The 1964 murder of Johnny Ray and Joyce Swindle bears similarities to known Zodiac killings.
After the Oceanside Police confirmed on February 3, that they’re “looking into” claims that the unsolved murder of Ray Davis in 1962 could have been committed by the infamous, and still unidentified, Zodiac Killer, it brought to light another San Diego cold case which could be re-examined.
Most notably active in Northern California during the late 60s to early 70s, Zodiac taunted the police and public with letters detailing his crimes. Letters began, ‘This is the Zodiac speaking’ and were signed with the zodiac symbol. He sent encrypted messages, or ciphers, claiming that his identity was hidden within them.
To this day, there remain numerous unsolved cases outside of Northern California linked to Zodiac. He has been officially confirmed as having attacked four men and three women between the ages of 19-29. By his own admission, Zodiac boasted there were a “lot more” victims in Southern California, hinting that he killed 37 people.
The Zodiac killer’s symbol
In a letter mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle on March 15, 1971, Zodiac wrote, “I do have to give them credit for stumbling across my Riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there.”
One such case might be that of Johnny Ray and Joyce Swindle. The murders, which occurred along the boardwalk in Ocean Beach, contain some striking parallels to confirmed Zodiac murders.
On February 5, 1964, the recently wed Swindles were walking south along the boardwalk from the corner of Newport and Abbot, just below the Silver Spray Apartments, when they were shot by someone on the bluff at the foot of Narragansett Avenue. Afterward, the shooter went down the staircase and shot them point blank.
According to the San Diego Union, “five shots were fired from the sniper position above. Police said two more were fired at close range, indicating that the killer fired the last two shots into their heads, as a kind of coup de grâce.”
The Ocean Beach murders, known as the Honeymoon Killings or Seaside Killings, match the Zodiac’s modus operandi and are often referred to as ‘suspected victims’ among experts who have profiled and researched the cases.
The Swindles had a routine of walking along the seaside each night. At the time, it was semi-secluded and quiet, similar to many of Zodiac’s other crime scenes. He was known to stalk his victims, so he may have known their routine. There were no signs of sexual assault. Johnny’s watch and wallet were taken, but police did not believe robbery was the motive.
Shots fired from this OB bluff killed newlyweds Johnny Ray and Joyce Swindle on February 24, 1964.
The proximity to a body of water and the victims’ ages parallel other cases. Johnny was 20 and Joyce was 19 years old.
June 1963, Robert Domingos (18), and Linda Edwards (17) were shot and killed on a beach near Gaviota. They were identified as possible Zodiac victims because of specific similarities between their attack and the Zodiac’s attack at Lake Berryessa six years later.
October 30, 1966, Cheri Jo Bates (18) was murdered in Riverside. There was no sexual assault or robbery. Zodiac claimed this attack.
In 1968, Zodiac murdered teenagers David Faraday (17) and Betty Lou Jensen (16) on Lake Herman Road, very near the lake itself, in Vallejo, northeast of San Francisco. There were no signs of robbery or sexual assault. Zodiac contacted media to gloat and share details of the killings that had not been made public.
In July 1969, Zodiac attacked Darlene Ferrin (22) and Mike Mageau (19) at Blue Rock Springs near Vallejo. Again, there were no signs of robbery or sexual assault. Mageau survived the attack. Zodiac contacted media to claim this murder and the Faraday-Jensen murders.
In September 1969, Cecelia Shepard (22) and Bryan Hartnell (20) were attacked at Lake Berryessa in Napa County. There was no robbery or sexual assault. Zodiac contacted media to gloat and claim this attack.
The approximate positions of the never-indentified shooter and his victims.
October 1969, Paul Stine (29), taxi driver, was shot in the head in his own cab in San Francisco. His wallet was taken. Zodiac claimed this killing. This is the case most similar to the Oceanside murder of Ray Davis in Oceanside, 1962.
Johnny Ray Swindle was shot behind his left ear. The shot behind the ear of male victims was a clear aspect of Zodiac’s modus operandi.
Johnny Ray Swindle’s wallet and watch were taken. This didn’t fit normal Zodiac procedure. But two years and eight months after the Swindle murders, a similar watch was recovered at another Zodiac crime scene.
According to the Department of Justice report, a Timex watch with a broken strap was discovered ten feet from Cheri Jo Bates’ body, likely wrenched off during the attack. The Timex watch was presumed to be the offender’s, although it failed to provide any clues as to the killer’s identity.
The Swindles were murdered by a .22 caliber weapon, which coupled with other similarities to Zodiac prompted then Chief of San Diego Police O.J. Roed to mail a letter on December 31, 1968, to Thomas E. Joyce, the sheriff in Vallejo. The letter refers to a telephone conversation about the double homicide of Faraday and Jensen on December 20, 1968. Roed requests one of the cartridge cases from that crime scene to compare to a “similar case occurring in San Diego on February 5, 1964.”
The ballistics came back as a non-match. However, Zodiac varied his weapons and alternated between 9mm, .22, and possibly a .45 at Lake Berryessa.
Findagrave.com shows this tombstone for the slain couple at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Walker County, Alabama.
There were no taunting letters or phone calls from anyone claiming to be Zodiac after the Swindle murders. Why not?
In a February 2004 article for San Diego Magazine, Dr. Howard Davis wrote: ‘The killer was never found; years later, similarities to the Zodiac slayings in the Bay Area prompted some police authorities to speculate the Swindle murders may have been a trial run for one of the most notorious serial killers in history.’
Davis has been researching the Zodiac Killer since 1987. He’s worked with foremost Zodiac expert and retired police reporter for the Vallejo Times Herald, and has written many articles and scoops on the Zodiac.
Davis, who now runs the Zodiac Killer the Manson Connection website, told me, “I was first to note similarities in the Swindle case and canonical [Zodiac] cases. They were a young couple; ambushed for no apparent reason with a .22 (same caliber type long rifle.) As at Santa Barbara 6/4/63 and Benicia 12/20/69 attacks near water, there seems to be a water connection with [Zodiac], on or very near a holiday, in this case (Swindles) it was near Valentine’s Day. In 1969 [Zodiac] sent a page from an 1969 astrology magazine using paste ups which read: ‘Watch; want Zodiac, hidden magic amulet, flyt 555 birds fly south.’ I was first to publish it having obtained it from police reporter the late Dave Peterson. He told me a reporter found a United flight 555 left San Francisco — a city of meaning to Zodiac — everyday at 7:30 for San Diego. Birds can refer to planes or in the UK then to girls. [Zodiac] had UK connections. So this was a [Zodiac]-like cryptic hint he claimed some victims in San Diego.”