The Zodiac Killer

Tom and I learned a lot when booking our first tour, and we were determined not to make the same mistakes for the second one. This time, we would be organized. We would be persistent. We would ask for vegetarian food (nicely) as part of our guarantee.

And this time, we had a headquarters. Oh sure, you can book a tour while living in van, while being evicted out of a crazy loft, and while sleeping on your former bandmates couch; we had proved that. But it SEEMED like it would be easier if we had a place to paste up our calendar, our atlas of the United States and our prospective promoter phone numbers.

This place happened to be the in-law apartment in the basement of my grandmother’s house. I was the youngest of her 16 grandchildren, and was named after her. She had passed away the year before and her house was in probate, so my mom asked me to live in the in-law, and keep an eye on the house while the legal stuff was happening.

My best friend Jessie spent many nights at the in-law. Often after gigs she would ride home with me on the back of my motorcycle, getting up the next morning to take the bus home or to school. The bed in the unit was a king size. Tom, Jessie and I spent many nights in chaste friendship sleeping in the bed together. It kinda sucked being the person in the middle, but if it got too cramped we would sing “I’m crowwwwded, roll oooooover” and everyone would shift slightly. I had to get up early for work so after weeknights at the Chatterbox I would tiptoe out to my bike for a 50 mph ride through the streets of San Francisco to get to work by 7:30 am. Most of the time we existed in harmony, but one day I got a call in the morning at work:

“Mel, this is Jess”

“What’s up Jess?”

“Look at your feet.” I glanced down and saw black and white high top Converse tennis shoes, a little scruffy.

“Yeah?”

“Are those your shoes?” she asked, sternly.

“Um, yeah??” But the seed of doubt had been planted. And I thought, any minute now she might call me Carmela, which people used to only do when they were pissed off at me.

“No, those are not your shoes. Those are my shoes. Your shoes are sitting here on the floor at the house.”

I looked again. Well, they did seem a little cleaner then my Chuck Taylors.

“Oops, sorry Jess. Just take mine and we’ll swap later.”

Poor Jess, she had to wear my oversized clown shoe size 7 ½ Converse to San Francisco State University. Meanwhile I started to hydrate my Chatterbox-depleted body, and her shoes began to physically tighten about my feet.

Tom spent many nights at the in-law, working with me on the artwork for our first album and the details of the tour. The apartment had a phone, but you could not call long distance on it. We would walk two blocks to the gas station and use the pay phone to call Austin, New York, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Gainsville…again and again. I won’t divulge how we did it (because there’s no statute of limitation on felonies.) Let’s just say that one person would make the calls and the other would look for the cops.

The house and in-law were in the West Portal neighborhood in San Francisco. I had grown up there, right across the street from this same gas station. When I was a kid I never thought I would grow up to use that phone to plead with promoters named “Scary” from Detroit to give me a show. I did look at the gas station a lot from my window when I was about 12 years old because I had a crush on one of the pump jockeys, a teenage boy with greasy hair and coveralls who looked like he’d just walked out of the book The Outsiders.

West Portal was a sleepy neighborhood back then and you would never run into anyone you knew there. But here I was living in West Portal again, and a few times I ran into a guy I worked with when I was a bike messenger. He was a lot older (maybe in his 40’s, you know, ANCIENT) We called him Captain America because he always wore a blue baseball cap with a red A on it. He would always talk to me at work. My boyfriend Gordon (also the dispatcher) pulled me aside one day, and said that I really shouldn’t talk to him because he has been brought into questioning many times during the investigation of the Zodiac Killer. I backed off a bit then, but when you run into someone on the street in West Portal you kinda have to say hello; it’s like a small town. He was taking care of his sick mother. Often he was going to the movies by himself at the Empire Theater. The library was down the street from the theater, and I would run into him there as well.

One day at the library I checked out a book on the Zodiac Killer. Being a punk-rock liking, black-Converse-wearing, greasy-teen -oving kinda girl, I was an avid reader and true-crime fan. I was about a third of the way through the book when I noticed that someone had gone through it with a pencil and changed the times of all the killings by a few minutes or even hours. Some other details, locations and names had also been crossed out and new info was penciled in. It was a little creepy. Then I started thinking about the FBI profile:

zodiac killer

The Zodiac killer was an older white man.

He was a loner.

He may have lived with his mother.

He liked the movies.

(The police actually created a documentary about the Zodiac Killer and showed it at the Roxie theater. They had a suggestion box in the lobby that asked “Who do you think the Zodiac Killer is?” Unbeknownst to anyone, there was a police officer inside the box who photographed everyone who dropped in a suggestion. They thought the Zodiac would be arrogant enough to go to the movie and write something cryptic for the box.)

zodiac movie

The Zodiac Killer was educated and liked to read.

He wrote to Herb Caen, who was the champion of Bike Messengers (I met Herb while working the door at a Bike Messenger Bash, he loved to come and party with us.)

There was no mention of what type of baseball cap he wore.

zodiac herb caen

I was about half way through the book when I started making Tom come to the phone booth with me to make calls. Prior to this, sometimes I would go alone, or sometimes he would go alone, occasionally we went together for moral support. But halfway through the book, I couldn’t stand to be in the apartment alone anymore, so I would go with him. If it was my turn to go, I would force him to come with me.

Three quarters of the way through the book, I started waking up in the middle of the night because of the sound of the wind and the trees outside hitting the windows.

Me: “Tom, wake up, I think the Zodiac Killer is outside”

Tom: “mmmmzzzzarrrrkkkpp”

Me: “Tom, WAKE UP THE ZODIAC KILLER IS OUTSIDE THE HOUSE.”

Tom: “oh ferchristsakes Mellie”

and so on. This went on for a couple of weeks.

One night Jessie and Tom were over, and  I made Tom come with me to the gas station pay phone. We were there for a long time. When we walked into the apartment, there was Jessie, sitting at the kitchen table with the Zodiac Killer book in her hands.

“Hey guys, did you know that the Zodiac…..”

At this point Tom grabbed the book “THAT’S IT! I’VE HAD IT!!! ISN’T IT ENOUGH THAT I HAVE ONE FREAKED OUT WOMAN ON MY HANDS? THIS BOOK IS GOING BACK TO THE LIBRARY,” At which he grabbed the book, turned around and walked down to the library.

I must admit, I went to the library many times to see if I could get the book to finish it, but it was never there. And I never got a late slip from the library so Tom did return it. Perhaps it’s state’s evidence now?

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1 thought on “The Zodiac Killer

  1. Ah yes–the lure of true crime for the punk/metal fan is a constant! And when it’s a home-grown, creep cipher writing true crime book even more so! I remember getting that book and becoming obsessed with it. One night riding around with friends with nothing to do I insisted that they drive into Laurel Heights and pointed out the location where he did his one SF kill (cab driver Paul Stine-didn’t even have to look up the name). I remember being REALLY freaked out when the Night Stalker was on the loose and had killed in SF. But then again, I didn’t have a guy in my neighborhood who seemed to fit the Zodiac profile so well. Great story! (PS–I still have the book if you want to finish it 🙂

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