ZODIAC DNA: A Question of Answers

San Francisco’s Old Mint recently hosted a special screening of the 2007 film ZODIAC. Attending the event were San Francisco Chronicle writer Kevin Fagan, retired San Francisco Police Captain Al Casciato, and SFPD Inspector Pamela Hofsass.

Sandy Betts attended the screening and described the event in her message board posts. According to Betts, Hofsass told the audience that the San Francisco Police Department has obtained a partial profile of the Zodiac’s DNA. The same news was reported over a decade ago when the San Francisco Police Department announced that it had obtained a partial DNA profile from Zodiac communications. Then, investigators explained that the partial DNA profile would help to exclude suspects but could not be used to positively identify the Zodiac. The same would appear to be true today, as a partial profile can only eliminate an individual as the donor of the DNA. The partial profile cannot positively identify the Zodiac because the profile is incomplete. The DNA of a suspect may appear to match the partial profile but testing cannot accurately complete that match without a complete DNA profile from the Zodiac communications or other evidence. Until a complete profile is obtained, the new DNA profile may prove useful in reducing the ever-expanding list of suspects and clearing some of the confusion which continues to cloud this case.

Members of the Zodiackillersite message board wondered if Hofsass was referring to a “new” DNA profile or the same partial profile previously obtained from Zodiac envelopes in 2002. The questions prompted Sandy Betts to post a clarification which read: “I don’t want people to come to the the wrong conclusion as to what I said. (I need to make it more clear.) The DNA is a “partial” and with technology advancing as fast as it is, I was told that it can be used in the near future, not today or tomorrow but near future. Because it is only a “partial” it can not be entered into CODIS.”

In 2002, SFGate reported that the SFPD had obtained a partial DNA profile from suspected Zodiac communications. The article quoted SFPD Inspector Kelly Carroll: “We have something we haven’t had to this point, a partial DNA fingerprint.” Carroll conceded that profile was “not enough at this time to submit” to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).

In a 2002 CNN interview, Carroll stated,”Well, in the instance of this case, as I said, Zodiac mailed letters to the local newspapers. Now, he claimed to have disguised his appearance and to have disguised his fingerprints so that police couldn’t find him. But one of the things that we did in examining the evidence is realize that in 1969 the idea of DNA was at best science fiction and so it was probable that Zodiac did not have any idea about disguising or hiding his DNA. And so we concluded that there was the possibility that we could recover biological material deposited by Zodiac when he licked the stamps and the envelopes that he used to send the letters.”

I spoke to Kelly Carroll in 2000, when he had been assigned to the Zodiac case along with his partner, the late Mike Maloney. Carroll was optimistic about the potential of modern forensic technology and said, “If this is case is solved, it will probably be solved by someone in a white lab coat.” Carroll and Maloney worked to process Zodiac evidence for possible DNA, and it’s encouraging to see that the San Francisco Police Department is still trying to solve the case after all these years.

DNA evidence proved invaluable in many cases, often serving as the last word which either identifies the guilty party or exonerates the wrongly accused. DNA evidence has exonerated at least 300 people including Damon Thibodeaux, who was recently released after serving more than fifteen years in prison for the rape and murder of his step-cousin.

DNA evidence has raised new and disturbing questions regarding the convictions of the so-called “West Memphis Three,” who had been imprisoned for the murders of three young boys but were recently released by a controversial Alford plea. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley conceded that the prosecution possessed evidence to convict them in court, and, in exchange for their guilty pleas, the trio was released after serving eighteen years in prison. The case received renewed and increased scrutiny when newly-obtained DNA evidence appeared to implicate the step-father of one victim.

DNA evidence finally settled a decades-long debate regarding the guilt or innocence of accused “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo. After a series of unsolved murders, DeSalvo claimed responsibility in confessions which were later challenged by those who doubted DeSalvo’s guilt and questioned the official conclusion that he alone was responsible for all of the murders attributed to the same strangler. Previous attempts to obtain DNA evidence from the body of an exhumed victim raised questions when the discovered evidence did not appear to match DeSalvo’s DNA. However, new testing has now proved that DeSalvo’s DNA was found on the body of the last strangler victim Mary Sullivan. The Sullivan family had questioned the DeSalvo solution for many years, and nephew Casey Sherman authored a book which suggested that other suspects may have been responsible for the Boston stranglings. Upon learning the news that new DNA evidence implicated DeSalvo in his aunt’s murder, Sherman conceded DeSalvo’s guilt and said, “I only go where the evidence leads.” He also he thanked investigators for their “incredible persistence.” History has apparently closed the book on the enduring mystery of the Boston Strangler, leaving other great mysteries awaiting their final answers.

Renewed efforts to obtain DNA evidence could provide surprising results which may implicate previously-dismissed suspects or exonerate others who many had claimed were undoubtedly guilty. When the San Francisco Police Department announced that suspected Zodiac DNA did not match the infamous suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, his accusers dismissed the evidence and continued to claim that he was somehow involved in the Zodiac crimes. The results of DNA evidence are usually ignored by those who accuse suspects excluded by that DNA evidence, so the new partial profile may do little to discourage amateur sleuths who are convinced that their suspect was the Zodiac killer.

