In Cold Blood: The Murder of Paul Stine

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Forty-seven years ago, Paul Stine picked up a passenger in San Francisco, possibly near the intersection of Mason and Geary. Stine recorded the intended destination as the intersection of Washington and Maple, in the upscale neighborhood known as Presidio Heights. For some reason, the cab stopped one block further west at the intersection of Washington and Cherry.

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Paul Stine was twenty-nine years old, a student, and a husband. Driving the cab was paying the bills but he had other aspirations. When the passenger climbed into the cab shortly before 10:00 PM, Stine most likely thought that he would simply deliver the man to the designated destination, earn a little cash, and move on to the next fare.

No one knows if Stine and the passenger talked during the drive. The man had experience deceiving people. Just two weeks earlier, the man appeared at a popular recreation area wearing a strange hooded costume featuring a white crossed-circle. The man approached a young couple and told them that he had escaped from a prison and needed money and a car so he could flee to Mexico. He reassured the victims that he just wanted to rob them and tied them up so that he could make his escape. He then produced a foot-long knife and stabbed the victims.

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When he was finished, the man walked over to the victim’s car and used a black marker to write a message on the passenger door. A large crossed-circle was followed by the dates of two previous attacks and the location “Vallejo.” Then, the killer added the date, the time, and words, “by knife.” He then traveled more than twenty miles to a payphone where he called police to report the crime.

Paul Stine may have heard about the man who called himself “the Zodiac,” but he had no reason to suspect that the deranged killer was sitting in his cab. The passenger apparently waited until they reached the final destination to reveal his true purpose. The man took out a gun and shot Stine in the head.

Across the street, some kids watched as the man handled the driver’s seemingly lifeless body. He got out of the cab and walked around to the driver’s side where he appeared to wipe the vehicle with a cloth or a rag. The man then walked away, taking with him a large piece of Stine’s blood-stained shirt.

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The crime appeared to be a routine robbery and murder until an envelope arrived at the office of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. The letter inside stated, “This is the Zodiac speaking. I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington & Maple St. last night. To prove this here is a blood stained piece of his shirt.” The envelope did contain a piece of Stine’s shirt which established a direct connection between the writer and Stine’s murder.

The Zodiac deviated from his previous pattern of attacking young couples in areas known as “lovers lane” spots. Paul Stine was a cab driver, working alone and just doing his job when he was killed in a residential neighborhood. The killer previously used his own car and attacked two couples sitting in parked vehicles. Paul Stine was driving his cab and he transported the killer to the scene of murder. The killer had not taken anything from the other victims but he did remove a piece of Stine’s shirt.

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In subsequent letters, the Zodiac stated that he would no longer announce his murders and that he would disguise his crimes as routine robberies, killings of anger and fake accidents. References to other victims fueled speculation that the Zodiac continued killing but authorities were unable to confirm any Zodiac crimes after the murder of Paul Stine. Other Zodiac mailings included more scraps of Stine’s shirt but the Zodiac apparently kept the still-missing piece along with the keys to the cab and Paul Stine’s wallet.

The only known police sketch of the killer was produced by witnesses in the Stine case. Police believed that fingerprints found on the outside of the cab belonged to the Zodiac. The letter and the piece of Stine’s shirt provided a direct link between the murder and the writer of the Zodiac letters. Forty-seven years later, the Zodiac crimes remain unsolved and the case is part of true crime history. The murder of Paul Stine serves as a window into the past and a rare glimpse of the mysterious Zodiac killer

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Michael Butterfield is a writer and a recognized expert on the unsolved “Zodiac” crimes. He has served as a media source and consultant for news articles, television documentaries, and director David Fincher’s major motion picture Zodiac. Michael Butterfield appears in the Zodiac documentary Case Reopened and The History Channel series MysteryQuest. He has been a featured guest on Ireland’s Sean Moncrieff Show and House of Mystery with Alan R. Warren. He is also a contributing author for the eZine True Crime: Case Files, True Crime Magazine, and the two volume collection of essays titled A History of Evil in Popular Culture, both available at Amazon.com.

Click on the links below to view official documents, photographs, police sketches, newspaper articles, videos and more about this unsolved case.

THE VICTIM

Paul Stine

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

Washington and Cherry Streets – October, 1969

THE CRIME SCENE

Crime Scene Photographs

THE EVIDENCE

Paul Stine’s Shirt

The Fingerprints

THE INVESTIGATORS and OTHERS

San Francisco Investigators and Others

THE SUSPECT SKETCHES

Sketches of the Suspect

THE ZODIAC’S LETTERS

The Zodiac’s Envelope and Letter

THE ARTICLES

Newspaper Stories and Other Material

THE JOE STINE FILES

Paul Stine’s Brother Joe

THE DOCUMENTS

Paul Stine: Record of Death

Paul Stine: Certificate of Death

Report by SFPD Officer Armand Pelissetti

Excerpt from Dept. of Justice Report on Stine Case

Memo on the Zodiac Sighting by SFPD Officer Don Fouke

THE VIDEOS

Paul Stine’s Cab

The Crime Scene: Washington and Cherry Streets

A Possible Escape Route

SFPD Officer Don Fouke on the Zodiac Sighting

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s Threat to Attack a School Bus

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s Crossed-Circle Symbol

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s State of Mind

Lake Berryessa: A Survivor’s Story

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Forty-seven years ago, college students Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell were sitting by Lake Berryessa enjoying a relaxing visit. They did not know that a man was nearby, watching and waiting for the right moment to set his plan in motion.

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Bryan heard some noise and asked Cecelia to look around for the source. She saw a man as he moved behind a tree. Cecelia and Bryan dismissed the man as harmless and did not notice as he donned a dark hood featuring the symbol of a white crossed-circle.

The stranger came prepared with a some pre-cut lengths of clothesline to restrain Bryan and Cecelia. On his belt, a sheath held a foot-long knife and the holster for the gun in his hand. The man needed the gun to prevent Bryan and Cecelia from running away if they began to suspect his true intentions. He would lie to them and keep them calm with the promise that he meant no harm. Once they complied and were subdued, the man would no longer need the gun and could proceed with his plan.

The hooded stranger moved toward the couple. Cecelia saw him coming and said, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun.” Bryan and Cecelia watched as the hooded stranger walked onto the narrow patch of land surrounded by water and blocked their only escape route.

Bryan and Cecelia stared at the man with a gun in his hand. Later, Bryan Hartnell would write a transcript of his conversation with the stranger.

FOR NAPA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
-DIALOGUE BETWEEN AN UNKNOWN ASSAILANT AND BRYAN HARTNELL ( and Cecelia Shepard )

CECELIA: What do you want?
ASSAILANT: Now take it easy– all I want’s your money. There is nothing to worry about– all I want is your money.
BRYAN: O.K.– whatever you say, I want you to know that I will cooperate so you don’t have to worry – whatever you say we’ll do. Do you want us to come up with our hands up or down?
ASSAILANT: Just don’t make any fast moves– come up slowly.
BRYAN: But we don’t have any money – all I have is 75 cents.
ASSAILANT: That doesn’t matter– every little bit helps ( pause )– I’m on my way to Mexico– I escaped from Deer Lodge Prison in Montana, Deer Lodge. I need some money to get there.
BRYAN: You’re welcome to the money I have, but isn’t there something else I can do for you? Give you a check or get some more?
ASSAILANT: No.
BRYAN: I can give you my phone number and you can call me.
ASSAILANT: ( no reply )
BRYAN: I want to get in contact with you. I am a sociology major and maybe I can even offer you more help than you think you need.
ASSAILANT: No.
BRYAN: Well, is there any other thing you need?
ASSAILANT: Yes. One more thing– I want your car keys. My car is hot.
BRYAN: (Reaching into pockets, then patting his first front then back pockets) I guess in all the excitement I don’t remember where I put them. Let’s see. Are they in my shirt, in the ignition, on the blanket… Say! Would you answer a question for me? I’ve always wondered. On TV movies and in an article in the Reader’s Digest they say that thieves really keep their guns loaded?
ASSAILANT: ( excited slightly ) Yes, it is! ( then calmed and matter-of-fact ) I killed a couple of men before.
BRYAN: What? I didn’t hear you…
ASSAILANT: I killed a couple of guards getting out of prison. And I’m not afraid to kill again.
CECELIA: Bryan– do what he says!
ASSAILANT: Now I want the girl to tie you up.
[A]: (reaches for rope that he pulls from back pocket)
BRYAN: This is really strange. I wonder why someone hasn’t thought of this before. I’ll bet there’s good money in it.
ASSAILANT: ( no reply )
BRYAN: What was the name of that prison?
ASSAILANT: ( no reply )
BRYAN: No really, what did you say the name of it was? I’m just curious.
ASSAILANT: ( begrudgingly ) Deer Lodge in Montana.
( There must have been some dialogue at this point but I can’t remember any until we are both tied up. )
ASSAILANT: Now I want you both to lay face down so I can tie up your feet.
BRYAN: Come on– we could be out here for a long time and it could get cold at night.
ASSAILANT: Come on– get down!
BRYAN: Listen, I didn’t complain when you tied our hands, but this is ridiculous…
ASSAILANT: I told you…
BRYAN: We aren’t going anywhere– Anyway, I don’t think that it’s necessary ( or – Aw, come on, we don’t want to. )
ASSAILANT: ( pointing gun directly at me at point blank range ) I told you to get down!
BRYAN: Your hands are shaking? Are you nervous?
ASSAILANT: Yes, I guess so. ( laughs in a very relaxed manner )
BRYAN: Well, I guess that I’d be nervous, too.
( Then after we were tied and hog-tied )
BRYAN: Now that everything is all said and done, could you show me that your gun is loaded? (Or, and probably this: “Now that all is said and done, was that gun really loaded?”)
ASSAILANT: Yes, it was! ( or ) Sure, I’ll show you. ( He then opened cartridge or whatever )
(That was the last thing I remember him saying.)

( signed ) BRYAN HARTNELL

Later, Bryan described what happened next. “And so I saw him put away his gun, and I was turning to say something to Celia, and all of a sudden I felt my back…just…no, I don’t think I saw him pull it out… I don’t remember… I think I saw him whip it out his knife and just start stabbing me in the back… CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP, CHOMP! I was just (makes guttural sound)… you know, that kind of a sound..”

The man kept stabbing until Bryan feigned death. The man then stabbed Cecelia over and over again. When he was finished, the stranger walked back to the road. He took out a black marker and wrote a message on the passenger door of Bryan’s white Volkswagen Karmann Ghia.

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A passing fisherman alerted authorities and Bryan and Cecelia were later taken to a hospital. At 7:40 PM, the Napa Police Department received a call from a telephone booth at a local car wash. Officer David Slaight answered the call.

