Thursday, March 01, 2007
Victim describes 'Zodiac' serial killer's attack

Bryan Hartnell says he was stabbed eight times, allegedly by the Zodiac killer.

There's nothing quite like Hollywood to bring attention to historical events. Big stars and multi-million dollar marketing promotions make us pay attention. Case in point: Zodiac, a film opening this weekend starring Jake Gyllenhaall and Robert Downey Jr.

Zodiac is the nickname of a serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco area beginning in late-1968. There are scores of books and Web sites devoted to the case, and it seems natural that a movie would eventually focus on it as well. Tonight, we profile one of the Zodiac's victims, Bryan Hartnell.

Hartnell was just a college kid at the time, attending Pacific Union College, just north of San Francisco. For the past four decades, he's tried to stay out of the spotlight and has succeeded in doing so, until he decided to discuss his tragic ordeal with us.

Hartnell says the sky on the day he was attacked was beautiful, the kind you might see in a postcard of San Francisco with the glistening bay and Golden Gate Bridge. So when he ran into his old girlfriend at the school cafeteria, he thought it would be a nice if they could take a drive together and get caught up on their lives.

They wound up at the edge of a scenic lake in a remote private area. They were laying down on a picnic blanket and gazing at the clear blue sky when a man suddenly approached and pointed a gun at them. He was wearing an eerie costume: a black hood and black shirt with a white symbol on the front that looked like crosshairs on a gun sight. (It would later become the Zodiac's trademark symbol.)

What happened next is one of the most horrific crimes you can possibly imagine. Hartnell was stabbed 8 times; his companion, Cecilia Shephard, between 10 and 20. She died a day later at the hospital, but was able to give a description of the attacker before she died. Hartnell, however, never saw his face. Investigators say it was one of the most brutal attacks they've ever seen. They believe the Zodiac used a knife, so passersby wouldn't hear the sound of gunshots.

Following the attack, the Zodiac killer calmly walked away leaving intentional clues as to his identity. He wanted to make it clear there was a serial killer on the loose. His next victim would be a cab driver in the heart of San Francisco.

These days, Hartnell, 57, works as a probate attorney in Southern California and is married with children. With the film's release, he thought now seemed like the appropriate time to come forward and tell his story. (He says he served as an unpaid consultant on the film.)