News of possible DNA evidence raises hopes that we may someday have answers to some of the questions which persist in the ongoing debate about this case. Can DNA from the Zodiac communications be matched to the DNA from other writings and thereby prove that one individual was responsible for all of the suspected Zodiac letters? Will DNA taken from the Zodiac communications match DNA linked to other Zodiac crimes? Can the new DNA confirm or exclude a link between the Zodiac letters and writings related to the still-unsolved murder of victim Cheri Jo Bates?

I have followed and researched this case for a very long time, and I would be thrilled to see new evidence identify the Zodiac, but that may prove difficult if the Zodiac is not one of the known suspects and his DNA profile is not contained in the CODIS database. I hope that Inspector Kelly Carroll was right when he predicted that the case would be solved by forensic science. After more than four decades, this unsolved mystery needs to meets its end.


CHERI JO BATES and The ZODIAC: Unsolved Crimes and Unanswered Questions


Visit the ZodiacKillerFacts Forum to discuss this and other case-related issues.

Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved Gardner and Penn, Jekyll and Hyde

Dave Oranchak’s site 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.

Oranchak discovered a collection of Martin Gardner’s correspondences and notes at Stanford University which reveals that Gardner was not impressed with Penn’s work. Notations written by Gardner regarding Penn read, “He must be mad,” and refer to Penn’s findings as “nonsense.” FBI experts had examined Penn’s work and concluded that his interpretation was “based on speculation and a multitude of assumptions” and his results were “forced.

In the early 1990s, I began corresponding with Gareth Penn. While I was initially intrigued by his claims and theories, I eventually discovered that Penn’s work could not withstand scrutiny. His interpretations of the Zodiac writings were interesting, to say the least, but most of his conclusions were questionable, at best, if not ultimately unsound. Most troublesome was the fact that one of Penn’s most prominent claims proved false– his theory that two of the crime scenes formed a radian angle deliberately designed by the Zodiac. Penn’s so-called “radian theory” became infamous and even inspired other Zodiac theorists such as Raymond Grant and Steve Hodel, who both used the erroneous theory to support their own “solutions” to the Zodiac mystery. In addition to my study of Penn’s work, my own communications with Penn, and his “suspect” Michael O’Hare, left me convinced that Penn’s take on the Zodiac case was wrong. In the years since, Penn has defended his theories and work, and, he even became a suspect himself when a former “follower” accused him of conspiring with O’Hare and others to commit the Zodiac crimes. Ironically, Penn’s accuser used much of the same erroneous and already-debunked material which Penn had used to accuse O’Hare as the Zodiac.

Martin Gardner’s conclusions cast further doubt on Penn’s theories and, as Oranchak wrote, serve as “another reminder to be wary about the foundations that we build in our minds.

[NOTE: Thanks to Dave Oranchak for obtaining and sharing the collection of Gardner documents.]


Related Links:

* TIMES 17: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARETH – this article examines Penn’s book and history: also includes an article written by Penn’s suspect Michael O’Hare.

* THE RADIAN THEORY DEBUNKED – this article examines Gareth Penn’s infamous ‘Radian Theory.’

* MOST EVIL & THE FURTHER LITERARY CRIMES OF STEVE HODEL – a review of the book MOST EVIL and an examination of its many factual errors.

* THE WORLD ACCORDING TO STEVE HODEL – this article thoroughly debunks Hodel’s claims regarding the radian theory, the Zodiac crime scenes, the Mt. Diablo map and more.

Copyright 2013 – Butterfield

900+ Pages of FBI Files on the Zodiac Killer Investigation

Once again, morf of Zodiackillersite has provided previously-unreleased FBI files obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. Some of the 900+ pages have been presented online over the years, but some of the material has never been available to the public.

Morf has conveniently packaged the documents in 5 files in PDF format for easy downloading and viewing. The first file contains approximately 297 pages, most concerning the events surrounding Gareth Penn and Michael O’Hare during the 1980s. Also includes: letters from Penn as well as a copy of his original article for New West magazine titled Portrait of the Artist as a Mass Murderer. The second file contains approximately 172 pages. Included: the original “Special Report” produced by the California Department of Justice, a letter from the senior editor of New West magazine to the FBI, and a typed draft of Penn’s original article. The third file contains approximately 368 pages of handwriting samples and other material regarding a suspect as well as files regarding the Bureau’s handwriting analysis of various Zodiac letters and other questioned documents (some of this material fills in the gaps in the previously-released collection of FBI files). The fourth file contains approximately 27 pages from a weekly planner belonging to a suspect. The fifth file contains approximately 50 pages of documents regarding the Zodiac crime at Lake Berryessa. Included: a handwritten statement from the man who discovered victims Byran Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard, a report from the man who found Hartnell on the road near the crime scene, and more. (Some of these files have been added to the ZodiacKillerFacts Document Gallery in the Lake Berryessa Documents section.)

While these documents do not appear to contain any shocking revelations or smoking gun clues, the pages of FBI files contribute to the ongoing study of the case. Morf’s consistent generosity in making these files immediately available to researchers and others serves as a fine example of a positive contribution by members of the online community who work to learn more about the the Zodiac story.

CLICK HERE to view and download the previously-unreleased FBI files provided by morf.