The voice of a young man addressed Slaight in a calm, deliberate tone. “I want to report a murder– no, a double murder. They are two miles north of park headquarters. They were in a white Volkswagen Kharmann Ghia.” Slaight waited for the man to continue, but the declaration was followed by silence. After a brief pause, he asked, “Where are you now?” The voice grew quiet as the mysterious caller replied, “I’m the one who did it.” The caller then set the receiver down, leaving the line open. Police traced the call but the man was gone.

Bryan described the costume and the crossed-circle symbol, and the message on the car door also included a crossed-circle. Authorities recognized the symbol as the signature of a murderer who sent taunting letters to Bay Area newspapers and claimed that he was responsible for the shootings of two young couples. He threatened to kill again if the newspapers did not print a cipher which he claimed would reveal his identity. When deciphered, the message began with the words, “I like killing people because it’s so much fun.” The writer also referred to collecting “slaves” for his afterlife. Police asked the writer to send another letter with details about the crimes to prove that he was responsible. Days later, another letter arrived, but this time the writer coined a phrase which would become infamous in true crime history, “This is the Zodiac speaking.” The evidence indicated that Bryan and Cecelia were the next victims in the Zodiac’s deadly fantasy.

Cecelia Shepard died, but Bryan Hartnell survived. Bryan’s story was the only reason that the world learned about the killer’s bizarre costume and the odd conversation before the attack. This brief glimpse remains the best portrait of the Zodiac available, and Bryan’s account remains a chilling look into the mind of the killer. The man pointed a gun and Bryan said, “Your hands are shaking, Are you nervous?” The man laughed and replied, “Yes, I guess so.” The man was nervous because he knew what was going to happen next.

The evidence demonstrated that the killer had planned carefully by pre-cutting the sections of clothesline he used to restrain the victims. The gun forced the victims to submit to the killer’s demands. The lie about the simple robbery lulled the victims into a false sense of security. Accepting the lie, the victims allowed themselves to be tied and subdued. Once they were no longer a threat, the killer stabbed the victims without warning or provocation. The killer then walked away and wrote a message on Bryan’s car. After the attack, the killer travelled more than twenty-five miles and called police to report the crime from a payphone. All of these actions indicated that the Zodiac planned this crime.

The killer‘s interaction with Bryan and Cecelia demonstrated his ability to improvise and remain calm while deceiving the victims. In the next attack, the killer shot a cab driver who believed he was delivering a harmless passenger to a routine destination. This crime indicated the killer’s desire or need for deception and his ability to manipulate his victims. The first and second attacks were ambush-style shootings which further indicated the killer’s use of deception and surprise. Bryan and Cecelia followed the killer’s instructions because they had been deceived, and the Zodiac relied on this deception to execute his plans. After the attack, Bryan played over the events in his mind and questioned his decisions. “I mean I wanted to get that gun,” he said. “There was a time when I think I could have gotten it.” On that day, the Zodiac came prepared to carry out a cold-blooded attack which included the brutal stabbing of innocent people. Bryan thought he was dealing with a common criminal, but the Zodiac most likely planned for that scenario and Bryan could have died in any attempt to escape.

The story of what happened at Lake Berryessa could have died with Bryan Hartnell. The blade of the knife came close to his heart, but a matter of inches helped Bryan survive to share his personal nightmare and his encounter with the most-wanted serial killer in American history. Bryan’s account provided the only look at the Zodiac in action, and his story remains a crucial tool in all efforts to understand the unsolved mystery.

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Michael Butterfield is a writer and a recognized expert on the unsolved “Zodiac” crimes. He has served as a media source and consultant for news articles, television documentaries, and director David Fincher’s major motion picture Zodiac. Michael Butterfield appears in the Zodiac documentary Case Reopened and The History Channel series MysteryQuest. He has been a featured guest on Ireland’s Sean Moncrieff Show, The Fringe Radio Show, and House of Mystery with Alan R. Warren. He is also a contributing author for the eZine True Crime: Case Files and the two volume collection of essays titled A History of Evil in Popular Culture, both available at Amazon.com.

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Read more about the Lake Berryessa case:

 

THE VICTIMS

* Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

* Lake Berryessa, September 1969

The Zodiac’s Message: The Car Door

* Photographs of the car door

* Video of the car door

The Evidence:

* The Boot Prints and Clothesline

The Phone Booth

* Photographs of the Phone Used By The Zodiac to Call The Napa Police Department

THE SUSPECT and PERSONS OF INTEREST

* Sketches of the Zodiac in costume and a man seen at the lake

THE DOCUMENTS

Read the reports produced by the Napa County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies, including:

* NCSD Report: Ken Narlow and others (19 pages)

* NCSD Report: Hal Snook (4 pages)

* NCSD Report: Collins and Land (6 pages – one page missing)

* NCSD Report: RE: the three girls at the lake (1 page)

* NCSD Report: RE: Gun used by the Zodiac (1 page)

* Napa Police Department: Report by Dispatcher David Slaight re: Zodiac call (1 page)

* FBI Report: re: Fingerprints (3 pages)

* CA Dept. Of Justice/CII Report (2 pages)

* CA Highway Patrol Report: RE: Bryan Hartnell’s car (1 page)

* Transcript: Interview with Bryan Hartnell (13 pages)

* Transcript: Written account by Bryan Hartnell (2 pages)

VIDEOS

* Video of the car door

* Interview with Park Ranger William White

* Interviews with NCSD Capt. Donald Townsend

* Bryan Hartnell’s Hospital Interview for TV News

The Zodiac’s “Electric Gun Sight”

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In the second “Zodiac” letter sent in August 1969, the writer stated that he had used a gun with a light attached to the barrel for shooting at night. This letter offered details regarding the shooting on Lake Herman Road on December 20, 1968, and addressed questions about the killer’s ability to see the victims in the dark.

“In that epasode the police were wondering as to how I could shoot + hit my victoms in the dark. They did not openly state this, but implied this by saying it was a well lit night + I could see the silowets on the horizon. Bullshit that area is srounded by high hills + trees. What I did was tape a small pencel flash light to the barrel of my gun. If you notice, in the center of the beam of light if you aim it at a wall or celling you will see a black or darck spot in the center of the circle of light about 3 to 6 inches across. When taped to a gun barrel, the bullet will strike exactly in the center of the black dot in the light. All I had to do was spray them as if it was a water hose; there was no need to use the gun sights.”

The Zodiac was not the first to conceive of a light attached to the barrel of a gun. Articles about a gun light had appeared in the magazine Popular Mechanics as far back as 1922 and 1933. A 1961 episode of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents titled “Museum Piece” featured a character named Ben using a rifle with a light attached to the barrel. Ben (played by actor Bert Convy) is shown with the gun as his father narrates the story of the hunt for a devious fox.

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“I called her Circe because she led him to his doom. Worked her whiles on him, brazenly let him track her, almost as if she knew what lay in wait for him. He never hunted for sport, but once in a while, he collected an animal. In this case, he had his heart set on Circe. She’d been raiding hen houses in the neighborhood. Sooner or later, some farmer would trap her or shoot her anyway, so Ben decided to take her for his collection… He’d invented a fool proof gadget for night shooting. A spotlight mounted on his 22 in such a way that his shot would strike the exact center of light.”

Ben then tracks Circe to a barn. Using his gun-mounted spotlight, Ben shoots the fox but frightens a young couple necking inside the barn. Ben is attacked by the angry, interrupted lover and fires his gun by accident, killing the man instantly. Ben is then tried and convicted. Ben’s father later pleads with the district attorney for help but is refused. The DA is then murdered. The father recalls the failed search for the killer and says, “I remember the excitement of the manhunt. The most dangerous game.”

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The description of the gun light in the Hitchcock episode is similar to the wording of the Zodiac’s letter in August 1969*. The mention of the phrase “the most dangerous game” could also be interpreted by some as another possible connection to the Zodiac’s deciphered message which referred to man as the most dangerous animal of all.

[ * Originally posted by ZodiacKillerFacts forum member Ratel, April 2010 ]

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

The episode “Museum Piece” was originally broadcast on April 4, 1961, during the sixth season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

SUMMARY (with SPOILERS): Clay Hollister is a museum curator and collector of Indian relics. One day, during a tour, Clay notices a man named Newton Clovis who is fascinated by a skeleton in Clay’s collection. Newton wants to analyze the bones. He does so and reveals that the bones are those of a long-missing district attorney. Newton is really a detective and demands the skeleton for further investigation. Clay refuses and kills him. Later, he adds the bones of yet another man to his collection.

Starring:

* Tom Begley – cast: Prison Guard
* Paul Bradley – cast: Court Reporter
* Bert Convy – cast: Ben Hollister
* Larry Gates – cast: Mr. Hollister
* Tom Gilleran – cast: Tim McCaffrey
* Myron McCormick – cast: Newton B. Clovis
* Charles Meredith – cast: Judge
* Edward Platt – cast: Mr. Henshaw
* Darlene Tompkins – cast: Tim’s Girlfriend

SUMMARY: Mr. Hollister now runs a small museum that is actually something of a shrine to his late son, Ben. He tells a visitor that the human skeleton in the museum is actually that of his son. In a flashback he recounts that his son was hunting a fox for his collection of stuffed animals when he comes across Tim McCaffrey, the son of a wealthy and influential rancher. A fight breaks out and Tim is accidentally shot. Despite his protestations that it was all an accident, he is convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Once there, he loses all interest in life. But just who is this stranger Mr. Hollister is telling this story to and is he being completely honest? [Written by garykmcd]

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Published articles that describe attaching a flashlight to a gun barrel:

Popular Mechanics – August 1922 issue (viewable on Google Books – page 244)

An article titled “Automatic Pistol Combined With Hand Flashlight” reads: “As a device to discourage burglars, a newly invented flashlight pistol should prove quite effective. The pistol barrel is placed along a tubular flashlight, and six shots of .22 caliber can…”

Popular Mechanics – October 1933 issue (viewable on Google Books – page 513)

An article titled “Focusing Flashlight For Gun Helps Hunter At Night” reads: “Hunting game at night is facilitated by using a focusing a flashlight which attaches to the weapon with automobile steering-post clamps, the same kind used by motorists for holding a flashlight on the steering wheel.”

Zodiac Hoax: The Reality of Satire

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On Wednesday, March 9, 2016, Comedy Central aired an episode of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore which included a skit about the Zodiac killer. Host Larry Wilmore explained the origins of the recent meme that Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer. Then, Nightly Show contributor Mike Yard appeared as a “conspiracy theorist” who presented a set of “facts” to link Cruz to the Zodiac crimes. This skit was amusing on some levels, but Yard’s “logic” was also an ironic parody of most Zodiac theorists.