Those familiar with the Zodiac already know how Hollywood's version of the killer's story ends: the Zodiac has never been caught. What makes the story so interesting is the hunt for the killer and the Zodiac's headline-grabbing antics: he wrote several letters to newspapers taking credit for his crimes and also included cryptograms or ciphers that he claimed would shed light on his identity. The Zodiac craved attention. He's certainly getting his wish now.
Posted By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent: 6:14 PM ET
  43 Comments
You're right, the Zodiac is getting the attention he wanted now. I think it's disturbing in this country that we glorify crimes like this. Even so, it is a powerful story to tell and it still scares me to think he was never caught. Maybe this film will scare up some clues from someone who previously wouldn't or couldn't come forward.
Posted By Anonymous Cecilia, Houston Texas : 6:53 PM ET
Doesn't it seem like a film would be the kind of attention that would only make a depraved serial killer like 'Zodiac' strike again?
Posted By Anonymous Brady, Los Angeles, California : 7:10 PM ET
One of the reasons that the Zodiac wasn't caught was that the separate police depts..Riverside, Vallejo,etc) were too proud to share info...fearing the SF police department would get all the glory..hopefully things have changed..
I think Mr. Hartnell is a brave guy...who has to live with the scariest thing in his life...what a nightmare it must be-- seeing that man in hooded costume. Chills my bones.
Posted By Anonymous Pat Dumas, Fair Haven, NJ : 7:12 PM ET
My mother was a classmate of Betty Lou Jensen the first victim. She remembers that night well because her and David Faraday's little sister were waiting for them to pick them up from Rainbow Girls the night they were killed. They obviously never showed up. I am unsure if my mother is going to see the movie or not.
Posted By Anonymous Jayson, Colorado Springs, CO : 7:17 PM ET
It's good to see Mr. Hartnell able to talk openly about that frightening chapter of his life.
Posted By Anonymous Andy Selah, WA : 7:20 PM ET
I think that it is courageous that Bryan Hartnell is finally telling his side of the story. Now we can all learn the truth and not just hear say. I hope he has found peace and gotten over this horrific ordeal! Why was he not paid as a consultant on the film? I can understand not wanting to gain money off of someones death...but why let the movie company make all the money? He could've atleast gotten paid and then gave it to a charity or something?
Posted By Anonymous Cynthia, Covington, Ga. : 7:39 PM ET
I was a neighbor at the private school Bryon's sister and brother attended and was there the day they were told of the attack on their brother and his friend. I have never forgotten the fera we all shared for his life and the possability that anyone could be caught in harms way in the most inocent of surroundings. My husband also knew the family and we wish him well and pray the suspect will recieve his just deserts,what goes around comes around.
Posted By Anonymous Joni Hunter Woodinville WA : 7:45 PM ET
I attended Pacific Union College from '01 to '05 and this story was known to most every student. I was actually in a class with Mr. Hartnell's son, though I did not know either of them personally. The remote lake is called Berryessa and students often spend nights and weekends there to relax.
Posted By Anonymous Steve Masillamoni, Loma Linda, CA : 7:57 PM ET
Why do we give these freaks the fuel in which they thrive for? The media is the fuel and the catalyst for these crimes.If we treated them like devils and put their exacutions on t.v. as they are being burned to death intead of imbracing the crimes that they commit. Maybe we would put a halt to this madness.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin Johnson, 1902 belveiw ave. NYC : 8:28 PM ET
The memory that Bryan retains of how blue the sky was on the day of his attack amazes me. It intrigues me that his recall of that beauty intermingles with the horriffic events of that day.
It's so sad that murderers such as the Zodiac killer are able to get attention through Hollywood's need to expolit innocent victims. So very sad that our world has come to this.
Maybe something in this movie will jog a memory or cause someone to recall an event that might cause the Zodiac killer to be apprehended.
It took a tremendous amout of bravery for Bryan to even act behind the scenes to help recreate the events that changed his life forever.
Life comes at us all hard and fast. Open doors lead us to opportunities that we may never dream of but the paths we choose may help make a positive difference for someone down the road.
Posted By Anonymous Zann Martin, Tennessee : 8:30 PM ET
There are 50 known savants in the world. I can't help but wonder if one of them could possibly crack this zodiac code.
Posted By Anonymous Ana A., Ocala FL : 12:55 AM ET
I bet he is in jail for something else - or someone got him. I dont see why he would stop otherwise..
Posted By Anonymous Pete, New York City NY : 1:46 AM ET
As I read this story I have to wonder if the Zodiac killer is smiling and reading everything that is being printed today about this movie. I am sure if he is still alive he will go see the movie and have comments on how inaccurate or accurate the movie may be.
Maybe after all these years someone will come forward and give out information that will lead to the arrest of this killer.
Posted By Anonymous Tammy, Akron OH : 10:07 AM ET
We had a serial killer here in Kansas, the BTK killer, who went many years without killing until a newspaper retrospective prompted him to start sending clues again, which eventually led to his capture and televised confession. While the Zodiac killer is probably dead or incarcerated, if he is alive and free, a movie like this just might be the thing to prompt his egomania to cause him to try to take credit for his crimes and lead to his capture.
Posted By Anonymous Jeff, Wichita Kansas : 11:15 AM ET
I thought the man was dead, it he still alive. If so yes we should still look for him. We search for racial killings in the 60's now, why not him. He did more damage or as much as Jack the Ripper. Lever let this be a cold case.
Posted By Anonymous pbishop Mobile. al : 11:20 AM ET
All these Hollywood horrors and soapdramas what go close real crimes helping to solve them are understandable if people likes to see them. Sometimes imagination of moviemakers, leads people wrong way and makes hard time for unrelated, innocent persons. That kind popularity is hard to handling and even the most famous and smartest investigators and reporters can get part of that trouble when they make deeper investigation, what is very valuable work, regardless is it coming from personal reasons or from passion for practise their profession and williness to entertain others.
Posted By Anonymous Tarja, Dallas, TX : 12:14 PM ET
Wow...how crazy is it to think that you could go see this movie and be sitting next to the Zodiac Killer himself and not even know it?! Now that's a horror movie!
Posted By Anonymous Ben, Malvern PA : 12:42 PM ET
I shudder reading the last comment, because it's probably true. The Zodiac killer is/was unbelievably arrogant, and deserves to be punished for his awful crimes. It's outrageous that this monster is probably sitting back somewhere, self-satisfied that he's getting all this attention. I hope his arrogance is his downfall, and that if he isn't caught, he simply unmasks himself and pays the price for ruining so many lives.

