Richard Gaikowski

Film maker and journalist Richard Gaikowski has been named as a suspect in the Zodiac murders by Tom Voigt of the website, his associate David Morris, and an informant known as “Goldcatcher.”

Goldcatcher Blaine Zakatarious and Voigt and Morris

Voigt’s site currently states, “NOTE: We learned of Richard Gaikowski because of the informant known as Goldcatcher… who met Richard Joseph Gaikowski (aka Dick Gyke) back in 1969 and eventually grew to suspect him of being the Zodiac killer. This has been an ongoing investigation at since Goldcatcher made contact with us in early 2008.”

Goldcatcher had also used several other aliases, including Blaine Blaine. Using the pseudonym Zakatarious, Blaine authored the book The Secret of the Golden Calf – Towards the Foundation of a Polytheistic Psychology and the Reawakening of the Polytheistic Faith, published in 1974 in Berkeley, California.

Recently, Blaine claimed that this book served as a key element in a series of murders he called “The Golden Calf Killings.” Blaine claimed that his former friend and associate Richard Gaikowski had committed several murders and then left the image of a golden calf at the crime scenes as a message to Blaine. According to Blaine’s account, Gaikowski also confessed that he was the Zodiac killer and invited Blaine to join him in ongoing acts of shocking violence. Blaine claimed that Gaikowski used an umbrella to stab a young boy and also stabbed another victim inside a crowded supermarket. Blaine also claimed that he had seen Gaikowski kill a cabdriver named Leonard Carl Smith.

In the late 1980s, Blaine was contacting various law enforcement agencies and claiming that he had solved the Zodiac codes and identified the killer, however he never mentioned that he had witnessed any murders. Blaine’s writings demonstrate that he was unable to establish any connection between Gaikowski and Smith. Today, Blaine says that he was in the same room with both men, and that Gaikowski had even announced his intention to kill Smith, going so far as to invite Blaine to participate in the crime. Blaine also claimed that Gaikowski asked him to go to police and report that Gaikowski was the Zodiac. In the late 1980s, Blaine claimed that he had stumbled upon Gaikowski’s identity as the Zodiac, that he conducted his own “investigation,” and that Gaikowski threatened him and even killed other people in order to stop Blaine.

Blaine’s past reveals a repeated pattern of bizarre behavior, self-promotion, and sensational stories. Like the Zelig of true crime history, Blaine claims he has been moving in the shadows of many moments in history. In 2009, Blaine recorded an “Audio Confession” in which he told another version of his story. Blaine claimed that Gaikowski was somehow forcing him to participate in a criminal conspiracy to commit murder.

Well, what I am trying to say is here that Gaikowski was, uh, saying “Look, Blaine, you’ve been in these murders from the beginning.” …And then he was saying uh, “You know what, I could kill this, this guy, I don’t like this guy anyway, Leonard Smith, the guy you had sex with him, right?” And that, uh, “I’ll kill this guy and I’d go over there and um, I’m gonna k-k-kill him, and in his cab and take a ride pulling up and he will meet me someplace in his cab, right?”

According to Blaine, Gaikowski said that he would commit murder and then spray paint a “Golden calf” on the sidewalk nearby as a signature of sorts. Blaine claims that he refused to join Gaikowski in murder and called his friend “nuts.” Blaine also claimed that Gaikowski openly confessed that he had killed cabdriver Leonard Smith and that Blaine was even present at the scene during the killing, saying, “You know, I killed the guy,” and that Blaine had actually heard the shot. Blaine also claimed that Gaikowski directed Blaine to contact police and report Gaikowski as the Zodiac killer. Blaine also claimed that Gaikowski was responsible for bombings in the Bay Area, including the bombing of the Park Police station which resulted in the death of a police officer.

Goldcatcher - park bombing

Blaine claimed that he “disappeared” to Europe for a “long period of time,” and, upon his return, he visited “Ho Chi Minh park in Berkeley” where he once again encountered Richard Gaikowski. Blaine claimed that Gaikowski again referenced the Zodiac killings and again solicited Blaine’s help in a new string of murders to be known as the “Golden Calf killings,” named for Blaine’s obsessions with the Golden Calf and his own manuscript on the subject. According to Blaine, Gaikowski said, “Look you can’t escape the spirit of murder, let’s bow down to the Golden Calf. But, you’re, you’re linked in with me in this forever.” Blaine said, “…from there on, from ’83 on, then he, he dealed me back into that murderous web.” None of Blaine’s tales made any sense and all defied common sense, but his stories also contradicted his earlier accounts, proving beyond any doubt that one or both versions were untrue.

Blaine also claimed that Richard Gaikowski was somehow linked to other notorious crimes and had connections to the now-infamous Badher Meinhoff gang. Blaine claimed that he was present when Gaikowski and members of the political terror group were discussing a possible assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan. Blaine claimed that he warned Gaikowski against further violence overseas, stating, “you can’t do anything like, uh, that you are doing over there California, and and and Germany and uh, get away with what, uh, was going on back then. You know, the Zodiac killings, that stuff…”

Blaine had created a long and documented history of bizarre behavior, and he made a lasting impression on all who met him. David Haldane worked as a writer for The Los Angeles Times and met Blaine during a trip to the Bay Area in 1973. Haldane’s article described his strange encounter with the man then known as “Zakatarious.”

Blaine Article Nov 23 1973 Bow To The Golden Calf

In 2002, Haldane wrote a follow-up article titled The Berkeley I Left Behind– Once Upon a Time, In a Land of Infinite Possibilities, Change Seemed Inevitable. And It Was.

I returned to Berkeley looking for a man with a golden calf. His name was Zakatarious, and I’d met him on the steps of Sproul Plaza in 1973. I was a reporter for the Berkeley Barb then, the venerable underground newspaper that was an icon of the country’s counterculture as it morphed from the ’60s rebellion into the human potential movement of the ’70s and ’80s. Zakatarious was a part of the story that I itched to tell.

The world was checkmated, he explained, because each of its inhabitants was trapped in a separate reality. With each believing their reality to be the one true reality, they were doomed to eternal conflict over whose single vision should prevail. His solution: become a pagan, worship the golden calf (albeit papier-mache) and usher in a new era of world peace by accepting all gods, be they religious, political or ideological.

Zakatarious was so convinced of this that he planned to mount his makeshift idol on a trailer, organize a caravan and embark on a pilgrimage across America ending on the White House lawn, where a converted President Richard M. Nixon himself would fall to his knees in awe.

Zakatarious was so convinced of this that he planned to mount his makeshift idol on a trailer, organize a caravan and embark on a pilgrimage across America ending on the White House lawn, where a converted President Richard M. Nixon himself would fall to his knees in awe.

Zakatarious was so convinced of this that he planned to mount his makeshift idol on a trailer, organize a caravan and embark on a pilgrimage across America ending on the White House lawn, where a converted President Richard M. Nixon himself would fall to his knees in awe.

The article I wrote for the Barb was decidedly sympathetic to that goal.

I later left Berkeley. Decades passed. I settled down, got married, had kids, built a career, acquired a mortgage, even voted Republican. But I never forgot Zakatarious, never entirely abandoned the memory of infinite possibilities he once had inspired. Three decades later, moved by the energizing e-mail of a wandering daughter the same age now as I was then, I’d come back to see if it could be rekindled. “I went on a three-day trek through bamboo forests and yellow rice fields,” 19-year-old Adina had written from a village in Thailand. And so I’d decided to brave the jungles of Berkeley.

Haldane also authored the book Berkeley Days: The Uncensored Memoirs of an Underground Journalist. Several excerpts from Haldane’s book focused on the man known as “Zakatatarious,” aka Blaine Blaine aka Goldcatcher.

One day, walking across the UC Berkeley campus, I saw a six-foot Golden Calf atop Sproul Steps. And prostrated at the bottom of the steps, wearing nothing less than papal robes and hats of light purple, a fat man and a thin man lay worshipping profusely. A small crowd had gathered and a curious stillness hung in the air, broken only by the almost orgasmic moans of the two men on the ground. They were perfect counterparts of one another, and under the shadow of the mute Golden Calf they lay like broken matchsticks, unevenly divided, thin butt and fat butt in the air: a true Laurel and Hardy of the Aquarian Age. For a long time the two men lay on their bellies, moaning. At precisely the same instant, they clamored to their feet in unison and faced the crowd.

“Greetings friends,” the thin man said. He was tall and angular, perhaps in his late thirties, and very nervous but extremely intelligent looking. As he spoke, he trembled and kept moving his hands around. “I am Zakatarious, a reincarnated Minoan,” the thin man said. ‘And this is my brother, Amanon the Barker.’ He had a leaflet he was passing around and he was arguing with people, gesticulating wildly with his arms, making crisp comments in quiet unstoppable torrents of verbiage.

“You know,” Zakatarious mused, “I get so tired of hearing about people who drop acid and see Jesus. Hell, I drop acid and see Greek gods and goddesses.” We were sitting in his study. I’d gotten there by climbing a spiral staircase through the ceiling of his otherwise unremarkable North Berkeley house, the kind of stairway one often associates with old libraries. The walls were covered with books, beautiful leather-bound volumes of ancient and rare history and mythology. And in the middle of it all, mounted on a stand, staring mutely over the combined knowledge of the ages, stood the Golden Calf. Zakatarious lay nearby, stretched out in his robe on a dark divan. He called this place Zwillingsbruder Sanctuary, and a sanctuary it was. There was only one rule: no women or girls.

“The really amazing thing, though,” he said, “is the way the thing is received today” in 1973 Berkeley. Christ, I thought it would just be a lark but I’ve realized that you can’t do this just for a lark. I’ve had my life threatened twice, been investigated by a committee of rabbis and had the calf’s side kicked in a number of times.”

I couldn’t repress a smile. “Why do you think people react that way?” I asked.

“Not everyone does,” Zakatarious said. “Just the monotheists. Street people tend to worship it.”

“But how is it that a paper macheâ calf painted gold can elicit such intense reactions from people?” I pressed.

He smiled ironically. “Ah, the big question,” he said. “That’s what makes it so fascinating. You see, the Golden Calf is a portal through which you pass to the other gods. It gives people a chance to play out these old tabooed mythological religious dramas.”


It was dinnertime. Zakatarious loved young men and his favorite was a handsome 20-something lad named Ritchie. For six years they had lived together, and every evening at this time Ritchie cooked a meal. So Zak and I moved downstairs to the kitchen and sat at a big oak table while Ritchie served roast beef and peas and corn and potatoes and salad and about a zillion other things. The meal was scrumptious. The talked turned to plans for the future. “We’d like to buy a big van,” Ritchie explained between mouthfuls. “We’d like to take the Golden Calf on the road– take it from campus to campus all over the country to just let people react.”

I first met Al Verdad at a meeting in Zakatarious’ study. The plan was to build a 12-foot Golden Calf, mount it on a trailer, get a caravan together and embark on a pilgrimage across America that would end on the White House lawn; like pied pipers of liberation we’d be greeted by tears of joy, with Richard Nixon himself falling to his knees in acknowledgement of his sins as the sly smile of the Golden Calf and staid benevolence of paper macheâ eyes reigned over a new age of peace, hail the Golden Calf!

I arrived at the meeting early. The day had been a frustrating one filled with blank stareful hours before the typewriter with whom I shared life. I arrived at the house around 9 p.m., gained admittance, glided past the ancient printing press on the ground floor and up the spiraling antique staircase to the sanctuary. Besides myself, there were four males present. One was Amanon the Barker, hanging in all directions over his chair like a mound of kneaded dough or, more aptly, a drunken Roman emperor after the orgy. And young Ritchie. Hands on his hips, he leaned against the mantel surveying the scene like a prince returned from the wars. Next to him, a youth I’d never seen knelt before the fireplace pushing logs around with a poker. And stretched out on the couch lay another stranger. It was this man that most immediately commanded my attention, for he was wearing a sleek black pair of women’s panties with a hole cut in the crotch for his penis, which hung out quite unabashedly.

At first the man seemed asleep, but suddenly he leapt up from the couch and bounded towards me with an outstretched hand, his penis waving like a flag. I hesitated a moment, not sure which to grab, finally deciding on the hand. “I’m Al Verdad,” he said. “I’m running for mayor.”


One member of contacted David Haldane (this member wishes to remain anonymous). Mr. Haldane had no prior knowledge of Blaine’s connection to the Zodiac case and did not know Gaikowski. Haldane listened to a portion of Blaine’s so-called “Audio Confession” and offered these thoughts and memories via email.

Haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, but that’s definitely Zakatarious. I recognize certain patterns of speech and the timing is right; he says he went back to Berkeley to do the Golden Calf thing in 1974 which, I believe, is the year I ran into him. Also, the story about taking the Calf up to campus — that’s actually where I first met him, doing his schtick up there, and I remember him telling me about the guy who attacked the Calf. He was then — and apparently still is now — able to spin a great yarn. First, remembering how crazy he was back then, he doesn’t have a lot of credibility with me (and apparently not with the cops either). More importantly, though, it’s striking how perfectly this whole story fits into his own Blaine-created Golden Calf mythology, which always puts him at the center of great drama of historic (Biblical, actually) proportions that always involves the Golden Calf. Why a Golden Calf? Obviously, because it’s such a powerful symbol to him.

This really does blow my mind. Mainly because it’s so incredible that he’s still talking about the Golden Calf almost in the same way now as he was then, though obviously with somewhat more distance. I suspect it’s all part of a life-long psychosis featuring some hallucinations of self grandeur that are stunningly persistent. I seem to remember he was calling himself Blaine Blaine back then. And there was another big guy –Amanon the Barkerâ– who hung out with him (I think I wrote about him in the book). Also remember one of his pals telling me, in secret, about all the ugly and threatening things Blaine was saying about me outside my earshot– sort of hateful, antisemitic things. Never had any direct evidence of that, just hearsay, but it was quite different from the character he presented to me in my role as a journalist.


Blaine’s history of bizarre behavior and wild claims continued as he contacted the mother of deceased author John Kennedy Toole. The story of Toole’s death played a key part in yet another elaborate fantasy created by the attention-seeking Blaine.

