Oct. 31, 1991 – There is a real murder in RCC’s past; One of the Zodiac killings

By Antony Gilpin & Matthew Boatman

By Antony Gilpin & Matthew Boatman

Halloween turned grisly for Riverside City College when the body of Cheri Jo Bates, an 18-year-old freshman, was found on campus at 6:30 a.m. on Oct. 31. Bates had gone to the library to study the night before and had not returned home. Her car was found to have been tampered with to prevent starting.

Riverside County Deputy Coroner Mike Reilly reported that Bates’ carotid artery and voice box had been slashed. Her throat had been “savagely hacked,” he said, and she had suffered blows to the face, arms and chest. She was not sexually molested.

Bates’ murderer was never found. It is widely believed that Bates was the first victim of the Zodiac killer, who went on to claim at least 24 other victims, most in the Bay Area.

The Zodiac, who police agencies characterized as a psychopathic genius, sent letters to newspapers claiming responsibility for his crimes. In his letters, he claimed he killed to collect slaves to serve him in the afterlife. The Zodiac’s hand-printed letters were signed with a distinctive logo which authorities could distinguish his letters from those of copycats.

The signature took the form of a scorecard: “SFPD [San Francisco Police Dept.]-0, Zodiac-17+” The publicity-hungry killer often threatened more killings if his media coverage were to wane.

The Zodiac never claimed specific responsibility for killing Cheri Jo Bates, but in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, he credited the “Blue Meanies” (police) for “stumbling across my Riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones.”

Zodiac’s letters stopped in the mid-1970. Authorities assume the killer is either dead or incarcerated in a prison or mental hospital, his identity unrealized. In his last letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Zodiac wrote that his next crime would be to shoot out the tires of a school bus, and kill the children as they exited.