The Zodiac Killer Cover-Up: A Bad Case of Deja Vu

The news media is running through yet another Zodiac cycle after the publication of the book The Zodiac Killer Cover-Up: The Silenced Badge by long-time Zodiac theorist Lyndon Lafferty. Many observers may believe that Lafferty’s suspect is “new,” but the man was featured in the 1986 best-selling book Zodiac, under the pseudonym “Andrew Todd Walker.” Lafferty and his associates have been accusing and investigating the suspect since 1970, and, according to his book, his investigation was thwarted by a judge and various others. Lafferty has consistently failed to present any credible evidence to link his suspect to the Zodiac crimes and law enforcement has exhibited no interest in pursuing his theory, claims or suspect. On February 2, 2012, the suspect died, and Lafferty’s book subsequently became available for sale online.

News of the book release and the death of the suspect generated many news stories, including a new article at the website titled “Sister of Zodiac victim disappointed by death of ‘suspect’.” Pam Huckaby, the sister of Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin, was interviewed by phone for the story, which also includes video with audio excerpts from the interview. According to the story, Pam is now “absolutely certain” that Lyndon Lafferty’s suspect was the man who had “stalked” Darlene during the months before she was murdered in July 1969. Pam said, “We’ve got him. That’s the man.”

Highlights of the story include:

* Huckaby said Lafferty showed her a picture of the man in 1987 and she immediately recognized him as the man who had been stalking her sister when she worked as a waitress in a Vallejo restaurant. “She was afraid of him. She told me he was bad,” Huckaby said.

* According to the article, Pam also “posed as a salesperson” and went to the home of Lafferty’s suspect.

* The reporter tells his colleagues that law enforcement has been “somewhat dismissive” of Lafferty and his claims.

Some observers may have been skeptical of Pam’s claims, as she had a long history of telling stories about her sister and the so-called “stalker.” Many of these stories had been featured in the book Zodiac and other accounts which claimed that Darlene had known the Zodiac killer. The theory persisted, yet most investigators and researchers noted that the stalker stories had no basis in fact.

Tom Voigt, the webmaster of the website, had many encounters with Pam and he repeatedly described her as an unreliable source of information. On Friday, January 26, 2007, at 8:26 pm, Voigt wrote, “the people primarily responsible for the ‘Darlene had a stalker’ stuff were her sisters, Pam and Linda. The fact is, Pam and Linda have identified numerous men over the years as being the stalker; Kane is just one of them. [Andrew Todd Walker] is another, and not long before Linda died she e-mailed me claiming Allen was that man. Give me time and I can probably add more names to the ‘Darlene’s stalker’ list as well.” On Friday, January 26, 2007, at 5:36 pm, Voigt responded to a question about the alleged “stalker” who had bothered Darlene: “The only person I recall being named in the police reports who apparently made Darlene uncomfortable was a guy named George… However, he didn’t fit the description of the stalker referred to in the yellow book [Robert Graysmith’s book ZODIAC]. If I recall correctly all of this ‘Darlene had a stalker’ nonsense came about in the 1980s and can be traced back to some extremely unreliable sources.” On August 1, 2007, Voigt wrote of stories about Larry Kane and Darlene Ferrin: “This reminds me of the nonsense that has surrounded the Darlene Ferrin murder for decades. You know, the stuff about how all of these people close to Darlene knew she was in danger, being followed, saw a murder, etc. Yet NONE OF THEM TOLD THE POLICE. Bull.”

On November 7, 2010, Voigt reported to the public: “Just got off the phone with Darlene’s sister. She recognized the man in the photo to be [Voigt’s suspect] Richard Gaikowski.” The sister in question was Pam Huckaby. According to Voigt, Pam had identified Richard Gaikowski as the man posed in a photograph with Darlene. The man in the photograph was not Richard Gaikowski. [Note: According to Voigt’s associates, several people who had known Darlene had stated that the man in the photograph was Darlene’s ex-husband, although he allegedly denied this when asked.] In 2000, a member of Voigt’s message board referred to some of the claims made by Pam, and Voigt responded, “The stories you mentioned came from Dee’s sister, Pam, who has severe credibility issues.” Voigt made other statements which cast doubt on Pam’s credibility. Many others shared similar opinions regarding Pam and her history over the years, including Voigt’s associate Howard Davis, author of the book The Zodiac/Manson Connection. On Monday, January 01, 2001, at 3:28 AM, Davis posted the following at Voigt’s message board: “Of course, I am fully aware that Pam has a credibility problem.”

In his book, Lyndon Lafferty wrote, “Our sensitive information was betrayed and Pamela Huckaby betrayed my confidence as well.” According to Lafferty, Pam’s “poor lack of judgment resulted in tragic consequences,” including the destruction of “32 years of covert investigations, possible grand jury indictments pending on the horizon, and a successful prosecution by the DOJ [Department of Justice].” Lafferty also blamed a judge for somehow protecting the Zodiac suspect in a “cover-up,” hence the title of Lafferty’s book. Dennis Kaufman, Howard Davis, Steve Hodel, Blaine Blaine, and many others have claimed that their suspects have escaped justice thanks to sinister, often elaborate conspiracies involving members of law enforcement and various authority figures. Like most Zodiac theorists, Lafferty was eager to blame others for his own failure to present credible and compelling evidence to implicate his suspect.

Lyndon Lafferty may be selling books, but I’m not buying his solution to the Zodiac case. As the saying goes, everything old is new again, and the latest media frenzy is just another bad rerun.


