Cheri Jo Bates & The Zodiac Killer

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14th November 2020  •  4 min read

In 1966, 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates was attacked after she left Riverside City College Library, California. Her killer had disabled her car and lay in wait for her to return from the library to her car, where he attacked. She was beaten and stabbed with such force she was almost decapitated. One of the main…


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It was Sunday night on the 30th of October, 1966, and 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates needed to pick up a few books from the Riverside City College library, where she was a freshman. She called a friend twice that afternoon and asked if she would come along with her. The friend turned down the invitation and Cheri decided she would go alone, driving there in her lime green Volkswagen bug.

Cheri was an honour student and had been a varsity cheerleader at Ramona High School; she dreamed of becoming a stewardess and was planning on marrying her 19-year-old boyfriend. She had spent the morning at Mass with her father, Joseph Bates, at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church before deciding to go to the library.1 When Cheri didn’t return home that night, her father, Joseph, reported her missing.2

At around 6:30AM the very next morning, Cheri’s lifeless body was discovered on a dirt driveway near the library by a groundskeeper. She had been attacked between two old houses off Terracina Drive. She had been brutally beaten and then stabbed to death. She had been punched and kicked in the head and face. She had then been stabbed in the chest, back and abdomen. Her throat had also been slashed with such brutality that she was almost decapitated. She had put up a tremendous struggle but ultimately, her attempt to survive was futile. Her body was discovered fully clothed and nothing had been stolen. 

Around 100 yards away from Cheri’s body, police found her Volkswagen bug with the keys still in the ignition and three library books on the passenger’s seat. An examination of the car indicated that the distributor coil and engine’s condenser – part of the car’s ignition system – had been torn out. Police theorised that Cheri’s killer had disabled her car and waited for her to return from the library to the car.

Investigators found a men’s Timex watch and a shoeprint for military books in a men’s size 8-10. They speculated that the watch belonged to Cheri’s killer and the footprints had come from him. They also found a set of unidentified fingerprints inside Cheri’s Volkswagen bug.3

Over the course of the next two years, police, the Riverside Press-Enterprise and Cheri’s father reported receiving several confession letters. One letter said that Cheri needed to “pay for the brush off that she had given me during the years prior.”4 Another read: “She was young and beautiful but now she is battered and dead. She is not the first and she will not be the last.” However, according to investigators, these were hoaxes.

At one-point, Riverside police investigated a possible link to the infamous Zodiac Killer after they noticed a number of similarities in Cheri’s murder and those associated with the serial killer. In fact, in 1967, a note was sent to the Riverside Press-Enterprise which read: “BATES HAD TO DIE THERE WILL BE MORE” which was allegedly from the Zodiac Killer. Then in 1971, a letter was sent to the Los Angeles Times purported to be from the Zodiac Killer in which he took responsibility for the murder. If Cheri was indeed killed by the Zodiac Killer, that would make her his first victim.  According to investigators working on the case, there was never enough evidence to connect the Zodiac Killer to Cheri’s murder.  

Investigators have long stated that they believe that they know who killed Cheri: a fellow Riverside City College student. They speculate that Cheri was acquainted with this unnamed suspect but they were never able to collect enough evidence for an arrest. As one investigator said: “We had heard that our suspect admitted doing it, that he had bragged about it… This case was solved, as far as I can tell, years ago.”5

In fact, 17 years after Cheri’s murder, investigators were able to piece together enough evidence against this suspect and presented the case to the District Attorney’s Office. However, the district attorney declined to prosecute the suspect, stating that there was not enough admissible evidence.

While Riverside police don’t believe that Cheri was the victim of the Zodiac Killer, there are a number of armchair sleuths who believe that she is.  According to Detective Jim Simons, these armchair sleuths aren’t hurting the police investigation and in fact, he believed that they are a form of support for victims of horrific crimes. Even if he doesn’t believe their theories, he said: “I think it may actually help by getting it more publicity to where someone may come forward one day with information that helps us solve the case.”

In addition to the unidentified set of fingerprints, there were fingernail scrapings and hair strands found in Cheri’s hand. It was speculated that this evidence had come from Cheri’s killer as she desperately fought for her life. Years later, the evidence would be tested and the samples did not match the main suspect in the case. It was determined, however, that the evidence had come from a Caucasian male.

The grim murder of Cheri Jo Bates still haunts the investigators who failed to solve it.

“There was no much hard work from all these detectives who are now dead or retired. It just broke their hears that they couldn’t solve it..”

Detective Steve Shumway.
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Footnotes:

  1. The Press-Enterprise, 27 October, 1996 – “Cheri Jo Bates”
  2. The Press-Enterprise, 7 November, 2016 – “On a Killer’s Trail”
  3. Riverside Examiner, 21 October, 2011 – “Cheri Jo Bates Murder One of Riverside’s Biggest Mysteries”
  4. The Press-Enterprise, 7 November, 2016 – “On a Killer’s Trail”
  5. Contra Costa Times, 3 December, 2000 – “Riverside Victim’s Tie to Zodiac Questioned”

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Heather
Heather
14 days ago

I will never understand the way people write fake letters to “confess”. It’s so heartless and mean. That poor family never getting any closure and just being taunted.

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