When told that Ted Cruz was born in 1970 but the Zodiac crimes began in 1968, Mike Yard countered that the Obama “birther scandal” had demonstrated that birth certificates could be forgeries, a reference to the ongoing “birther” claims that President Obama was not born in the United States and is therefore an “illegitimate president.” Bizarre conspiracy theories are popular among a shockingly large percentage of the American population, but these conspiracy claims are also common among Zodiac theorists who claim that police departments and other law enforcement agencies committed the crimes, staged a hoax, covered up the crimes as part of a massive conspiracy, or worse. Yard’s Cruz/Zodiac conspiracy theory was designed to appear ridiculous from the outset but instead served as a fairly accurate portrait of the current culture of Zodiac crackpots and con men.

Yard also noted that the letters in Ted Cruz’s name could be rearranged into an anagram which included a reference to the fictional character Dracula. Using this logic, Yard then stated that Dracula was actually Vlad the Impaler, impaling was stabbing, and the Zodiac had stabbed some of his victims. Again, Yard was trying to portray a crackpot, but his portrayal was alarmingly similar to many real life Zodiac theorists who offer claims and links which often sound just as preposterous.

Yard’s “theory” concluded with a reference to Cruz’s plans to “kill” various government agencies as a link to killing. Again, Yard’s comic theory is remarkably similar to the theories offered by many Zodiac theorists who claim that their pet suspect made statements which allude to and/or condone acts of violence and murder. Some Zodiac theorists often exaggerate or distort the meaning of certain statements in order to portray suspects as sinister, dishonest or violent when the facts are not as useful in such pursuits.

Larry Wilmore noted that approximately ten percent of Florida Republican voters polled had stated that they believed Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac killer. An even larger number of polled voters said that they were not sure. Wilmore also noted that this percentage was higher than the number of Florida Republican voters who said they did not believe that one of Cruz’s opponents could be President. Unlike Yard’s theories, the numbers cited by Wilmore were not a joke— a large percentage of Florida Republicans who participated in this poll actually believed that Ted Cruz was the Zodiac killer or they were not sure. Uninformed people who get most of their “facts” from unreliable sources on the Internet are often convinced by ridiculous and unsubstantiated theories and claims. Many people are also impressed by the ridiculous and unsubstantiated theories and claims of those peddling Zodiac suspects and solutions.

Perhaps the prominent mention of the case on a popular worldwide television show could inspire some people to do a google search and learn about the real life Zodiac story, but the irony is rich because anyone who uses the Internet to find information about the Zodiac case will find many websites featuring theories and claims which are only slightly-less absurd than Mike Yard’s “Cruz/Zodiac theory.”

On April 4th, 2016, another hoax spread on the internet with the sensational headline, “Suspect Believed To Be ‘Zodiac Killer’ Arrested In Henderson Nevada.” According to the website associatedmediacoverage.com, the Zodiac killer had been identified as one Walter Gotberg, a 74 year-old man who was recently incarcerated fin Nevada or acts of domestic violence. Gotberg allegedly confessed that he was the Zodiac during conversations with another inmate. The same website states, “According to police reports, Walter Gotberg wasn’t officially listed as a suspect in the unsolved murders until laboratory results provided a match between Gotberg’s DNA and the DNA profile created by saliva found on stamps and envelopes used by the Zodiac Killer to send cryptic messages to media reporters and police.”

Associatedmediacoverage.com was the only “news” site reporting the alleged identification and arrest of Gotberg for the Zodiac crimes. There is no credible evidence that Gotberg’s DNA has been compared to the suspected “Zodiac DNA profile” obtained by the San Francisco Police Department, let alone that the test produced a match of any kind. In fact, no one has demonstrated that Walter Gotberg even exists. The website “Hoax Alert” posted an article debunking the Gotberg story as a “hoax,” and stated, “The image of the man ‘suspected’ to be the ‘Zodiac Killer’ is actually a stock image from 2014 that is regularly used on Australian bar websites.”

Many people posted links to the Gotberg hoax article on Facebook and other social media sites, spreading the story across the globe in a matter of hours. Very few people bothered to even read the article and even fewer bothered to check other media sources for confirmation of the story and its claims. Some readers on Facebook did note, “If this were true, other news agencies would be reporting it,” and some referred to the story as a “hoax.”

One Facebook user wrote, “The Zodiac is dead and buried in Mexico according to his ‘son’,” a reference to Gary Stewart, who claims that his deceased father Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac killer. Stewart’s claims first appeared in his book The Most Dangerous Animal of All, a work of “nonfiction” which was thoroughly debunked and discredited within days of its publication. Yet, Stewart’s claims continue to circulate on the internet without scrutiny or factual rebuttal. Debunked claims persist in a world where the facts are ignored in favor of entertaining nonsense. Mike Yard’s comedy sketch was only absurd and unrealistic to those who have not followed the history of the Zodiac case or the checkered careers of the many ambitious attention seekers and dedicated con men who continue to exploit the Zodiac tragedy in the quest for fame and fortune.

Learn more about the history of the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer” meme at KnowYourMeme.com

NEWS & UPDATES: October 2015 Archive

OCTOBER 2015: This is an archived posting of the original “News & Updates” page.

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* BOOK REVIEW: August 1, 2014 – Gary Stewart and co-author Susan Mustafa recently published the book titled The Most Dangerous Animal of All which claims that Stewart’s father, Earl Van Best, Jr., was the Zodiac killer. Publisher Harper Collins remained silent until the book was released and Stewart went on a publicity tour with interviews on television and radio. According to Stewart, he has presented more evidence against his father than anyone has ever presented against any other suspect in the entire history of the Zodiac case. Stewart and Mustafa are convinced that their claims are true. However, examination of the book and its claims cast serious doubts on Stewart’s solution to the mystery. Much of Stewart’s book has been debunked, leaving virtually no credible evidence to implicate Earl Van Best in the Zodiac crimes. Click here to read the ZodiacKillerFacts review of Gary Stewart’s book.

* UPDATE: MAY 31, 2014 – In March 1971, a letter arrived at the offices of The Los Angeles Times newspaper. The author claimed to be the Zodiac and referred to the recent reports that he was responsible for the unsolved murder of Riverside City College student Cheri Jo Bates in 1966. Previously released photographs of this letter have been dark and the handwriting appeared distorted. I recently obtained a large book collection titled Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia. Page 2152 of volume 18 featured another photograph of the LA Times letter. The quality of this photograph was better than the others I have seen. The detail was sharper and the handwriting was not distorted by high contrast or the photocopy process. Click Here to view this image at the ZodiacKillerFacts document gallery.

NOTE: Here is some basic information and links to resources which may be useful to anyone who wants to track down their own copy of this encyclopedia set or the individual volume containing the LA Times letter.

Title: CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia

Set: 28 volumes

ISBN-10: 185435793X (entire set)

ISBN-13: 978-1854357939 (entire set)

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Corp / H. S. Stuttman

Date: September 1994

Photo of LA TIMES Letter: Page 2152, Volume 18

Available thru: Amazon.com

Available thru: BookFinder.com

* MEDIA UPDATE: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 – The San Francisco TV station KGO ABC 7 will feature a story about the Zodiac case on Friday, February 14, 2014. According to Investigative Producer Jim O’Donnell, the new ABC story will examine one of the many tips reported to police regarding possible Zodiac suspects. This time, a New York man claims that a friend once confessed that he was the Zodiac killer. The segment will also include a brief recap of the Bay Area crimes. The Zodiac story will air during the 11:00 PM news broadcast and will available to view on the ABC 7 website approximately one hour later at midnight (Pacific Standard Time).

* RADIO INTERVIEW: February 2, 2014 – On January 31, 2014, I was a guest on “The Fringe Radio Show” to discuss the unsolved “Zodiac” murders and other infamous serial killer. An archived recording of the 2-hour broadcast is now available at the K-Talk Radio Archives. Click on the following link to listen to the show: The Fringe Radio Show with Michael Butterfield.

* UPDATE: November 22, 2013 – In November 1969, the Zodiac mailed one of his most baffling clues and a letter including one of his most controversial claims. The killer sent a greeting card along with his second cipher consisting of 340 symbols. In his next communication, the Zodiac wrote that he was angered by the “lies” told by police who claimed that he had left fingerprints at the crime scene and had been seen by witnesses. The Zodiac announced that he would change his “way of collecting slaves” and disguise his future murders as routine robberies, accidents and other random crimes. The killer also claimed that San Francisco police had stopped him near the scene of his last murder but had inexplicably allowed him to escape justice. The 340 CIPHER: Dead Ends examines some of the solutions offered by amateur code breakers. 

* UPDATE: OCTOBER 30, 2013 – 47 years ago, Cheri Jo Bates was murdered near the campus of the Riverside City College library. One month after the murder, someone mailed an envelope to the offices of the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper. The envelope contained a typed letter titled “The Confession” which included an account of the murder and the warning that more victims were to come. Six months after the murder, someone mailed three handwritten notes to the newspaper, the police and the father of Cheri Jo Bates. The author wrote, “Bates had to die. There will be more.” Three years later, the Zodiac surfaced in Northern California with bizarre letters sent to newspapers and a horrific series of seemingly inexplicable murders. Riverside police contacted Zodiac investigators with the suspicion that their unsolved case was linked to the Zodiac crimes. Many investigators believed that the Zodiac had killed Bates and some handwriting experts concluded that the Zodiac was responsible for the Riverside writings. In November 1970, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery revealed the so-called “Riverside connection” and Cheri Jo Bates became known as the Zodiac’s first known victim. In one letter, the Zodiac wrote, “I do have to give them credit for stumbling across my riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there.” The Riverside Police Department later declared that Bates had been killed by someone she had known and officially denied that the Zodiac was responsible for the crime. The RPD then discovered that DNA evidence found at the murder scene did not match their suspect, but the department continued to insist that the suspect had killed Bates and the Zodiac was not involved. Decades after the murder, the case remains unsolved and the shadow of the Zodiac still haunts this mystery. Read more in the ZodiacKillerFacts blog entry RIVERSIDE ACTIVITY: Unsolved Mysteries.

* MEDIA UPDATE: August 30, 2013 – Former KGO-TV reporter Richard Carlson shares his memories of the Zodiac case in a new article posted at WeeklyStandard.com titled Signs of the Zodiac. Highlights include:

* Carlson recalls visiting the scene of the Stine murder in San Francisco on the night of the crime.

* A behind-the scenes account during the now-infamous televised exchange between attorney Melvin Belli and the Zodiac impostor known as “Sam” on The Jim Dunbar Show.

* A look at the events surrounding the proposed meeting between Belli and Sam after the television broadcast.

Find a link to the story and read more at the ZodiacKillerFacts Forum or go directly to the article Signs of the Zodiac.