John Kennedy Toole (December 17, 1937 – March 26, 1969) was an American novelist from New Orleans, Louisiana, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole’s novels remained unpublished during his lifetime. Some years after his suicide, his mother, Thelma Toole, brought the manuscript of Dunces to the attention of novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction… Toole disappeared on January 20, 1969, after a dispute with his mother. Receipts found in his car show that he drove to the West Coast and then to Milledgeville, Georgia. Here he visited the home of deceased writer Flannery O’Connor. It was during what is assumed to be a trip back to New Orleans that Toole stopped outside Biloxi, Mississippi, on March 26, 1969, and committed suicide by running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe in through the window of his car. An envelope was left on the dashboard of the car and was marked “to my parents”. However, the suicide note inside the envelope was destroyed by his mother. He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in New Orleans. ( Source: Wikipedia )

The Zfacts member who contacted writer David Haldane also provided the following information:

In 1981, Blaine wrote series of letters to the mother of John Kennedy Toole, concerning literary agents Gotlieb and Meredith who rejected him. I sent away for copies, there 4 letters, 7 pages, all complaining and threatening G and M for not going forth with the fiction novel Blaine was writing “In Dark Despair.” He compares himself to Toole (also apparently rejected), and goes so far as to accuse G and M of the murder of Toole (his committing suicide over the rejection) and vows to fight G and M “to the death.” [The letters are available as part of the Toole collection.]

San Francisco Police Inspector Mike Maloney reportedly described Blaine as one of his “top three kooks.” Detective Ken Narlow of the Napa Country Sheriff’s Office and Department of Justice Agent Fred Shirasago also dismissed Blaine’s ongoing efforts to implicate Gaikowski. FBI experts rejected Blaine’s proposed solutions to the Zodiac codes, and every law enforcement agency he contacted refused to investigate his claims. Now assisted by Tom Voigt, the owner of the website, Blaine has been able to resurrect his credibility and reinvent himself for the modern age of the Internet media. Voigt has endorsed Blaine as a credible informant while promoting Richard Gaikowski as a prime suspect in the Zodiac murders. Voigt relies on Blaine’s statements and a dubious selection of seemingly damning information used to create the image of Gaikowski as a deranged killer hiding behind the mask of a radical counter-culture journalist.

Blaine Blaine aka Goldcatcher and Tom Voigt
Those who knew Richard Gaikowski do not believe that he was the Zodiac, nor do they believe that he was the kind of person who would destroy innocent lives. Those who knew Blaine do not believe his stories and they do not believe that he is a credible person. Blaine has offered conflicting and differing accounts of the same events and has repeatedly changed key parts of his stories over time. At one time, Blaine claimed that Gaikowski had been arrested after an altercation with Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin and then lost his job as a reporter. In truth, Gaikowski had been working on a story about jailhouse conditions and orchestrated his arrest and jail-time in order to write about the experience; he was not fired, and the story was published. The details regarding Darlene Ferrin have since faded from Blaine’s version of events. Both Tom Voigt and David Morris continue to promote Blaine as a credible informant.

Last year, I posted my article regarding the history of Blaine’s claims titled DEFAMING THE DEAD. Using Blaine’s own writings and words, I demonstrated that Blaine has been telling at least two different versions of the same story, that he has been changing major elements of his stories and adding new details, and that he cannot be considered a credible, reliable, or honest informant. In response to my article, Blaine wrote a lengthy message which was posted on the main page of Blaine complained:

… Butterfield compares the 1987 manuscript to a 2009 tape cassette called GOLDCATCHER’S CONFESSION in order to “prove” contradictions, thus is immoral and intellectually dishonest… Oh, and regardless of what Butterfield believes, I DID WITNESS GAIKOWSKI MURDER LEONARD SMITH on 7/31/1986… Butterfield does not understand the true story of Goldcatcher and the Zodiac, and it is because it is my story to tell and not his. And when he tries to tell it he only ends up grinding his axe.

In Blaine’s universe, I am simply yet another in a long line of critics who has refused to recognize his “true genius.”

Now, as for the question of my sanity, or if I am a crackpot or kook etc., anyone who has a depth of knowledge of the the rise and fall of empires, kings, and scholars, would know that there always comes a time in the work of true genius, a period of severe rejectance, bitter testing and great opposition… The reason that poison-mushroom people like Butterfield and those of his ilk rise up and oppose genius is always because they represent the antipodes of mind.

The man known as Blaine Blaine, Goldcatcher, and Zakatarious had been accusing Richard Gaikowski for more than two decades yet he was unable to find anyone who would endorse him as a credible informant until he met Tom Voigt and David Morris. If I am to represent the antipodes of Blaine’s mind, I am proud to join the ranks of SFPD Inspector Mike Maloney, NCSO Det. Ken Narlow, DOJ Agent Fred Shirasago, SFPD Inspector Napoleon Hendrix, the FBI, every law enforcement agency Blaine ever contacted, David Haldane, and virtually anyone with character and common sense.

BLUE ROCK SPRINGS PARK: Another Anniversary Without Answers

Forty-one years ago today, Vallejo residents awoke to the news of a late-night shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park.

Blue Rock Springs Park 1969.jpg

In the decades since, this tragedy has become the grassy knoll of the Zodiac case– the focal point for every bizarre theory, absurd claim, persistent myth, and tall tale. Unlike the murders on Lake Herman Road, the attack at Lake Berryessa, and the killing of cabdriver Paul Stine, the true story surrounding the shootings at Blue Rock Springs Park has been forgotten in a haze of revisionist history.

Darlene Ferrin was twenty-two years old, a wife, a young mother who worked for a living and enjoyed life. Her husband Dean described his wife as vivacious and popular. “She was well liked… She was just outward, outgoing, and happy.” On the night of July 4th, 1969, Darlene had gone out to get fireworks to celebrate Independence Day when Dean returned home from work.

Police briefly interviewed Darlene’s friend, survivor Michael Mageau, on the night of the shooting and then again as he recovered in the hospital. Mageau also spoke with a reporter in mid-August 1969. His account was consistent and in keeping with the known facts. He said that Darlene had called him at 4:00 pm on Friday afternoon, and the two made plans to see a movie in San Francisco later that evening. Darlene called again around 8:00 pm to say that she was going to the Miss Firecracker contest with her sister and would call him afterwards. At 10:30 pm, she called again to say that she would soon be at Michael’s home, but she did not arrive until approximately 11:30 pm or shortly thereafter. Michael climbed into Darlene’s Corvair and the pair decided to drive to Mr. Ed’s diner for some food. As they headed west on Springs Road, Darlene told Michael that she wanted to talk to him about something. Once they were near the diner, Michael suggested that they drive to Blue Rock Springs Park to talk. Darlene drove directly to the park and pulled the Corvair into the parking lot.

Darlene turned off the ignition and the headlights, but left the radio playing. A few minutes passed, and then three vehicles entered the parking lot. The occupants of the vehicles were laughing and celebrating by setting off firecrackers. Minutes later, the three vehicles drove away. Soon, another car approached from the direction of Springs Road, entered the parking lot, and stopped behind Darlene’s car. The driver turned off the headlights of the vehicle, then pulled around the left side of the Corvair, and waited. Michael asked Darlene, “Do you know who that is?” Mageau said that Darlene dismissed the strange vehicle as harmless and replied, “Oh, never mind.”

Michael was unable to get a good look at the mysterious car, and could only say that the vehicle was similar to Darlene’s Corvair. Only one person appeared to be inside the car. Suddenly, the car drove out of the lot and sped away on Columbus Parkway towards Springs Road. Five minutes passed and a car pulled into the parking lot. This time, the driver stopped the car approximately ten feet behind and to the right of the Corvair. The headlights of the vehicle remained on as the driver stepped out and walked towards the Corvair carrying a large, high-powered flashlight. When the man walked up to passenger side of the Corvair and shined the bright light inside, Darlene and Michael assumed he was a police officer who wanted to see their identification.

Michael reached for his wallet, but, as he did so, he heard a muffled sound and instantly experienced severe pain in his back and neck. The sounds continued and as he again felt pain in his body, Michael realized that the man was shooting at him. In an attempt to escape the shower of bullets, Michael threw himself backward into the rear of the Corvair. A bullet hit his leg as he fell onto the backseat. The gunman then turned on Darlene and shot her several times as she sat helpless behind the steering wheel.

The shooting then stopped, and the man walked back to his vehicle. In pain and shock, Michael cried out. The stranger then walked back to the Corvair and again opened fire, hitting Michael in the back and the leg, Darlene was shot two more times before the stranger casually walked away. As the stranger climbed back into his car, Michael reached outside the Corvair, pulled the door handle and fell out onto the ground. The gunman’s car backed up and then proceeded forward onto the Columbus Parkway. Michael caught a glimpse of the car, and could only say the man may have been driving a light colored car with a California state license plate. The mysterious car once again sped off in the direction of Springs Road.

Blue Rock Springs Park crime scene sketch.jpg

The Zodiac claimed that he was responsible for the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park and the bizarre phone call to police on the night of the crime. Later rumors suggested that the killer had also placed several hang-up calls to members of Darlene’s family shortly after the shooting, but Darlene’s brother Leo reportedly admitted that he made these calls in his efforts to locate Darlene that night.

Payphone used by the Zodiac Vallejo.jpg

Detective Ed Rust interviewed Michael Mageau as he recovered in the hospital. His report read:

(Reporting Officer) questioned Michael as to a possible motive, if he had had any arguments or trouble, etc. with anyone recently, or if there was any reason at all that anyone would want to harm him. He stated he could not recall anything at all, having any arguments or anything to give anyone reason to do anything like this. Also states that Darlene did not say anything about any trouble that she has had. States they have always been very truthful with each other and confided very closely in each other’s problems and he is sure if she had known about someone after her or had a hate for her enough to do something like this, she would have said something about it. States as far as he knows, the only type of trouble that Dea has had was sometimes her friends got mad at her. There [were] sometimes petty jealousies between her and her friends. Sometimes some possibly boyfriends, not exactly dating type boyfriends, but friends, just acquaintances, would become jealous over just petty things.

Darlene’s friends, the members of her family, her co-workers and others were interviewed, but no one provided any information which indicated that anyone had any reason to harm either Darlene or Michael Mageau. Darlene’s sister Pam was unable to name any viable suspects and she knew of no reason for anyone to harm Darlene. Darlene’s sister Linda was also unable to identify or recall anyone with reason to harm Darlene, but she did provide the names of three of her sister’s best friends, including a man named Lee who used to bring her presents from Mexico. Police identified only one man said to have bothered Darlene. George was a frequent customer in the restaurant where Darlene worked and he apparently made unwanted advances toward her on several occasions. Investigators interviewed George and saw no reason to suspect that he had killed Darlene. Even Darlene’s ex-husband became a suspect after her family told several stories which appeared to implicate the man. Police eventually excluded the ex-husband as a suspect.

This turn of events marked the beginning of a pattern, a cloud which would follow the case for decades to come. The murder of Darlene Ferrin remained unsolved, and speculation grew regarding the possible motives behind the crime and those involved. Despite the evidence which indicated that Darlene and Michael had been the victims of a random attack, some people preferred to believe that she was the deliberate target of an orchestrated conspiracy to silence her for unknown reasons.

Darlene’s mother spoke with Christopher Harris, the West Coast Representative of the famous psychic Joseph Delouise. According to Harris, the woman claimed that Darlene had said that she would be in the newspapers the day after she was killed. Harris and Vallejo Mayor Florence Douglas appeared at a press conference at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. Douglas was a candidate struggling to win the Democratic nomination in the Governor’s race against incumbent Ronald Reagan. “I believe some clues were overlooked in the murder of Darlene Ferrin,” Douglas told reporters. She denounced the Vallejo police investigation and called for a new examination of the case. Harris complained that police were unwilling to listen to the new claims from Darlene’s family. “I observed while in Vallejo that the police disregarded the ridiculous,” he said. “I am now a firm believer that in the ridiculous, especially in the case of Darlene Ferrin, lies a storehouse of clues. The police should have done a complete character sketch of Darlene Ferrin. There are too many questions into her death that have not been properly tied down.”

Police had investigated virtually every single scrap of information they had received, including tips and stories from Darlene’s family, yet no one had mentioned the new claims when they had been interviewed many times before. Some members of Darlene’s family began to tell strange stories which indicated that Darlene may have known the killer and had witnesses a murder. These stories circulated and evolved over time to include stories of a mysterious yet unidentified stranger who had stalked Darlene in the weeks and months before her death. By the mid-1970s, Darlene’s sisters, Pam and Linda, were telling a very different story, one that became the popular myth which still dominates the public perception of this case today.

According to Pam, Darlene warned that she had witnessed a murder and that the murderer had been following her. Pam suspected that Darlene may have been involved in a satanic cult. Both Pam and Linda claimed they had attended a painting party in Darlene’s home, and that they had seen an unidentified man who arrived wearing a suit. Darlene was reportedly afraid of this man and warned Pam to stay away from him because, “She said he was a bad man… She’d seen him kill somebody.” Soon, others said that they had been at the party, too, including Vallejo police officer Steve Baldino, who also claimed that he had heard a recording of the Zodiac’s phone to call police on the night Darlene was killed. The story of the painting party expanded over time and eventually became a key component of many theories. When asked about this party, Dean Ferrin said no such party had ever taken place in his home and that he had painted the entire house by himself. Former Vallejo police dispatcher Nancy Slover spoke to the Zodiac on the night of the shooting and adamantly denied that any recording of the call had ever been made. According to Slover, the police department did not possess recording equipment in July 1969.

Neither Pam nor Linda ever mentioned any of these stories, or the mysterious and murderous stranger, when interviewed by police, and authorities quickly determined that Darlene’s sisters were not reliable or credible witnesses. A report written by VPD Detective Jack Mulanax, dated August 18, 1969, stated that Darlene’s sister Pam appeared to be “influenced” by the “power of suggestion.” Many other investigators would later describe Pam as an attention seeker prone to prevarication. Dean Ferrin refuted all of Pam’s stories, as have many others, including Dean’s cousin, Sue Ayers. For many years, Pam told people that Sue Ayers had visited Michael Mageau as he recovered in the hospital and that he confessed that he and Darlene were followed to the scene of the crime and the killer called Darlene by name just before the shooting began. This story also evolved over time to include an argument at Darlene’s place of work that night and another argument with the killer at Blue Rock Springs Park. In March 2007, I spoke with Sue Ayers and she refuted the entire story told by Pam.

