Yesterday’s Crimes: The Zodiac Killer’s First Known Victims Died 50 Years Ago

It was 50 years ago this month that the Zodiac Killer took his first known victims. This is their story.

David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen went to different Vallejo high schools. They’d only known each other for two weeks when they went on their first date on Friday, Dec. 20, 1968. Betty, wearing a purple dress with a Christmas bell brooch pinned to its white collar, took David home to meet her folks at 8 p.m. The pair then stopped by a friend’s house and went to a holiday concert at Betty’s school, Hogan High.

After the concert, David drove his two-tone Rambler station wagon to a secluded spot near a pumping station on Lake Hermann Road, a rural shortcut between suburban Vallejo and Benicia that was known as a local lover’s lane. They were both supposed to be home by 11 p.m. They never made it.

Stella Medeiros left her ranch on Lake Herman Road at 11:10 p.m. to pick up her 13-year-old son at a movie theater in Benicia. Four or five minutes later, her headlights shone on two bodies lying in the dirt outside of Faraday’s Rambler. Medeiros floored it to Benicia where she flashed her lights and honked her horn at the first police car she saw.

Retired Benicia Detective Pierre Bidou was pulling into the police department parking lot after confiscating a pound-and-a-half of weed when he heard the call of a possible shooting on Lake Hermann Road. Bidou had just driven through there but hadn’t seen anything. When he returned, he found Faraday lying outside of the passenger door of the station wagon.

“It appeared that he had a gunshot wound above the left ear,” Bidou recalled in the 2007 documentary This is the Zodiac Speaking. Faraday was still breathing. “You could actually see his breath,” Bidou said, but Faraday died before he got to Vallejo General Hospital.

Betty Lou (Image courtesy Tom Voigt of ZodiacKiller.com)

Betty’s lifeless body was sprawled 28-feet from the rear of the Rambler. Her face and head were covered with blood. She was shot five times in the back “in close pattern on the right side,” and twice from the front. One bullet passed straight through her body and was discovered when the coroner removed her clothes. Small caliber Winchester Super-X shell casings littered the ground around the car and victims.

One round was shot through the rear of the station wagon. Investigators speculated that the killer may have fired it as a warning shot to get David and Betty out of the car before gunning them down.

“I don’t think that that was ever decided,” Bidou said.

Although Benicia police were the first on the scene, Lake Herman Road was in the Solano County Sheriff Department’s jurisdiction, so Deputy Russell T. Butterbach was also called out. He was promoted to investigator the next morning and assigned to assist Det. Sgt. Les Lunblad with the double homicide case.

“We never had too many murders,” Butterbach said. “We solved them all, but there was just a few.”

“It wasn’t handled as you would handle it today,” Bidou said.

Lunblad and Butterbach followed what few leads they had as if this was a normal case (when it was anything but). They began pursuing leads: Ricky, a jealous ex-boyfriend of Betty Lou’s was watching a Bob Hope movie with several members of his extended family on the night of the killings. A pair of creepy yokels with guns spotted by the pump station around the time of the killings explained they were hunting raccoons. Their guns did not match the murder weapon.

A pair of white men in a blue sedan chased a teen couple driving a sports car down Lake Herman Road about 90 minutes before the shooting. Investigators could never ID the blue sedan or a white Impala seen by the raccoon hunters earlier that night.

The sheriff’s investigators questioned Betty Lou and David’s friends and classmates. Sharon Henslin Stutsman was best friends with Betty Lou since the fourth grade and the two shared a locker at Hogan High. She describes being questioned by police as “the most terrifying thing I have ever been through.”

“There were no serial killers back then,” Stutsman tells SF Weekly. “All the detectives thought it had to be because of drugs. They refused to hear anything else.”

And David and Betty Lou were hardly part of the 1960s counter-culture. Betty Lou was an honor student and a grand royal guide of the Pythian Sunshine Girls, a junior order of the Pythian Sisters service club that has been around since 1888.

David’s funeral was held just two days before Christmas. His fellow Eagle Scouts dressed in dark uniforms with white sashes served as his pallbearers with even more uniformed scouts saluting his casket as it was loaded into the hearse.

After working 20-hour shifts through the holidays, Lundblad started to realize that Betty Lou and David were slaughtered by “a murderous maniac who was not acquainted with either of the victims.” This theory was confirmed when another young couple was shot in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park on the fringes of Vallejo on July 5, 1969. The killer called the Vallejo Police Department 45 minutes after the attack.

“I also killed those kids last year,” he said in a monotone according to dispatcher Nancy Slover who took the call. Letters containing details of the murders that only the killer could know along with pieces of ciphers arrived at the Chronicle, Examiner and the Vallejo Times-Herald by the end of July. He started calling himself the Zodiac in a letter to the Examiner on Aug. 4, 1969.

The Zodiac Killer soon became a regional boogeyman, whose reign of terror lasted for five years — if not 50 — since David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen parked on that dark stretch of Lake Herman Road, and never saw daylight again.

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