* UPDATE: July 26, 2013 – Forty-three years ago today, the Zodiac mailed one of his most baffling clues and inspired one the most persistent myths in the history of the case. Read the ZodiacKillerFACTS article THE RADIAN THEORY: Mistakes in the Myth-Making and learn how to debunk this myth using a map, a protractor and the facts.

* UPDATE: July 22, 2013 – San Francisco’s Old Mint recently hosted a special screening of the 2007 film ZODIAC. Inspector Pamela Hofsass attended the screening and reportedly told the audience that the SFPD has obtained a partial profile of Zodiac DNA. The SFPD had previously reported the same news more than a decade ago but the latest rumors indicate that investigators are still working to obtain new evidence which could finally solve the Zodiac mystery. Read the ZodiacKillerFacts blog entry ZODIAC DNA: A Question of Answers or visit the ZodiacKillerFacts Forum to discuss this and other case-related issues.

* UPDATE: June 7, 2013 – Dave Oranchak’s site ZodiacKillerCiphers.com features a new article about Zodiac theorist Gareth Penn and math and science writer Martin Gardner, the author of the column Mathematical Games for the magazine Scientific American. The article, titled Gardner and Penn, Jekyll and Hyde, focuses on Penn’s writings and Gardner’s opinions regarding Penn’s theories about the Zodiac ciphers and other material. The ZodiacKillerFacts Blog page has been updated with a new post regarding Oranchak’s article which includes links to various articles related to Penn and his theories. [NOTE: Thanks to Dave Oranchak for obtaining and sharing the collection of Gardner documents.]

* UPDATE: June 2, 2013 – The Benicia Herald featured a story about former Benicia police Chief Pierre Bidou discussing the Zodiac case with students of the Benicia Citizens Police Academy. Read the article: Citizens Police Academy: Signs of the Zodiac.

* UPDATE: On April 17, 2013, the Napa Valley Register reported the death of Napa Police officer David Slaight. On the night of September 27, 1969, Slaight was assigned to dispatcher duty and received a telephone call from an individual who claimed to be responsible for the stabbing at Lake Berryessa. Slaight described the phone call attributed to “the Zodiac killer” in his interviews for the 2003 television documentary COLD CASE FILES as well as the 2007 documentary THIS IS THE ZODIAC SPEAKING. Slaight died at the age of 68 after he was diagnosed as suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Vallejo Police dispatcher Nancy Slover Earp had also received a phone call from an individual who claimed to be responsible for a previous attack attack at Blue Rock Springs Park as well as two other murders. She appeared in several television documentaries including HAUNTING EVIDENCE and MYSTERYQUEST. Nancy Slover-Earp died in 2012. The passing of both Nancy Slover-Earp and David Slaight closed a chapter in history as they were the only two people to have allegedly spoken to the Zodiac killer by telephone. Bryan Hartnell, the man who survived the stabbing at Lake Berryessa, remains the only living person believed to have spoken with the Zodiac killer. 

* UPDATE – ZODIAC BOOKS: Several new books focus on the unsolved mystery of “the Zodiac killer.”

* FRINGE: The ZODIAC PARADOX features characters from the popular FOX science fiction television series FRINGE. In an interview posted at Suvudu.com, author Christa Faust offered this description of the plot. “It starts in the late sixties, when young graduate students Walter Bishop and William Bell are testing a special blend of perception-altering chemicals at Reiden Lake. Their artificially enhanced minds accidentally open a rift between universes and allow a vicious serial killer to escape into our world. The killer is profoundly changed and unnaturally enhanced by their psychic encounter, but it isn’t until 1974 that Walter learns the true nature of the monster they have unleashed. It’s up to him, along with Bell and Nina Sharp, to find a way to stop him.” 

* HUNTER AMONG THE STARS by John Robert Jordan is described as “A Critical Look at the Zodiac Killer as Serial Killer, Occultist, and Speller.” Amazon.com offers the following description of the book: “Hunter Among the Stars is a critical re-examination of the Zodiac Killer’s tragic murder spree. Beginning with a “blitz attack” restatement of the “Zodiac Mythos”, the author quickly establishes his own premise; the Zodiac Killer’s unique pathology and it’s interface with his hitherto unidentified occult practice. After meticulously reconstructing each crime and deconstructing each investigation, the author provides the first systematic diagnostic analysis of the Zodiac’s Killer’s spelling errors in forty years. Critically evaluating the modern technique of profiling, Hunter identifies the fallacies inherent in all Zodiac profiles, and concludes by revealing the personation or “signature” on a “Zodiac kill” linking it to the killer’s use of occult astrology and belief. Hunter offers investigatrs and readers alike the first testable hypothesis forever answer the twofold question of how many victims Zodiac murdered and whether the killer moved his homicidal enterprise elsewhere.” [Note: All spelling errors contained in the original text.]

* ZODIAC CRACKED: THE MANIFESTATION OF A KILLER presents yet another solution to the Zodiac mystery. Amazon.com offers the following information regarding the author: “Marianne Koerfer is a retired Police Secretary and a native Chicagoan. She is the author of two civic articles, Creating Opportunities for The Employee Who is Disabled and Law Enforcement Opportunities. Her current focus is directed toward reviewing, researching, and writing about cold cases. She strives to bring long neglected cases out from the archives and back into the open case status by developing a fresh profile of a viable suspect through an intense reinterpretation of the evidence and circumstances of these dark crimes.

* UPDATE: August 20, 2012 – Mike Morford of the website Zodiackillersite.com has obtained more than 900 pages of FBI documents via a Freedom of Information Act request and he generously shared these documents with the research community. Information regarding these files and links to view the documents are available at the ZodiacKillerFacts Blog page.

* UPDATE: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 – The release of a new book by long-time Zodiac theorist Lyndon Lafferty has sparked a wave of media coverage announcing that the Zodiac killer has been identified. Those who are new to this story, and Lafferty’s history, may be tempted to believe that the case has finally been solved, but the facts tell a very different story. Lafferty has been accusing his suspect for decades and has never presented any credible evidence to implicate his suspect, the man identified in Robert Graysmith’s book ZODIAC as “Andrew Todd Walker.” Lafferty is a retired law enforcement officer, but law enforcement agencies have dismissed his claims and theories and authorities have no interest in pursuing his solution to the case. According to Lafferty and his book, the investigation of his suspect was thwarted by a biased judge and others, including Pam Huckaby, sister of Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin. Pam now claims that Lafferty’s suspect is the man who allegedly stalked Darlene in the months before she was killed. Lafferty claims that Pam betrayed his confidence, leaked sensitive information to irresponsible parties, and destroyed any hope to ever charge and prosecute Lafferty’s suspect. “Andrew Todd Walker” died in February, 2012, shortly before the release of Lafferty’s book, THE ZODIAC KILLER COVER-UP. For more information, including links to the related news stories featuring excerpts of a recent interview with Pam Huckaby, read the ZodiacKillerFACTS blog entry The ZODIAC KILLER COVER-UP: A Bad Case of Deja Vu.

* TV ALERT: The case of the Zodiac killer and other California crime stories will be featured on the Travel Channel series “Hidden City” hosted by writer Marcus Sakey. The Hidden City webpage offers this synopsis of the broadcast: “Marcus examines the infamous murder of Harvey Milk, rides along with the San Jose police to uncover the fear and greed which created the Vigilance Committee during the gold rush, and gets inside the mind of the Zodiac killer.” The show will air on Tuesday January 10, 2012 at 10:00 PM and again at 1:00 AM in the Mountain Time Zone. Check your local listings for the Pacific, Central and Eastern times zones, or, consult the Travel Channel schedule.

* UPDATE: January 3, 2012: ZodiacKillerFACTS.com has been updated with four pages designed to provide basic information about the Zodiac case. The Case Summary has been revised, expanded and updated with more information on various aspects of the case. A Reference Information Page has been added which provides basic information such as the names of the victims, the law enforcement agencies involved, the recipients of Zodiac communications, and a list of Zodiac-related books, films and television broadcasts. A new section titled Zodiac: UNSUB offers two pages featuring information regarding The Eyewitness Descriptions and The Psychological Portraits of the Zodiac killer. The site has also been revised for easy access to basic information with a link to The ZODIAC CASE FILES, including the police reports and other official documents regarding the original Zodiac investigation. This new page features a filing cabinet approach to the files produced by the Benicia Police Department, the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, the Vallejo Police Department, the Napa County Sheriff’s Department, the San Francisco Police Deparment, the California Department of Justice, the FBI and other official agencies involved in the investigations of the known and suspected Zodiac crimes.

January 2012 marks the fifth anniversary since ZodiacKillerFACTS.com was first launched in 2007. Throughout the new year, other areas of the site will be revised, expanded and updated to include more information about the case and other material which may be of interest to regular visitors and new visitors. The Mysteries of the Mt. Diablo Map contains several pages devoted to the Zodiac’s so-called “Mt. Diablo map” and other clues. The first article serves as a basic introduction to this enigmatic piece of the Zodiac’s legacy. The second article Radians & Inches focuses on the Zodiac’s mathematical clues. The Mt. Diablo Map provides a unique look at one of the Zodiac’s most cryptic clues. Zodiac researcher Ed Neil obtained a copy of the same road map used by the Zodiac. Ed’s photographs may be useful to those with questions about the Zodiac’s map. Radians: By the Textbook features pages from an 11th year high school textbook which explain the use of radians and inches in mathematics. The ZodiacKillerFACTS Document Gallery features a collection of FBI files about the Zodiac case which is presented in chronological order, organized and listed by month and year for easy reference (the remaining sections will be added soon). This site also features a comprehensive list of links to the original police reports, crime scene sketches, official documents, photographs, videos and other material which is organized by each of the four known Zodiac crimes as well as other cases possibly linked to the killer. The Document Gallery includes a collection of the Zodiac letters, other possible communications, and suspected forgeries. The ZKF Blog page features periodic updates and articles about new developments, media reports, and case-related issues. This page also includes a list of links to reliable Zodiac websites and sources. The ZodiacKillerFACTS forum offers a place for discussion about the case, the exchange of information, and the examination of theories (membership is free). Credible tips, case-related information and legitimate inquiries should be directed to info@zodiackillerfacts.com.

* TV ALERT: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 – Director David Fincher’s movie version of the Zodiac story airs tonight on the Independent Film Channel. The IFC website states that the film will air at 12:30 AM Eastern Time (late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning). Check your local listings for times in your area or check the schedule at IFC.com. A scene-by-scene examination of the film and its factual accuracy is available in the ZodiackillerFACTS article titled FACT vs. FINCHER.