Pam and Linda also offered conflicting descriptions and information concerning the unidentified stalker they claimed to have seen on several occasions. Despite the fact that she had originally described the man named “Lee” as one of Darlene’s friends, she later suggested that he could have been the stalker. Robert Graysmith used Linda’s original statements about Darlene’s friend Lee to connect the victim with his suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. Graysmith would later claimed that Leigh had known Darlene and all of the other Zodiac victims. Graysmith then used the stories about the chase to Blue Rock Springs Park, the stalker, the story of the painting party, Baldino’s claim of a Zodiac recording, and many more myths in his best-selling book ZODIAC, which later inspired the feature film of the same name.

Pam told various reporters that she was also the subject of harassment and stalking by one or more men. She claimed that someone had left a message on her home indicating the police code for murder, that someone had left a burning cross on her front lawn and a coffin at her front door. She also claimed that someone had written “Pam Dies” on the walls inside her house and even knocked her unconscious in order to steal a collection of documents she was about to give to television producers. Pam appeared on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show and claimed that Darlene had known Zodiac victim Betty Lou Jensen and had possibly witnessed her death and even the murder of suspected Zodiac victim Cheri Jo Bates. Pam also appeared on the Geraldo Rivera tabloid television program NOW IT CAN BE TOLD in segments which were produced by satanic conspiracy theorist Maury Terry. Pam confronted a bewildered Mageau, who said his memory had faded over time. Pam persisted, pointing her finger in Mageau’s face and repeating, “I know you know who did it!” The show linked Darlene’s murder to cult activity as part of the theory that she had been the deliberate target of an orchestrated conspiracy to silence her before she revealed some shocking and terrible truth about the crimes she had witnessed. Pam also told her stories during interviews for other television tabloid shows such as HARD COPY and A CURRENT AFFAIR.

Pam sister of Darlene Ferrin.jpg

The stories regarding the life and death of Darlene Ferrin invaded virtually every news report about the case and inspired more stories and theories about the stalker, satanic cults, the painting party, and other unstoppable myths. Linda later identified suspect Larry Kane as the mysterious stranger and Pam implicated various people over the years. The legends spread and the sensational spotlight attracted others who were eager to create more confusion and myths. Don Cheney, the man who had originally accused Arthur Leigh Allen, claimed that Allen’s brother and sister-in-law had been at the painting party with the suspect, and that Allen had worn a suit. Blaine Blaine, the man who originally accused Richard Gaikowski, claimed that his suspect had been arrested after an altercation with Darlene. Deborah Perez claimed that her father was the Zodiac and had known Darlene. Connecting Darlene Ferrin to a suspect was standard practice for any budding Zodiac theorist or opportunist.

In 1991, retired Vallejo police detective George Bawart met with Mageau and displayed an array of six suspect photographs. According to Vallejo police Lt. (and later Capt.) Joann West, Mageau initially pointed to a photograph of suspect Arthur Leigh Allen and said, “That’s him.” However, when asked if he was sure, Mageau then said that he was “pretty sure” and then pointed to the photograph of a different suspect and said that the shooter had a round face like that individual rather than Allen. Mageau then said Allen was the man who had shot him and assessed his own level at certainty on a scale of 1 to 10 as an 8. Allen did not match the original description of the shooter as provided by Mageau in the hours, days and weeks after the shooting in 1969.

Mageau was interviewed for the documentaries which accompanied the DVD release of the feature film ZODIAC, based on the books by Robert Graysmith. Michael Mageau told a story which contradicted his previous accounts yet was now in keeping in with the popular myths rather than the facts. According to Mageau’s new version, he and Darlene were followed to Blue Rock Springs Park, and Darlene indicated that she knew the shooter. Mageau claimed that the man was named “Richard,” and that this murderous stranger would kill them if he knew that Darlene was with Mageau. In this interview, Mageau said that the stranger’s car resembled a Cadillac. In 1969, he said that the car resembled Darlene’s Corvair. The two automobiles do not appear at all similar. During the same interview, Mageau expressed his hope that police would someday identify and capture the Zodiac. Mageau had apparently forgotten that he had “positively identified” the Zodiac more than 15 years earlier, and that the man he had identified (Allen) had been dead since 1991.

Michael Mageau 2007.jpg

After forty-one years, I believe that the investigation and study of the Darlene Ferrin murder, and the Zodiac case itself, has been contaminated and derailed by the many myths which have emerged over the years. The evidence strongly indicates that the gunman had selected them at random, that Darlene did not know the killer, and that the details of her life will not further the investigation in search of the Zodiac’s identity. Darlene Ferrin, like the other Zodiac victims, was simply in the wrong place at the right time. Michael Mageau’s statements to police and others in 1969 clearly indicate that the many stories which developed in the years that followed are not credible or accurate. Like so many unsolved mysteries, the murder of Darlene Ferrin generated rumors, rampant speculation, and a legend which continue to cloud the truth. Various message boards and websites feature sensational theories linking Darlene Ferrin’s death to countless conspirators, cult killers, sinister strangers, bizarre plots, and more, and some amateur sleuths keep the myths alive with new accusations, new suspects, and new stories which only serve to further victimize and exploit the dead.

The theories linking Darlene to the Zodiac distract from the facts, providing a far more entertaining and titillating version of history while burying reality in a maze of fiction. Had the Zodiac intended to create confusion in order to avoid detection, he could not have invented a better plan, or a more enduring diversion.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Most newspapers, magazines, publishers, news organizations, major networks, local television stations, writers, reporters, newscasters, TV hosts, celebrities, and other media entities usually take time to report their own mistakes by providing corrections. Your local newspaper most likely features a daily section where the editors note their errors and then provide the accurate information– at times, some attempt is made to explain the reasons behind the mistake. Errors range from serious subjects such as the information concerning a murder case or simply the misspelling of a name. Most anyone concerned about their reputation will make the effort to admit their errors because they know that the failure to do so says more about them than their mistakes.

Here are two examples of corrections from The New York Times:

SCIENCE TIMES – The Basics column on June 1, about the researcher J. Craig Venter’s claim to have created the first “synthetic cell,” included an incorrect reference to Mycoplasma, the bacteria Dr. Venter’s team used in its work. Unlike nearly all other types of bacteria, Mycoplasma lack cell walls; they do not have a “stiffer bacterial wall.”

SPORTS – An article on Tuesday about the final days of a special mitt used to catch the knuckleballs thrown by Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey while a new one is broken in misstated the date it became obvious the old glove was no longer reliable enough to use. It was after a game in Baltimore on June 11, not on May 18.

Other online media sites also offer daily corrections: – Fort Wayne Indiana

Because of a reporting error, the times for showings of “The Joneses” and “Toy Story 3” at Coldwater Crossing were incorrect on Page 3W of Friday’s Weekender.

Seattle Times online

Movies – ‘Knight and Day’ traps Cruise, Diaz and the film’s audience

“North by Northwest” starred Eva Marie Saint and Cary Grant. An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated it was Saint and Jimmy Stewart.

Local – Famed fishmonger plans a sea change

A previous version of this article, originally published May 29, incorrectly identified employee Justin Hall and misspelled the first name of Tim Fitzgerald. The article was corrected June 2, 2010.

The Seattle Times posted this statement on its website: “Requesting corrections – strives to make news reports fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call 206-464-3310 or e-mail

On May 24, 2010, I posted my review of Steve Hodel’s book MOST EVIL, a review which completely debunked virtually every claim regarding the author’s map presentations. In the month since the review was posted, Hodel has made no effort whatsoever to publicly address this issue or the fact that his entire map presentation in MOST EVIL is pure fiction posing as irrefutable fact. Instead, Hodel has continued to ignore the fact that his book has been debunked. Whatever attempts he may have made to comment on this issue have apparently been posted in a private message board, hidden from public view. Readers who paid the cover price for Hodel’s book shelled out more than $20 bucks only to be deceived by the author. If they would like to read whatever explanation Hodel may offer for his actions, these poor suckers must now shell out $10 more in order to gain access to that message board– a situation which only adds further insult to an already inexcusable injury.

Hodel’s website now features this frightening announcement: “June 15, 2010,  Los Angeles – Today I ‘officially’ start work and writing on BOOK III.” Those who care about this case, the facts, and common decency would view this news as a sad commentary on this case and the current state of the “true” crime genre. Hodel is rushing to start his third book without even bothering to address the undeniable fact that the map presentations in his second book have been thoroughly debunked. Hodel’s actions constitute a very clear statement of contempt for the truth, the public, his readers, and YOU.

We could all excuse Hodel’s mistakes if they had been honest mistakes. However, the facts prove that there are only two possible explanations for Hodel’s amazingly incorrect presentations in MOST EVIL.

1) Hodel knew his presentations were pure garbage and decided to peddle them to the public as fact anyway.

2) Hodel made no effort to check his own work and he thought his presentations were actually correct.

Personally, I think #1 is the most likely explanation, yet, Steve Hodel cannot be trusted in either scenario. He is still unwilling to admit that his map presentations were completely inaccurate and his claims therefore without merit. Given his actions, one has to wonder why anyone would want to read or even buy his third book? If he could make such obvious mistakes and base his conclusions on his erroneous presentations, one has to ask why should anyone expect anything different in his third volume, especially when he is unwilling to post a simple retraction and/or correction regarding the errors in his second?

The book MOST EVIL is filled with factual errors and fatally flawed claims concerning the Zodiac crime scenes, California geography and basic geometry, yet Steve Hodel has refused to post a correction or retraction. Instead, the “New York Times best-selling author” has chosen to ignore the truth about his book and announce his plans for a sequel. The New York Times would have printed a correction within days if its writers had simply misspelled Hodel’s name. This irony reminds us that we live a very bizarre and insane world.

Black Dahlia Avenger, Most Evil, Zodiac and the Further Literary Crimes of Steve Hodel

[To read an expanded and illustrated version of this review, follow this link to the message board–> ]

During a recent trip to my old haunts in Manhattan, I decided to pay a visit to every New York bibliophile’s second home, the famous Strand bookstore. Like most book lovers, I have a long list of rare and hard-to-find books in my head and I enjoy searching through the inventory of used book stores in the hopes of finding some of my long-sought items. As anyone who has been to The Strand can attest, the towering shelves and endless collection of book spines can be intoxicating and addictive, and you’re always sure to find at least one gem. Yet, some people are just looking for some shiny “new” decoration for their bookshelf and they can always find something to fill the void.

Downstairs, I entered the narrow and densely-packed shelves of the true crime section and immediately noticed a bottom shelf lined with bright, yellow books, the spines featured a red crossed-circle and the title Most Evil. I was very familiar with the workings of used book stores, so I knew that the books were either unused, discounted remainders or used books discarded by the original purchaser/reader. My experience told me that it was unusual to see so many copies of what appeared to be new books, so I also knew that Most Evil had disappointed many people on several levels. I have been reluctant to encourage the author’s ongoing acts of exploitation so I had resisted paying the full price of $26.95 for this book online, however, The Strand was offering Most Evil for $13.95, so I bought a copy.

I skimmed through the book over the next few days, but on the long plane ride home I sat down with a legal pad, prepared to tackle the book in its entirety. Two hours into the flight, I had finished the book and had also filled pages of the pad with notes on the many factual errors and dubious claims by author Steve Hodel. Unfortunately, I had to read the book several more times, and I feel qualified to state that, even at $13.95, Most Evil was still a rip-off.

Hodel became a minor true crime celebrity due to his claims that he had solved the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder. Hodel accused his own father, the now-deceased Dr. George Hill Hodel, once named as a suspect in the 1947 “Dahlia” killing. According to Hodel’s account, he began his journey of suspicion shortly after his father’s death, when he discovered two photographs among his father’s possessions. The images depicted a young, dark-haired woman and Hodel concluded that the woman was actually “The Black Dahlia” murder victim Elizabeth Short. A retired LAPD detective, Hodel began his own investigation and eventually claimed that his father was responsible for dozens of unsolved murders in the Los Angeles area and beyond as one of the most sadistic, demented and prolific serial killers in American history.

Hodel’s book Black Dahlia Avenger was a best-seller and the author made the rounds on various TV documentary shows. Rumors of a subsequent movie deal died after the release of director Brian DePalma’s lavish Hollywood version of the notorious crime story. Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Kay embraced Hodel’s theory, declaring that the case was “closed.” James Elroy, author of the book which served as the basis for DePalma’s movie, endorsed Hodel’s conclusions. The Los Angeles police department dismissed Hodel’s claims, as did the majority of the experts, researchers and crime buffs devoted to the Dahlia mystery. Hortensia Stark, an ex-wife of George Hodel’s, adamantly refuted Steve Hodel’s accusations. “I strongly deny any indication that Dr. Hodel was a sadomasochist.” Stark described Steve Hodel as “A writer of pure fiction.” Dorothy, Hodel’s wife at the time of the Dahlia murder investigation, told authorities, “All I know is that he is not the sort of man psychologically to be the kind to do it. He has a fine record as a doctor and is a dedicated man… but it is incredible to me that he should be in any way connected with it.”

Steve Hodel’s entire theory was based on these and other “facts.”

* George Hodel had pictures of Dahlia victim Elizabeth Short among his possessions.

* George Hodel was named as a Dahlia suspect.

* George Hodel made incriminating statements.

* A photograph in Short’s possessions may have been George Hodel and may have been the man seen with Short prior to her death.

* A handwriting expert had linked Hodel to notes attributed to the so-called “Black Dahlia Avenger.”

TV producers hired experts who concluded that Elizabeth Short was not the woman in Hodel’s photographs. Even a cursory comparison of Short’s many photographs with those presented by Steve Hodel proves that Short is not the woman in Hodel’s pictures. Members of Short’s family also dismissed Hodel’s claims, stating that the woman in his photographs was not Elizabeth Short. Ignoring the conclusions of the experts and Short’s own family, Hodel’s subsequent editions of Black Dahlia Avenger featured more strained attempts to link Short to the photographs. Hodel admitted that the woman in the first photograph is not Short but he still believed that she is the woman in the second photograph. Today, Hodel says that the issue is “moot” because one official stated that George Hodel had been seen with Elizabeth Short.

Documents examiners questioned and contradicted the conclusions of Hodel’s handwriting expert. The official transcript of George Hodel’s statements indicates that his remarks were not as incriminating as his son suggests. The official documents also state that the transcripts and other evidence “tend to eliminate this suspect.” Hodel insists that his father’s statements indicate his guilt.

