Yet another victim fell prey to this night stalker. Police investigators seemed hesitant to connect the victim, Carol Beth Hilburn to the others, but there nevertheless are reasons to do so. She was an attractive 22 year old nurse’s assistant— tall (5 foot 8 inches), lean 130 pounds. On November 13, 1970, she was visiting Sacramento from Sonoma County where she worked at the Sunlight Royal Convalescent Hospital. That late Friday night she visited an old bartender friend at none other than the The Zodiac Club on West Capitol Avenue (a biker’s hangout). From there she went to Lloyd Hickey’s Forty Grand Club on Del Paso Blvd. She had once worked there and chatted until the early morning hours. Neither of these, shall we say, are in the best part of town.
After she left (around 5 a.m. Saturday morning), nothing was seen of her until her body was found several miles north of there in the rural Rio Linda area. It had been dragged naked from the car that had brought it and dumped in the open area at the corner of Ascot and 4th Street. She was only wearing one suede boot/sock. Like Hakari, she must have been brutally murdered. Her face and skull had been beaten to a pulp. She might also have been strangled. She had not been sexually molested.
These are definite similarities. Dumping the body in a remote rural area also fit the pattern, as seen in the Hakari murder. It is by no means unique that a killer takes a victim’s body and dumps it in the wilds or remote areas, but the coincidences of the victim’s profession and the way in which she was killed suggest a connection. Dumping Hilburn where she was found can also be viewed as a consistent compromise in his previous MO with Hakari. If this was the same killer, he couldn’t afford to have her found somewhere on the way to Tahoe, like Hakari was found. The closest rural areas to The Forty Grand and Del Paso Blvd was simply to follow it eastward and take Rio Linda Blvd north. Nevertheless, Ascot and 4th were still far off the normal route. Like Ponderosa Way near Weimar, Hilburn was dumped where the killer had to have known of the location to begin with.
However, there are differences. The coroner’s keen eye found a needle mark. It was fresh. She didn’t have a record of doing drugs, and indeed no other needle marks could be found. It was speculated she may have been plied with liquor by her assailant and then drugged. This should not cause us to say that her killer was not the same as the others. It may merely mean that he was progressing in his MO. The killings were now also coming closer together— Hakari (March 1970), Lass (September 1970), Bennallack (October 1970), and Hilburn (November 1970)— another sign a serial killer is gaining confidence.
However, the police were not eager to connect her murder to the others. Perhaps they suspected a copycat killer. Maybe they suspected others involved who were visiting those clubs. She certainly didn’t visit the best parts of town. She could not have been stalked from Sonoma. She was only visiting. She had recently broken up with her husband after a short marriage. Perhaps she was viewed as volatile or flighty and thus maybe they suspected any number of scenarios.
Yet the general similarities are amazing. The killer of all women was incredibly brutal, and he did not rape them. He picked women of similar ages and appearances. I don’t think he had a kink against nurses per se, but it is possible. If he killed Bennallack, this would seem so. But what this does tell us is that he probably didn’t play the midnight prostitutes. Prostitutes are the No. 1 victims of serial killers. They are simply an easy nighttime target. For a night stalker who didn’t work the “angels of the cement,” as they are euphemistically called, he had to pick a compromise. What other type of woman is working graveyard shifts at night? Nurses seem the obvious answer. Nancy Bennallack may have come to his attention while he was stalking Hakari, or he could even have done some time or was in trouble in court for another reason and had seen Bennallack there.
In any case, he was familiar enough with them to know where they lived and what their schedule was like during the night of the attack. He was familiar with certain rural areas. In Lass’ case, he made a terrible slip-up by making those absurd calls. He wasn’t too familiar with his victims. He struck only on weekends.
Sheriff investigator Stanley Parsons had made much that the 3 murders (Hakari, Lass, Bennallack) were connected, but this did not hit the Press until a hastily called Press conference on March 27, 1971. This was only days after The ZODIAC returned to the headlines. That postcard had been received at the Chronicle on March 22, 1971, showing a Tahoe condominium scene. When Lass was linked as being the possible victim, naturally Hakari and Bennallack were immediately linked to ZODIAC. The sheriffs had no choice but to call a news conference to assuage the worries and rampant speculation that The ZODIAC was now haunting Sacramento and the area in between there and Lake Tahoe.