Related Links:

Copyright /

The Last Farewell

As the Zodiac story continues without end into another new decade, we are reminded that our own time on earth is all too short. I was saddened by the recent news that Donald Harden had died. Those who study the Zodiac mystery owe a debt to Donald and his wife Bettye for their diligent work to solve the Zodiac’s first cipher in the summer of 1969. I never met the Hardens but I was fortunate to meet their daughter Leslie in 2007. According to Leslie, Bettye Harden continued to study the Zodiac’s three unsolved ciphers over the years and believed that she may have produced another possible solution to one of the messages. Like her parents, Leslie wanted to help in the search for answers, and the Harden family made a significant contribution to this case as citizens.

On Friday March 23, 2012, another noted figure in the Zodiac mystery passed away. Former Vallejo police dispatcher Nancy Slover (Earp) answered the Zodiac’s call after the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park on the night of July 4th, 1969. The brief conversation left a lasting impression on Nancy and she shared her memories with many curious Zodiac researchers, reporters, crime buffs and producers over the following decades. I had the opportunity to talk with Nancy in 2007 and again in 2009 during the filming of the television documentary MYSTERYQUEST. Nancy debunked persistent myths about the Zodiac case, particularly the story that her telephone conversation with the killer had been recorded on tape. According to Nancy, the Vallejo police department did not have the equipment installed to record incoming calls to the police dispather and no such tape was ever produced (although a handful of people did claim that they had listened to this recording). Nancy’s descriptions of the Zodiac’s behavior during the now-notorious phone call were chilling and always kept everyone on the edge of their seats. Nancy was one of only three people who spoke to the Zodiac and lived to talk about her encounter. She became a part of true crime history and will always be remembered fondly and with respect by everyone who knew her. I am grateful that I was able to learn from Nancy during our conversations and my condolences go out to her family and friends.

In one of his more famous letters, the Zodiac quoted from the Gilbert and Sullivan musical The MIKADO and declared of certain individuals, “They’d none of them be missed.” In the last year, several individuals have left this mortal coil, including Napa County Sheriff’s Investigator Ken Narlow, the man originally assigned to the case of the Zodiac’s knife attack at Lake Berryessa. Ken was known for his candor and professionalism as he continued his search for the Zodiac long into his retirement. Those who knew Ken were deeply saddened to learn that he had passed away. Now, Donald Harden and Nancy Slover have joined Ken, and I think it’s safe to say that they will be missed by anyone who cares about the Zodiac story.


* Read the Vallejo Times-Herald Obituary for Nancy Slover *

The Mystery of the Zodiac Killer

The case of the Zodiac killer will be featured along with other California crime stories on the Travel Channel series HIDDEN CITY. 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.] Host and writer Marcus Sakey will also examine the assassination of famed San Francisco politician Harvey Milk (the subject of the film MILK, starring Sean Penn) and the “Vigilance Committee” of the Bay Area “Gold Rush” days. [Video Clip: Marcus Sakey discusses the Zodiac codes with crossword creator Byron Walden.]

According to a brief description posted at the Travel Channel website, “Marcus takes a cab ride with amateur detective Tom Voigt to the site of the only Zodiac murder that took place in the San Francisco city limits.” If the brief blurb is correct, the show will apparently focus on the Zodiac’s last known murder, the killing of San Francisco cabdriver Paul Stine. This attack occurred on the night of October 11, 1969, at the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets. The crime scene is located in an upscale neighborhood known as Presidio Heights, named for its proximity to the Presidio military base at the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula.

More than any other Zodiac crime, the murder of Paul Stine has been the subject of ongoing controversy and debate. According to the San Francisco Police Department, the killer left fingerprints at the scene which could possibly identify the Zodiac. After police made this announcement, the Zodiac denied that he had left any fingerprints behind. The killer was seen by three witnesses who provided the only eyewitness description and composite sketch of the killer. The Zodiac later claimed that he only resembled the sketch during his crimes. According to San Francisco police, two patrolmen drove by a white man who matched the description provided by the witnesses but they did not stop to question him because the police dispatcher had mistakenly described the killer as a black man. The Zodiac claimed that he had been stopped by two police officers who then allowed him to escape. The killer also claimed that he had hidden on the Presidio grounds and he mocked police for failing to catch him. Two days after the murder, an envelope arrived at the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle which contained a piece of the victim’s blood-stained shirt, establishing an undeniable link between the killer and the author of the many “Zodiac” letters sent to Bay Area newspapers. The letter included the Zodiac’s infamous threat to attack a school bus filled with children. Zodiac’s fantasy inspired the famous scene in the classic crime thriller DIRTY HARRY, in which a Zodiac-like killer named “Scorpio” hijacks a school bus and threatens the children on board. Authorities were unable to link the Zodiac to any murders after the killing of Paul Stine, although the elusive killer repeatedly alluded to other unidentified victims.

Those who are interested in learning more about the murder of Paul Stine and related subjects can view the original composite sketches of the Zodiac suspect, read the original police report written by the first officer to arrive on the scene, examine the fingerprint evidence, view the crime scene, watch videos about this crime, and study other material by following the links below. also provides a free message board forum where members can discuss the case, present their own research, or seek answers to case-related questions. The Document Gallery provides thousands of case photographs and a comprehensive collection of The Zodiac Letters. Visitors can also view the actual police reports and other official documents at The Zodiac Case Files page. A new section titled The Zodiac Crimes features links to pages devoted to the known and suspected Zodiac crimes, including photographs of the crime scenes and other material. If you are new to the Zodiac story and would like to learn more about this enduring true crime mystery, the Case Summary has been updated and expanded to provide a basic overview of the Zodiac story from 1968 up to 2012.