There is no bravery in hurting people and hiding behind a mask. Bravery exists in people like Mr. Hartnell, who faced his demons literally and figuratively and still managed to move on with his life.
Posted By Anonymous Kelly R., Los Angeles, CA : 1:04 PM ET
p.s. maybe the movie will show something that will make the 'zodiac' angry and he will show himself. if law enforcement couldn't catch him, maybe hollywood can!
Posted By Anonymous debbie, houston TX : 1:12 PM ET
I think this film is the best thing yet. The Zodiac will watch the film and more than likely strike up correspondence again and we'll get him! I think the movie will aid in solving the mystery. The Zodiac is just a little coward boy who's favorite color was black. He's a joke and will get caught.
Posted By Anonymous Lydia Lamm, Salina, KS : 1:51 PM ET
I went to school with two of the victims, the first two girls, and have followed the case since then. For those less familiar with the Zodiac, I don't think you need to worry about the killer sitting somewhere smiling. There is substantial evidence that the police know the identity of the killer, who is now dead. I believe there are new DNA tests underway that could finally settle this. What would be interesting to know is why the first male victim to survive (he was with Darlene Ferrin) was not shown a photograph of the suspect until 20 years later. When he finally saw the photo, he said, "Yes, this is the man who shot me." All of this information is a matter of public record.
Posted By Anonymous Michele, Sebastopol, CA : 2:20 PM ET
What bothers me is that one of you writing these comments could be the sick freak killer himself. I bet he enjoys reading the rest of your comments.
Posted By Anonymous z, san francisco california : 3:23 PM ET
How many years has it been since this horrific crime occurred? Forty or so?

I predict the Zodiac is by now either dead or so further debilitated by his mental illness that he's now institutionalized. Obviously the guy was extremely brilliant. But brilliance and great intelligence do not shield a person from mental illness. I predict that illness has proved fatal to him by this time.

Bryan Hartnell is a brave man, and he's dealt with his tragedy in a healthy way, by getting on with a normal life. So often, people who've been victimized keep dwelling on that bad chapter in their lives and thus cripple themselves further. "Keep on keeping on," is the very best cure.
Posted By Anonymous Jeannie Brown, La Canada, CA : 3:23 PM ET
I was a 10 year old living on the Presidio in San Francisco at the time of the Zodiac killings. I remember having soldiers armed with M16s riding on the school bus with us, one up front and one in back, while this was going on. It was very frightening and was my first taste of the "horror" of the "adult world" - I can still remember the fear I felt back then. I don't agree with the making of a movie about the Zodiac killer. I can see that it serves no purpose other than to make a buck for someone, give people who were not there a "horror movie thrill", and give those of us who lived through it a reminder of a nightmare we would prefer to have left in the distant past.
Posted By Anonymous Roger DiPaoloo, Franklin, MA : 3:25 PM ET
Rest assured, payback comes in so many forms. The Zodiac killer is already dead for sure. He died so anonymously that is was the exact opposite of the attention he so desperately craved for. No one will ever know what his real name was...