* ANNIVERSARY: October 11, 2011 – Tuesday marks the 42nd anniversary of the Zodiac’s last known killing, the murder of San Francisco cab driver Paul Stine. To learn more about this case and view original police reports, other official documents and photographs, click here.

* TV ALERT: August 4, 2011 – Director David Fincher’s movie version of the Zodiac story airs tonight on the Independent Film Channel. The film be will be repeated twice in a back-to-back broadcast. Check your local listings for times in your area or check the schedule at IFC.com. A scene-by-scene examination of the film and its factual accuracy is available in the ZodiackillerFACTS article titled FACT vs. FINCHER.

* UPDATE: August 1, 2011 – Recently, several news reports have stated that the Zodiac’s infamous “340 cipher” had been solved by a resident of Tewksbury, Massachusetts named Corey Starliper. The alleged solution ends with the line, “MY NAME IS LEIGH ALLEN,” an obvious reference to the once-prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. The overwhelming majority of those who have examined Starliper’s solution have deemed his work invalid and critics have challenged his questionable methods. Starliper contacted me in late June 2011, and I have added a new blog entry about this issue titled, “The STARLIPER SOLUTION.” This blog page also features links to news stories about Starliper’s claims and links to articles which critique and debunk Starliper’s methods and findings.

* RADIO INTERVIEW: July 27, 2011 – I was a guest on the Ireland radio show hosted by author and broadcaster Sean Moncrieff. After a basic run down of the case itself, Sean and I discussed several issues, including the recent claims by amateur “code-breaker” Corey Starliper. You can listen to the segment by clicking on the following link; the interview starts just before the 5 minute mark. The Sean Moncrieff Show.

* UPDATE: July 21, 2011 – The ZodiacKillerFACTS.com Document Gallery has been updated to include the infamous “code key” sent to the Vallejo Police Department on August 10, 1969. This “key” was mentioned in the Vallejo police reports but has never been available to the general public. The individuals known as “morf” and “AK Wilks” sent a Freedom of Information request to the FBI and received copies of the original envelope, the note card and the key itself. [Note: Special thanks to “morf” and “AK Wilks” for their persistence and generosity.]

* UPDATE: May 28, 2011 – The ZodiacKillerFacts.com Document Gallery has been updated to include two suspected “Zodiac” forgeries: A card sent in October, 1970 which read in part, “YOU ARE NEXT,” and the so-called “Equinox” letter sent in 1972. Neither letter is included on the list of authenticated Zodiac letters. These messages are presented with the corresponding pages from the FBI files regarding the Zodiac case. View the “You Are Next” Card or view the “Equinox” letter. [Note of thanks: The letters were obtained by morf (of zodiackillersite) via the Freedom of Information Act and were provided to ZodiacKillerFacts.com by AK Wilks.]

* UPDATE: March 29, 2011 – ZodiacKillerFacts.com and the Document Gallery have been updated to include the suspected Zodiac forgery mailed in Atlanta, Georgia during the notorious “Atlanta Child Murders.” The letter was postmarked March 8, 1981. The author claimed to be the Zodiac and signed the message with a crossed-circle symbol. CLICK HERE to view the letter and corresponding pages from the FBI files regarding the Zodiac case. [Note of thanks: The letter was obtained by morf (of zodiackillersite) via the Freedom of Information Act and was provided to ZodiacKillerFacts.com by AK Wilks.]

* TV ALERT: March 28, 2011 The AMC network broadcast a new series of documentary vignettes titled The UNSOLVEDWATCH THE VIDEO. The first segment focused on the Zodiac case and featured brief interviews with author Susan Milano Murphy, author John Gilmore (Severed), author Michael Connelly, and FBI profiler Jim Clemente. Host Dan Abrams introduced and narrated the segment which included a brief synopsis of the case as well as briefs clips of vintage news footage featuring Det. Les Lundblad, Bryan Hartnell and others. In a melodramatic introduction, Abrams said: “The ideals of the 1960s were born in California’s Bay Area, and that’s where some would argue they died, smothered by a costumed serial killer who worked in shotguns, hunting knives and cryptograms. Local police forces clashed, careers ruined, and a new kind of monster emerged. He took five confirmed victims with as many as two dozen more suspected but never proven. The series of lover’s lane murders committed by the man still only known as the Zodiac remain unsolved.” The Zodiac did not use a shotgun in any of his known or suspected crimes, and claims of police clashes have been greatly exaggerated by the media and others over the years. The program did not include any new or important information. AMC’s limited series of vignettes will continue throught the last week of March leading up to the April 3rd premiere of the new series The KILLING. On Tuesday, March 29, AMC will broadcast the film ERASER along with another UNSOLVED vignette about the unsolved murder of Jon Benet Ramsey.

* The Zodiac Killer on AMC’s The UNSOLVED – Susan Murphy Milano Tapped for New AMC Network Project “The Unsolved” Produced by Eight Time Emmy Nominated, Jeff Roe – Nationally recognized Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Expert and Author, Susan Murphy Milano has recently been invited to participate in a new project by the producers and host of the short-form documentary series, “The Unsolved.” This nightly series leads the way towards the premier of the new original drama, “The Killing” premiering Sunday, April 3 at 9pm ET on AMC (amctv.com). “The Unsolved” will focus on true-life unsolved crimes such as Jon Benet Ramsey, The Black Dahlia, Natalee Holloway, Marilyn Sheppard, The Alphabet Murders, and The Zodiac Killer. Host Dan Abrams’ voice will guide viewers through the evidence packed presentations of each of these cases along with Murphy Milano’s commentary. Each night the shows will delve into the lives of the people most affected by these crimes, using footage, police reports and news stories, the cases will be fleshed out quickly, but huge in content so viewers will come away with a better understanding of, not only the crime itself, but its ramifications upon friends, politicians, media, detectives and family members whose lives are forever changed. The goal of the series is to produce compelling, not sensationalized, treatments of each case through interviews and visuals that will keep viewers engaged, yet aiming to be sympathetic and respectful to the victims and loved ones left in the wake of the events of the trauma and its inevitable aftermath. Outlaw Laboratories and eight time Emmy Award nominee, Jeff Roe will produce and direct each of the shows in the series, told in a stylistically different approach that won’t rely on re-enactments, but will be chocked full of evidence directly from the case files. NOTE: The AMC series The UNSOLVED is actually a series of vignettes. Each segment will last approximately 3-5 minutes and will be shown during the broadcasts of six true story films over six nights. The Zodiac segment is reportedly scheduled to air during the broadcast of the gangster film GOODFELLAS on the night of March 28, 2011. [See also: SusanMurphyMilano.com and AMC TV Originals “The Killing”.]

* NEW: March 21, 2011: A new section titled The Mysteries of the Mt. Diablo Map contains several pages devoted to the Zodiac’s so-called “Mt. Diablo map.” The first article serves as a basic introduction to this enigmatic piece of the Zodiac’s legacy. The second article Radians & Inches focuses on the Zodiac’s mathematical clues. The Mt. Diablo Map provides a unique look at one of the Zodiac’s most cryptic clues. Zodiac researcher Ed Neil recently tracked down and purchased a copy of the same road map used by the Zodiac. Ed’s photographs may be useful to those with questions about the Zodiac’s map. Radians: By the Textbook features pages from an 11th year high school textbook which explain the use of radians and inches in mathematics. More information is also available in the article titled Gareth Penn and the Radian Theory.

* TV ALERT: February 19, 2011: NBC’s THE TODAY SHOW aired a segment on the Zodiac case which featured Dave Collins and Dick Lonergan of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, FBI profiler Cliff Van Zant, author Robert Graysmith, and Zodiac survivor Bryan Hartnell. WATCH THE VIDEO or read the story at the NapaValleyRegister.com.

* TV ALERT: February 19, 2011: AMERICA’S MOST WANTED aired a segment on the Zodiac case which featured a photograph showing Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin and an “unidentified man.” The AMW website states that “police want to know who he is.” Read more about the issues surrounding this photograph in the article Darlene Ferrin and the Unidentified Man or join the discussion at the Zodiackillerfacts.com FREE FORUM.

* Featured Blog: Remembering the GOOD TIMES and Richard Gaikowski with “Becky Sharp”

* NEW: The MYTHS & LEGENDS section has been updated with new articles regarding the Ferrin case, including: Darlene Ferrin MYTHS: The BeginningThe Painting Party, The Stalker and “Andrew Todd Walker”, and an examination of the 1991 Geraldo Rivera television broadcasts regarding the life and death of Darlene Ferrin, NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: The Rest of the Story, including links to watch the original programs.

* TIT WILLOW: THE STORY OF THE ZODIAC KILLER by Judith Chapman presents yet-another “I-knew-the-Zodiac-killer” tale. Chapman accuses her now-deceased husband Peter Plante. Amazon.com offers the following summary of Chapman’s book: “This book details the murders of the Zodiac Killer of the San Francisco Bay Area of the 1960’s. The author describes twenty years of terror, living with the man she believes to be the Zodiac. The book includes handwriting evidence and a solution to the “My name is ..” cipher.

Selected Audio Files & Interviews

Selected Radio/Podcast Interviews:

  • Michael Butterfield on The KEVIN SMITH SHOW excerpt: FBI Profilers
  • COAST TO COAST AM with George Noury, featuring writer Michael Butterfield and Zodiac researcher Ed Neil, with other highlights.
  • ZODIAC: A to Z / Robert Graysmith’s Crooked Compass – In this segment of the audio webcast program ZODIAC: A to Z, writer Michael Butterfield and Zodiac researcher Ed Neil explain the geographic errors contained in the books Zodiac and Zodiac Unmasked. Recorded in 2007, this 7-part webcast examines the author’s many errors concerning the location of the crime scene on Lake Herman Road, the crime scene at Blue Rock Springs Park, the location of the pay phone used by the Zodiac to call the Vallejo Police Department, the crime scene at Lake Berryessa, the location of the Zodiac sighting on the night of his last known murder in San Francisco, the author’s infamous “hidden road” in Vallejo, and his claims regarding the Zodiac’s Mt. Diablo map. This audio webcast is accompanied by illustrations, maps, aerial photographs, and excerpts from Robert Graysmith’s books.

 

Zodiac Reference

CASE SUMMARY * ZODIAC LETTERS * REFERENCE * TV & RADIO * Zodiac: UNSUB * MYTHS * ABOUT / SOURCES & LINKS * FORUM * GALLERY * BLOG * MAIN MENU
Visit the The ZodiacKillerFacts Document Gallery to view hundreds of photographs and thousands of documents related to the Zodiac case, or, choose from the selection of subjects listed below. 
Click Here to View The ZODIAC CASE FILES from the original investigation

Zodiackillerfacts.com also provides a collection of photographs, documents, videos and other reference material regarding the Zodiac’s other known crimes, including the shootings at Lake Herman Road and Blue Rock Springs Park as well as the attack at Lake Berryessa. SEE ALSO: The ZODIAC REFERENCE PAGE, which provides a list of names and other information relating to the Zodiac case.