As other aspects of the George Hodel theory also collapsed under scrutiny, Steve Hodel remained undeterred and continued with his quest to convict his father in the court of public opinion. James Elroy retracted his endorsement of Hodel’s theory, explaining that he was wrong. Hodel dismissed Elroy’s withdrawal as a conflict of interest because the feature film version of Elroy’s Dahlia novel offered a different conclusion than Hodel’s. Like the unsolved Zodiac case, the Black Dahlia mystery has its own cottage industries, personalities and theories/factions. In Dahlia circles, Hodel’s theory remains a controversial chapter in the history of that case. On his website, Steve Hodel dismisses other critics and criticism as negative or derogatory attacks unworthy of comment.

Perhaps George Hodel did know Elizabeth Short– to date, I have yet to see Steve Hodel present any credible evidence to implicate his father in her murder. However, his attempts to link his dead father to the Zodiac crimes will be forever remembered as one of the greatest acts of fraud in the history of nonfiction.

Most Evil is, by any definition, a true crime. As a reader, I often wondered if Steve Hodel was just pulling my leg for a buck. Hodel now claims that his father committed some of the most notorious murders in the annals of crime. In the introduction, Hodel wrote, “I know now that my father was also responsible for a series of infamous murders in Chicago (where he was known as the Lipstick Killer), Manilla (where the local press dubbed him the Jigsaw Murderer), and the Bay Area of California (where he called himself Zodiac).” Based on his previous track record, most readers would be forced to view this statement with skepticism; others might need a moment to collect themselves as they struggle to suppress the growing and probably-by-now uncontrollable fits of laughter welling up, ready to explode.

As I read through the book, I was astounded by the many unsubstantiated claims and leaps in logic, based on little more than speculation and rampant generalizations. Like Robert Graysmith, Howard Davis, Gareth Penn and so many others, Steve Hodel’s theory seems compelling as long as you are not aware of the true facts. A complete assessment of Most Evil would take up more space and time than I care to commit here, but I will offer the following examination.

Steve Hodel cites the opinions of documents examiner Hannah MacFarland in order to link his father with the Lipstick and Zodiac crimes. MacFarland was also the same expert who had determined that George Hodel was the author of various Dahlia-related notes, despite the fact that there was no evidence linking these notes to the Dahlia killer. Other experts had contradicted MacFarland’s conclusions.

In his book, Hodel repeatedly misquotes the Zodiac’s words, placing a hyphen where the Zodiac had clearly written a small letter “r” [as in “Lake He-Man“] and his transcriptions of various letters or writings are frequently incorrect. Such errors can be found throughout the book [pg. 124, pg. 142, and more]. Hodel’s theory also relies on a letter of dubious origins which appeared in a newspaper article [see pg. 243]. The book also contains many factual inaccuracies regarding the Zodiac crimes and errors which are often baffling. On page 211, Hodel writes, “Land Art, also known as Earthworks, is a movement said to have been launched in October 1968 with the group exhibition ‘Earthworks’ at the Dwan Gallery in New York. Zodiac’s first Bay Area murder occurred just one month later, in December 1968.” Anyone with basic math skills will immediately notice the glaring error in Hodel’s calculations; readers who completed the book will recognize this seemingly simplistic error as foreshadowing of things to come.

George Hodel was sixty-two years old at the time of the Zodiac’s last known murder, and even the oldest estimate of the suspect’s age ranged somewhere between 35-45 years old. The witnesses who observed the killer on the night of October 11, 1969, in San Francisco, provided a description which cannot match Hodel by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout most of his life, George Hodel was seen wearing a dark moustache; none of the witnesses stated that the killer wore a moustache. Steve Hodel speculates that his father may have shaved off the moustache at various times but there is no evidence that he did so at this time, or that he regressed in age by two decades.

Steve Hodel also presents a sketch which he claims may be an official composite produced by “law enforcement.” The sketch first appeared on the cover of the book Great Crimes of San Francisco, which featured a chapter on the Zodiac case written by former Chronicle reporter Duffy Jennings. Hodel cites a “confidential source” who told him that Jennings stated that this sketch was produced by law enforcement. As one who has spent years conducting research on this case, I had to wonder why anyone would need to rely on a “confidential source” just to ask a reporter a rather simple question regarding the origins of a police sketch. Most people would simply note that the sketch reads “San Francisco Police Department” and then contact that department in search of information. However, Hodel relies on third-person information from a reporter via a confidential, unnamed person instead of going straight to the source. I believe he did so because he is not interested in the truth but rather in exploiting this sketch for all its potential to his cause.

The sketch in question depicts an elderly man wearing glasses and is accompanied by another sketch showing the killer in his hooded costume. The sketch was never issued to the public and has never been included or mentioned in any official documents over the last 40 years. In short, there is absolutely no reason to believe that this was a legitimate or official sketch yet Hodel wants us to believe as much. The sketch in question bears the date of October 18, 1969, the same date of the SFPD sketch which was released to the public. Common sense dictates that the SFPD would not create such a sketch, let alone one bearing the same exact date as the previously released official sketch.

In the 1990s, I worked as a production artist at DC Comics. To me, the sketch in question was clearly the work of a professional artist– in fact, the style and strokes seemed very familiar. One skeptical and studious “Dahliaphile” also recognized the artist’s style and determined that the sketch appeared to be the work of famous illustrator Neal Adams. This person then contacted the artist and quickly received a response: Adams confirmed that he had produced the sketch for the cover of the book, Great Crimes of San Francisco. The sketch was not an official production and the face of the elderly man had absolutely nothing to do with the actual Zodiac case or the suspect at the Stine scene in October 1969. Most astute observers would have realized as much simply by looking at the drawing and utilizing common sense. [To read more about this sketch, follow this link to the message board posts by member “briar”: ]

On page 109, Hodel wrote, “The evidence linking my father, Dr. George Hodel, to the Zodiac murders in the San Francisco area in the summer and fall of 1969 is exceptionally strong and compelling.” Readers will note that Steve Hodel’s book fails to provide any such evidence and instead offers only speculation, assumptions and tenuous “links” to support this theory. In fact, the only “evidence” presented by Hodel consists of the questionable conclusions of his handwriting expert.

Hodel links his father to the Zodiac with his contention that the gravesite of Elizabeth Short falls on the “radian” as claimed by another theorist, Gareth Penn. On page 214, Hodel wrote, “Elizabeth Short’s final resting place in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery is precisely intersected by Zodiac’s lower radian (seen in Figure 18.7)– the same one that extends through the Paul Stine crime scene. Could it be a coincidence that Elizabeth Short happened to be buried along the radian line purposely established by Zodiac when he directed Paul Stine to his specific place of execution? The mathematical probability of it being coincidence is infinitesimal. The Zodiac murders and the murder of Elizabeth Short must have been connected.”

Hodel’s claim seems compelling if you do not know the real facts, and his book proves that he spent little time searching for the facts regarding his new “radian” theory. Gareth Penn claimed that two Zodiac crime scenes– the scene of the cabdriver murder in San Francisco and scene at Blue Rock Springs Park– formed one radian, an angle measured at approximately 57.3 degrees, or between 57 and 58 degrees. In fact, the scenes form an angle measured at approximately 60 degrees or more. Hodel based his most “compelling evidence” on an already-discredited theory. [To read more about Gareth Penn’s radian theory, follow this link to the main site: ]

On page 211, Hodel accurately describes the value of a radian as 57 degrees, 17 minutes and 44 seconds. Hodel then uses an apostrophe-like symbol to denote degrees when the correct symbol actually resembles a small circle. Hodel’s later illustrations read, “58-59’ – radian,” as if the author does not even understand the concept of a radian or had somehow forgotten his previous and correct description of the angle.

Hodel offers several illustrations to prove his Zodiac/Short radian theory, yet, in each illustration, Hodel’s placement of the relevant locations is clearly incorrect. On page 212, Hodel presents a copy of the Zodiac’s Mt. Diablo map: his placement of the Stine scene in San Francisco is far South of the correct location, and his placement of the Blue Rock Springs Park scene is far Southwest, nowhere near the correct location. The caption on this map reads, “59′ = 1 radian” despite the fact that a radian is valued at 57.3 degrees. Even more baffling is the fact that the actual angle formed on Hodel’s illustration is approximately 50 degrees– Hodel’s illustration does not form a radian and does not even match his own stated value of the angle.

The same lack of research and factual accuracy is displayed in Hodel’s second illustration, an aerial photograph on page 215. Again, Hodel’s stated value of a radian is incorrect, and his caption reads, “58-59′ – radian.” Once again, Hodel’s placement of the relevant scenes is incorrect, and his placement of these locations does not even match his previous illustration. On the aerial photograph, Hodel places the Blue Rock Springs Park crime scene far West of the correct location, directly above the gravesite of Elizabeth Short. However, the actual location does not align with the gravesite in this fashion, and Hodel’s placement of this location does not match his previous illustration, either. Again, Hodel’s stated measurement of his angle does not match the value of the angle shown. In this illustration, Hodel’s angle measures at approximately 54 degrees, far short of a radian and nowhere near the “58-59” degrees Hodel claims in his caption.

The same flaws and errors appear in Hodel’s third illustration on page 248. Here, Hodel presents another map, and, again, his placement of the relevant scenes is incredibly inaccurate. Hodel places a copy of the Zodiac’s November 9 crossed-circle over Mt. Diablo, but he did not place the center of the crossed-circle on the peak of Mt. Diablo– in fact, the center of this crossed-circle is clearly not aligned with the peak or Hodel’s lines on the map which are drawn to the peak itself.

Again, Hodel’s placement of the relevant scenes is inaccurate. He places the Blue Rock Springs Park site far West– again, nowhere near the correct location. Hodel’s placement of this scene does not match his previous illustrations, and his placements of the Short gravesite and the Stine scenes are also incorrect.

In this illustration, Hodel presents another angle from his placement of the Blue Rock Springs Park scene to his version of Magnetic North. Hodel’s caption for this second angle reads, “58-59′ radian.” Once again, the author misstates the value of the radian, once again using the incorrect symbol to denote degrees. This value of this angle is nowhere near a radian and does not even match Hodel’s caption of “58-59” degrees. In fact, this angle is measured at approximately 75-76 degrees, far greater than a radian or Hodel’s stated value.

In the same illustration, Hodel presents the other radian, allegedly formed by his placement of the two scenes, BRSP in Vallejo and the Stine scene in San Francisco. Again, Hodel’s caption reads, “58-59” radian. Again, this angle is nowhere near a radian value and does not even match Hodel’s caption– this angle measures at approximately 53 degrees.

A straight line drawn from the peak of Mt. Diablo to the scene of the Stine murder in San Francisco does not pass through Mountain View Cemetery or anywhere near the grave of Elizabeth Short. Hodel wrote, “The mathematical probability of it being coincidence is infinitesimal. The Zodiac murders and the murder of Elizabeth Short must have been connected.” Hodel’s entire premise is false and, therefore, his claim that the Zodiac and Dahlia crimes “must have been connected” has no merit and is not based on fact.

Are we to believe that Steve Hodel didn’t know that his book was so inaccurate in so many ways, that his own theories were so wrong on so many levels, that his own illustrations and measurements don’t match his own notations and claims? The notion is most unsettling.

This review will most likely be met by some with cries that I have been unfair to Mr. Hodel, or that he is just trying to find the truth. Other apologists will claim that I am just being “negative” and not contributing anything of value to this case by constantly tearing down the work of others. And, someone who is unwilling to face the truth about Steve Hodel will undoubtedly offer a litany of excuses to explain-away his many errors, mistakes, and false claims. However, I believe that the facts speak for themselves: Steve Hodel has not presented any credible evidence to implicate his father in ANY murder, let alone the Zodiac crimes. Even if Hodel is somehow correct that his father knew Elizabeth Short he has not even come close to proving that George Hodel killed Short. Even if Steve Hodel manages to prove that George Hodel did kill Short, he has not presented any legitimate reason or evidence to justify the claim that his father is a viable suspect, let alone the Zodiac killer. His presentations regarding the Zodiac case in the book Most Evil cannot be used to connect George Hodel to that unsolved mystery.

Steve Hodel claims that his father had murdered several victims in Chicago and that Short had traveled there to investigate his possible involvement. Hodel also claims that his father killed Short because she may have been ready to expose him as the killer in the famous dismemberment and murder of a little girl “She died because of what she’d learned about my father’s savage activities in Chicago,” Hodel wrote in Most Evil. According to Steve Hodel, his father killed Short and then severed her body in two parts– thereby drawing attention to the similarities to the Chicago dismemberment murder– and then displayed her mutilated corpse on a city street– thereby making the crime a sensational and very public story that was bound to generate intense scrutiny and investigation, drawing attention to himself as well as the connection between the Short and Chicago murders, or, far more importantly, suggesting that Short had been killed by someone with links to both Los Angeles and Chicago. Yet, according to Steve Hodel, his father did all of this after he had been seen with Short in public, not only in Los Angeles but in Chicago as well. Had Short simply disappeared, the crime would have gone virtually unnoticed, there would be no “Dahlia” frenzy, no investigation, no Grand Jury probe, no wiretaps, no problem at all.

Steve Hodel also claims that his father had to use bribery to escape a morals charge for allegedly molesting his daughter yet he was given a virtual free pass, complete with a massive conspiracy Hodel calls “Dahliagate,” in order to escape justice for the Short killing and other crimes. According to Steve Hodel, his father’s arrest would result in the revelations which could destroy the careers and reputations of many high officials in Los Angeles and his involvement in the Dahlia and other murders was concealed and basically ignored because these people feared exposure. “They had identified George Hodel as the suspect… They had him dead bang,” Hodel claimed, “They knew if they arrested George Hodel and charged him with the crimes, that it would expose internal corruption in the LAPD, not on some low level, not some corrupt cop stealing an apple, but on the highest levels.”

In this theory, Hodel’s power could not save him from the morals charge and he was forced to buy his freedom to escape that minor conviction yet his guilt in the Dahlia killing was covered up by officials free of charge. These authorities preferred the embarrassment that resulted in their failure to solve the most shocking crime in recent history and decided it was better to let George Hodel run amok for decades, claiming more lives, free to expose them at the drop of a hat while they risked their own careers to make sure the case remained unsolved and Hodel escaped justice. Theorists who have been discredited, debunked and dismissed are always quick to cry conspiracy with claims that authorities are concealing the truth which would prove their theories, and Hodel is right on schedule.

