SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – A cold case team of more than three dozen specialists investigating the Zodiac Killer has named someone they believe is a “very strong suspect” in the unsolved killings in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s.
The Case Breakers, which consist of retired law enforcement officers, forensic experts, journalists, and military intelligence officers, identified Gary Francis Poste as the likely Zodiac killer.
Poste died in 2018.
The serial murderer killed five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969, taunting investigators with a series of cryptic notes.
According to the Case Breakers, they identified Poste as the killer after uncovering forensic evidence and photos from Poste’s darkroom, saying a few images featured show scars on his forehead that match scars on a sketch of the Zodiac killer.
The scars were reported by three witnesses and an observing police officer then passed on to a San Francisco Police Department sketch artist in 1969.
The Case Breakers also believe Poste is responsible for the murder of 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates, who was found dead in Riverside, Calif. in 1966, two years before the Zodiac killings began.
The team said they obtained a 1975 FBI memo to Riverside police saying that Bates was a Zodiac victim.
Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback told Nexstar that his department is unaware of any such physical evidence and questioned where the cold case team was getting its information. Railsback said that Riverside investigators have worked closely with the labs and law enforcement teams to investigate any possible link.
Railsback said that the Riverside Police Department’s Cold Case Unit did receive a handwritten letter in 1967 that initially led investigators to believe the Zodiac Killer might have been behind her murder. The department received a second letter, this time typed, apologizing for the letter and saying it was written as a “sick joke.”
In 2020, the Riverside Cold Case Unit and the FBI Los Angeles Investigative Genealogy Team used DNA evidence from the stamp on the 2016 letter to track down the author and confirm that he wrote both letters. The letter writer, who was a teenager in 1967, wasn’t involved in the murder of Bates, investigators determined.
There is a standing $50,000 reward for information leading to Cheri Jo Bates’ killer set to expire Jan. 31, 2022, according to Riverside police, who said that a lawyer working with The Case Breakers had inquired about in September.
The Riverside Police Dept. is asking anyone with tips on the Zodiac Killer to contact the FBI instead.
Last year, a coded letter mailed to a San Francisco newspaper by the Zodiac Killer in 1969 was deciphered by a team of amateur sleuths from the United States, Australia, and Belgium.
A Vallejo police spokesperson said the department could neither confirm nor deny Wednesday’s report from The Case Breakers and added that they would announce any major developments.
In a statement, the FBI said its investigation into the Zodiac Killer “remains open and unsolved.”
NewsNation contributed to this report.