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


* Paul Stine


* Washington and Cherry Streets – October, 1969


* Crime Scene Photographs


* Paul Stine’s Shirt

* The Fingerprints


* San Francisco Investigators and Others


* Sketches of the Suspect


* The Zodiac’s Envelope and Letter


* Newspaper Stories and Other Material


* Paul Stine’s Brother Joe


* 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


* 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


NOTE: Writer/researcher Michael Butterfield toured the Zodiac crimes scenes with the original investigators and criminalist Paul Holes (Chief Forensic Services Division of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department) for the History Channel documentary series MYSTERYQUEST, which also examined the accusations against Zodiac “suspect” Richard Gaikowski. Watch the video tour of the San Francisco crime scene (the tour begins at the 4:07 mark).

TV ALERT: The popular TV crime series CRIMINAL MINDS will feature a Zodiac story in an upcoming episode titled “True Genius.” The CBS website posted the following synopsis: “A series of murders in San Francisco bearing the tell-tale signs of the infamous Zodiac Killer have the BAU wondering if the notorious serial killer has returned. Also, Reid ponders if he should be doing more with his genius abilities, on CRIMINAL MINDS, Wednesday, Jan. 18 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT)


Copyright 2012


In June 2011, I received several emails from a man who claimed he had solved the Zodiac’s notorious “340” cipher. Corey Starliper complained that he had contacted authorities in Napa, Vallejo, Solano and San Francisco but he could not find anyone who would listen to him. Starliper stated that nine hours of work on his part had produced a solution with “98% readability.” I agreed to examine the solution and pass it along to others who knew much more about codes than myself.

Upon receipt of said solution, I immediately recognized its disjointed, garbled text as well as the many misspellings. To me, the solution was obviously incorrect and appeared to have been forced to fit a predetermined set of priorities– most specifically: linking the code to the once-prime suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen.











The overwhelming majority of those who examined the Starliper solution concluded that it was invalid and the results had been forced to fit a preconceived goal. Part of Starliper’s solution was based on his belief that the number of symbols in the 340 cipher was a clue referencing the Virgin Islands, where Zodiac victim Darlene was said to have traveled before her death. Starliper stated that the number 340 was also the area code for the Virgin Islands, however, this was not true at the time of the Zodiac’s code and that prefix was not used until decades later. This did not deter Starliper, nor was he discouraged by the news that many had deemed his solution to be invalid. After promising to “write back” with more information to explain his solution and methods, Starliper vanished– he never sent the explanation of his methods and findings as he had previously promised.

In late July 2011, Starliper resurfaced in Internet stories with titles such as “Massachusetts Man Says He’s Cracked Zodiac Killer Code,” “Tewksbury Native: I’ve Cracked The Code Of The Zodiac Killer,” and “Someone Finally Cracked One of the Zodiac Killer’s Codes.” The articles were often accompanied by a photograph of a smiling Starliper proudly displaying his “solution.” Starliper was quoted by “I found it exciting, that I was actually able to get into his head when nobody had for over 40 years.” He complained that no one in law enforcement would listen to his claims and said, “It’s disheartening to know that the authorities have basically shut the door on it.” Starliper had apparently chosen to blame authorities and ignore the fact that his solution was not valid.

Starliper stated that he first became interested in the Zodiac case after seeing the 2007 film ZODIAC and reading the book version by Robert Graysmith. “I saw the movie first, and when I saw the movie, (I had) instant interest in it… When I read the book, I was … just hungry for more when the book ended… I became absolutely obsessed with the case, to the point that I’d look up from Graysmith’s books … and realize that I’d actually forgotten to eat.” The book and the film ZODIAC both presented a distorted and factually inaccurate account of the case which has been altered and embellished in order to lend credence to Graysmith’s theories while making Arthur Leigh Allen look more guilty than the truth would permit. Starliper was admittedly influenced and inspired by the book and film, and his comments about the case, the evidence, Allen, and other subjects proved that he had relied on these unreliable sources for most of his information about the case.

Starliper’s attempts to exploit the Zodiac case in order to receive attention had worked, but his bogus solution and its sensational last line resurrected the accusations against the eternally accused suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. Once again, Allen stood accused by yet another amateur sleuth with yet another bad code solution. Once again, the amateur was obviously inspired by the book and/or film ZODIAC which used dubious methods, selective omission, exaggerations and even falsehoods to make Allen appear guilty of the Zodiac crimes when, in fact, the evidence indicated that he was not the killer. Like his predecessors, Starliper was eager to stand before cameras and exploit the murders of other human beings in exchange for his fifteen nano-seconds of infamy.

On the Internet, Starliper tried to portray himself as an honest man with honorable intentions who had been ignored by authorities and somehow victimized by his critics. He wrote: “A lot of people think it makes sense, but they’re bringing up the rear. 90 percent of the people whove commented dont think Ive cracked it. Then again, I havent seen a solution proposed in its place since this whole thing began.” On his Facebook page, Starliper offered this rather self-serving and disengenuous explanation:

STARLIPER: When people talk, things get shaken loose, and as far as I understand, this case is still open in Napa County. If you think my solution is inaccurate, present your own. Prove me wrong. I’ve received comments lately where people have been attacking my recent popularity as a desperate attempt to get that horrendous picture plastered all over the internet. That was never my intention. The only thing I’m concerned about is keeping interest alive long enough for this case to get solved once and for all whether I’m in the picture or not. I’m not going to be in the spotlight forever, and I have no desire to maintain the recent popularity/notoriety for any longer than I need to. I’ll have the write up on how I came to the conclusion I did shortly. In the interim I’m open to constructive criticism and I urge people to sit down with this code and try to make sense of it. It would be a shame to think that with all the hits I’ve gotten, I’m the only one who still thinks that this case is worth solving.

