Another year has passed and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates remains unsolved. Time marches on but this mystery is still waiting for a solution.

Little has changed in the decades since Cheri Jo was killed. The story of her life and death is told, again and again, year after year. The case is still a source of confusion and the subject of the debate. The theory which links the Zodiac to the murder continues to dominate the discourse. Riverside police insist that the Zodiac was not involved and blame their favored suspect. From the very beginning of the case, investigators believed that the hairs found on the hand of Cheri Jo Bates belonged to the killer. Several years ago, Riverside police ordered a DNA comparison of the hairs found on Cheri Jo’s hand and hair samples taken from the suspect– the hairs did not match.

The theory that the Zodiac was responsible for the murder as well as the writings linked to the Bates is still controversial today. Decades ago, Riverside police, authorities in Northern California, and many other investigators believed that the Zodiac was not only the author of the Riverside writings but that he was also responsible for the Bates murder. [Read a letter written by Riverside authorities.] Handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill concluded that the Zodiac had written the so-called “Confession” letter, the three letters stating that Cheri Jo “had to die,” and the bizarre poem found on a desk stored at Riverside City College. Some experts affirmed Morrill’s conclusions. FBI experts examined the writings and reported that the results were “inconclusive” yet added that the writings were not inconsistent with the handwriting of the Zodiac. John Shimoda, Director of the Crime Laboratory of the United States Post Office, disputed Morrill’s conclusion, as did other experts.

The Zodiac suggested that he was responsible for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates and referred to this savage slaying as one of the “easy ones” in his criminal career. The evidence and even time itself have effectively rejected the theory that Bates was killed by the Riverside suspect, and, decades later, the only logical suspect is the only individual who ever claimed that he was responsible for the murder. Riverside authorities refuse to investigate the possible Zodiac connection and have chosen to stick with the strategy which has repeatedly failed for decades. In this nightmarishly absurd scenario, the story of this unsolved crime can have no ending.

The Riverside police department remains convinced that their favorite suspect killed Bates yet the best evidence which could be used to identify and convict the killer has apparently exonnerated their favorite suspect. Absent a full-confession by the suspect, the investigation has effectively and permanently stalled. The murder weapon is most likely lost to history. The Timex watch found at the crime scene has never yeilded any useful evidence and has not led to a suspect. In a world filled with cold cases, the Bates case seems frozen in time.

The solutions to minor mysteries only serve as cruel reminders that the important questions remain unanswered. No one knows exactly what happened that night or why the killer chose Cheri Jo. No one knows the identity of the killer or if he is the same man who caused so much misery while hiding behind the name “the Zodiac.” The hunt for the murderer continues while the author of the infamous “Hautz” letter has finally been located. A photograph of the watch found at the Bates crime scene proved that the time piece had never stopped running despite the popular myth to the contrary. The only DNA evidence available does not match the long-time suspect; to those waiting for justice in this case, this news was a bit like telling a patient that he is still going to die but that doctors have been able to rule out one possible cause of his impending demise. The mystery remains unsolved, the story has no ending, and the victim has no justice.

Like the Zodiac case itself, the public version of the Bates story is part fact and part fiction, mixed with misinformation, myth and confusion. More than a decade ago, Riverside homicide detective Steve Shumway claimed that Cheri Jo Bates had been stabbed as many as 42 times in what he described as a “rage killing” similar to the violent murder of Nicole Brown Simpson. Shumway’s version of the story favored his theory that the Riverside suspect was responsible for the crime. The autopsy report refuted this version of the story and proved that Bates had not been stabbed dozens of times as Shumway had claimed. This myth has quietly faded into the shadows of history while everyone ignores its curious origins and the disturbing fact that this falsehood was used to accuse the suspect favored by Riverside authorities. Observers are left to read between the lines and navigate the sea of conflicting accounts, contradictory conclusions, and competing claims.

Crime buffs, researchers and others will undoubtedly remain fascinated and captivated by the unsolved murder of Cheri Jo Bates. Those who wish to learn more will find a collection of photographs, documents and other material related to the Bates case at the Document Gallery.

Copyright 2010 – Butterfield

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