And that, is Justice in no uncertain terms.
Posted By Anonymous Alex E. Chicago, IL : 4:12 PM ET
Kevin in NY states, "The media is the fuel and the catalyst for these crimes." And then suggests that we put executions on t.v.??? Apparently only part of the media is responsible for these terrible crimes...Unfortunately, this has become a typical response in our country to blame others for our own actions...
Posted By Anonymous Doug, Apple Valley, MN : 5:10 PM ET
I was 8 years old and growing up in the Bay Area at the time the attacks started. We had been out on Berryessa a couple times. As kids, we didn't have a a "boogey-man", we had the local news and the hysteria. This guy managed to scare everyone, and even though it has been years, I remember the adults shuddering and changing plans for fear of being anywhere unfamiliar or deemed to be risky. There was a cloud over every activity for years. That there was no closure made it worse...everyone waited for the next attack. Even when it had been quiet for a while, the papers would mark some omninous anniversary to revive the fear.
Posted By Anonymous Chris Johnson, St. Louis, Missouri : 5:23 PM ET
I just was the film , I thought it was an incredible story because it was true , unlike some films which only seek to shock . The facts are something I never knew even after having lived in San Fransisco then I really never followed it that much and to this day did not know the story until seeing the film . It show that technology may change but the crimes remain the same , exactly like the BTK somebody mentioned , that was recently and they caught him by tracing a Computer disc. It is likely Zodiac died after getting chased for what 14 yrs. You can only have compassion for the victims and their families.
Posted By Anonymous Alan D Enstoss Pittsburgh PA : 8:39 PM ET
Fabulous movie, but loooong. Loved the music! Very good acting by Gyllenhaal, Ruffalo and Downey.
Posted By Anonymous Dixiebelle Allen, Atlanta, GA : 8:49 PM ET
I saw the zodiac movie and found it to be a very good movie. I know it must bring back a lot of bad memories but unsolved case should be kept in the public light so we never forget.
Posted By Anonymous mike in fairfield california : 1:37 AM ET
Given that there have been many books, documentaries, and even a couple of minor feature films already produced about the Zodiac Killer, it's unlikely that this film would be the one to "flush him out," regardless of publicity. Importantly, as several people have mentioned, the individual responsible for the murders is likely himself dead. He was believed to be 35-45 years old at the time of the original crimes, which would make him at least 75-85 today. Also, let's not forget serial killers and mass murderers have existed for millennia, without any help from external publicity - it's easy to forget they're not an invention of the Media Age.
Posted By Anonymous Lenka, Chicago, IL : 1:37 AM ET
Now I fear for Mr. Hartnell. There is a good possibility that the Zodiac killer is still alive. Because of articles like this, the killer now knows one of his victims names, where he lives, what he does for a living, and that he's married with children. What did Mr Hartnell allow this information to be released- he should have spoken about this anonymously. Hopefully, I'm just being paranoid
Posted By Anonymous Dan, Chicago Il : 9:19 AM ET
As a native Californian that grew up in
the bay area at the time.I was 3 months
younger than Zodiac's first victim David Farraday and' I can certainly
vouch for the fact of the fear that he
created.Young adults and' teens are
known to feel immortal but'at that time
many of us were looking over our shoul
ders.We all felt so vulnerable.Bravo to
Bryan Hartnell for shedding his though
ts I still remember him giving his in
terview with the media after being bru
tally stabbed saying he has no remorse towards the Zodiac he just doesn't want
to see this happen again to anyone.Now
that is truly one fine human being.
Posted By Anonymous Wayne union city ' california : 9:58 AM ET
I bet he is out there, now is his big chance. He will kill again before he is brought in by authorities, that is if he is still alive. There are very few serial killers who go to their graves keeping secrets. Not much people can do about it, you all worry too much. If it happens it happens, serial killers are smart individuals. You will not see it coming until it is too late.
Posted By Anonymous Adam, Athens, OH : 11:17 AM ET
Well I read about the Zodiac a few years ago and went to see the movie tonight. Still, I am so amazed that with so much information [even people who saw him], the zodiac was still able to get away with it all.