LAKE HERMAN ROAD: December 20, 1968

THE VICTIMS

David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

The Scene of the Crime: 1968

THE CRIME SCENE

The Crime Scene: December 20, 1968

The Crime Scene: Police Sketches

THE EVIDENCE

Shell Casings and Jensen Dress

The Rambler

THE INVESTIGATORS and OTHERS

The Investigators and Others

THE ARTICLES

Newspaper Articles and Other Material

THE DOCUMENTS

Death Certificates and Morgue Photographs

Benicia Police Dept: Report by Capt. Daniel Pitta (2 pages)

Solano County Sheriff’s Office Report (76 pages)

CA Dept. of Justice / CII Report – Ballistics (3 pages)

THE VIDEOS

The Funeral of David Faraday

————————-

BLUE ROCK SPRINGS PARK: July 4, 1969

THE VICTIMS

Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

Blue Rock Springs Park

THE EVIDENCE

Clothing of the Victims and Other Items

THE PAYPHONE

The Payphone Used by the Zodiac

THE INVESTIGATORS and OTHERS

Vallejo Police Investigators and Others

THE DOCUMENTS

Darlene Ferrin Certificate of Death

VPD Report by Det. Ed Rust: Michael Mageau Interview (4 pages)

Vallejo Police Department Report (97 pages)

 

THE VICTIMS

Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

Lake Berryessa, September 1969

The Zodiac’s Message: The Car Door

– Photographs of the car door

– Video of the car door

The Evidence:

The Boot Prints and Clothesline

The Phone Booth 

Photographs of the Phone Used By The Zodiac to Call The Napa Police Department


THE SUSPECT and PERSONS OF INTEREST

Sketches of the Zodiac in costume and a man seen at the lake


THE DOCUMENTS

Read the reports produced by the Napa County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies, including:

NCSD Report: Ken Narlow and others (19 pages)

NCSD Report: Hal Snook (4 pages)

NCSD Report: Collins and Land (6 pages – one page missing)

NCSD Report: RE: the three girls at the lake (1 page)

NCSD Report: RE: Gun used by the Zodiac (1 page)

Napa Police Department: Report by Dispatcher David Slaight re: Zodiac call (1 page)

FBI Report: re: Fingerprints (3 pages)

CA Dept. Of Justice/CII Report (2 pages)

CA Highway Patrol Report: RE: Bryan Hartnell’s car (1 page)

Transcript: Interview with Bryan Hartnell (13 pages)

Transcript: Written account by Bryan Hartnell (2 pages)


VIDEOS

Video of the car door

Interview with Park Ranger William White

Interviews with NCSD Capt. Donald Townsend

Bryan Hartnell’s Hospital Interview for TV News

SAN FRANCISCO: Photographs, Videos, Newspaper Articles, and Official Documents

THE VICTIM

Paul Stine

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

Washington and Cherry Streets – October, 1969

THE CRIME SCENE

Crime Scene Photographs

THE EVIDENCE

Paul Stine’s Shirt

The Fingerprints

THE INVESTIGATORS and OTHERS

San Francisco Investigators and Others

THE SUSPECT SKETCHES

Sketches of the Suspect

THE ZODIAC’S LETTERS

The Zodiac’s Envelope and Letter

THE ARTICLES

Newspaper Stories and Other Material

THE JOE STINE FILES

Paul Stine’s Brother Joe

THE DOCUMENTS

Paul Stine: Record of Death

Paul Stine: Certificate of Death

Report by SFPD Officer Armand Pelissetti

Excerpt from Dept. of Justice Report on Stine Case

Memo on the Zodiac Sighting by SFPD Officer Don Fouke

THE VIDEOS

Paul Stine’s Cab

The Crime Scene: Washington and Cherry Streets

A Possible Escape Route

SFPD Officer Don Fouke on the Zodiac Sighting

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s Threat to Attack a School Bus

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s Crossed-Circle Symbol

SFPD Captain Martin Lee on the Zodiac’s State of Mind

See Also: The Zodiac Letters

 

THE MOST DANGEROUS DADDY OF ALL: Debunking Gary Stewart

Like many infamous unsolved cases, the Zodiac mystery draws its share of those who claim to have the solution. In more recent years, a new phenomenon has dominated media reports, the “daddy did it” claims from children who seek publicity. Several people have “identified” their fathers or stepfathers as the Zodiac killer, and this trend has fueled repeated media cycles with a publicity tour for the accuser. Gary Stewart stepped into the spotlight when he identified his father as the Zodiac killer. Stewart’s claims may have seemed compelling to some observers but his story was all too familiar.

Deborah Perez made headlines when she claimed that her father Guy Ward Hendrickson was the Zodiac. She also claimed that she accompanied him during some of the crimes and had even written some of the Zodiac’s letters. Law enforcement agencies did not agree with Perez’s conclusions and other people came forward to report that she had also claimed to be the daughter of President John F. Kennedy.

Dennis Kaufman claimed that his stepfather Jack Tarrance was the Zodiac. Kaufman offered many theories linking Tarrance to other infamous crimes and even produced a hooded costume and rolls of film which allegedly linked the suspect to the Zodiac murders and other killings. Law enforcement agencies were not impressed and ultimately ignored Kaufman’s ongoing media circus.

Retired detective turned writer Steve Hodel found fame when he claimed that his father was responsible for the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder in 1947. The best-selling book Black Dahlia Avenger offered evidence said to link George Hodel to the crime, including photographs found among George Hodel’s possessions which Steve Hodel claimed depicted “Dahlia” victim Elizabeth Short. Skeptics disagreed and members of Short’s family eventually stated that the woman in Hodel’s photographs was not Elizabeth. Hodel then published another book titled Most Evil which claimed that George Hodel was also the Zodiac killer. This book featured many claims which proved false and most of Hodel’s theory was easily debunked.

Perez, Kaufman, Hodel and others all claimed that handwriting experts-for-hire determined that their suspects had written the Zodiac letters. Each claimed that compelling evidence proved that they had identified the Zodiac but none offered such evidence. All of these individuals spoke with certainty that they had solved the mystery when the facts proved otherwise. Yet, all of these people were celebrated by media with little interest in the facts and an ongoing need for sensational content. The authors and their publicists know that most people do not know enough about the Zodiac case to adequately scrutinize these sensational claims.

Part I: A REASON TO BELIEVE

Many books have been written about the Zodiac mystery but few received the publicity surrounding the release of Gary Stewart’s book titled The Most Dangerous Animal Of All. With co-author Susan Mustafa, Stewart described the search for his biological father, Earl Van Best, and his eventual conclusion that the same man was also the Zodiac killer. Stewart was interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and his solution was praised by many readers who posted positive reviews on Amazon.com.

I listened to one radio broadcast as a woman described how she had read Stewart’s book and was utterly convinced that he had solved the case. The host agreed with the caller and hoped that the San Francisco Police Department would conduct tests to determine if Best’s DNA matched a partial DNA profile obtained from the envelopes mailed by the Zodiac. Stewart repeatedly said that he wanted a DNA comparison and believed that the results would prove he had identified the killer. Other listeners did not realize that there were two major problems with Stewart’s version of the story.

1) The partial DNA profile obtained by the San Francisco Police Department is only a partial profile, meaning, it can only be used to exclude a suspect as the source of the DNA. The information is not sufficient to provide a conclusive match to any one person. And, some people believe that others who handled the envelopes were potentials sources of the DNA.

2) DNA tests should be conducted on viable suspects who have been implicated by other credible evidence. The SFPD cannot afford to test the DNA belonging to every suspect identified by attention seekers and opportunists. Doing so would only encourage others to come forward with false claims which waste law enforcement resources.

Gary Stewart would require hard evidence if DNA tests could not positively identify the Zodiac killer. Such evidence would be necessary prior to accusing a suspect, but Stewart’s book offered no reason to accept his solution to the case.

Part II: NO SIGN OF THE ZODIAC

Page 322 of the book The Most Dangerous Animal Of All described Gary Stewart’s meeting with his co-author Susan Mustafa. Stewart asked if Mustafa was interested in writing his Zodiac book and the author reportedly replied, “I’m not willing to put my reputation on the line unless I believe what I’m writing.” The resulting book was then marketed as the solution to the Zodiac mystery. Unsuspecting readers might be impressed by the book and its claims but the facts told a different story.

In the book’s introduction, Stewart wrote that he conducted twelve years of research and intended to leave “no doubt as to the identity” of the Zodiac. Part one of the book included approximately one hundred and thirty pages devoted to the life of Earl Van Best. At the age of twenty-eight, Best married fourteen year-old Judy Chandler. Best was eventually arrested on statutory rape charges and was sent to prison. Articles about Best and Chandler appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper called the story “the Ice Cream Romance” because Best and Chandler met in an ice cream parlor. Chandler gave birth to Gary Stewart and joined Best after his release from prison. However, she later took then four year-old Gary and left Best to escape the abusive relationship. Decades later, Stewart watched a television show about the unsolved mystery and realized that Best somewhat resembled the police sketch of the Zodiac suspect.

Stewart and Mustafa suggested a link between Best and Chronicle writer Paul Avery. According to the book, Avery authored a series of articles about the so-called “Ice Cream Romance” and Best was somehow offended. Best, as the Zodiac, then sent a threatening Halloween card to Avery. However, Stewart and Mustafa presented no evidence that Avery was the author and other information indicated that Avery did not write the “Ice Cream” articles.

The authors claimed that Van Best’s name appeared in the Zodiac’s ciphers. The book presented a photograph of the Zodiac’s first cipher and the symbols surrounding the word “best” in the deciphered text. The symbols V and E are substituted for the letters B and E in the deciphered text. In Stewart’s illustration, the two lines of symbols above the word “best” are highlighted to emphasis the letters J and R. According to Stewart, this configuration implied the name of his father, Earl Van Best, Jr. This strained interpretation was hardly conclusive and relied on the assumption that the Zodiac intended for his name to be noticed in both the original symbols and deciphered text together at the same time. The initials were not in the proper order and the lines containing the letters J and R were not the same as the line which contained the letters V and E.

Stewart and Mustafa further claimed that another Zodiac cipher implicated Best. The still-unsolved cipher contained thirteen symbols. The name Earl Van Best, Jr. contained thirteen letters. Stewart viewed this as more than coincidence and posted this “evidence” on his website. However, he did not provide any reason to believe that the thirteen symbols actually represented the letters in the Van Best name. Like other Zodiac theorists, Stewart simply assumed a connection which favored his pre-selected conclusion. Other theorists noted that the Zodiac’s first cipher contained eighteen symbols of apparent gibberish which could somehow contain the killer’s identity. Infamous “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski was identified as a potential Zodiac suspect at one time, and the name Theodore J. Kaczynski contains eighteen letters. The same method could be used to find a “match” to many other names.

