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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (FOX 26, 10-7-21) — A group calling itself the Case Breakers claims to have figured out who the Zodiac Killer is. One of the group’s members is a retired homicide detective from Fresno.
But now that the Case Breakers have made their findings public, law enforcement agencies still working on the cold cases are saying, “Not so fast.”
The Zodiac Killer is blamed for at least five murders in the Bay Area during the late 1960s, and was famous for sending police and media coded messages admitting to the crimes.
This isn’t the first time a group has claimed to have cracked those codes and the case.
The Case Breakers are a group of about 40 people, mostly retired from law enforcement or government positions. They’ve had break-throughs in the past.
One of them, Jen Bucholtz, is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Forensics at American Military University, and a licensed private investigator. She was a counterintelligence officer in the Army from 2000 to 2005. She’s now on the Board of Directors for the Case Breakers.
“We’re all volunteers. We’re just out there to get answers for these victims’ families,” said Bucholtz. “I use the term ‘working’ loosely because this is on our own time and our own dime. We don’t get reimbursed for any of this.”
The Case Breakers say the Zodiac Killer is a man named Gary Francis Poste.
The Case Breakers cite as evidence things like scars on Poste’s forehead that resemble marks witnesses remember seeing on the Zodiac; a heelprint of a military-style boot similar to the style and size Poste wears; brown-colored hair like Poste’s found at crime scenes; and a wristwatch purchased from a military base, which had paint splattered on it. The Case Breakers say Poste was a USAF veteran who got treatment at the March Air Force Base near the scene of Bates’ murder, and that the paint on the watch may be attributed to Poste’s 40-year house painting career.
Law enforcement agencies told FOX26 News that would all be considered circumstantial evidence at best, if not pure coincidence.
Bucholtz says Dale Julin, a news reporter, contacted her asking her to go over his manuscript where he presented the idea of Poste being the Zodiac Killer.
“The main thing is that Dale discovered that all the taunting letters that the Zodiac sent to police and the media outlets – they’re actually anagrams. So what you have to do is, you have to know the cipher key, which is ‘Gary Francis Poste’ and you have to remove the letters of his name from each message. Then you have to rearrange what’s left into the actual real message that he’s trying to convey to police.”
The Case Breakers want the Riverside Police Department to test that watch for evidence to link it to the 1966 murder of a woman named Cheri Jo Bates.
“They’ve refused to do so, and that’s part of the reason we’ve gone to the media at this point,” said Bucholz.
Riverside Police Public Information Officer Ryan Railsback denies that depiction of the Department’s interactions with the Case Breakers.
“I spoke to someone who was representing themselves as an attorney through email, I spoke to someone over the phone who was calling themselves a freelance investigative reporter. I never talked to anyone who said, ‘We’re from this group called the Case Breakers.’”
The sleuths claim that the current Riverside police chief has turned down their requests to quietly go over the DNA samples.
“We can take the case to a certain point, but we don’t have the authority or the ability to take those two DNA samples into a DNA lab and do a comparison to either confirm or deny that her killer was Gary Poste,” said Bucholtz.
Riverside Police also say the only thing linking Sheri Jo Bates’ murder to the Zodiac Killer was debunked by its team in 2016. “We have done everything in our power to solve this investigation, and we are no closer to solving it than we were many years ago.”
“My response to that is, ‘How can you be sure when you don’t even know who Zodiac was? It’s a claim that’s impossible to make really,” argued Bucholtz. “Finding out that Gary Poste was a former Air Force radar man, he’d been trained in cryptology — all the background information fit.”
“We have 250,000 unsolved homicides. Law enforcement just doesn’t have the manpower to tackle that; they’ll never catch up. We have something like half a million missing persons. You know a chunk of those are actually homicide victims, so the number is actually higher than what the uniform crime statics report, but it’s just a manpower and resource issue at this point. And if you have skilled volunteers willing to help, what’s the problem?” argued Bucholtz.
There is a $50,000 reward available donated by a private citizen to the Riverside Police Department for anyone who can provide information that leads to an arrest or identification for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates — dead or alive.
If you’d like to read about the Case Breakers members and the cases they’re working on, or if you’d like to get involved yourself, you can do that here.
Bucholtz is also working on another cold case you could help out with: the Unsolved Murder of Debra Sue Williamson.