SACRAMENTO -- Can DNA reveal the identity of the infamous Zodiac Killer the same way it revealed the East Area Rapist suspect?
"Absolutely. Just look at the East Area Rapist. It got tied together because of DNA, eventually," said Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove.
East Area Rapist suspect Joseph James DeAngelo was identified when DNA saved from an old crime scene was associated with a distant relative on an open-source genealogy website. The discovery enabled investigators to canvas a whole new array of possible suspects, including relatives of the killer.
"Imagine you come home and your loved one's been assaulted or been killed. There are no witnesses," Cooper said. "Your best chance of catching the individual is gonna rely on DNA and that's really what it comes down to."
But Retired Vallejo Police Lt. Jim Jaksch, who investigated the Zodiac murders, cautions that evidence collected at the time of the killings may not be conclusive.
"The problem with the Zodiac case is there's not a clean genetic sample. I found that much of it was not packaged correctly," Jaksch said. "It was packaged correctly for the time but not for current standards. A lot of evidence we have is deteriorated."
The Zodiac Killer terrorized Northern California from December 1968 to October 1969. He attacked seven victims, killing five in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa and San Francisco. The other two survived.
The Zodiac claimed many more killings through letters sent to media and law enforcement during that time.
The collection of DNA from potential suspects is essential in solving crimes. It's the reason why Cooper authored the Keep California Safe Act and is working to get it on the ballot. It essentially reverses the effects of Proposition 47, which changed seven felonies to misdemeanors, preventing law enforcement from collecting DNA from drug and theft-related crimes.
"But because of that reduction of those seven crimes, DNA cold case hits had dropped by over 2,000 and that's about 400 murders and rapes we haven't solved because of that," Cooper said.
Solving the Zodiac case would be personally gratifying for Jaksch, whose classmate was among the victims.
"It would mean a lot to me," Jaksch said. "As an investigator, you always feel a certain sense of failure if you don't solve a homicide. It would mean some closure for the victim's families, as well as any of the investigators that worked on the case."