According to the book, Susan Mustafa’s literary agent found Best’s name in the Zodiac’s so-called “340 cipher.” He located a backward letter B and then began looking for the other letters, eventually discovering the entire name “Earl Van Best Junior.” The agent used a series of unidentified symbols to form the word “Junior.” Stewart and Mustafa assured readers that the agent tried to repeat the same results with other names but failed. This cipher solution may have seemed compelling but the methods used to achieve the results were designed to favor the desired outcome. Mustafa’s literary agent simply assigned his own predetermined letters of the alphabet to his chosen symbols in the Zodiac’s “340” cipher. This solution also assumed that the triangle symbol in the cipher represented the letter A, that a half-filled circle represented the letter E, that an “I” symbol represented the letter L, and that the “V” symbol in the cipher represented the letter U. Without these assumptions, the literary agent could not construct Best’s name. The agent wanted to find Best’s name and then made his own assumptions in order find Best’s name. No one else would have any reason to look for Best’s name in the cipher and no one would make the same assumptions while attempting to solve the cipher. According to the logic used by Stewart and the literary agent, the Zodiac’s cipher could only be solved by someone who already knew the identify of the Zodiac killer.

Stewart, Mustafa and the literary agent offered no legitimate reason to believe that their methods were sound other than the fact that those methods achieved the desired results.

Part III: THE END OF THE ZODIAC MYSTERY

Gary Stewart’s book offered the only “direct evidence” said to link Earl Van Best, Jr. to the Zodiac crimes. On page 329, Stewart and co-author Susan Mustafa stated that Lieutenant Bob Garrett examined the fingerprints found at the scene of the Zodiac’s last known crime, the killing of cab driver Paul Stine in San Francisco. Garrett stated that he could not make a positive match between the possible Zodiac fingerprints and the fingerprints of Earl Van Best. Instead, Garrett provided a visual comparison for Stewart and Mustafa which showed a possible Zodiac fingerprint and Best’s fingerprint. According to Stewart and Mustafa, both fingerprints showed what appeared to be a scar. However, Garrett was forced to reverse the Zodiac fingerprint in order to align the possible scar on the correct side in order to match the same possible scar on the Best fingerprint. Stewart and Mustafa believed that the aligned scars on both fingerprints served as compelling evidence that Best killed Paul Stine.

A report written by SFPD Inspector William Hamlet described the fingerprints found at the crime scene:

“All of the latent prints in our case were obtained from a taxi cab. The latent prints that show traces of blood are believed to be prints of the suspect. The latent prints from right front door handle are also believed to be prints of the suspect. These prints are circled with a red pen. The other latent prints many of which are very good prints, may or may not be the prints of the suspect in this case”

The fingerprint isolated and compared by Stewart, Mustafa and Garrett was not among those latent fingerprints which were circled in red as stated in the SFPD report. The fingerprint was found at the crime scene but no one knew if that fingerprint actually belonged to the killer. Further, the only way to link Earl Van Best to the crime relied on assuming that the print was left by the killer and then reversing the image of that print. As a further stretch, the assumption that the print was valid and the reversal of the image did not produce any match between the fingerprint found at the crime scene and Best’s fingerprint. The reversal only changed the placement and alignment of a line which may or not be a scar. The faint line which appears to run through the fingerprint in question could have been produced by some feature or indentation on the surface of the cab where the print was obtained.

The methods used to achieve the favorable results were unreliable and self-serving. Stewart and Mustafa had no reason to believe that experienced police officers had somehow reversed the fingerprint. The authors simply assumed that such a reversal had occurred and then reversed the image to suit their needs. The fingerprint evidence did not link Earl Van Best to the murder of Paul Stine.

Stewart and Mustafa also consulted document examiner Mike Wakshull. Wakshull initially thought the evidence was not sufficient to reach a conclusion, however, he quickly changed his mind and concluded that Earl Van Best, Jr. had written the Zodiac letters. Wakshull stated, “I am virtually certain that the writer of the marriage certificate between Earl Van Best Jr. and Judith Chandler is the same writer as the writer of the Zodiac letters.” Wakshull was not hesitant in his conclusion; he even published his own book with a title that left no room for doubt– The End of the Zodiac Mystery.

In his book, Wakshull described his methods and the handwriting samples used in his examination. Wakshull wrote, “The only writing from Van on the first and the third marriage certificates was his signature. Regarding the second marriage certificate, Judith had attested to Gary that Van completed all the information except the witnesses’ signatures, including her printed name.” Wakshull then explained that he “had only four documents for comparison, three of them containing only Van’s signatures.” The fourth document was the marriage certificate reportedly completed by Best himself. This marriage certificate was included in the photograph section of Stewart’s book but the image was very small. At least four different photograph exhibits of handwriting comparisons between the Zodiac’s writing and Best’s writing cited this marriage certificate as evidence.

According to Wakshull, Judy Chandler claimed that Earl Van Best completed and signed the marriage certificate. Shortly after the publicatios of Stewart’s book, Zodiac theorist Mike Rodelli reported that he had contacted the church where Stewart’s parents had married. According to a church source, the writing on the marriage certificate was that of Reverend Edward Fliger, the man who had presided over the marriage ceremony of Earl Van Best and Judy Chandler. Other samples of Filger’s writing on other marriage certificates were remarkably similar to the writing on Best’s marriage certificate. Wakshull claimed that the writing on the marriage certificate was that of the Zodiac killer. According to Wakshull’s conclusion, Filger had written the Zodiac letters.

Wakshull’s conclusion that Best had written the Zodiac letters relied heavily on the assumption that Best was responsible for the writing on the marriage certificate, and any conclusion based on that mistaken assumption could not be valid. The removal of the Best/Chandler marriage certificate from the known writing samples of Earl Van Best, Jr. left Wakshull with only three signatures to compare to the Zodiac’s writing. Therefore, certain letters of the alphabet were not available in the Best signatures to compare with the same letters which appeared in the Zodiac writings. Three signatures were not sufficient to form a valid conclusion.

The evidence presented in his book did not support Stewart’s claims that his father was the Zodiac killer.

Part IV: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW

According to Gary Stewart, Earl Van Best, Jr. killed several human beings and then escaped justice. Stewart wanted the San Francisco Police Department to conduct DNA tests to determine if Best’s DNA matched a partial DNA profile obtained from envelopes which contained Zodiac communications. The SFPD would not oblige Stewart and instead ignored his claims. Stewart had to explain why authorities did not accept his solution to the mystery and he offered an answer. Co-author Susan Mustafa hinted at this explanation in an interview published in The Advocate. “The book involves a bit of the SFPD not wanting to cooperate for a reason that’s the hook of the book,” Mustafa said. “You’ve got to read the book for that.”

Stewart’s mother Judy divorced Earl Van Best Jr. and later married a man named Rotea Gilford, a man often described as the first African-American investigator to work in the San Francisco Police Department. In Stewart’s scenario, the Best-Gilford connection embarrassed the SFPD, perhaps enough to conceal the fact that Van Best was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. In support of this conspiracy theory, Stewart claimed that the SFPD possessed a secret file containing the horrifying truth about the life and crimes of Earl Van Best Jr.

According to Stewart, his mother Judy wanted to see the San Francisco Police Department file on Best, but a police representative refused, saying, “I am not going to reveal what is in that file. It would make what he did to you look inconsequential.” Judy then turned to her husband’s former partner, Earl Sanders. On page 242 of his book, Stewart stated that Judy met with Sanders and then called her son to report, “He says he can’t tell us what your father did. He says what your father did was so heinous that it would destroy us.” Stewart did not learn the contents of the SFPD file on Best but his public comments indicated that he believed the secret file contained some link between his father and the Zodiac crimes.

In his book, Stewart stressed an alleged connection between Best and the infamous satanist Anton Lavey. In 1966, Lavey founded The Church of Satan in celebration of what he declared to be Anno Satanas, the first year of the Age of Satan. Lavey’s sensational publicity stunts earned him a reputation as an American bogeyman, but Stewart offered no evidence that Lavey or Van Best were responsible for any murders. In a television interview, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery mentioned that members of The Church of Satan had once suspected another member may have been the Zodiac. Avery joked that “the Zodiac was so bad, even The Church of Satan didn’t want him.” Avery’s comments notwithstanding, no one had presented any evidence which linked the Zodiac to The Church of Satan or any occult activity of any kind.

Stewart also claimed that Earl Van Best Jr. was connected to Bobby Beausoleil, a biker linked to the “family” of killers led by Charles Manson. Beausoleil was convicted for his role in the murder of music teacher Gary Hinman. Beausoleil was also known for his appearance in the film Lucifer Rising along side author and director Kenneth Anger and singer Marianne Faithfull. Steve “Clem” Grogan, another member of the Manson “family” performed in a band with Beausoleil and was also convicted for killing Hinman. In his book, Stewart wrote that he received an email in which Beausoleil stated that he had “jammed” with Best and other musicians. Stewart did not present any evidence to indicate these relationships connected Best to the Zodiac crimes. Instead, the emphasis on these relationships relied on the old ploy of guilt by association.

Stewart was apparently unable to link Best to any crime other than the original statutory rape charges regarding Stewart’s mother Judy. The “heinous” truth allegedly concealed in Best’s police file has not been revealed, but Stewart believed that the SFPD’s refusal to reveal its contents could be evidence of an ongoing cover-up. Stewart also implied that this cover-up was linked to the SFPD announcement that the case had been “closed” in 2004. In fact, the case status was only “inactive,” meaning that the department would not devote substantial resources to the cold case without a new lead or new evidence.

Stewart was not the first to claim “cover-up.” Steve Hodel claimed that his father George Hodel was California’s Zodiac killer, the “Black Dahlia” killer of Los Angeles, and Chicago’s notorious “Lipstick killer.” According to Hodel’s version of the story, the arrest of his father would expose corruption and destroy the careers of important officials who allowed him to escape justice. Dennis Kaufman claimed that authorities knew that his step-father Jack Tarrance was the Zodiac but conspired to conceal this fact for unknown reasons. Blaine Blaine aka “Goldcatcher” claimed that Napa County Sheriff’s Department investigator Ken Narlow, Department of Justice Agent Fred Shirasago and others were conspiring to discredit Blaine and help his suspect escape justice. Howard Davis claimed that officials inside the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office conspired to conceal the connection between the Zodiac crimes and Bruce Davis, a member of the infamous “family” of killers led by Charles Manson. Hodel, Blaine, Kaufman and Davis did not provide any credible evidence to support their continuing claims of conspiracies and official cover-ups.

