Thinking Like A Criminologist: Zodiac Serial Killer

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The Zodiac Killer is perhaps one of the most mind-boggling serial killers to have graced the United States. To this day we are unaware of his identity. He started killing in the 1960’s-1970’s. Jake Gyllenhaal starred in the movie “Zodiac” and played a man by the name of Robert Graysmith. We learn a lot about the Zodiac Killer and how he operates theoretically but never his true identity.

The Zodiac killer committed multiple murders classifying him as one of the most notorious serial killers. He scared the whole population of San Francisco California leaving bodies all over the place. He would taunt media and police with letters of code that people such as Robert Graysmith and Paul Avery could not decipher. The movie does a really good job of showing the behind the scenes of trying to solve these ciphers and the amount of pressure that laid on the San Francisco Police Department. The Zodiac was said to have committed 37 murders. Crimes such as these are considered to be mala in se crimes. These are acts that are strictly forbidden and highly deviant. (Schram and Tibbetts, p. 5, 2018)

What could have driven someone to murder 37 people? As we try to figure out the internal and external factors it is extremely hard in the Zodiac Killers case. We are simply unaware of his identity. We cannot be sure of his childhood, trauma, or past. Those things are typically used to discover the motive and what makes a serial killer tick. Clearly the Zodiac Killer like most serial killers was a psychopath. The causes of psychopathy remain a mystery. We don’t even have a satisfactory answer to the question of whether psychopathy is a product of Mother Nature or a feature of upbringing (Brogaard, 2012).

There are two theories in particular that stand out when it comes to the Zodiac Killer. One of them being Hans Eysenck theory of crime and personality. He discovered what is called the PEN model. PEN stands for psychoticism, extroversion, and neuroticism. These are all things that can easily be applied to the Zodiac Killer. Psychoticism is associated with being aggressive and unempathetic. Extroversion is linked to being sociable and lively. Which made it easy for the Zodiac to kill his victims. Neuroticism is linked with anxiety and depression (Schram and Tibbetts, P. 170-171, 2018).

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The next theory that can be associated with the Zodiac is Lykken’s Psychopathy and Crime. There are a few differences between a psychopath and a sociopath. A man by the name of David Lykken was able to distinguish them. A psychopath refers to people who are anti-social and that behavior may be a problem within their subconscious. A sociopath refers to people who’s antisocial tendencies developed it from a defect instead of socialization. We can presume that Zodiac would fall under the psychopath category as do most serial killers (Schram and Tibbetts, P. 182, 2018)

The Zodiac left a lot of turmoil on the state of California as a whole. The repercussions were leveling. It left the city scared for years after the killings stopped. They were actually able to decipher one of his messages that read “I like killing people because its so much fun”. The crazy part is not knowing who the zodiac killer was or is for that matter. There are theories that claimed the Zodiac Killer stopped killing. The FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has noted that serial killers may stop if something changes in their lives. Perhaps coming so close to getting caught on the night of Stine's murder scared Zodiac onto a safer path (Kettler, 2019).

Like most psychopaths there is not much anyone can do unless it is before they are classified with psychopathy. It typically starts at a young age with signs of violence towards animals, quietness, and thing such as wetting the bed even. In the case of the Zodiac I do not believe there is anything that could have stopped him. Based on his letters to the police and media he seemed to get quite a bit of self-pleasure out of murder. If we knew more about the Zodiacs identity, we might be able to narrow down some possible issues that could deter him from further participation in criminal activity. It is a shame we do not know the facts but that is simply what makes the Zodiac so interesting compared to most serial killers.

In my opinion I do not think there is anything that could deter the Zodiac from committing crime other than early intervention. I believe that once you are deemed a psychopath it is impossible to not be one anymore. “Zodiac” was quite an interesting film but researching the actual Zodiac Killer was fascinating. It is a case where a lot is left to be discovered and learned. It is not like any other old serial killer research. You are left with nothing but a mystery that will probably never be fully solved.


  1. Brogaard, B. (2012, December 7). The Making of a Serial Killer. Retrieved from
  2. Kettler, S. (2019, October 10). Why the Zodiac Killer Has Never Been Identified. Retrieved from
  3. Schram, P. J., & Tibbetts, S. G. (2021). Introduction to criminology: why do they do it? Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
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Thinking Like A Criminologist: Zodiac Serial Killer. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from
“Thinking Like A Criminologist: Zodiac Serial Killer.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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