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I last saw Zodiac murder victim Darlene Ferrin at her house painting party in Vallejo, California on May 24, 1969. Two overly dressed, strange men came to Darlene’s house that night, men that I have known about since the early sixties. She had met these two in 1966 at the Palace Hotel in Reno. One of the men was known to stalk family members and friends. He stalked people in the small town of Sunol, California, where I grew up. Community members there in Sunol, including me, were afraid of him long before the infamous Zodiac killings. The other man, Dr. William J. Bryan, was a psychologist, and a CIA consultant on the subject of mind control.

I personally know the Zodiac murders as a terrible legacy of MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification and mind control, and the umbrella for projects such as Artichoke and Operation Midnight Climax. The CIA administered these well-documented projects from 1953 to 1969. CIA teams used LSD, and sometimes even poisons, to hypnotize subjects to kill someone while under hypnosis.

Here is how it worked: handlers offered drugs to young women, to recruit them for adolescent prostitution. The prostitutes would slip LSD to unwitting Bay Area residents and tourists in North Beach, then return to a CIA safe house where the sexual encounter would be filmed. The agency itself acknowledged that these so-called experiments made little scientific sense, but they continued to record their video evidence, even though the last thing agency people wanted was accountability. The nature of these experiments placed the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy: a serious violation of the CIA’s charter.

The CIA mind control contractors, who administered the behavioral modification experiments, and the agents who monitored the safe houses for MK-ULTRA were in fact cold-blooded criminals, not qualified scientific observers. You can go a long way, however, when you have a high ranking Ph.D. leading your program. After the Korean War, the chief of all medical survival training for the United States Air Force, psychologist Dr. William J. Bryan, reputedly became a CIA consultant for development and implementation of Project Artichoke.

Dr. William J. Bryan

In 1956, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles assigned Federal Narcotics Bureau captain and CIA consultant, George Hunter White, to supervise safe house operations. White, under code name “Morgan Hall”, established a safe house in the Bay Area, on Chestnut Street in San Francisco’s North Beach. He lived on Green Street in Mill Valley with his wife. The CIA also had at least one safe house in New York, as well as the Santa Rita Farm near Livermore.

The CIA safe house that I am most familiar with is Santa Rita farm, isolated in rural, unincorporated North Livermore Valley. It is located in a covert area, far removed from neighbors and completely surrounded by ranch land, hayfields, and vineyards. Upstairs windows were boarded up and high voltage power supply was provided to the second floor where the team worked in a special operations room. Safe house staff included Ike Feldman, who worked directly under George Hunter White. He currently lives in Long Island, New York. Feldman stated in an interview with author Richard Strattan for Spin magazine in 1994: “The LSD was just the tip of the iceberg. Write this down: espionage, assassination, dirty tricks, drug experiments, sexual encounters, and the study of prostitutes for clandestine use. That’s what I was doing when I worked for George White and the CIA.”

George Hunter White

Feldman first heard of George White while he was with Military Intelligence in Europe. White was with the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner for the CIA). I heard stories about him. Donovan (William Wild Bill Donovan, founder of the OSS) loved White. White had supposedly killed some Japanese spy with his bare hands while he was on assignment in Calcutta. He used to keep a picture of the bloody corpse on the wall in his office.”

When drugs – or persistent, coercive persuasion like you see in cults – failed to ensure further participation, blackmail and murder were natural follow-ups. Hence, also on safe house staff was a behaviorally out-of-control US Navy-trained assassin code-named Robert Hemphill, or Bob. Bob Hemphill, who is an important character in my story, consumed large quantities of drugs supplied by White.

Here is an early example of a successful MK-ULTRA test. On May 7, 1964, Pacific Airlines Flight #773 crashed into the side of a hill near San Ramon. Because of the magnitude of the tragedy, and the fact that the smoke from the crash was so bad, the principal of Sunol Glen School, Pete Corona, canceled classes. From Sunol we could see smoke from the crash just about ten or fifteen miles north of us. Life magazine ran a big story about the incident, with pictures in the May 22, 1964 issue.

The plane crashed within a couple of hundred yards of the big satellite tracking radar dish on the ridgetop in San Ramon, two towns north. It was one of the worst California air disasters at the time, and the first significant use of hijacking as a terrorist weapon in the United States. Unknown to me at the time, among the forty-four victims were San Francisco Police Inspector George F. Lacau, San Francisco’s Waterfront Bar and Restaurant owner Paul Marty, and their wives.

Some years later, Bob Hemphill would reveal to me exactly how and why this plane crashed. According to Bob, Grand Chingon or Head Devil William J. Bryan was legendary to insiders, famous for his monstrous deeds in circles of ultimate evil. Bob often boasted – in bits and pieces – about how he helped Bryan, a former airline pilot, brainwash a Philippine national named Francisco Gonzales.