Gary Stewart offered no credible evidence to indicate that his father was responsible for the Zodiac crimes. Instead, he insisted that the San Francisco Police Department conduct DNA tests to prove whether or not Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac. The implied conspiracy to conceal the heinous truth about Best’s secrets was a convenient excuse to explain the lack of evidence to support Stewart’s claims.

Part V: STEWART’S TRUTH DEBUNKED

Despite his earlier contact with Lieutenant John Hennessy, the San Francisco Police Department has expressed no interest in any further examination of the claims made by Gary Stewart. Despite the publicity surrounding the release of his book, Gary Stewart failed to convince anyone but uninformed readers. WIthin days of its release, much of the “evidence” presented in Stewart’s book was debunked and dismissed. Even Stewart’s mother Judy was not convinced. According to Stewart, Judy “cannot imagine that Van could be capable of such violence.” Judy reportedly referred to Stewart’s Zodiac claims as “fiction.”

During his many media interviews, Gary Stewart consistently stated his certainly that Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac. Stewart referred to his claims as “the truth about my life.” In a CNN interview with Erin Burnett, Stewart boasted, “I believe for the first time in the history of this case that I have presented more evidence than has ever been presented on any one suspect.” Stewart’s certainty was not justified by the evidence.

A handwriting expert examined alleged samples of Best’s writing and determined that Best had written the Zodiac letters. One of these handwriting samples was apparently written by someone other than Best, casting serious doubts on the conclusions of the expert. The cipher solutions by Stewart and his literary agent relied on unreliable methods which could be used by others to reach their own preconceived results. Beyond the story of the relationship between his mother and father, Stewart offered no evidence that Earl Van Best was responsible for any crimes. Alleged connections between Best, satanist Anton Lavey and Manson associate Bobby Boeuseliel could not link Best to the Zodiac murders.

The only remaining “evidence” said to link Best to the Zodiac crimes seemed to be little more than trivia:

* Best somewhat resembled the composite sketch of the Zodiac.

* Best was reportedly in California during the time of the Zodiac crimes.

* Best liked Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

* Best had some interest in ciphers when he was younger.

* Best allegedly knew a satanist and allegedly played music with a murderer.

* Best was an immoral person who may have committed crimes.

This list was not conclusive or compelling. Similar lists could be said to implicate other suspects. Stewart’s self-serving cipher solutions, creative fingerprint claims, and invalid handwriting analysis were easily debunked, leaving only the trivia to justify the ongoing accusation that Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac killer. Contrary to his boasts during the CNN interview, Gary Stewart did not present any credible evidence to indicate that his father was the Zodiac.

Stewart’s co-author Susan Mustafa staked her reputation on the book and its claims. “I’m a true-crime writer. I have a reputation for research and accuracy,” Mustafa said. “If I didn’t believe this, I would never put my reputation on the line for it.” According to the story told in the book The Most Dangerous Animal Of All, Stewart and Mustafa never possessed any credible evidence to link Best to the Zodiac crimes.

An article in People magazine featured a photograph of a confident Gary Stewart along with the quote, “I know people are going to try and shoot this down.” Stewart’s baseless claims made an easy target for critics and his “evidence” collapsed under minimal scrutiny. Unfortunately, most media reports and book reviews did not scrutinize Stewart’s claims. The campaign launched by the publisher, Harper Collins, ensured that Gary Stewart and his claims would saturate the media just as the book was released to the public. However, Harper Collins managed to keep the release secret until The Most Dangerous Animal Of All hit the market, thereby ensuring that critics could not dismantle Stewart’s claims before unsuspecting readers purchased the book. Stewart’s book was rated by 4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com with the following review from the Baton Rouge Advocate: “A compelling work of true crime that makes a strong case for Best being responsible for the series of murders and horrifying threats that paralyzed San Francisco with fear in the late 1960s and early 1970s.” Another featured review from Kirkus called Stewart’s book “convincing.” The case against Earl Van Best, Jr. could only appear strong and convincing to those who did not know that Stewart’s evidence was not compelling at all. Stewart’s claims were easily debunked but this fact was not reported by the media. The name Earl Van Best, Jr. joined George Hodel, Guy Ward Hendrickson, Jack Tarrance and the other fathers accused by their own children, and Gary Stewart’s book became just another sad chapter in the ongoing story of the unsolved Zodiac murders.

RELATED LINKS:

David Oranchak’s article The Most Pattern-Seeking Animal of All

Gary Stewart’s Website The Most Dangerous Animal of All: http://themostdangerousanimalofall.com/the-evidence/

CNN story about Gary Stewart: http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/13/us/lousiana-man-book-father-zodiac-killer/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

CNN blog about Gary Stewart’s claims: http://outfront.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/15/author-evidence-proves-father-was-the-zodiac-killer/

SF Gate article about Stewart: http://blog.sfgate.com/crime/2014/05/15/new-zodiac-tips-dad-did-it-no-the-other-guy-did-it/

SF Gate article about Stewart: http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Woman-Dad-was-the-Zodiac-and-I-can-prove-it-3162785.php

SF Gate article about Best scandal: http://blog.sfgate.com/crime/2014/05/22/zodiac-suspects-sex-scandal-shocks-cops/

News Story about Stewart: https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/sfbatv/bundles/208846

The Advocate: http://theadvocate.com/home/9165392-125/in-new-book-baton-rouge

YouTube News Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SEzyMjrcZg

YouTube News Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVyc0PF0kDI

DailyMail UK article about retired SFPD Inspector David Toschi: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2629558/Retired-detective-led-Zodiac-Killer-case-inspired-Steve-McQueens-character-Bullitt-says-hell-look-book-claims-notorious-murderer.html

NYMag.com article: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/zodiac-killer-is-my-father-claims-new-book.html

The Wire article: http://www.thewire.com/national/2014/05/a-brief-history-of-people-who-claimed-to-know-the-zodiac-killers-identity/370058/

Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/how-harpercollins-kept-book-claiming-out-zodiac-killer-secret-entire-year-251606

Stewart Radio Interview: http://tunein.com/radio/Dark-Matter-Radio-Network-s211941/

Police Reports & FBI files

LAKE HERMAN ROAD – 12/20/1968: Read the original reports and other official documents produced by the Benicia Police Department and the Solano County Sheriff’s Office during the investigations of the murders on Lake Herman Road on the night of December 20, 1969.

BLUE ROCK SPRINGS PARK – 7/4/1969: Read the original reports and other official documents produced by the Vallejo Police Department and other agencies during the investigation of the shooting and murder at Blue Rock Springs Park on the night of July 4th, 1969.

LAKE BERRYESSA – 9/27/1969: Read the original reports and other official documents produced by the Napa County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies during the investigation of the stabbing and murder at Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969.

SAN FRANCISCO – 10/11/1969: Read the official documents regarding the Zodiac’s last known murder of cabdriver Paul Stine in San Francisco on the night of October 11, 1969.

RIVERSIDE, CA – 10/20/1966: Read the original reports and other official documents produced by the Riverside Police Department and other agencies regarding the investigation of the murder of Cheri Jo Bates in Riverside, California on the night of October 30, 1969.

CA Dept. of Justice: Read the reports produced by the California Department of Justice regarding the original Zodiac investigation.

FBI Files: Read the FBI files regarding the Zodiac investigation.

Click Here to view previously-unreleased FBI files including documents regarding the Zodiac attack at Lake Berryessa, Zodiac theorist Gareth Penn and his pet-suspect Michael O’Hare, and the Bureau’s handwriting analysis of various Zodiac letters and other questioned documents.

The Myth of Bungling Cops

 

MYTH: “Lack of Cooperation Hindered Investigation”

[Note to the reader: Due to the incredibly ridiculous nature of this myth, the debunking will be brief and to the point.]

Thanks to the efforts of Zodiac author Robert Graysmith and others, media reports often erroneously state that a “lack of cooperation” somehow hindered the investigation and permitted the killer to escape justice.

In interviews, Graysmith repeatedly cites this problem as one of the reasons that authorities failed to properly investigate and arrest his suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen. During his appearance on America’s Most Wanted, Graysmith told host John Walsh, “I realized the police departments in the different counties were not sharing, so, as a private citizen I realized I could go places they couldn’t and get information. It took ten years, I compiled it into a book so people could remember this case.” Graysmith apparently operated under the delusion that he had some special access denied to investigators. In truth, police were free to go virtually anywhere they pleased in search of information – including many places Graysmith could not – and, in the course of his amateur investigation, the cartoonist failed to uncover any important or relevant evidence previously unknown to the investigators. As Graysmith uttered these absurd remarks, Walsh nodded in agreement, then turned to the camera and, in a bit of understatement, said, “That book made a difference and that book is STILL helping keep this story alive.” In truth, Graysmith’s book had kept the story alive by contaminating the historical record and perpetuating myths. The Zodiac story was, in fact, alive and well before the publication of Graysmith’s book, and his revisionist account – which claimed the author had solved the case – did little to help the real search for the killer.

In the film ZODIAC, Graysmith’s character is given brief access to the Vallejo police reports and scours the files for information he later gives to Toschi. The film implies that Toschi was unable to read the files himself, when, in fact, Toschi was given a copy of the Vallejo police files and had full access to the information gathered by the various agencies involved in the investigation.

All of the available evidence indicates that the various law enforcement agencies drawn into the hunt for the Zodiac not only cooperated and shared information, but that the men and women assigned to the case acted in an appropriate and professional manner. Those who continue to claim otherwise, or claim that investigators failed to cooperate, have chosen to ignore the known facts. Robert Graysmith criticizes police and blames investigators for the failure to catch the Zodiac, and an ignorant media repeats his falsehoods. Unsuspecting readers of Graysmith’s books, Internet followers of the case, and others, continue to believe that police somehow botched the investigation despite the evidence to the contrary. The overwhelming majority of those involved in the actual investigations have said that virtually everyone cooperated and shared information. A few individuals have claimed that others had failed to share important information yet rarely elaborate or provide examples.

Police reports, FBI files, and other documents produced during the decades of investigation reveal that virtually all of the various agencies involved had access to virtually all of the available information regarding the crimes attributed to the Zodiac and the investigations conducted by the Benicia Police Department, the Vallejo Police Department, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, the San Francisco Police Department and the California State Department of Justice. In 1969, DOJ Agent Mel Nicolai was assigned to coordinate the investigations, to facilitate cooperation, and to collect and distribute information gathered during the investigations. Nicolai’s reports repeatedly state that the various investigators were made aware of new information, and the now-retired agent said that stories of infighting, jurisdictional jealousies, incompetence and a lack of cooperation were “bullshit.”