Reporters are supposed to report the news, not make it. But I recall as if it was yesterday the evening of Sept. 27, 1969, when my "nose for news" got the story, almost too quickly.
I was sitting in the KVON radio newsroom when first reports of a stabbing at Lake Berryessa crackled across the police scanner. I had been news director at KVON for eight months, and my instincts said this was going to be a big story.
As it turned out, the attacker was a serial killer who became known as "Zodiac." He had repeatedly stabbed Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, students at Pacific Union College who were on a date not far from Lake Berryessa Park Headquarters.
Shepard died later, but Hartnell survived and eventually become an attorney.
First reports of the attack came in after 7 p.m.
Barely a half hour later — about the time it takes to drive from the lake to Napa — police received a phone call from the Zodiac, bragging about the incident. The receiver on the phone the Zodiac used was put down, but not hung up.
Technology then was not like it is today. The phone company could only report that the call came from a pay telephone somewhere between Lake Berryessa and Napa.
The Napa County Sheriff's Department wanted to find the phone, and fast, so virtually any official with a radio was asked to help.
This reporter jumped into action. After a brief stop at the Sheriff's Department, I drove north on Main Street. Driving past a car wash and the historic Sam Key Laundry Building, I spotted a pay phone, but thought the call must have come from closer to the lake, nearly 30 miles away. At the last second, though, I swerved my car toward the phone booth and was shocked to find the receiver off the hook. Could this be the phone, I wondered?
I used my own two-way radio back to KVON where I instructed the on-duty deejay to call police. They, in turn, told me not to move until officers arrived.
Suddenly I wondered if this was the phone, could the attacker still be in the area, perhaps watching me?
It was a great relief when officers arrived and had me slowly back away so as not to disturb potential evidence.
It was the phone.
Later I learned detectives asked people in the area if they had spotted anybody near it. One woman said yes, she had, and described me and my car to a "T." So, I guess I was briefly a suspect in a murder that has now haunted law enforcement investigators for nearly four decades.
I also learned a still-wet palm print was lifted from the telephone receiver. Unfortunately, that print was never matched to a suspect.
A few days later I was invited to take part in a pool interview. L. Pierce Carson of the Register and I would be allowed to talk to Hartnell, one of the Berryessa victims, in the only interview he granted. A tape recording I made of the interview would be made available to other media. One of the ground rules was that we could not reveal where the survivor was located, for fear the killer might seek him out.
The interview was in a well-guarded room at Queen of the Valley Hospital.
I wish I still had that tape recording, but it has long since been lost.
What I do remember, however, is that, largely because of Carson's story, the Napa County grand jury urged an ambulance be stationed at the lake. Hartnell had suggested that Shepard might have survived had she arrived at a hospital sooner. An ambulance had to do a round-trip between the Queen to the lake, more than 50 miles.
Harold Moskowite, who lived near the lake and later became a Napa County Supervisor, responded to the grand jury's call and established the area's ambulance service.
I also remember two reporters from a Bay Area newspaper listening to the taped interview and taking copious notes. Their story ran the next day under a banner proclaiming "exclusive interview." I was furious.
(Stanley has retired, twice, from the Napa Valley Register.)
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