If I had written Most Evil, I would be too ashamed to leave my house. On his website,, Hodel reports that he will soon present a “Black Dahlia Power Point Talk” to the Century City Bar Association on May 26, 2010, in Los Angeles. The author provides booking information for the event at the Westside Tavern; those who are not members of the Bar must pay $40.00 to attend. Will Hodel begin the Power Point presentation with the compelling new evidence from his book Most Evil? Will he explain to the audience that none of his Zodiac illustrations are accurate and all of his claims are bogus? Will Hodel have the courage or integrity to correct his own work or retract his claims? If so, some in the audience might want a refund.

Most likely, Hodel will do what others have done in the past when confronted with their own reflection– blame the messenger or cry foul. Perhaps Steve Hodel will claim that I have highlighted the flaws of Most Evil because I have written a book about the Zodiac case or maybe he’ll follow in the footsteps of Dennis Kaufman and offer the ridiculous claim that I’m just one of those people who doesn’t want to see this case solved because we would lose our livelihoods. Perhaps Hodel will blame his co-author and claim that he didn’t know that so much of the material in Most Evil was inexcusably incorrect. Maybe Hodel will accuse some unnamed assistant who was responsible for the illustrations in his book, or point the finger at a lazy editor. Or maybe he’ll claim that his own measurements and maps were accurate but somehow distorted in the printing process.

Perhaps Hodel will fall back on the standard line and reply that he was only speculating that his father was the Zodiac, that it’s “just a theory,” or that he had only said his father “may” be involved in these crimes, asking us all to forget that he began his book with this claim: “I know now that my father was also responsible for a series of infamous murders in Chicago (where he was known as the Lipstick Killer), Manilla (where the local press dubbed him the Jigsaw Murderer), and the Bay Area of California (where he called himself Zodiac).” Given the evidence presented in Most Evil, Hodel has obviously failed to substantiate this claim by any stretch of the imagination.

In his last paragraphs of Most Evil, Hodel writes that he acts “in the interest of honoring the victims and their families.” I do not believe that Mr. Hodel cares about what is in the best interest of the victims, their loved ones, or this case. If he was occupied by such concerns, he would not be peddling this book in the first place, and he would issue a public apology to the victims, their families, his own family, the investigators, and the public. Then he would take a self-imposed life-long break from solving any mystery, including the case of his missing newspaper or misplaced remote control.

Perhaps a more fitting title for Hodel’s book would be Most Vile. Or, maybe just Most Awful. Hmm– doesn’t have that ring. I’ll work on it. Hang on.

In the meantime, there’s one thing Mr. Hodel could do for me personally – refund my $13.95. After all, The Strand didn’t know that this book was a collection of mule fritters, but he sure did.

[Note: Inevitably, someone will try to excuse Hodel’s factual errors and inaccurate measurements by claiming he obtained his erroneous material from me or my site due to the fact that Hodel cites me and my site as a source in Most Evil. I have made a concerted effort to correct my own errors regarding Gareth Penn’s radian theory, but, in all honesty, there is no way that anyone could take the material on my site and achieve Hodel’s incorrect results.]

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

[A note to the reader: This blog entry is longer than most in order to address many of the issues revolving around the still-theorized connection between the Zodiac and Bates cases as well as the developments over the last 43 years.]

Forty three years ago today, a groundskeeper working on the campus of Riverside City College discovered the body of eighteen-year-old freshman Cheri Jo Bates. The young coed had been stabbed to death in an alley way in the last hours of October 30, 1966, and then left in the dirt and darkness until she was found the next morning.

Investigators came upon a man’s Timex watch lying on the ground near the body; the size of its torn wristband indicated that the killer had a wrist measuring approximately seven inches. A heel print at the scene was identified as a B.F. Goodrich waffle design boot in a size range between eight and ten. An autopsy determined that the victim had scratched her killer, and an analysis of traces of skin under her fingernails concluded that the killer was a Caucasian male. The unknown subject had stabbed the victims several times in her chest and at least once in her back, and also slashed her throat using a knife that measured approximately ½ inch wide and 3 ½ inches long.

Investigation revealed that Cheri Jo had traveled to the library, where she checked out a collection of books and then returned to the parking lot and her Volkswagen Bug. The car was still parked in the lot the following day and, when they opened the hood to examine the engine, police discovered that someone had disconnected a distributor wire, thereby disabling the vehicle. Speculation suggested that the killer sabotaged the car in order to create a ruse in which he pretended to assist Bates and offered her a ride. Convinced that the seemingly helpful stranger would take her to his car, Cheri Jo willingly walked away from the library and into the night with the man who planned to take her life.

Although police would later identify several suspects, the case remained unsolved and, in 1969, news of the notorious Zodiac killer reached Thomas Kinkead, Chief of the Riverside Police Department. The letter-writing killer reminded Kinkead of the unsolved homicide that occurred three years earlier. In early October, Kinkead contacted Agent Mel Nicolai at the Department of Justice to report his suspicion that the crimes could be connected. Nicolai directed Kinkead to investigators in Napa, and, on October 17, 1969, Chief Kinkead contacted the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Kinkead wrote in a subsequent letter, “One month after the homicide, letters were received at the Press and our department written by the suspect of our homicide. The suspect used a black felt tip pen to address the envelopes and had used upper case print. The confession was typed.”

By ______________________________



Police could not confirm a phone call to the police or the local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise. The letter was considered most suspicious. Kinkead offered a disturbing conclusion: “The person who wrote the confession is aware of facts about the homicide that only the killer would know. There is no doubt that the person who wrote the confession letter is our homicide suspect.”

Six months after the receipt of the “Confession,” three handwritten letters arrived at the Riverside Police Department, the local newspaper, and the home of Cheri Jo’s father, Joseph Bates. The first two read, “Bates had to die. There will be more.” A small symbol resembling the letter Z appeared at the bottom of each page. The third letter simply read, “She had to die. There will be more.”

A handwriting expert concluded that the Zodiac was responsible for the letters. At least one other expert agreed with this conclusion yet others would later express their doubts. After the possible connection was reported in newspapers with headlines which read, “Zodiac Link Is Definite,” the Zodiac wrote to say, “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.”

Kinkead’s letter demonstrated that Riverside police had embraced the possibility that the Zodiac was responsible for the Bates murder, however, in later years, the department reversed this position and focused its attention on a suspect who had allegedly dated the victim prior to her death. Further investigation failed to produce sufficient evidence to charge this individual and the crime remained unsolved in 1982, when the department released a statement to the public that read, “In November of 1981, new information came to light which resulted in the assignment of four investigators to work full time on this case. These investigators recontacted numerous persons who were either known to the victim or were known to associate with an individual we believe responsible for this crime. Current and past known associates have been interviewed in depth. All of the physical evidence related to this crime has been re-evaluated and in some instances forensically re-examined.” The statement went on to read, “The alleged connection with the ‘Zodiac’ by certain media and inquisitive individuals was anticipated when a decision was made to release this information. The showing of very old composites and the review of previously examined cryptic writings by some of the media, have resulted in considerable interest by the rest of the media whose knowledge of the ‘Zodiac’ is based on out-dated information linking this investigation with those referred to as ‘Zodiac’ cases. Speculation and creative reporting of this kind could conceivably hamper successful prosecution. The person we believe responsible for the slaying of Cheri Jo Bates is not the individual other law enforcement authorities believe responsible for the so called ‘˜Zodiac’ killings. Our investigation of the Cheri Jo Bates murder continues to be as thorough as possible.”

The new information concerned a sensational story told by a seemingly credible witness who knew the suspect in question. This witness claimed that he had seen the suspect on the night of the murder and then accompanied him back to the scene of the crime in search of the suspect’s watch. Police believed the witness was telling the truth but could not produce enough evidence to prosecute the suspect. If authorities in Riverside were concerned about the impact of media speculation linking the Bates case and the Zodiac crimes, they could not have been pleased when the best-selling book ZODIAC featured the Bates story, forever linking the two cases in the public imagination. Today, any discussion of one case must include the by-now obligatory reference to the other.

Those who dismissed this possible link often claim coincidence, or theorize that the Zodiac simply read of the Bates case and then decided to send the Riverside writings and take credit for a crime he did not commit. I will never forget the first time I walked onto the campus of Riverside City College more than ten years ago in January of 1999. As my eyes studied the scenery, I suddenly spotted a sign for a student production of The MIKADO. Was that a coincidence? Of course. However, when it comes to the possible link between the crimes of the Zodiac and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, I believe that such explanations seems insufficient as we confront yet another un-happy Halloween and another anniversary of the still-unsolved slaying.

Contested or questionable links between unsolved crimes and those of a known serial killer are often at the center of debate and the source of contention among various law enforcement agencies. Even those investigators who do their best to work together and cooperate in pursuit of a common goal can be mistaken when attempting to determine which crimes where committed by which killer. In the now-resolved and infamous case of Wichita’s “B.T.K.” Strangler, FBI profilers offered their expert opinion that a long-unsolved murder of a young mother was definitely not the work of the then-silent killer who tortured his victims in their homes and wrote letters to the local media. When BTK resurfaced in 2004, he sent his first communication in years to a local newspaper: the envelope contained the photographs he had taken while he killed the young mother, a crime the FBI had determined was not linked to BTK.

The sad truth is that no one can accurately determine exactly which crimes were committed by whom until the persons responsible for those crimes are conclusively lined to those cases, or the killer provides the link himself. Most critics and amateur sleuths focus on conflicting or varying M.O.s, and argue that even the slightest deviation from a rigid pattern is proof that two seemingly different cases cannot be the work of the same individual. Beyond these simplistic terms and confines, another aspect of criminal pathology remains largely overlooked– the signature.

Theories connect the Zodiac to many unsolved cases, however, the killer only took credit for these specific crimes: the shootings on Lake Herman Road and at Blue Rock Springs Park, the stabbing at Lake Berryessa, the murder of cabdriver Paul Stine, the abduction of Kathleen Johns, and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates. The evidence clearly links the Zodiac to the first four cases, and even SFPD Inspector William Armstrong believed it was possible that Johns had actually encountered the Zodiac yet somehow survived to tell her story. The Zodiac appeared to claim as many as 37 victims by the time he vanished in 1974, yet no one knows just how many lives he destroyed during his career. At the end of his campaign of terror, he abandoned his previous nom-de-plume in favor of others, such as, “A Citizen,” “A friend,” and even “The Red Phantom.” The possibility exists that the killer had a career after he used “The Zodiac” as his signature, and therefore it is equally possible that he began his deadly work before assuming that persona. A simple examination of some basic facts raises serious questions regarding the logic behind the assumption that the Zodiac was not responsible for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates.

The term “signature” is simply a fancy word for need, and when homicide investigators study a crime, they search for a motive, a reason for that crime. No one can determine with any accuracy or precision the factors or feelings which may motive and drive a man to murder, but the study of his crimes will reveal his signature. While some murderers may vary their methods of operation, choosing to stab, shoot or strangle their victims in an effort to deceive authorities or engage in experimentation, a killer’s choices, actions and words reflect his needs– even when he attempts to deceive and even when he does not realize that he is doing so. In this sense, the killer’s crimes will reveal his psychological fingerprint.

In my unprofessional opinion as a citizen who as studied this case for many years, the characteristics of the Zodiac appear to be, in part:

#1) The killer’s crimes often appear to lack obvious motive; meaning, no evidence of sexual assault, robbery of significant monetary value, or personal animosity.

#2) The killer makes little to no effort to conceal his actions, often choosing populated or popular areas as the locations of his attacks.

#3) The killer takes risks beyond those preferable to one who has serious fear of capture.

#4) The killer’s crimes appear to be premeditated in nature, and often indicate preparation and planning.

#5) The killer can vary his methods but remains largely consistent in linking himself to these crimes rather than attempting to avoid detection of any connection.

#6) The killer enjoys recounting his deeds, either by telephone or written communication, including a message at a crime scene or handwritten letters.

#7) The killer often provides minor and/or important details: in some cases, the authorities state that these messages contain information known only by the killer.

#8) The killer favors victims of chance rather than preselected targets: couples on a roadside, a couple at a lake on a whim, or a cab driver passing by. The evidence suggests that he selected his targets at random.

#9) The killer can adapt to changing conditions and accomplish his goals, remaining calm under pressure and improvising when necessary. He has the ability to interact with his victims without raising suspicion.

#10) The killer can employ a carefully constructed ruse when it suits his needs. At Lake Berryessa, the killer concocted a curiously-false yet detailed story regarding a prison escape, the killing of a guard, and a flight to Mexico. He lied to his victims and claimed he only intended to rob them before stealing their car but the deception ended with a sudden ambush of violence. The selection of a cab driver and the direction to a pre-determined location also suggests planning as well as the ability to interact with and deceive a victim until the desired time to strike.

#11) The killer does not feel a need to interact with the victim after the initial violence other than to retrieve items he can later use for some known and/or known purpose, such as trophies or a possession which he can later use to prove that he was responsible for the crime. He does not sexually molest his victims, nor does he make any effort to transport them away from the scene of the crime. The killer makes no effort to conceal his crimes in that he does not dispose of or attempt to hide the bodies but prefers to leave them the victims where they fall.

#12) The killer inflicts potentially lethal and often deadly wounds but makes no apparent effort to ensure that his victims are dead before leaving the scene of the crime. In two instances, rather than leaving his victims to die at isolated locations, the killer called authorities and directed them to the scene and the victims, thereby increasing the possibility that they might somehow survive.

#13) The killer’s crimes revolve around and concern vehicles: he drives to the locations where he attacks victims who are seated in vehicles, he asks for and/or takes the keys to the vehicles of his victims, he writes a message on the vehicle belonging to a victim, and he sits inside the victim’s vehicle in order to commit the crime. He even mentions and/or describes the vehicles of his victims in both his telephone and written communications.

#14) The killer repeatedly defines his crimes in reference to the method, the location and/or date of those crimes: referring to the victims he killed “last Christmas,” victims “one mile east of Columbus Parkway,” those people “up north,” and the taxi driver over by Washington and Maple streets. He even writes the location of his attacks on a car door as, “Vallejo,” as well as the dates of those crimes along with others.