That being said, I'm looking forward to this interview.
Posted By Anonymous Sandra, Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. : 2:11 AM ET
It has been mentioned many times already, but I must agree. We should never allow this case to be closed or shelved with all of the other 'cold' cases out there. This evil person was only happy when torturing and mutilating others, and he must pay for these actions. Thanks you for making this a blog entry...maybe it will open new doors from an investigative standpoint.
Posted By Anonymous Dean Schindler; Houston, TX : 10:10 AM ET
There have been alot of theories surrounding the Zodiac killings. Some people are saying that maybe some of the members of the Manson family were involved with the killings. Some Manson members were from the San Francisco Bay area and were involved in all kinds of devil worship and the use of symbols. There seems to be alot of similarities considering the time period and the extent of the killings. I am not sure myself, but after viewing the movie, one can only assume that the individual responsible wanted alot of attention and actively pursued it through the media. I guess they wanted there 15 minutes of fame.
Posted By Anonymous Luis Merina, San Francisco, CA : 11:54 AM ET
I know Bryan Harnell as a good frind, having roomed with him for over a year in law school folowing the incident. I remember seeing the scars on his back from the knife wounds. I remeember the quiet phone calls he would receive from time to time regarding the investigation. He did not volunteer much about it then as it appeared to be a very painful subject. He was and remains a genuinely good and decent person. I wish him the best.
Posted By Anonymous Fred Baker, Lodi, California : 5:32 PM ET
I havn't seen the movie yet, but my daughter is home next week for spring break. I'm sure it will be on her list. I briefly saw the report this morning about a man(Mr Grant I believe) who killed and chopped up his wife-yikes. Wouldn't you love to get in the minds of these people? What sparks someone like BTK, Boston Strangler, and Zodiac to kill over and over. Why do people like Jeffry Dalmer cut up and eat their victims? What is really going on in their minds? What's creepy about this is that it could be anyone that we come in contact with. What a scary thought. Thank heavens the gentleman in your story lived to tell the tale! Thanks for the story.
Posted By Anonymous Kathy Chicago,Il : 5:48 PM ET
Did the investigators of the Zodiac Killer look at the zodiac signs of the victims and see if there was a pattern?
Posted By Anonymous Andrew Durk, Hannibal MO : 11:13 PM ET
I saw the film on Saturday evening and thought it was well done. I was just a kid when all of this took place but I remember it very well. I've lived in the Bay Area most of my life and find it eerie to know places like the lake where Mr. Hartnell and his girlfriend were attacked are places that I recognize and have actually been to.

I am impressed with the way that Mr. Hartnell has dealt with this horrific and traumatic incident in his life. I pray for the lost souls of all Zodiac's victims and for their families, may they rest in peace.
Posted By Anonymous Robbie Cakebread, Antioch, CA : 11:16 PM ET
I was wondering has the Zodiac killer ever been caught. His elusiveness from the SFPD back in the 60's is mind blowing.
Posted By Anonymous George Houston & Texas : 12:13 AM ET
Cecilia Shepard's father was my high school chemistry teacher in the late 70's. He always looked so sad, like the light had been taken out of him. Everyone always whispered that the loss of his daughter broke him. I attended the same school as Bryan Hartnell, from 1980-1984. We always went to Lake Berryessa in large groups, because of the Zodiac killing. We saw where the attack took place. It's hard to believe that something so horrible happened in such a lovely place.
Posted By Anonymous Karen, Brunswick, Maine : 2:36 PM ET
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