On September 3, 1954, Zina was born to Daniel and Mamie Jacinto. Within days of her birth, her father lost his job. Work was hard to find. Daniel was able to do odd jobs to keep food on the table but struggled to pay all the bills every month.
Mamie attended church regularly with Zina and sometimes Daniel. Her faith and her friends in the congregation gave Mamie the strength to make it through the hard times. But Daniel, those same hard times made Daniel lose his faith, and eventually, he stopped going to church altogether. His rejection of the church put more strain on the already-difficult marriage, and when Zina was six, Daniel took off.
Without Daniel's income, what had been a hardscrabble existence for the Jacinto family became even worse. Mamie took on multiple low-paying jobs, leaving Zina in the care of her church friends. The long hours and hard, physical work took their toll on Mamie, and just three years after Daniel left, she died from complications due to pneumonia.
The church members took in the now-orphaned Zina. Various families brought her into their homes, but she never stayed with any of them longer than six months. They found her hypervigilance, sensitive temperament, and frequent health complaints difficult to deal with. Privately, many of them said Zina was just "strange."
Zina's fortunes changed when she moved in with John and Mary Skeleton, an older couple who never had children of their own. They quickly fell in love with Zina, and when all three of them finally felt like a real family, the Skeletons decided to officially adopt her. Unfortunately, before the adoption was finalized, John and Mary were killed when they pulled into the path of an oncoming semi truck at a busy intersection.
Even though they didn’t get to adopt Zina, the Skeletons had already made her the sole beneficiary of their life insurance policy, naming Mary's brother Joseph as trustee until Zina turned 18. When she came of age, Zina received the Skeletons' home and property, along with more than enough money to support her for the rest of her life.
Joseph still checked in on Zina regularly and helped her as much as she'd let him, but Zina kept him at arm's length and he never really understood her odd behavior. When Joseph passed away in 2001, his son Joey took over looking after "Cousin Zina."
Once Zina started living alone, she became increasingly eccentric. Initially, her house was fairly isolated, and other than the church services and activities she attended, Zina didn't socialize much. She preferred the company of cats, feeding and adopting any strays who crossed her path.
Over the years, other houses were built all around her property, surrounding her with strangers. She closely monitored her neighbors, especially the ones closest to her, and reported any activities she deemed unusual to the sheriff's department. Her most frequent target was her neighbor across the street, Victor Jennings, and she contacted the authorities about him many times.