The unsolved mystery surrounding the Zodiac killer continues to fascinate, more than four decades after the man stabbed two people at Lake Berryessa.
On Tuesday, two retired Napa County Sheriff’s deputies led an NBC crew to a peninsula at Oak Shores at the lake, where, on Sept. 27, 1969, the Zodiac killer stabbed Cecelia Ann Shepard and Bryan Hartnell multiple times. Shepard died two days later from her wounds. Hartnell, then a pre-law student at Pacific Union College, survived the attack.
The killer, who is also suspected of killing people in San Francisco, Vallejo and on Lake Herman Road in unincorporated Solano County, was never caught.
“He might be dead for all we know,” said retired Napa County Undersheriff Dick Lonergan, as he and Dave Collins, a patrolman with the Sheriff’s Department in 1969, waited for an NBC producer and a cameraman to arrive for an interview. NBC’s “Today Show” with Lester Holt is scheduled to present a five-minute segment on Feb. 19 as part of a series on unsolved mysteries, NBC producer Kim Cornett said Tuesday.
Collins — who was also a consultant for the 2007 movie “Zodiac,” along with Lonergan and the late Ken Narlow, the lead detective in the Lake Berryessa case — recalled he was on patrol in north Napa on Sept. 27, 1969, when he was dispatched to the lake. He found Shepard in a fetal position on a blanket by the lake, in excruciating pain. “She was asking for pain medication,” Collins recalled.
As they waited for an ambulance to arrive from Napa, Collins questioned Shepard about the attack, asking her, “Do you know who did this to you?” Shepard, who was in and out of consciousness, was able to say she first spotted the killer on a hillside 200 feet away from the spot where she and Hartnell were, Collins said. The man disappeared before stepping from behind an oak tree 75 feet from them, adjusting a hood. He then walked rapidly toward the pair, holding a gun, Collins said. The Zodiac hog-tied the couple before repeatedly stabbing them.
After the Zodiac left the scene, the pair managed to free themselves. Badly hurt, Hartnell tried to seek help by crawling and walking back toward the main road. In the meantime, a passing fisherman, who had heard the pair calling for help, had sought help at nearby Monticello Resort, Collins said. Alerted, a park ranger, Dennis Land, found Hartnell about 100 feet from the crime scene.
Collins’ partner, Napa County Sheriff’s Deputy Ray Land — Dennis’ brother — attended to Hartnell, while Collins stayed with Shepard. Collins later found a footprint of what is believed to be the Zodiac’s boot. Investigators also discovered the Zodiac had scribbled a large crossed circle and dates of his attacks on a door of Hartnell’s white Volkswagen.
That door is still kept in evidence at the Napa County Sheriff’s Department, Napa County Sheriff Doug Koford said Saturday. “We consider it an open case,” he said.
The department still receives and follows up leads, he said. “I think the Zodiac pretty much catches the imagination of most people,” he said.
• NBC’s ‘Weekend Today Show’ with Lester Holt
• 7 a.m. on Feb. 19