Much like his inspiration Robert Graysmith, Starliper seemed to think that the ends justify the means and that ANY attempt to draw attention to the Zodiac case serves a good cause. Like Graysmith, Starliper ignored the obvious fact that the case is already the subject of relentless “attention” and plagued by nonsense and falsehoods created and/or prepetuated by people like Starliper, Graysmith and others. Starliper falsely equated the lack of interest in his solution with a lack of concern for solving this case, despite the undeniable fact that the former had nothing to do with the latter. Obviously aware that his solution is not valid and that his critics will not ignore his grandstanding, Starliper conveniently claimed that he was not seeking attention for himself but to serve the unsolved case.

STARLIPER: Zodiac mispells various words. I released the code in lay from what I could garner. Leigh Allen never left a fingerprint behind. The latent partial in blood on the side of the cab probably came from a cop who reached out and touched it. Check your facts. The latent partial was never attributed to Zodiac. Zodiac wore gloves that night. Additionally, when he “did his thing” he always wore a coat of airplane glue on his fingertips. I can’t explain the 340 connection to the Virgin Islands. Part of Leigh Allen’s brain was saved after he died. They ran it against a few stamps that he sent to the police in his communications and they did not match…who says he licked the stamps? He had his mother on a ball and chain and by the time DNA testing could be conducted she was dead too (I think, I’ll have to doublecheck)…and no one ever considered that maybe after he killed his victims he had them lick the stamp, then saved the envelope to be sent a year later…he often sent letters and communications on the anniversaries of his killings. So the DNA not matching means nothing to me. Allens handwriting did not match, but Morrill said that his handwriting was forced that day, which means he wasn’t writing like he normally would. 101 pieces of circumstancial evidence were found against Allen. The solution may be incorrect but its just as valid as anyone else’s guess. This one makes the most sense. He uses phrases in the code that he used in other communications like “im so angry I could do my thing” verbatim. It also corresponds with Toschi’s idea that he was suicidal when he wrote it.

“Leigh Allen never left a fingerprint behind.” Allen’s fingerprints were taken when he was arrested for child molestation in 1974 and after his death in 1992, facts which raise questions about the meaning and purpose of Starliper’s strange statement. Starliper was obviously stating that Allen– AS THE ZODIAC– never left a fingerpint behind. Starliper’s logic was based only on wishful thinking, i.e. none of the suspected Zodiac fingerprints match Allen so therefore the fingerprints do not belong to the Zodiac.

“The latent partial in blood on the side of the cab probably came from a cop who reached out and touched it. Check your facts.” According to the very first officer to arrive at the crime scene that night, the fingerprint in question was already visible on the cab at the time. Starliper stated that the print was “probably” from a cop, yet this self-serving assumption was not supported by the facts. The officers on the scene that night, including SFPD Inspector David Toschi, stated that the crime scene was well-preserved. The body of the victim was examined and removed from the passenger side of the cab and the print was found on the largely undisturbed area on the driver’s side. There is no credible evidence to indicate that the print belonged to anyone but the Zodiac, and there is no evidence to support Starliper’s assumption of sloppy policework at the crime scene that night. Both Toschi and his partner Bill Armstrong told reporters and others that the fingerprints and handwriting would identify the Zodiac, and they both did so years AFTER both the fingerprints and handwriting had been used to eliminate Allen as a suspect. Starliper’s entire premise was refuted by the facts which he admonished others to check but had apparently ignored himself.

Starliper also stated that the Zodiac wore gloves. While a pair of men’s gloves were discovered in the cab there is no evidence that they belonged to the killer. Even the police stated that it was only a possibility that the killer had worn these gloves (Graysmith claimed that Toschi had identified the owner of the gloves– a woman). Starliper repeated the Zodiac’s unsubstantiated claim that he wore airplane cement on his fingers in order to prevent leaving prints. The killer would have no need to wear gloves if he had taken such precautions. If the gloves were used to prevent blood from getting on his hands, the killer’s decision to remove the gloves and handle the bleeding victim also made no sense.

The fingerprint in question was found on the outside of the cab, on a post between the front and back doors of the driver’s side– the exact spot where witnesses stated they had last seen the killer making contact with the cab AFTER these gloves were left inside the vehicle. Police had always believed that this print belonged to the killer, despite Starliper’s erroneous claims to the contrary, and they cleared numerous suspects on the basis of these fingerprints and other evidence. The available evidence and information does not support Starliper’s attempts to dismiss the fingerprint evidence which excludes Allen. Police ended their investigation of Allen after they failed to produce any credible evidence against him, after his handwriting did not match that of the Zodiac, and after they learned that the suspected Zodiac fingerprint did not match Allen.

