L. Pierce Carson
Months before his self-appointed nickname, Zodiac, was splashed across the front pages of Bay Area newspapers, a hooded, knife-wielding man ambushed a pair of young Pacific Union College students as they relaxed on a remote shore of Lake Berryessa in the fall of 1969.
The broad daylight attack in late September that year saw the two students — who initially believed they were victims of a robbery — savagely stabbed by a middle-aged man authorities termed a "psychopathic killer."
Cecelia Shepard, 22, died as a result of multiple stab wounds, while her companion, 20-year-old Bryan Hartnell, survived the harrowing ordeal.
The Lake Berryessa attack, coupled with similar lovers lane slayings in Vallejo, garnered the Zodiac major headlines in newspapers and TV broadcasts for several years.
When the Zodiac threatened to harm school children, law enforcement rode shotgun on school buses throughout the Bay Area, with patrol cars regularly tailing school children as they went to and from classes.
This reporter, along with KVON newsman Pat Stanley, wrote about the Zodiac, his victims and the taunting messages he sent on a regular basis to San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Immediately following the attack on the two college students at Lake Berryessa, we were faced with the dilemma of reporting updates on the surviving victim without trampling on his right to privacy.
With the agreement of Stanley, I made a news-gathering proposal to sheriff's investigators Ken Narlow and Richard Lonergan, and Queen of the Valley Hospital officials who I felt would respect Hartnell's privacy and let readers know a little more about the incident that took the life of his friend.
I suggested that Stanley and I become respective audio and print pool journalists for others in our profession by making our interview notes and recordings available to others in the newsgathering business — thereby sparing the young man from having to repeat his story again and again to reporters. We suggested that one TV camera be allowed to record the interview as well, provided a TV crew showed up at a time agreed upon by all concerned — most importantly Hartnell and his doctors.
A little more than a week after the attack, Stanley and I were summoned to the Queen and ushered into Hartnell's room, where the personable young student was propped up in bed. We spent about 20 minutes with him and he politely answered our questions. The one comment that stuck in my mind was his assessment of his survival.
"I refused to die," Hartnell said as he recounted his brush with death.
As he awaited help at the remote crime scene, Hartnell decided he had "to much to live for. I wasn't ready to die. I wasn't satisfied with my personal life and decided this was no way to end it."
Hartnell went on to practice law in Southern California.