At the scene of the stabbing at Lake Berryessa, investigators observed a set of boot prints which led from the road, down to the crime scene and then to the victim’s car where a handwritten message was left on the door. According to surviving victim Bryan Hartnell, the attacker was wearing a hooded costume which featured a white, crossed circle symbol on the chest. Approximately an hour and ten minutes after the crime, someone called the Napa police department from a phone in Napa, located approximately twenty-seven miles from the crime scene. The caller said that he wanted to report a double murder and then directed authorities to Lake Berryessa. The caller also mentioned Bryan Hartnell’s car. The most logical explanation for these events is that the killer was wearing a costume with the Zodiac’s chosen symbol on the chest, that he walked down to the crime scene, attacked the victims, walked back to Hartnell’s car and wrote the message on the car door. Then, the killer got into a car and drove down to Napa to place the phone call to police.
During the filming of the 2009 History Channel documentary MysteryQuest, I toured the Berryessa crime scene with retired detective Ken Narlow and criminalist Paul Holes. Narlow showed us the path of the killer’s boot prints and talked about the message on the car door. The facts and the available evidence indicate that the attacker left the boot prints at the scene and that the attacker wrote the message on the car door. Hartnell stated that the killer was wearing a hood with the Zodiac’s chosen symbol on the chest. The symbol and the message on the car door demonstrated a clear link between the attacker, the “Zodiac,” and the message on the car door. Absent any credible evidence to the contrary, the most logical scenario is that the person who was responsible for the Zodiac letters was also responsible for the attack at Lake Berryessa.
The Lake Berryessa killer clearly wanted to link the stabbing to the Zodiac. The handwriting on the car door is remarkably similar to the writing in the Zodiac letters. Even if one were to believe that the person who wrote the Zodiac letters was not responsible for the shootings, the evidence clearly indicates that the person who wrote the letters was responsible for the attack at Lake Berryessa. Since the Lake Berryessa attacker was most likely responsible for the Zodiac letters, and since the Zodiac letters claimed responsibility for the shootings, the most likely explanation is that the person who wrote the letters was responsible for the shootings and the stabbing at Lake Berryessa.
According the hoax theory, the Zodiac handwriting had appeared in the newspapers and therefore anyone could have hoaxed the writing on the car door. Horan suggests that Bryan Hartnell was somehow mistaken or invented the story about the crossed circle on the killer’s hood. Horan also claims that Hal Snook wrote the message on the car door. No one saw Hal Snook write the message on the door despite the fact that many people were coming and going from the scene before he arrived. No one noticed that the message was not on the door until Snook’s arrival. In Horan’s scenario, Snook suddenly decided to participate in a hoax by taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the attack at Lake Berryessa. Snook had to travel to the remote location at the lake, somehow obtain access to the car door while no one was looking, and write the message on the car door. No one saw Snook write the message or noticed that the message suddenly appeared where no message had been before.
According to his report, Snook first learned about the crime at 8:30 PM and he did not arrive at the crime scene until after midnight. In order to have written the message at the crime scene, Snook would have to learn about the crime sometime after 6:30 PM and then drive to the lake, leave the message, and then drive back to Napa to receive a phone call informing him about the crime at 8:30 PM. Snook would have to do all of this without being seen. Unless Snook was actually responsible for the crime, the timeline of events does not support the theory that he wrote the message on the car door. No credible evidence has been presented to indicate that Hal Snook was involved in the crime in any way and there is no reason to believe that he wrote the message on the car door.
In the hoax scenario, Snook wrote the message on the car door but he did not commit the crime. Sometime after the attack, Snook learned of the attack and decided to exploit the crime as part of his hoax. The facts demonstrate that a man appeared at Lake Berryessa wearing a hooded costume with the Zodiac’s crossed circle symbol on the chest and that individual attacked the victims. Snook may or may not have known about the crossed circle costume, but, if he did not know, then he choose to exploit that particular crime for his “Zodiac” hoax without knowing that the real attacker had already tried to connect the crime to the Zodiac. If Snook did know that the killer had worn the crossed circle costume, he had no need to invent a “false” connection to the Zodiac when a real connection already existed. Whichever scenario one may favor, even the most generous statistician would have great difficulty calculating favorable odds for a scenario in which one Zodiac imposter decided to strike at Lake Berryessa and then another independent Zodiac hoaxer who just happens to be assigned to the case decides to perpetrate a second hoax.
The facts indicate that someone dressed in a Zodiac costume attacked Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa. Therefore, the “Zodiac killer” actually existed, even if he only committed that one crime and did not write the Zodiac letters. However, the existence of an individual who was wearing such a costume during a “Zodiac” attack strongly suggests that the Zodiac did exist. The most logical, plausible and likely explanation is that the Lake Berryessa “Zodiac” did write the letters and that he did commit the other crimes for which he claimed responsibility.