Parsons was not at the news conference, but the Press was allowed to read his summary. “If the Zodiac claims he killed the missing nurse of Lake Tahoe, and if in fact he did slay her, then there is a very good chance he also killed Miss Hakari and Miss Bennallack.” But Parsons seemed to be reticent to believe ZODIAC had a hand in any of them. This pretty much seems the consensus of opinion amongst the investigators. ZODIAC’s MO was well known, as was the fact he was a fairly clumsy killer. The night stalker who killed these 4 women was quite careful. He stalked and he made sure never to be heard. None of the victims seem to have fought back.
These 4 similar murders remain unsolved to this day. But are they victims of The ZODIAC? The postcard and much assumption and nothing else has been the only thing that connected ZODIAC to Donna Lass’ disappearance. But today it seems unlikely that ZODIAC even wrote the postcard. It had been mailed on March 22, 1971, long after the Lass disappearance of last September 1970. On the card, “Zodiac” claimed his 12th victim. Yet on March 13, 1971, a “genuine” ZODIAC letter had been mailed from Pleasanton in the East Bay and addressed to the LA Times. In this letter, ZODIAC already claimed 17 victims.
Tom Voight has said that a reliable source has told him that a former detective on the Zodiac case forged the postcard. This is possible. ZODIAC didn’t use cut and paste words from the newspaper. Moreover, the handwriting on the front of the postcard looks traced. It is this element which finally exposed the 1978 letter to the SF Chronicle as a forgery. Like in that letter the postcard’s writing is thick and does not flow easily. This complicates things, but it is not necessary to go into it here. If this postcard is a forgery, which seems likely at the present time, it calls into question a couple of other supposed (and accepted) ZODIAC communiqués. Ultimately, what this would mean here is that a police detective was forging a few letters to keep interest going in the case.
By whatever means The ZODIAC’s reputation came into play, it has brought these cold cases deserved light. They do, in fact, reveal a very disturbing pattern that tells us a very diabolical person was on the loose.
These murders took place a couple of years before the surprise hit TV movie Night Stalker would air. It breathed life into Darrin McGavin’s career and into the character he played— Kolchak. I can almost hear McGavin read the case note summaries of these victims as I write them, just as he did in the movie. Whoever picked these women off had great strength and cunning. Hakari’s throat was held so tight her hyoid bones were crushed. Each was stalked by a silent assailant. He was very careful. None seem to have reported that a man had been tailing them. And both Hakari and Bennallack were engaged to be married. They would have said something to their boyfriends. He had some other motive than sexuality. They were, like the victims of Night Stalker, killed for some other reason.
Then the killings stopped. The night stalker ceased or moved on. If all of these were done by the same man, he was truly getting bolder and then, at the height of confidence, suddenly quit. He perhaps had as much success as Jack the Ripper (except he preyed upon the decent), and he too made a clean getaway. It definitely wasn’t ZODIAC. This was someone far more cunning. He had an ulterior motive, but no one knows what it was beyond the murder of similar women. He had some connection with Tahoe and Sacramento. He was as clever as The Ripper, probably bolder and more premeditative. He was, probably, far more of the reality behind the fictional Night Stalker of Kolchak fame. He planned, waited, and then silently killed. He suddenly stopped and faded into mystery. Yet he has no handle and remains obscure.
Night Stalker as a handle has been far overused in popular and professional criminology. It’s been applied with deserved measure to The EAR, to the Atlanta Child Murderer, to Richard Ramirez (with little justification), and probably many more. But this killer truly appears to have been the first and the one possibly most like the fictional namesake.
Because most of the victims were nurses, I call him the “Nightingale Murderer.” There’s something about a name which seems to crystalize certain attributes and create the popular interest that may help solve them. If any series of murders deserve that, these do. Despite the fact that the sheriffs did not want to openly associate Hilburn with being his victim, I think it best to include her for now.
Like The ZODIAC, this serial killer and predator must be apprehended.