When I found Kim McGath on Twitter I knew she would amaze you with her theory on the Zodiac killer. We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s get right to it. Prepare to be thoroughly enthralled.
It’s a genuine honor to be a guest blogger for bestselling and highly celebrated author Sue Coletta (Note from Sue: I swear I didn’t pay her to say that, but maybe I should). I find her thoughts mesmerizing and her ideas, nothing shy of brilliant. She is an inspiration to so many. (*blush*)
Kim’s Background and Expertise
I never thought I would be in a position to be an author, let alone a detective. I have always lived my life by allowing my heart to lead the way, and never thought too much about future plans. I went to college, which I guess was the natural thing to do, and obtained my Bachelor’s in psychology, then began my career at a psychiatric facility and felt inspired by those who had so many struggles in life, yet pushed on despite their setbacks.
Blessed with a wonderful husband and three precious children, when my youngest entered kindergarten, it was time for me to return to the workplace. I cannot explain why, but I decided to enroll in the police academy. It was a gut feeling; I followed my instincts. Much to the shock and dismay of friends and family members, I became a cop.
My career started in patrol, but quickly advanced to the mounted unit. It was such a privilege to work with the horses; such majestic creatures. The work was more challenging than I could have imagined, but I really enjoyed interacting with the community. Two years later, I was promoted to detective and spent the next ten years in Criminal Investigations, three of those in the Special Victims Unit.
Saddened by a lot of what I saw and heard, it was still very rewarding to advocate for victims, particularly children and the elderly. My passion, however, was cold cases. I exhumed my first body only a few months into my tenure as a detective and if you can imagine, my superiors were rather stunned when a rookie detective found a missing person’s remains. One of my superiors would lovingly tease me afterwards, referring to me as “the mystic.”
I worked on several cold cases including the 1959 murders of a family of four, and identified Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the In Cold Blood killers immortalized by Truman Capote, as those responsible for the murders. In 2012, I obtained a court order and exhumed their bodies. Unfortunately, the DNA results were contaminated, but there was still physical evidence connecting the infamous men to the crime scene.
The Zodiac Killer
In 2014, while attending a cold case seminar, I stumbled upon the Zodiac case. I never intentionally researched the case; it kind of fell into my lap. As I was watching a presentation on the serial killer, it just hit me that I knew the identity of the Zodiac. I refer to this in my book as my “Newton’s Apple” moment. Researching the case, I was stunned how the pieces fell into place like slapping a jigsaw puzzle together on a lazy afternoon. This marked the second time in my career that I’d worked on a complex high-profile case in which this occurred. It’s a thrilling feeling, and one I hope to have again someday.
As to my theory of the case, it’s shockingly simple. I believe there’s strong circumstantial evidence that serial killer Dennis Rader, aka BTK, is the Zodiac killer. While all serial killers have certain traits in common, Rader and Zodiac have very specific but numerous similarities. Dennis Rader was serving in the United States Air Force during all of the Zodiac murders, except for the first murders that occurred in 1963. Rader was traveling a lot during this period and told an FBI agent after his arrest that this was the happiest time in his life because he was “free to kill.”
Even by Rader’s own testimony, he was murdering more during this period than his years in Kansas, where he admitted to killing ten people. Rader also frequented prostitutes overseas, and admitted to the FBI agent that he would hail taxis and get as far away from the base as possible.
Under his coat he hid a gun, knife, and ropes. He also admitted to stalking women and fantasizing about killing them.
As for the first Zodiac murders, committed in 1963, Rader admitted he had fantasized about driving to California, kidnapping Annette Funicello, and dragging her to an abandoned house. Just shortly after the Beach Party trailer was released, a young couple was murdered about thirty minutes north of the film location. The couple was shot and dragged to an abandoned shack and the female victim’s bathing suit top was cut in the front.
I assert in the book that Rader must have been infuriated by seeing “his girl,” the mousketeer, scantily clad and with Frankie Avalon. This is most likely the reason Rader, acting as the Zodiac, initially killed couples. In his fantasy-driven mind he would have to eliminate Avalon to get to Funicello, and it’s no secret that Rader acted out his fantasies.
