In a scandal that has stunned the world, the late Russell Johnson, known for his role as Professor Roy Hinkley on the popular sitcom Gilligan’s Island, has been identified as the infamous Zodiac Killer. Johnson died of kidney failure this past January.
Notorious in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the grisly murders of at least 6 people and a slew of threatening letters to the San Francisco Chronicle, the serial killer has, until now, never been identified.
According to detectives who have been on the case since it was reopened in March of 2007, “It’s no coincidence that the murders began in 1969, one year following the final episode of Gilligan’s Island. It’s obvious now, that between sporadic TV and film appearances, [Johnson] satisfied his sick obsession for fame by dominating headlines with his murderous activities. The man was literally hiding in plain sight.”
Now, more than 40 years after narrowly escaping his own death at the hands of the Zodiac Killer, 60-year old Bryan Hartnell happened to be in the right place at the right time – the Cook Family Funeral Home in Bainbridge, Washington, at the exact moment Johnson’s remains arrived from the morgue. In the most bizarre coincidence of all, Bryan Hartnell was the embalmer assigned to prepare Johnson for his funeral.
“It chilled me to the core,” said Hartnell. “Right away I knew I’d seen that face somewhere.” He immediately called the police.
Agents notified Johnson’s wife of 32 years, Constance, who said tearfully in a recent statement, “His family would say that he was a little ‘funny’ after the war, but I always thought they meant he had a better sense of humor.”
SWAT teams immediately surrounded his mansion and police tracked down Johnson’s daughter Kim for questioning. Johnson’s body was quickly exhumed for DNA testing. When compared to samples taken from letters allegedly sent by the Zodiac Killer in the late 60s, it was a positive match. According to handwriting expert Lloyd Cunningham, who’s worked on the Zodiac case for decades, the handwriting in the letters and Johnson’s autograph were also a perfect match.
“The nail in the coffin,” said Zodiac expert Robert Greysmith, “was the fact that Johnson’s down-streak finally ended and he was busy at work shooting the miniseries Vanished between 1971 and 1972—precisely when the Zodiac stopped sending letters.”
George Mueller, the Judge presiding over the case found Russell Johnson guilty of the crimes and sentenced him to 100 years in prison without parole. His body will be interred to the Washington State Penitentiary Cemetery to serve his sentence retroactively, and his acting credit will be removed from all future broadcasts of Gilligan’s Island reruns.