#15) The killer often describes his fantasies using vivid details.

#16) The killer enjoys describing the reactions of his victims but makes no significant effort to inflict pain on his victims beyond that which is necessary to the completion of his apparent goal to wound or kill: he does not engage in any acts of obvious or pro-longed torture and or sadism.

#17) The killer alludes to past and future victims, often without providing specific details or information.

#18) The killer often warns of further attacks or threatens more violence unless his demands are met. He will provide elaborate details regarding his potential reprisals.

#19) The killer often states that he will strike again yet many of these threats appear to be nothing more than attempts to frighten the public and/or mislead or confuse authorities.

#20) The killer links himself to and/or claims credit only for crimes which remain unsolved.

These are the undeniable characteristics of the Zodiac, as established by the known facts. Any thorough and fact-based assessment of the behavior of the killer in the Bates case and the author of the “Confession” letter and other Riverside writings will reveal a very similar set of characteristics, and the same psychological fingerprint.

Some skeptics have speculated that the “Confession” may have been written by the someone who wished to deflect suspicion from an individual who had known the victim. However, the author of the “Confession” clearly states that the murder was his way of “MAKING HER PAY FOR THE BRUSH OFFS THAT SHE HAD GIVEN ME DURING THE YEARS PRIOR.” Rather than lead authorities to a stranger, the author directed them straight to a rejected suitor, a jilted lover, an angry acquaintance or even an obsessive friend. A suspect who wished to re-direct the investigation would attempt to implicate a stranger rather than those who knew the victim. A stranger who wished to mis-direct the investigation would implicate someone who had known the victim.

The author of the “Confession” described a scenario which was in keeping with the known facts, and claimed that he had disabled the victim’s car while she was inside the campus library. He further stated that he used this as the basis for a pre-conceived ruse to approach the victim, offer his assistance, and then guide her to a pre-determined location where he planned to execute Bates. The author provided details which police then stated could only be known by the actual killer, and he also offered an elaborate narrative describing the sequence of events, including the disabling of the vehicle, the approach of the victim, the use of the ruse, the walk to the car, the attack itself, and the reaction of the victim. The author mentioned a phone call placed after the murder. The author also alluded to past and future crimes and included an elaborate description of an impending attack which he did not commit (as in, “I SHALL CUT OFF HER FEMALE PARTS AND DEPOSIT THEM FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE”). The author of the three handwritten letters also warned of future attacks.

The behavior of the killer in the Bates case is also similar to that of the Zodiac in several respects. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer carried out a premeditated act which included careful planning, execution, and the use of a ruse in order to gain the trust of the victim. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer was capable of putting his victim at ease, and created an elaborate lie so that he could guide the victim towards his predetermined conclusion and the planned attack. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer did not engage in any sexual activity with the victim and made no effort to transport or conceal the body after the murder. The Bates crime also lacked signs of any apparent or traditional motives such as sexual assault, robbery or personal animosity. The Bates killer also took risks, exposing himself to potential witnesses in the library parking lot and taking the chance that he might be seen talking to or walking with the victim before the attack.

Chief Kinkead strongly believed that the author of the “Confession” was the same individual responsible for the Bates murder, and he clearly viewed the Zodiac as a logical suspect. Kinkead based his opinion on many factors but other information also supported his conclusion. After the Bates murder, Riverside police, the local newspaper and Bates’ father received three virtually identical handwritten letters in April 1967. The Zodiac’s first written attempt to communicate consisted of three virtually identical handwritten letters mailed in July, 1969. The author of the Riverside “Confession” wrote, “SHE SQUIRMED AND SHOOK AS I CHOAKED HER, AND HER LIPS TWICHED.” In his letter of July 26, 1970, the Zodiac wrote: “Some I shall tie over ant hills and watch them scream + twich and squirm.” Theories regarding a possible link between the Zodiac and Bates crimes did not appear in news reports until three month after the Zodiac had misspelled the same word in the same manner as the author of the “Confession.” Although I cannot claim to possess complete knowledge regarding the history of writings linked to murders, I would venture to guess that these are the only two instances in which a killer mailed three virtually identical handwritten letters. This similarity, and the use of the identical misspelling, suggests that the same author may have been responsible for both communications.

I made my first trip to Riverside to conduct research regarding the Bates murder in January, 1999. I contacted the detective then in charge of the case, stated the purpose of my inquiry and introduced myself by name. The detective replied, “Is this the same Michael Butterfield who wrote this article I have in front of me?” I responded by saying that, while I did not know to which article he referred, it was unlikely that anyone else was writing about this case under the same name. The detective then said, (paraphrase), “You’re taking some pretty tough shots at us here.” I did my best to explain my position on the issues but the detective was clearly not interested in discussing any possible link between the Zodiac and the Bates murder.

The detective was adamant in his opinion that Bates had been killed in an act of personal rage. He cited the over-kill aspects of the attack, and, later, he would claim that Bates had been stabbed as many as forty-two times. When referring to the fact that the killer had almost severed Bates’ head with several slashes to her throat, the detective compared the murder to the “rage-killing” of O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown. While he never used these exact words, the detective essentially said, “We have it all figured out.”

After that discussion, I was forced to reconsider my own opinions about Bates murder. After all, I thought, these guys know more than I do, they are professionals, they have experience, and I’m just some guy who is interested in this case. Who am I to question their conclusions? I decided that I needed to accept the possibility that the Bates and Zodiac crimes were not connected, and went about the rest of my research. However, in the years that followed that trip, the facts once again forced me to question the opinions of the Riverside police department, and their theory regarding their pet suspect.

Information concerning the Riverside informant raised serious doubts about his story. Known as a respected employee of a major corporation, the informant was deemed credible by the Riverside authorities. Yet, for many observers, the story that he had accompanied the suspect to the scene of the crime on the night of the murder was simply suspicious. Many critics wondered why the man had waited more than a decade before coming forward to tell his story. Further, many questioned the notion that anyone would conceal the solution to a murder case simply because a friend had asked him to do so. The witness did not claim that the suspect bragged about the crime during a drunken bout years later, but that he had traveled to the scene with the suspect and even saw the body of Cheri Jo Bates; therefore, the witness was not one of those people who heard a possibly false confession and did not know what to make of what he heard– this man was there, at the scene, and he knew that the suspect was responsible. Also, this witnesses watched as the case remained unsolved for more than a decade and never came forward, despite the public pleas of the investigators for information, despite the ongoing speculation regarding the Zodiac link, and despite the fact that the Bates family had never received the justice they deserved.

As one who has studied the story told by the witness (according to the details made public over the years), I must say that I am not convinced and find the entire scenario highly questionable. Living with the knowledge that one possesses the solution to an unsolved murder but failing to come forward requires a special kind of person. In my opinion, anyone who could do so, let alone for the reasons offered by the witness, is not an honest or trustworthy human being. Allowing the case to remain unsolved while watching the authorities waste valuable resources and the family destroyed by a grief is inexcusable, under any circumstances. The witness and the suspect had no relationship which would justify protecting the killer– it’s not as if the suspect took a bullet for the witness on the beaches of Normandy.

The witness waited more than a decade to come forward, and, when he did so, he could only offer scraps of information, most of which had already appeared in news reports during that time. The story about looking for the missing watch may have seemed credible but even the most generous critics cite the fact that this story is dubious at best. A killer who was so desperately afraid of capture that he would risk returning to the scene of the murder in order to retrieve that possession was increasing his chance of capture ten-fold by involving another person in his crime. As investigation has proven, the watch did not link the suspect to the crime, so the decision to risk further exposure and possible capture by returning to the scene seemed unwarranted. Confessing his involvement in the murder to another human being put the suspect at eternal risk of being identified as the killer. While some observers may be tempted to believe the story told by this witness, I do not believe this witness is telling the truth, and, further, I do not believe that he ever went to the scene of the crime with the suspect that night. Police had no evidence to link their suspect to the Bates murder and, without the story told by the witness, the case against the suspect was virtually non-existent.

After my trip to Riverside, the report detailing the autopsy of Cheri Jo Bates surfaced on the Internet. The report clearly refutes the scenario described by the detective who claimed that Bates had been stabbed as many as forty-two times. The report indicated that the actual number of stab wounds was far less than forty-two, and that, despite the violence unleashed on the victim, the notion that this was an act of personal rage by someone who had known Bates was not supported by the facts. The theory endorsed by the Riverside police no longer seemed as plausible or correct.

Several years ago, word spread that Riverside authorities had obtained a genetic profile from the hairs found in the victim’s hand and planned to compare this sample with one obtained from their suspect. I predicted that the comparison would not implicate the suspect, and the results proved my prediction to be accurate– the tests proved that the DNA taken from those hairs did not match the DNA of the suspect. At one time, the suspect even issued a statement in which he not only denied killing Bates but refuted many of the stories which had been used to cast suspicion upon him in the past. The case remains unsolved, and the man who killed Cheri Jo Bates remains free– whoever he may be.

I am not one to criticize police or second guess the decisions of law enforcement professionals without cause, and, over the years, I have offered my own opinions about the progress of this case (or the lack thereof). Some observers and critics are quick to ridicule or blame the Riverside police department for the failure to identify and charge the killer, however, I think these investigators were always at a disadvantage in trying to solve such a crime. Since I now believe that Bates was killed by a stranger, I believe that disadvantage was most likely greater than investigators could ever overcome. Those who criticize the Riverside police often claim that these investigators are unwilling to even consider a Zodiac connection because to do so would also mean admitting that their failure to stop the killer back in 1966 ultimately left him free to claim more lives as the Zodiac years later. Again, I cannot blame the Riverside police for the failure to solve this case, and I do not believe that they can be blamed for what occurred outside of their jurisdiction. Those who would blame Riverside authorities for the Zodiac crimes are simply being unrealistic and unfair.

If I had one criticism of the position adopted by the Riverside authorities, I would cite their failure to remain open to other theories and possible suspects. No one would blame these investigators for doubting the Zodiac connection but I believe they would be better served to cooperate with the other agencies involved in those crimes in an effort to have all the evidence compared in order to determine if that connection actually exists. Reports indicated that the Riverside DNA was obtained from the hairs found in Bates’ hand, yet hair contains mitochondrial DNA which differs from and cannot be compared to DNA taken from saliva, blood or semen. However, the partial genetic profile obtained from the Zodiac’s envelope can be compared to any DNA obtained from the envelopes which contained the Riverside writings, or perhaps forensics experts could employ new techniques in an effort to obtain “Touch DNA” from the actual Riverside letters. The watch left at the scene of the Bates murder may prove useful if authorities were able to obtain DNA from its wrist band; such items can often reveal traces of sweat, or even skin. Given the nature of the crime, the killer may have cut himself and, therefore, a re-examination of the victim’s clothing using new technology and new methods could possibly reveal traces of the killer’s blood and therefore yield his genetic profile.

I would hope that Riverside authorities would be willing to explore all of these possibilities and do whatever is necessary to cooperate with the agencies in the Zodiac cases. In the end, any new evidence obtained from a renewed examination of the Bates case may ultimately prove or disprove a link between the cases, or even implicate the suspect favored by Riverside authorities. No matter what the result, the Riverside police department would silence its critics and rightfully claim that its investigation of the Bates murder “continues to be as thorough as possible.”

Forty three years ago, Cheri Jo Bates was a beautiful, vibrant, friendly, out-going young woman who sought to better herself through education. Her loving family had high hopes for Cheri Jo, and they most likely dreamed of watching her graduate from college, find her career, build a life and perhaps even start her own family. Instead, they watched as her body was lowered into the ground, along with their hopes of finding justice. The man who killed Cheri Jo Bates deceived her in order to win her confidence and then used that trust to lead his victim to her death. If the author of the “Confession” was, in fact, the killer, he not only bragged that he had killed Bates but mocked her for ever trusting him in the first place. The cowardly liar also warned, “There will be more.” If the author of the “Confession” was, in fact, the Zodiac”– as some experts and even Chief Kinkead suspected– then his words were not only prophetic, but still continue to haunt and taunt us in ways he never imagined.

Michael Butterfield
October 31, 2009


After the recent broadcast of the new History Channel program MYSTERYQUEST, many viewers were disappointed by its brief and rather cursory examination of the actual crimes, its reliance on an informant with no credibility, and its protracted focus on the baseless accusations against a “new suspect,” Richard Gaikowski. Other complaints noted that the program failed to uncover any new information and left viewers hanging without the results of a comparison between Gaikowski’s DNA and the partial genetic profile previously obtained from a Zodiac envelope.

While I offered my criticisms regarding the final cut of MYSTERYQUEST, I have nothing but good things to say about my experience working on the production. Anyone who studies this case would jump at the chance to tour the actual crime scenes with the original investigators in order to learn from the men who were there right from the very beginning, and I certainly learned a great deal. Ken Narlow’s recounting of the events at Lake Berryessa more than forty years ago was perhaps the most compelling of all the interviews, simply because that crime is so much more frightening than the rest. Ed Rust’s recollections of the Blue Rock Springs Park crime scene helped to dispel some myths regarding the life and death of victim Darlene Ferrin and the contradictory statements of survivor Mike Mageau. Pierre Bidou helped to clear some of the confusion regarding the murders on Lake Herman Road and the subsequent investigation. These interviews would have proved insightful and informative to those who are interested in this case, and I believe that the producers made an unfortunate decision to minimize this material in favor of a questionable informant making dubious claims. However, such is the nature of television and entertainment. The producers made a practical decision to attract viewers with a “new suspect” and DNA technology, most likely based on the assumption that audiences would find a seemingly routine re-examination of the crimes to be less entertaining.

While the show may have failed to meet expectations, those who worked behind the scenes to produce the program should be commended for their efforts to conduct further testing on the case evidence using new technologies. The producers of MYSTERYQUEST did their best to gain access to the original case evidence as well as the partial genetic profile created by the SFPD crime lab, but the San Francisco Police Department declined to participate in the program and refused to provide access to the DNA evidence. Some people viewed the lack of cooperation as proof that the SFPD was engaged in some sinister attempt to thwart the investigation of Richard Gaikowski or conceal the fact that their evidence was not as sound as they had led us to believe. To these armchair critics, the behavior of the SFPD was baffling, and the refusal to participate in the production was characterized as “arrogant” and even “irresponsible.” To others, the actions of the SFPD made perfect sense.

