A True Crime Halloween by Krista Funk
For most of us, Halloween is an innocuous holiday where we carve pumpkins, eat pizza, drink some beer, take our kids trick-or-treating, and watch scary movies. That’s pretty much how the night goes. Rather you’re a child or an adult Halloween is meant to be a night of macabre, but harmless fun where we can dress up and allow ourselves to branch out and become something else, something playfully ghoulish for one evening. But because Halloween is synonymous with all things horror, to be brutally murdered on that date would seem especially sinister simply because – it’s Halloween. The thing is, heinous crimes happen every day, Halloween being no exception, and one thing we’re all aware of rather we give it much thought or not is that monsters exist, they live among us, and they don’t always need a mask.
The Strange Case of Cheri Jo Bates
In 1966 Cheri Josephine Bates was an 18 -year-old student at Riverside City College in California. In the evening of October 30th Bates taped a note to her fridge letting her father know she was going to the college library to study and work on a paper. She called a co-worker at the Riverside National Bank, where she was employed, and made another call to a friend to ask her if she wanted to accompany her to the library. When the friend declined Bates set off in her Volkswagen beetle for the RCC Library alone.
While Bates studied in the library another student nearby in the library happen to look up from her books and notice the figure of man standing across the street. Thinking nothing of it this student went back to her work, but when closing time came around at about 9pm the student noticed this same man was still there standing not too far from a Volkswagen beetle. When the library closed everyone left, got into their cars, and drove home…everyone but Cheri Jo Bates.
When Bates failed to return home during the night her father reported her missing early the next morning, on Halloween. Not even an hour after his call a groundskeeper for Riverside College named Cleophus Martin happen to notice something, presumably the red pants Bates had been wearing the night before, between two empty houses next to the library. As he approached the object Martin saw what was unquestionably a body lying face down in the gravel. It was the body of Cheri Jo Bates and she had been stabbed multiple times in her face, neck, and chest, and her throat slashed so violently she had almost been decapitated. As you can imagine, Halloween of 1966 was quite different for the people of Riverside as no doubt Cheri Jo Bates was the topic of just about every conversation throughout the day and night.
One thing police noticed very quickly about Bates’ murder was that she was neither robbed nor sexually assaulted. She was however, killed in a very up-close and horrific manner and there appeared to be no reason for it, not a jealous boyfriend, a past enemy that wanted revenge, nothing. This left police to question why someone would want to kill Cheri Jo Bates and furthermore, kill her in such a brutal fashion. Cheri Jo Bates didn’t go down without a fight. Skin and hair were dug out from under her fingernails showing that she fiercely clawed at her assailant therefore, whoever killed Cheri Jo Bates would have been covered in an abundance of deep scratches on the morning of Halloween. He would also be missing his wristwatch since she tore it off of him during the struggle and it was found not too far from Bates’ body. Of the seventy-five people questioned about Bates’ murder no arrests were ever made and Bates became, at least at the time, Riverside’s only unsolved murder.
But then things got stranger. In 1970 Cheri Jo Bates once again made headlines only this time on a much larger scale when several links were made between Bates’ murder and the Zodiac killer. We discussed the Zodiac in the last blog concerning possible links between the Zodiac and the Texarkana killer.
While it might be a stretch to link Zodiac to Texarkana, the murder of Cheri Jo Bates is eerily indicative of the Zodiac. It wasn’t until 1970 when police investigating the Zodiac killer discovered the murder of Cheri Jo Bates and started making connections and it wasn’t the horrific nature in which she died that gave it away. A month after Bates was killed two letters were sent, one to the Riverside police and the other to the Press Enterprise, a newspaper in Riverside. Both letters were identical and typed in all caps. In these letters the author claimed to have killed Bates because of all the “brush-offs” she had given him in the past.
He knew details about the murder that had not been released to the public at the time, such as the finer details as to how Bates’ Beetle had been tampered with so she would be unable to start it. Police knew Bates had made it to her car because the books she had with her in the library were in her front seat but she had somehow been lured away from her vehicle. The letter writer offered an explanation for that as well saying he, like a good Samaritan had offered her assistance.
But as they made their way away from the library, he oddly said to her “its about time” to which Bates replied “about time for what?” The killer responded “time for you to die”. It wasn’t Zodiac’s style to type his letters, normally his were handwritten. It just so happened that in 1967 the police and the victim’s father, Joseph Bates both received identical handwritten letters from someone claiming to have killed Cheri Jo Bates. The letters read “Bates had to die. There will be more”. It wasn’t enough for the killer to have murdered Bates in the manner in which he did, he had to continue torturing her father by taunting it in letters to him, the police, and the press…and that was Zodiac’s style. Furthermore, the letters also carried on them more postage than was necessary and that was another odd thing the Zodiac did. To top it all off a janitor found a desk top in a storage room at the college with a sadistic poem about cutting people up and spilling their blood etched into it. I’ll just leave a photo of it here.