Like Graysmith and other desperate theorists, Starliper attempted to dismiss the evidence which excluded his suspect by inventing scenarios to explain-away that evidence. After DNA and other evidence excluded Allen, Graysmith began claiming that Allen had mysterious accomplices who licked his envelopes and stamps, committed the crimes, or even wrote the letters for Allen. Such scenarios served the purposes of the desperate theorists but were not in keeping with common sense, logic and known facts. Starliper suggested that Allen’s mother had licked stamps for him despite the fact that no evidence existed to support this theory and DNA testing could easily identify the source of the DNA as a relative of Allen. Starliper also introduced the ridiculous idea that the Zodiac used the tongues of his recently dead or wounded victims to moisten stamps and envelopes before he fled the crime scene. While Starliper, Graysmith and others who accused Allen were quick to claim that Allen did not lick his stamps and often asked others to do so, there was no credible evidence that Allen did not lick his own stamps and no credible witnesses had ever come forward to confirm this dubious claim.

Starliper offered a rather bizarre statement to explain-away the handwriting experts who concluded that Allen did not write the Zodiac letters. “Allens handwriting did not match, but [Questioned Documents Expert Sherwood] Morrill said that his handwriting was forced that day, which means he wasn’t writing like he normally would.” This statement is 100% false. Morrill (and others) used samples of Allen’s handwriting which had been obtained with and without his knowledge and had been produced by both his right and left hands. Morrill and others based their conclusions on their examination of all the samples, not on one sample taken on “that day,” as Starliper claimed.

Starliper offered another sensational and dubious claim: “101 pieces of circumstancial evidence were found against Allen.” Starliper does not list these fictional “pieces” of circumstantial evidence. Like Graysmith and others, Starliper seemed eager to distort the facts in order to make Allen appear guilty. The original investigators and others who had examined all of the so-called “evidence” said to implicate Allen had also concluded that he was not a viable suspect. The original investigators, including Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong, were not impressed by the circumstantial evidence against Allen; they consistently abandoned Allen as a suspect and never looked back as they moved on to investigate others often described in reports as “excellent suspects.” Starliper’s stated “101 pieces of circumstantial evidence” appeared to be a number pulled out thin air in order to bolster a weak presentation. Starliper never presented the unidentified pieces of evidence to which he referred. I have no doubt that Starliper could not provide a list of 101 points of CREDIBLE evidence against Allen because such evidence had never existed.

On his Facebook page, Starliper confessed, “The solution may be incorrect but its just as valid as anyone else’s guess.” This was a bizarre twist of circular logic, and Starliper was not saying what he seemed to think he was saying. Starliper was saying that his solution was just as BAD as any invalid solution produced by anyone else, or as good as any “guess.” He added that his solution “makes the most sense” when, in fact, his solution was clearly invalid and he admitted that the majority of those who have examined his solution had reached the same conclusion.

Shortly after I publicly described Starliper’s solution as a “laughable mess,” I received an angry email from Starliper in which he expressed his outrage that I had rejected his solution. After a reference to “coming after you publicly,” he stated that a dismissal of his solution was equal to “ruining your career.” Starliper was apparently operating under the delusion that I feared his wrath and that history would remember him as anything but a shameless attention-seeker.

Corey Starliper joined a long list of funny fellows, comic men and clowns of private life who viewed public tragedies as opportunities to serve themselves. Stories that Starliper had solved the Zodiac’s code continued to circulate all over the Internet and across the world, but the true story was again overshadowed and lost in the media madness and myth-making. Seemingly baffled by the fact that police were unwilling to listen to him, Starliper apparently failed to realize that he and others like him were the number one reason that authorities remained weary of citizens and amateur sleuths who claimed to have solved the Zodiac codes or the case itself.

The “Starliper Solution” could be useful as a possible title for an espionage thriller, but this bit of amateur code-breaking was absolutely worthless when trying to deciper the Zodiac’s message.


An analysis of the “Starliper Solution” is available at this link:

Another article provides further debunking of Starliper’s work:

Related Articles: … z1SuHo40ni … en-cracked … 22953.html

I was interviewed by author and broadcaster Sean Moncrieff for his radio show in Ireland on July 27, 2011. You can listen to the segment by clicking on the link below and selecting “Part 4: Wednesday July 27 2011.” The interview starts just before the 5 minute mark.

The Sean Moncrieff Show

Suspected “Zodiac” Forgeries

* UPDATE: May 28, 2011 – The 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 by AK Wilks.]

Suspected “Zodiac” Letter – March 1981 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.

Zodiac suspected letter - Atlanta, GA March 8, 1981


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 by AK Wilks.]

Darlene Ferrin & the Unknown Man: The Rest of the Story

On February 19, 2011, the popular television series AMERICA’S MOST WANTED aired a repeat of its previous segment regarding the unsolved “Zodiac” murders. At the end of the broadcast, host John Walsh asked viewers for help in identifying an “unknown man” who appears in a photograph with Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin.

The photograph in question was recently posted online by Tom Voigt, the owner of the website Voigt claimed that Darlene’s sister Pam had identified the man in the photograph as Voigt’s pet suspect, Richard Gaikowski. Voigt never mentioned that he and many others knew that Pam had suffered from “severe credibility issues” and instead implied that Pam was a credible witness who had made a valid identification of Gaikowski. After many observers noted that the man in the photograph was not Richard Gaikowski, Voigt then suggested that the man was Zodiac victim Bryan Hartnell. Observers also noted that the man in the photograph was not Bryan Hartnell, raising questions about Voigt’s motives for suggesting otherwise.