Richard Gaikowski first became a “suspect” back in 1986, thanks to the claims of “Blaine Blaine” (aka Goldcatcher). Despite the fact that members of law enforcement (including Ken Narlow) did not believe that he was a credible source, Blaine found new support for his incredulous claims decades later in the likes of Tom Voigt and David Morris of the website Ignoring Blaine’s credibility issues and his habit of telling mutually exclusive versions of the same story, Voigt and Morris resurrected Blaine’s bogus claims and introduced him to a world ignorant of his history. Armed with audio recordings of telephone conversations between Blaine and the suspect, as well as a long list of seemingly damning evidence, Voigt and Morris launched their campaign to promote Gaikowski as a new and compelling suspect. The message board at became a 24-hour source for propaganda designed to convince the world that Voigt and Morris were hot on the trail of the killer’s true identity. Not unlike college pranksters leading gullible freshmen on a snipe hunt, Voigt and Morris led their newly-converted believers down a path carefully constructed to create the conclusion that Gaikowski was a viable suspect in need of serious investigation.

More than 20 years ago, Ken Narlow looked into Blaine’s accusations; he concluded that Blaine had no credibility and that his suspect was unworthy of further examination. Blaine’s letters and manuscript demonstrate that Narlow’s assessment of Blaine was correct. During his many written communications to investigators, Blaine desperately tried to establish a link between Gaikowski and slain cab driver Leonard Smith, and he provided a long list of circumstances and coincidences to create a rather strained connection. Blaine also claimed that he had stumbled upon Gaikowski’s secret identity as the Zodiac and that, once he had started investigating his suspect, Gaikowski began killing people in order to intimidate and silence Blaine.

In his recent telephone “confession,” Blaine Blaine told an incredible and very different story.“I was there in [Gaikowski’s] house … and then there was a fellow cab driver Leonard Smith, he was there. And what happened was, uh, Gaikowski and I were, uh, I was, uh, I was trying to free myself from the kind of spell he was putting over me – all this talk about murder. I was in denial, I, I, I, I, I, I didn’t want to believe, uh, that anything like this would happen. And, uh, even now as I talk about this, uh, I don’t, I find myself wanting to censor myself because the truth is so evil about it. Well, what it came down to was, uh, this guy Leonard Smith, he was the first one, now, Gaikowski has decided that he got, he, he, he’s got a new way to start a bunch of killings … Well, what I’m trying to say here is that, was, uh, that Gaikowski was saying, ‘Uh, look, Blaine, we’ve been in these murders since the beginning.’ I didn’t like how he was saying that, like, like, somehow he’s getting me involved in these murders, he did that from the beginning. Then he was saying, uh, ‘You know what, I could kill this guy, I don’t like this guy anyway, Leonard Smith, the guy, you had sex with him, right? And, uh, uh, we kill this guy, and, I go over there, I’m gonna kill him, and, in his cab, and take a ride. Call him up and he’ll meet me someplace in his cab, right? And, uh, when I kill him, I’ll leave a, uh, you know, I’ll spray paint a golden calf on the sidewalk, yeah.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? Are you nuts? Don’t do anything crazy like that.’ Well, he did that, he killed that guy, and, uh, the reason was that, he wanted, he wanted, he wanted to do a little test, and the test was, just as he was invincible as the Zodiac, he was going to do a series of killings called ‘The Golden Calf Killings,’ and, uh, here’s how he got me involved in this. He said, ‘Okay, you know I killed Leonard Smith. Christ, you were in the van over there, at the south market. I drove by, you heard the gun shot, you got out, you saw me there, you know, I, I, I killed the guy, I killed Leonard Smith, but, what I want you do, though, is, you call up the San Francisco homicide – Mayor Feinstein, she’s got a reward out for that guy, ten thousand bucks! Go ahead and call and say, you know this guy, a friend of yours, you say my name Gaikowski, and you say you saw me kill him.’ Okay, I’m thinking, ‘Are you crazy or what?’ And, then he said, ‘But don’t worry, because you’re gonna be rewarded for this.’ And I said, ‘What, have you gone out of your, off your rocker?’ and then he said, ‘No. Then you say that, uh, Gaikowski is the Zodiac. Yeah, tell them that. And, I’ll be here when you get back. You can make the call from somewhere else, right? And tell me what happens.’ I’m thinking about that, because, he killed this cab driver that we both knew. Lots of details of this first murder. Well, when I called the police about it, uh, I think the cops, uh, the Inspector was Napoleon Hendrix. But when I said that Gaikowski was the Zodiac serial killer, they said, uh, ‘We don’t want to hear anymore of this stuff, okay. We get people calling here everyday claiming they know who the Zodiac is, so, you know, why don’t you, you know, just forget this, okay, buddy.’ And, uh, this was actually what happened. I was astounded. I told Gaikwoski and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah.’ No. And I thought, ‘Well, okay, I did that. What’s the big deal?’…” 

( Blaine/Goldcatcher’s audio confession can be heard  here:  )

Decades ago, Blaine claimed that he had stumbled upon Gaikowski’s identity as the Zodiac; today, he claims that he was asked by Gaikowski to report the suspect to police. Decades ago, Blaine had been unable to establish a connection between Gaikowski and Smith; today, he claims he was in the same room with the two men. Decades ago, Blaine had nothing more than speculation to connect Gaikowski to Smith’s murder; today, he claims that Gaikowski not only told of him of his intention to kill Smith, but that he was at the scene when the murder occurred. Decades ago, Blaine claimed that Gaikowski was killing people in order to stop his investigation; today, he claims that Gaikowski invited him to participate in the murder spree.

Richard Gaikowski was arrested in the 1960s; the version of the story offered today has Gaikowski writing a story about conditions in the local jail and he attempted to get arrested in order to investigate from within. However, Blaine offered a somewhat different story when he spoke with David Morris. In an email dated March 9, 2008, Morris wrote: “I spoke with Blaine today and asked why Richard was arrested in 1965. He’d told me the story before, but it didn’t make a ton of sense. He retold it exactly as before. Richard got into a fight with Darlene, and, this is what’s fuzzy, for some reason held out a beer bottle from the driver side window of his car as a police cruiser went by. The cops saw it, stopped him, and arrested him for it. He lost his job over the incident.” Of course, the story has now changed to remove the outlandish claims regarding Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin.

Voigt and Morris have chosen to ignore these serious credibility problems, just as Voigt ignored the same problems when it came to his associations with and promotion of Robert Graysmith, Allen-accuser Don Cheney, Manson conspiracy theorist Howard Davis, and others over the years. In a recent post on his own message board, Voigt wrote, “I can’t count how many times a sensational claim about Gaikowski from Goldcatcher turned out to be true. He’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt.” Apparently Voigt does not count the times when Blaine’s story proved to be false.

Anyone who has followed the saga of the Gaikowski/Blaine/Voigt/Morris machine can see that the accuser has no credibility, his enablers have no concern for the facts, and the evidence used to accuse the Gaikowksi does not justify his inclusion on the list of viable suspects. Even the producers of MYSTERYQUEST failed to uncover any new information to implicate Gaikowski. In fact, the program did much to support the conclusion that Gaikowski was not in the state of California during the time of the Zodiac crimes. Gaikowski himself claimed that he was not even in the country at the time. Absent any credible evidence to implicate the suspect, Gaikowski is simply one of many men accused of murder by less-than-ethical individuals who repeatedly fail to provide any support for their claims.

Most Zodiac theorists ask the public to ignore the fact they have no credible evidence to support their accusations against their suspects. Instead, they use a slight-of-hand distraction to make critics focus on the subject of their choosing, and ask, “Can you prove that my suspect is not the Zodiac?” The accusers call for DNA testing as well as fingerprint and handwriting comparisons, and when the results exclude their suspects, the accusers then attack the evidence. None of the Zodiac theorists has ever abandoned a theory or suspect after the evidence excluded that suspect, indicating that nothing would stop them from continuing their campaigns to convict their suspects in the court of public opinion. When fingerprint comparisons excluded Arthur Leigh Allen, Robert Graysmith and others claimed that the Zodiac used a severed finger to leave fake fingerprints. When handwriting comparisons excluded Allen, Graysmith claimed that Allen had someone else write the letters for him. When DNA comparisons excluded Allen, Graysmith claimed that Allen may have had someone else lick stamps and envelopes for him. When DNA excluded the suspect known as Mr. X, his accuser, Mike Rodelli, devoted his time to discrediting the DNA evidence.

Theorists spread their accusations and often call for police to further investigate, yet, when that investigation refutes their theory, they often claim that police are incompetent, apathetic, or, worse, engaged in a sinister conspiracy to ignore the evidence. The familiar mantra of discredited theorists is, “They don’t want to admit that some average citizen proved them wrong and solved this case.” In their minds, the theorists believe that they are the only ones who can see the truth that their suspect is the notorious Zodiac, and the rest of us are in denial.

The producers of MYSTERYQUEST did their best to have Gaikowski’s DNA compared to the partial profile created by the San Francisco Police Department crime lab. Despite the fact that no credible evidence exists to implicate Gaikowski, the producers acted responsibly in requesting such a comparison as he had already been accused in public for more than a year. However, the SFPD refused to cooperate with the production; a sample believed to belong to Gaikowski was forwarded to the SFPD, yet the department has not released any information or confirmed that any comparison was conducted. Supporters of the Gaikowski theory characterized this refusal as evidence that the SFPD was not interested in pursuing legitimate suspects or solving this case. David Morris offered his own thoughts on the reasons behind the refusal to cooperate, and wrote on Voigt’s message board, “Concern over looking stupid for letting a bunch of net geeks solve the most famous case in SF history? Ding ding ding.”

While this may have seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation to David Morris, residents of planet earth viewed the actions of the SFPD in a very different light. Initially, some members of the SFPD believed that DNA testing might be an effective tool when it came to discrediting crackpots, however, as Graysmith, Rodelli and others have made clear, theorists simply march on, undeterred by such evidence.

The SFPD most likely has more than a passing familiarity with the career and claims of Tom Voigt; years ago, Voigt leaked a worksheet from the San Francisco Police Department concerning previous attempts to obtain DNA from the Zodiac’s envelopes. Members of the department may also remember that Tom Voigt is the same individual who promoted the already-discredited Robert Graysmith, assisted Graysmith in accusing Allen and spreading nonsense about that suspect, and generated the hype surrounding the non-suspect known as “Sam.” Voigt also sold Arthur Leigh Allen underwear, a beer mug featuring the face of victim Paul Stine, tee-shirts and more. In short, Voigt’s reputation among those in law enforcement and most especially the SFPD is less than stellar. If the SFPD knew that Tom Voigt was behind the accusations against Richard Gaikowski they may have seen no value in pursuing DNA testing when they knew Voigt’s history of propping up strawmen suspects only to knock them down after they lost their value as a marketable commodity.

There are many legitimate reasons to explain the SFPD’s refusal to participate in a DNA comparison concerning Gaikowski. Recent events surrounding the ridiculous claims made by Dennis Kaufman and Deborah Perez have created unnecessary work for law enforcement. The men and women who are constantly forced to investigate the tall tales told by individuals in search of fame and profit may be tired of devoting valuable time, resources, manpower and money to such nonsense. Blaine Blaine is the only reason that Gaikowski ever became a Zodiac suspect in the first place, and the SFPD may be well aware of the fact that he has no credibility, that he had already taken his information to every law enforcement agency, including the FBI, only to be dismissed as a kook, and that Blaine has been coddled and promoted by Tom Voigt. Rather than encourage others to engage in the same shameless opportunism, the SFPD may have decided that the best way to deter future crackpots was to simply ignore claims made by those who clearly have no credibility. The SFPD may have believed that they would be wasting time and effort on a new investigation of a suspect already examined and abandoned by investigators such as Ken Narlow and others more than twenty years earlier. In short, the SFPD’s refusal could be a statement saying, in effect, “We are not the crackpot clearinghouse, and we don’t come running every time some nutcase claims he has solved the Zodiac case.”

The SFPD may have other reasons for their decision not to participate in the MYSTERYQUEST or other productions. The genetic profile reportedly obtained in 2002 may reveal information about the Zodiac’s ethnic background or other details which the SFPD does not wish to reveal to the general public. Armchair critics may claim that this makes no sense, and that the SFPD should release that information in order to dismiss anyone who does not match that ethnic profile, however, such a revelation would most likely only cause more accusations against men who did match that profile. If the SFPD crime lab has continued testing on the Zodiac letters, they may have obtained more evidence which they do not wish to reveal to the general public, or they may simply be engaged in further testing at this time and see no need to share their ongoing work with anyone outside of the investigation.

Regardless of the reasons behind the SFPD’s decision not to participate in the MYSTERYQUEST testing, the department is under no obligation to share any information with the public, curious crime buffs, or men who are accusing suspects based on the flimsiest of evidence. The fact that SFPD does not do what some people want the department to do does not mean that the department is somehow irresponsible or apathetic, or that members of law enforcement are somehow afraid of or embarrassed by the so-called “net geeks” like Tom Voigt and David Morris. If one can read anything from the behavior of the SFPD, one might conclude that they have been paying attention and offered the most appropriate response to the Gaikowski/Blaine/Voigt/Morris machine.

In Memory Of Paul Stine: No Justice For The Dead

Forty years ago today, Paul Stine climbed into his taxi cab to begin his night shift. He undoubtedly planned to finish his work and then return to his loving wife, his quiet home, and the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, Paul Stine stopped on a San Francisco street to pick up a man in need of a ride. The man climbed into the cab and directed Stine to an upscale neighborhood known as Presidio Heights. Unbeknownst to Stine, his passenger was a sociopath, a psychotic killer who called himself the Zodiac. While the man may have given Stine the impression that, once they reached the designated destination, he would simply pay the fare and go on his way, the man had other plans; he lied to Stine, knowing full well that he planned to execute the driver who was only doing his job.

Minutes later, Stine’s lifeless body lay in the front seat of the cab, his lifeblood escaping through the gunshot wound in his head. The killer walked away and has never faced the consequences of his murderous deed. He remains free today, mocking justice and living a life Paul Stine never had the chance to live.