In the end it was never proven definitively rather or not Cheri Jo Bates was a victim of the Zodiac killer but if she was, police theorized that she was his first. Even though Zodiac preferred to shoot his victims rather than stab them, he was known to have done that as was the case with the couple at Lake Berryessa and always he way over did it where the females were concerned. One of the more bizarre indications that Zodiac murdered Cheri Jo Bates was exactly what this blog post is about-his timing. Taking Bates out of the equation none of Zodiac’s confirmed victims were killed on Halloween but to use that date to further scare people wasn’t beneath him. Zodiac thrived on fear and attention. That was the point of his crimes and thus the point of his cryptic letters in which he made threats such as in 1969 when right before Halloween he threatened to blow out the tires of a school bus and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out”.
The following year on October 28, 1970 journalist Paul Avery received a Halloween card in the mail at the San Francisco Chronicle. The card depicted a grinning skeleton inside a pumpkin with the message on the front which read “From your secret pal. I feel it in my bones, you ache to know my name, and so I’ll clue you in” and when flipped open the punchline read “but then why spoil our game! Boo! Happy Halloween!”. The handwriting on the card matched Zodiac’s but the biggest give away was that Zodiac also included a gift with the card -a torn bloody piece of Paul Stein’s shirt, zodiac’s last known victim. Zodiac never made these threats a reality. He never killed Paul Avery and he never blew out the tires of a school bus but I can only assume that wasn’t the point. Zodiac wanted to cruelly toy with people and found a special opportunity given the holiday.
Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman
Fast forward to 1981 and travel across the United States to New York. Thirty-nine-year old Ronald Sisman was a successful freelance photographer running a studio out of his apartment in lower Manhattan. On All Hallows Eve Sisman invited his girlfriend, 20-year-old college student Elizabeth Platzman over to spend the evening with him. I assume they had a pleasant time together but as the two were polishing off a bottle of wine there came a knock at the door. It wasn’t Halloween quite yet, but nevertheless, Sisman must have opened his door because there were no signs of forced entry. Around 7:30 on Halloween night the bodies of Ronald and Elizabeth were found in Sisman’s third floor apartment, their bodies beaten so badly they weren’t recognizable. Sisman had been shot four times in the back of the head and Plaztman three. Blood was splattered on the walls, and the apartment was a completely ransacked. Sisman’s furniture had been ripped apart yet Police could not find anything missing except for the couple’s identification cards. The shape their bodies were in suggest that the couple were terrorized and tortured before they were murdered.
Do you feel like you’ve seen this movie before? That’s probably because the story of Sisman and Platzman is eerily similar to that of The Strangers (2008) directed by Bryan Bertino.
Things hit a whole new level of weird when an informant told police that a fellow inmate had told him of a planned attack on a couple in New York and that the assault would be carried out by some kind of satanic cult. I assume it is not unusual for police to hear all manner of wild tales where murders are concerned and this one probably felt that way. But I think a few eyebrows were raised when this “fellow inmate” turned out to be none other than David Berkowitz. Who is David Berkowitz?
In 1977 Berkowitz was arrested and charged with six counts of second-degree murder and the attempted murder of several others when a revolver found in his car matched ballistics which tied him to the now infamous Son of Sam murders in New York; a name he gave himself in letters he wrote to the police. Berkowitz never tried to hide it either even introducing himself as Sam to his arresting officer. The summer of 1976 was also referred to as the “Summer of Sam” as that was when the majority of his crimes took place.
But what about this satanic cult? Berkowitz was full of interesting tales. For example, when Berkowitz was arrested, he told police a demon had appeared to him as his neighbor’s dog and had commanded him to kill. The dog, a black labrador was owned by a guy named Sam, thus the name Son of Sam. Berkowitz claimed there were other “Sons out there” and ended with “God help the World”. Later he claimed he had joined a satanic cult in 1975 and that he wasn’t responsible for all the Son of Sam murders, but was responsible for at least three of them and that other cult members had murdered the others. Berkowitz however, never provided any names or how to find these people. So, what does that have to do with Ronald Sisman and Elizabeth Platzman?
Berkowitz did not know Ronald Sisman or his girlfriend Elizabeth Platzman. He never met them. He was incarcerated well before they were murdered yet somehow, according to this informant, he knew their murders were going to take place in New York on Halloween saying it was a ritualistic thing the cult did- torture and kill. While Berkowitz didn’t name Sisman and Platzman specifically, he did name Halloween. There are stories that Berkowitz knew details of Sisman’s apartment and the murder itself that he shouldn’t know but those seem far-fetched claims as does his prediction in the first place. Assuming that the story about the informant is true, as “predicted” two people were brutally tortured, beaten, and murdered in New York City and their bodies discovered on Halloween. It should be noted that Sisman’s friend, Roy Radin was also murdered two years later.
While these are only two examples of bizarre crimes to have taken place on Halloween there are others such as 16-year-old Shirley Ledford who was brutally murdered on Halloween night in 1979 by two assailants later found to be the “Toolbox Killers”. Or how about Doreen Ebert who on Halloween night in 1984 answered the door to a man wearing a wolf mask who then shot and killed her while her daughter hid in the house. In 2010 William Liske killed his entire family on Halloween in Martin, Ohio. Dawson McGehee donned a mask and stabbed his mother ten times on Halloween night in 2011 leaving the bloodied mask behind. Halloween, however, is not to blame. As stated before, Halloween is meant to be a spooky but harmless holiday meant for fun and entertainment not maliciousness and murder. Whatever your plans are this year, take caution, be aware of your surroundings, and stay with the people you trust. Be safe, my friends
Managing editor: The Moratorium