Even if you have never heard of the name Qvale, chances are that if you live anywhere near the West Coast and like European cars, you owe Kjell Qvale some thanks. Qvale brought MGs, Jaguars, Austin, Morris, Rolls-Royce and other cars to the Western U.S. He briefly had the exclusive right to sell Volkswagens on the West Coast, and he was responsible for the Jensen-Healey sports car. Also, some people think he was the infamous Zodiac Killer.
The Zodiac Killer terrorized the Bay Area and Northern California in the late ‘60s and into the early ‘70s. He had at least five confirmed kills, but possibly as many as 28. The killer himself claimed to have murdered 37 people.
Zodiac was known for leaving cryptic notes and messages, loaded with cyphers and obtuse symbols. Of the four cryptograms known, only one has ever been deciphered, and to this day the killer’s identity is not definitively known.
Qvale came to America from Norway when he was a kid, and, after a stint as a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II, saw an MG TC sports car and fell in love.
From that moment on, he decided that if little British sports cars could have such a profound effect on him, there were probably many others who’d be similarly smitten, so he started a company in San Francisco called ‘British Motor Car Distributors,’ and from there he sold Morris, Austin, Jaguar, Rolls-Royces, the occasional Triumph, and other bits of golden-age British iron.
Qvale expanded and diversified by getting to be the first distributor of Volkswagens in the West, as well as importing cars from Porsche, Lamborghini, De Tomaso, and Maserati. Really, what the famous Max Hoffmann was to the East Coast, Qvale was to the West.
Qvale even actually made cars at one point. When Austin-Healey announced they were stopping production, Qvale realized this would leave a large hole in the American market, where the Austin-Healey was still popular.
To fill this hole, Qvale partnered with Donald Healey, the designer of the Austin-Healey, and Jensen Motors, who was building the Austin-Healey for Austin (sort of in the same way Jensen built the early P1800 for Volvo).
Healey was going to miss the royalties he got from Austin, and Jensen wanted something to replace the production of the Austin-Healey, so they were as eager as Qvale to create a new car to replace it. They did, the Jensen-Healey.
The Jensen-Healey became Jensen’s biggest-selling car ever, and in 1970 Qvale became Jensen’s biggest shareholder.
Much later, Kjell Qvale’s son, Bruce, would buy the rights to the De Tomaso Biguà and sell it as a Qvale Mangusta. It’s safe to say the Qvale name is a big one in the world of cars.
Sadly for Qvale’s memory, it also seems that the Qvale name is a big one in the much smaller and stranger world of the Zodiac Killer—much of which occurred right around the time Qvale was building those Jensen-Healeys.
Everything seems to revolve around the October 12, 1969 murder of Paul Stine, in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Stine was a cab driver, and was shot at pointblank range. This murder was actually seen by three witnesses, who gave the first eyewitness descriptions of the Zodiac killer.
Unfortunately, a miscommunication over the police radio had cops out looking for a black suspect instead of a white suspect, and one of the policemen passed a man bearing the correct description.
Later, this policeman’s report and the eyewitness descriptions allowed for the first composite sketch of the Zodiac Killer to be made and distributed.
Okay, fine, but what about Qvale? I’m getting there!
The main reason Qvale even comes up in all this is because that night, just a few blocks away, Kjell Qvale was out walking his dog. That, and the fact that Qvale bears a passing resemblance to the Zodiac Killer sketch, seems to be how this all started.
That the man with the dog was Qvale seems to come from the statements of one of the police officers at the scene, Armond Pelissetti.
From what I can gather—and that’s not easy, given the wildly speculative nature of the theories, the fact that decades and decades have passed, and the somewhat convoluted thinking of the sort of people who obsess over long-gone serial killers, the Qvale-is-the-Zodiac timeline for the night looks something like this:
Pelissetti arrives at scene. He talks to the kids. He calls it in. In the meantime Fouke has been en route to the scene, driving along Jackson, where he encounters Zodiac. Shortly after this encounter Fouke meets Pelissetti somewhere on Cherry where the two of them has a brief conservation.
If this is indeed the sequence, Zodiac could have made it to 3636 from 3712 Jackson St. He could have changed his clothes and picked up his dog and moved outside before Pelissetti managed to reach the point where he accosted KQ.
The time allows for this. I’m not saying this is what happened. But the time does allow for it, as I see it. 3712 is the proverbial stone’s throw from 3636. And Zodiac could have bolted as soon as Fouke was out of sight.
So, if we follow this, Zodiac kills the Stine, walks away from the cab, is seen by one cop who doesn’t realize he should be looking for a white guy like him, Zodiac bolts a couple of blocks home, changes clothes, grabs the dog, and heads back outside.
Why Qvale wouldn’t have just stayed inside if he’d just killed a man out on the street isn’t clear, but maybe that dog really had to take a dump and Qvale had white carpeting, or something.
As things like this always do, the Qvale story gets weirder and weirder the more you dig. My favorite theories by far are that Qvale was a member of the influential Bohemian Grove, an all-male club with incredibly powerful members, including presidents and captains of industry. One of the planning meetings for the Manhattan Project took place there.
Anyway, in these theories, Bohemian Grove was not a social club for rich and powerful men, but a homosexual sex-cult that performed occult ceremonies to a giant horned owl named Moloch. I’m not really sure this theory is taken that seriously, though.
Qvale died in 2013 at the age of 94, having lived a full life and been an influential figure in the American car scene. Obviously he was never charged with any crimes related to the Zodiac murders; it’s not clear whether or not he or his family ever even addressed these rumors or denied them. They’d certainly have good reason to.
I don’t actually think many people seriously think Kjell Qvale was the Zodiac Killer, but Qvale is a big enough deal in the world of motoring that it’s possible in your probings around the internet, you might come across the suggestion.
Besides, everyone thinks it was probably Ted Cruz now, anyway.