Rader also admitted that he purchased a camera overseas and developed his pictures in an Air Force base darkroom. Rader, as BTK, took Polaroids of his crime scenes; Zodiac included specific details of his crime scenes in his letters, sometimes months after the murders occurred. I assert in my book that based on the facts, Zodiac was also photographing his crime scenes.
Side by side comparison of Zodiac and Rader…
- They both used a taxi during the commission of a murder;
- both typed and handwrote letters to police, the media, and family members;
- both called police to report their murders and left the receivers off the hook;
- both shockingly carried gun holsters, multiple firearms, precut ropes, and knives;
- both used cryptic communications including ciphers and in particular linear name codes in their taunting letters;
- both instructed the female victims to bind the male victims;
- victims from both serial killings described their captors as nervous and “shaking,” victims in California and Kansas reported the killers specifically said, “I just want your wallet and your keys because I am wanted out of…;”
- both wrote their page numbers the same, used identical abbreviations, wrote acronyms, and wrote the same salutations and valedictions;
- both Zodiac and BTK adapted folk songs to poetry, frequented libraries, and referenced history and electronics.
There are so many similarities, in fact, I didn’t even include all of them in my book as it became impractical to do so.
Some have commented that Zodiac was not a “sexual” sadist or a strangler like BTK and, therefore, they’re not the same person. Zodiac, of course, talks about sadism at length in some of his letters. Zodiac describes his fantasies about torture and how he enjoys killing more than “getting his rocks off with a girl.” Zodiac also “choked” one of his victims and cut the bathing suit top of at least one of his female victims.
While the sexual overtones are more obvious in the BTK killings, a lot of it was only gleaned after Rader’s confession. Rader’s modus operandi evolved over time due to experience, circumstance, and his ever-increasing need for excitement. Just as Zodiac threatened at the end of his reign of terror to blowing up a busload of children, Rader admitted to police that he began following children at the end of his BTK activity. Rader also admitted in his journal that he killed for power, and this certainly fits Zodiac’s behavior.
Some have also commented that BTK was a “home invasion” killer while Zodiac shot his victims out in the open. There’s a simple explanation for this change in M.O. As Zodiac, Rader would have much less risk of being recognized as he was not a known member of the community. Rather, he was acting as a poacher and, therefore, not worried about being recognized. When Rader got married and settled down he was not as free to travel outside of his area because he was a known member of the community, particularly due to his being a deacon at his church. Burglarizing homes was really the only way he could keep his anonymity.
Otherwise, his behavior remained consistent to Zodiac’s: binding, stabbing, shooting, and exerting power over his victims. Zodiac and BTK’s signature is the same: the immense excitement over exerting power over and killing his victims.
Some have asserted the notion that Rader would have confessed to the Zodiac murders to obtain more media attention, but I believe there’s a logical explanation for why he hasn’t. When Rader was arrested, he was presented with overwhelming physical evidence, so he confessed. Rader, just as is common with other inmates, soon learned what his confession got him: loss of family, loss of his job, loss of his title, etc.
Rader soon took on more of his Rader/Christian persona, distancing himself from BTK. He speaks of this in an interview with the FBI on how he doesn’t like when the guards call him BTK. He also writes a lot about God and draws smiley faces. Rader, while obviously sociopathic, may still be protective of his family in a narcissistic manner and most likely wouldn’t want them to deal with further embarrassment.
Some have also proposed that Rader had an alibi because he was “stationed overseas” during some of Zodiac’s killings or letter writing. I have yet to see any evidence of a specific alibi on the specific dates, and Rader himself admits he traveled often during his time in the military. I have found several sources that not all military flights or personnel on board were logged and, in fact, some were intentionally avoided on covert missions.
Rader worked on radio equipment and often such airmen were brought on flights for this purpose.
Some have also questioned why potential DNA or fingerprint evidence has not been linked to Rader. It’s been my experience that when dealing with old cold cases that DNA is often “partial” and contaminated. It’s also been my experience that fingerprints can be palm prints, or not even belong to the suspect at all. Whether my theory will ever be proven or disproven remains a mystery at this time. But if men, let alone serial killers, can have that much in common, the similarities between Zodiac and Dennis Rader should be a study in and of itself.
To dive deeper into Kim’s theory of the two cases, grab a copy of Zodiac, Settling the Score.
Connect with Kim on Twitter: @kimmcgath