Most observers noted that the “unknown man” appears to be Darlene’s ex-husband, to whom she was married at the time that the photograph in question was reportedly taken. The man in the photograph has his arm around Darlene and she has her arm around him, as if they are a couple. The man is wearing what appears to be a wedding band on his left ring finger– the appropriate place for a wedding band. The photograph was apparently taken by someone in Darlene’s family, sometime in 1966 or 1967. According to her family, Darlene left Vallejo in October 1965 after some disagreement with family members. She later met Jim Phillips and the couple married in January 1966. Darlene and Jim lived in various places before returning to Vallejo in October 1966, and remained married until they divorced in June 1967. This timeline coincides with the time period in which the photograph was reportedly taken– sometime in 1966 or 1967. Darlene and Jim were married only during the years 1966 and 1967, so if the man in the photograph is Jim Phillips then the photograph was most likely taken sometime between October 1966 and June of 1967. Darlene and Jim were obviously romantically involved at that time, and Darlene and the man in the photograph appear to be involved in a romantic relationship. The man is wearing what appears to be a wedding ring, and Jim Phillips was married to Darlene at that time. The man in the photograph has the same hairline and facial features as Phillips and he appears to be the same height (a few inches taller than Darlene). Logic, common sense and the facts strongly indicate that the man in the photograph is Jim Phillips and not some “unknown man” who may have been involved in Darlene’s murder.

In order to believe that the man in the photograph is not Jim Phillips, one must also accept and endorse the following scenario: Darlene is married to Jim Phillips, and she has returned to Vallejo to introduce her husband to her family. While she is in Vallejo and married to Jim Phillips, Darlene poses for a photograph, in front of at least one member of her own family, with a man who looks very much like Jim Phillips but is not Jim Phillips. Despite the fact that she is married to someone else, Darlene poses with this man as if she is romantically involved with him. At the same time, the man is wearing a wedding ring, indicating that he, too, is married but is also willing to pose with Darlene as if he is romantically involved with her and is willing to be photographed with her in such a pose. This scenario may seem reasonable to those who believe that Darlene Ferrin was a promiscuous and immoral woman who flaunted her infidelity with countless men, however, the above scenario will be immediately recognized as implausible, if not laughable, to those who are reasonably intelligent and utilize common sense.

The bogus mystery of the “Unknown Man” is based on the myth that the evidence indicates that Darlene Ferrin had known her killer. While this theory has been spread by Darlene’s sisters, author Robert Graysmith, and others, there is no credible evidence that Darlene had known her killer and there is no legitimate reason to suspect that she was targeted by her killer rather than selected as a random victim. Over the years, a few investigators have made statements that they believed that Darlene may have known her killer but virtually every single one of these individuals will now refute those statements and/or concede that their previous opinions were based largely on the many myths regarding Darlene which have been spread by Darlene’s sisters, Graysmith and others. The hundreds of pages of police reports regarding the Zodiac investigation provide no credible evidence to indicate that Darlene had known her killer. Police did investigate this possibility but found no evidence to support that theory, and the overwhelming consensus among the investigators was that the Zodiac did not know his victims.

In order to believe that the many myths regarding Darlene Ferrin are true, one must also accept and endorse the following scenario: Darlene tells her sisters Pam and Linda, and others, that she is being harrassed, followed and stalked by a mysterious and menacing stranger. Darlene tells Pam that this man is bothering her because she had seen him kill someone. Pam sees this man on eight different occasions, including the now-infamous “painting party” described in Graysmith’s book, when a sinister stranger dressed in a suit scared Darlene. A few months after the party, Darlene is murdered. Police immediately interview Pam, Linda and many others, asking the same questions: Do you know anyone who would have reason to harm Darlene? Do you know of anyone who was bothering her? Pam, Linda, and everyone else who knew about the stalking murderer fail to mention him to police and say nothing about the entire situation. Then, eight years after Darlene’s murder, Pam, Linda and others start talking about the stalker, but they only seem to tell the most troubling stories to reporters and TV crews. This scenario may seem reasonable those who lack critical thinking skills or have suffered a severe head injury, but this scenario will immediately be recognized as absurd to anyone who utilizes common sense. Whenever I am asked about this issue, this is my response: If someone I loved had told me that they were being followed and stalked by a murderer, and then that person was murdered, I would most certainly mention this seemingly important fact when the police asked me if I knew of anyone with reason to harm my loved one. Those who continue to spread the many myths about Darlene Ferrin must also believe that her sisters loved her so much that they would continue to search for the killer decades after her death but, in the hours, days, weeks, months and years after Darlene was killed, Pam and Linda just couldn’t be bothered to tell police that she was terrorized by a murderer– even when police asked for this kind of information.

The facts which debunk the many myths regarding Darlene Ferrin are readily available to anyone who takes the time to study this issue. The actual police reports regarding the investigation of the Ferrin murder are available at the ZodiacKillerFacts Document Gallery, and I have posted new articles on the main site which address these myths. I have also posted several videos which help to explain how and why these myths have endured, including Geraldo Rivera’s tabloid television program NOW IT CAN BE TOLD. The new material can be found at the following links:

Darlene Ferrin MYTHS: The Beginning
The Painting Party, The Stalker and “Andrew Todd Walker”

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: The Rest of the Story

Darlene Ferrin and the “Unidentified Man”


Copyright 2011 / Michael Butterfield/