Francisco Gonzalez

Hemphill told me they recruited Gonzales in San Francisco with filmed adolescent sex, then used blackmail to program him with poison and hypnosis at Santa Rita farm. Bob told me that Dr. Bryan prepared Gonzales to crash a Reno-to-San Francisco bound commercial airliner into a satellite tracking station. Gonzales was drugged while at the Palace Hotel in Reno, and triggered when the plane started to descend over the North Livermore Valley.

According to the accident report, investigators discovered that Gonzales had advised both friends and relatives that he would die either Wednesday, May 6, or Thursday, May 7. In fact, he referred to his impending death daily throughout the week preceding the incident. When the Fairchild F-27A (N2770R) with forty-three other people started to descend over the safe house and mysterious ground-based wire antennae – Gonzales, fully triggered, pulled out his gun, entered the cockpit, and shot the pilot, Ernest Clark. At 6:48 pm the aircraft radioed its last message. First Officer Raymond Andress was heard saying, “Skipper’s shot. We’ve been shot. Trying to help.”

Pacific Airlines Flight #773 flew over Santa Rita farm and crashed into the side of a hill near San Ramon. Bob suggested the whole terrifying tragedy was filmed below from the safe house. “We film everything.”

George White retired to Stinson Beach in 1965, and died in 1975. His diaries are maintained in a special collection at Stanford University’s Green Library. The only diary missing in the large collection, oddly enough, is 1964. In a letter to CIA superior Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, White recalled safe house operations: “I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled whole-heartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the all-highest?”

Sydney Gottlieb

Dr. Bryan lived in Sparks, Nevada, in the early 1960s. There he frequented the Palace Hotel, where he met Darlene Ferrin, and hired Bob Hemphill as a handler for Santa Rita farm. By late May, 1968, Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin knew that CIA’s Artichoke team was involvedin a conspiracy to induce an individual of Palestinian descent, under influence of Artichoke, to perform an involuntary act of attempted assassination against a government official.


Darlene Ferrin, probably in San Francisco in 1963 or 1964. Identity of man is unknown.

Just after midnight on June 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy, who had just won the California primary in his effort to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. A female wearing a polka dot dress stood next to the shooter. At 11:50 am the next morning, the Los Angeles Police Department broadcast an emergency bulletin to request information leading to arrest of the woman in the polka dot dress. The description was as follows: female caucasian, age mid-twenties, around 5’6” in height, wearing a white violet dress, three-quarter length sleeves with small black polka dots, dark shoes, bouffant-type hair.

Who is the woman in the polka dot dress?

Vallejo and Los Angeles Police Departments investigated accusations that a Vallejo woman was involved in the shooting of Kennedy, possibly the girl in the polka dot dress. The accuser, according to the Vallejo Times Herald, was an anonymous woman neighbor. The officer said that he received a telephone call from a woman who suggested that her neighbor may have been mixed up in that shooting down south. But, the officer said, the woman who called would not give either her name or address, or the name of the woman she was accusing. (Vallejo Times Herald, June 6, 1968)

Moments later, another woman called the same officer and said she was afraid she was being falsely accused. She was questioned and photographed. The photo was sent to LAPD.

Darlene Ferrin had knowledge of CIA Artichoke team involvement in the conspiracy to induce a subject, under influence of Artichoke, to perform an involuntary act of attempted assassination against Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The act was one of distraction, while a cold-blooded assassin actually killed the senator. The fact that Ferrin was a witness and participant became the motive to dispose of her at midnight on July 4, 1969. Shortly after, on July 31, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Vallejo Times received letters from her killer.

Zodiac introduced himself in a three-page letter sent to the Vallejo Times Herald. On August 1, 1969 the San Francisco Chronicle received a cryptogram from Zodiac. The last line contains code name Bob Hemphill. The fourth link contains the killer’s real name as it appears on the Zodiac suspect list. On November 8, 1969, San Francisco Police Inspector Dave Toschi received another Zodiac cryptogram. Embedded in the message are Robert Kennedy’s initials, RK, and the date of his assassination, 6/5. The tenth row of the decoded version contains the string, H LSD UL.

In most CIA medical documentation, H is the abbreviation for hypnosis. Together with LSD UL, it could possibly refer to extremely sensitive, and at the time Top-Secret MK-ULTRA behavioral modification techniques. If you combine undecoded with decoded elements from the cryptogram, the message is clear:


Note: See zodiackiller.com, especially the message boards, for more information about Zodiac’s cryptograms.

Note on the book’s subtitle

The subtitle of Project Artichoke is:

Zodiac was cover for silencing witnesses from the RFK assassination.

Project Artichoke extracts at Conversations with Dio are edited extracts from the book.