Most people only know the victim as an image in a two-dimensional photograph; Stine’s body hangs out of the open passenger door of the cab, forever trapped in time, immortal yet devoid of life. No one knows his last thoughts as he may have seen his killer raising the gun to strike. Perhaps his entire life flashed before his eyes, as the movie-cliche goes. Perhaps he thought about his wife, or the children he would never raise. Perhaps he thought of God, and his failure to intervene.

When Stine pulled up to that curb and picked up his passenger, he planned to do his job and take the man where he wanted to go. In short, the passenger could trust Stine to do the right thing. Sadly, Stine had no such luxury, and his passenger was actually a cowardly murderer who lied in order to gain Stine’s trust just long enough to take his life. For forty years, this coward has enjoyed his freedom while his victim remains trapped in that photograph, lost to history. If there is any justice in this world, Stine’s killer will one day be identified, captured, and punished for his crimes so that Stine’s soul may finally find some peace.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of Paul Stine’s tragic and senseless death, we should remember Paul Stine the man. In order to pay his way through college, Stine worked a variety of jobs. Education meant a chance for a better life, a hope that he and his wife might live in some semblance of comfort and security. Like all of us, Paul Stine was concerned about his future, even though he would never have one.

Take a moment to remember Paul Stine, and think about the man he might have been if he had been given the chance to live, and how the world might have been a better place with his contribution. To honor his memory, then take a moment to appreciate all that you have, the air you breathe, the loved ones in your life, the freedom you enjoy, and the future that will hopefully be yours.


The recent publication of the book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac and The Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hodel marks a sad chapter in the unending saga of the unsolved “Zodiac” crimes. Several years ago, former detective-turned-author Steve Hodel appeared on the “true” crime scene with his claims that his deceased father was responsible for one of the most horrific and infamous killings ever recorded, the so-called “Black Dahlia” murder. The sensational case has been the subject of debate, speculation and constant exploitation since the body of Elizabeth Short – carefully severed in half at the waist – was first discovered in a Los Angeles neighborhood in 1947. Along with Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac, the Black Dahlia killer was the stuff of legend. The unsolved crime made for popular entertainment, most recently in director Brian De Palma’s revisionist account of the unsolved crime BLACK DAHLIA. Hodel’s best-selling book BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER named George Hodel as the killer, and the author’s meteoric rise in the world of the true crime business included appearances on radio and television as well as a movie deal. Even Los Angeles County District Attorney Stephen Kay endorsed Hodel’s theory. However, others found the author’s case lacking in evidence and substance. Many of Hodel’s claims proved unsound, including the theory that a photo found among his father’s possessions depicted victim Elizabeth Short. Hodel’s critics cited the fact that his entire premise rested on shaky ground; his defenders cited the fact that George Hodel was, at one time, a suspect in Short’s murder and was actually named in official documents as such. Without any definitive method to confirm or refute Hodel’s accusations, the theory that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer simply lingers in limbo, dismissed by most critics yet embraced by many believers.

In his second book, MOST EVIL, Steve Hodel claimed that his father was responsible for the Black Dahlia murder, the killings of many other victims, and the Zodiac crimes. Of course, Hodel is not the first person to come forward and accuse a deceased parent of murder; Dennis Kaufman first surfaced at the turn of the century with the claims that his dead step-father was the killer, and now the publicity-seeking Deborah Perez accuses her own dead step-father. Yet Hodel is the only father-accuser given credibility by the mainstream media, and the only one with a publisher peddling his nonsense.

Hodel’s article THE CSI EFFECT is little more than a self-serving attempt to avoid the inevitable; Hodel knows the accusation that his father was the Zodiac cannot withstand scrutiny. He also knows that the day will come when someone will demand that the DNA evidence be compared with that of his father. Hodel has taken a cue from the other Zodiac theorists and decided to attack the evidence first.

There is some truth to the notion that popular crime-science shows such as CSI have given the public the impression that forensic science can solve any crime, and that DNA is a magic bullet in criminal investigations. Indeed, in these programs, authorities obtain DNA results in a matter of seconds, and can even discover a person’s DNA in a room when that individual only thought about entering that room. Hodel wants us all to believe that this fantasy-thinking has tainted the discussion of the DNA evidence in the Zodiac case, and his presentation in defense of that position leaves much to be desired.

The issue at the center of the debate seems to be the validity of the DNA evidence; i.e. is the DNA taken from a Zodiac envelope actually the DNA of the killer? While many theorists accusing suspects who were cleared by this DNA are eager to dismiss this evidence, the San Francisco Police Department has clearly expressed its confidence in this evidence – and rightfully so. As Inspector Kelly Carroll stated years ago, it is unrealistic to believe that that Zodiac took precautions against leaving genetic evidence on the envelopes or stamps because DNA testing did not exist back in 1969. Further, given the fact that Zodiac was brazen and reckless – leaving victims alive, allowing himself to be seen, sending authorities samples of his handwriting, calling police, and much more – the assumption that the killer was driven by such concerns for caution is not supported by the known facts. In truth, if any killer was likely to have licked a stamp or envelope without concern, it was the Zodiac.

Theorists are quick to claim that the DNA is actually that of a detective who handled the envelope or a deranged postman who licked the mail as he made his rounds. As much as these explanations may be tempting – even more useful – for the theorists, the rest of the world cannot afford to accept such nonsense. After all, perfectly usable DNA has been retrieved from envelopes and stamps, some just as old or even older; in some cases, that DNA then identified a specific individual who was, in fact, responsible for a crime. The fact that an envelope has been stored in a police filing cabinet, handled by others, or even exposed to certain temperatures, will not cause the DNA under the stamp or envelope to magically transform into the DNA of someone other than the individual who licked that stamp or envelope. Hodel and others seem to believe that the DNA of a detective or postman could somehow seep under the stamp, obliterate the original DNA, and replace that DNA. In truth, the results would indicate mixed DNA, or the sample would simply be unreadable.

Hodel references the claims made by theorist Mike Rodelli, who has been accusing his suspect, Mr. X, for several years. In 2002, the DNA of Mr. X was compared to the partial profile obtained from the Zodiac’s envelope, and the results excluded Mr. X. In a surprise twist, Mike Rodelli then devoted his efforts to discrediting the DNA evidence. After interviewing anonymous sources, Rodelli’s website presented the claim that NO DNA was ever found on any of the Zodiac letters during previous testing; the inference being, that if DNA was found, it cannot be that of the Zodiac because none of the other letters contained any DNA. At its core, this explanation is designed to cast doubt on the DNA evidence while, at the same time, portray the authorities as disinterested in the truth. In Rodelli’s world, the SFPD is simply trying to make him shut up and go away, and they are using this falsified DNA evidence to laud over theorists with worthy suspects because they refuse to care about this case.

Steve Hodel has most likely studied the history of Rodelli, Robert Graysmith and others, and he most likely has no desire to follow in their footsteps on the path of public humiliation, back-peddling and desperation. Therefore, he has chosen to act in a pre-emptive fashion and denounce the evidence before that evidence is used to clear his suspect. Like most con-artists, Hodel hopes that he is smarter than his audience.

The notion that the DNA is the final word on a suspect’s viability is laughable. As with the notorious fingerprints found on the cab of victim Paul Stine, DNA should only be given great credence when that evidence implicates an individual. As I have stated in the past, if a suspect was found in possession of the missing portion of Paul Stine’s shirt yet his fingerprints did not match those found on the cab, dismissing this suspect would be unwise, to say the least. At the same time, when a suspect stands accused based on the flimsiest of evidence and the fingerprints do not match that suspect, then the fingerprints or DNA could be considered as the last word on a debate that should have ended long ago. This was the case with Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, Charles Clifton Collins, etc., and will be the case with Guy Ward Hendrickson, Jack Tarrance, and now George Hodel. These theories were not supported by credible evidence, the available evidence cast severe doubt on these theories, and these theories were often in direct conflict with known facts and/or presented by accusers with no credibility. When the DNA, fingerprints, palm print or handwriting fail to implicate such suspects, that should be the end of that theory. Unfortunately, for Graysmith, Rodelli and so many others it’s only the beginning.

In 2002, the ABC network obtained access to the SFPD crime lab as it tested several Zodiac letters in search of sufficient DNA in order to create a genetic profile. Dr. Cyndi Holt presented her findings, which excluded Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, and Collins. As she spoke to the ABC correspondent on camera, Holt stated that the DNA belonged to an individual who, at one time, had “come in contact” with the stamp. Steve Hodel splits every hair of the ABC PRIMETIME transcript for his own purposes. To Hodel and other theorists, Holt’s words provided a window of opportunity, a tiny crack through which they can pass and continue to promote their respective theories. Again, the real culprit is a sloppy detective or a drooling mailman, and the DNA does not belong to the killer.

During the recent History Channel broadcast of the program MYSTERYQUEST, a forensic technician stated her belief that a DNA sample obtained from under the sealed portion of an envelope mailed more than 40 years ago most likely belonged to the individual who had licked that envelope. This genetic material was sealed under the envelope flap, as was the DNA sample found under a stamp on a Zodiac envelope. The technician further stated that it was not unusual when testing older items to obtain only a partial profile, as was the Zodiac profile. These comments reflect a simple, common sense – and scientific – approach to the evidence: genetic material trapped in the sealed portion of the envelope or under the stamp is considered more reliable than DNA found on the outside of the envelope, or in the areas exposed to and handled by others. Some may choose to continue attacking this evidence and claim that the DNA obtained from a Zodiac envelope belongs to someone other than the Zodiac. Those who use common sense, the facts, and logic, will most likely reach a different conclusion.

The real problem should be obvious to even the most casual observer: theorists feel the need to attack, discredit and discard all of the evidence in the Zodiac case. From fingerprints, DNA, a palm print or even the handwriting, this evidence is constantly cast aside by those who know that such evidence will put an end to their efforts to exploit this case for their own benefit. If anyone is really sitting around wondering why the theorists attack the evidence and employ such methods, you are exactly the kind of person that Steve Hodel and others are hoping will spend 25 bucks to buy a book filled with pure nonsense.

MOST EVIL is a perfect example of what has gone wrong in the Zodiac case, and in our society. The cynical nature of such books in the Zodiac, Jack the Ripper and other cases has become so common place that we don’t even bat an eye when we hear that yet another classless clown has come forward with a story that should make even the most jaded among us do a spit-take. Lying, distorting the facts, and doing so for personal profit is now the American way, and Steve Hodel can’t be faulted for wanting a piece of pie. He can, however, be called to account for his crimes against the truth.

Hodel will have his defenders. On another website, the owner uses his real name to promote the book while hiding behind a fake name to endorse the book on another site, posting, “I think he really solved it!” and “Thank you, Steve Hodel! YAAAYY!” Of course, this is all about increasing traffic and hits to websites, and padding wallets. Some less-than-ethical individuals have figured out that its profitable to join in and help others exploit the case if the run-off trickles down to them. In this world, anything goes, and the ends always justify the means.

We should remember that the evidence used to accuse George Hodel can only be described as speculation at best. Steve Hodel has not constructed a circumstantial, fact-based case against his father; instead, he has simply offered a theory supported by nothing other than his own conclusions based on that strained speculation. In the end, there is no credible evidence that George Hodel was the Zodiac, and that is the central issue, not the value or results of the DNA testing. Like all theorists, Hodel wants to put the cart before the horse and then asks us all to ignore the fact that he has no horse to propel that cart. Hodel wants us to talk about DNA rather than recognize the fact that he has failed to provide a credible case in the first place. This same pattern has played out with other suspects in the past, and is at the core of the recent accusations against Richard Gaikowski. The question should always be: What credible evidence implicates a suspect? However, the theorists, accusers, crackpots and opportunists want the question to be: Do you have any proof that a suspect is not the Zodiac? This twisted logic enables the theorists to continue to accuse their suspects when the more practical, fact-based approach would cut them off at the knees before they ever got out of the gate.

Here are three good reasons to avoid Steve Hodel, his book, and his claims:

1) The last time Hodel accused his dead father of one of the most notorious crimes in US history, much of the evidence he claimed implicated his father turned out to be distorted, erroneous or flat out wrong.

2) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he was convinced based on rather flimsy evidence in the first place, even before some of that evidence was discredited or proven false.

3) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he made a lot of money doing so, and he liked it.

At the time of the Zodiac murders, George Hodel was approximately 60 years old. The oldest witness description placed the Zodiac somewhere in his mid-thirties to mid-forties. There are many other reasons to conclude that Hodel was innocent but, at the end of the day, the best reason to believe that George Hodel was not the Zodiac is simply that he stands accused by Steve Hodel.

Do I think that Hodel actually believes that his father was the Zodiac? No, not for a second. According to reports, Hodel had a movie deal in the works after the publication of BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER, but the deal apparently fell through after the writer’s strike in Hollywood. Perhaps Hodel was in need of cash when he decided to write MOST EVIL. Who knows.

Many Zodiac buffs may feel the need to rush to their local bookstore and buy a copy for their Zodiac collection, but I encourage those who care about the Zodiac case to avoid Hodel’s book like the plague. If you want to read it, go to the library, sit down at the bookstore with a copy, or wait until its in the remainder bins where it belongs. Let’s do what little we can to discourage this kind of shameless, immoral behavior, and show Steve Hodel and the other con-men that while they may keep selling pure nonsense, we aren’t buying.

ZODIAC: Deborah, Dennis, Delusions and Daddy Issues

More than 20 years ago, the publication of the sensational and largely fictional book ZODIAC inspired a legion of amateur sleuths who claimed they had identified the Zodiac, holding press conferences, peddling books, accusing suspects and telling tall tales. Things really have changed since then – er, actually, nothing has changed at all.

The last two years have been a nightmare for anyone who cares about the case and the truth, and it’s more than clear why those in law enforcement did not welcome the production of David Fincher’s revisionist history film, ZODIAC, a film based on the largely fictional book by Robert Graysmith. The effect of the film has been much like the effect its source material had on the case and society more than 20 years ago – meaning, the film and its opportunistic exploitation of the many already-debunked myths about the case only served to inspire others with even less shame. When society praises and rewards those who exploit the case with no regard for the truth, why would we expect the public to get any message other than – “Exploiting the Zodiac case for your own fame and profit while spitting on the truth and the victims is perfectly acceptable behavior.”

To be fair, it’s not as if the makers of ZODIAC invented the exploitation of the Zodiac case – that began almost as soon as the first victims took their last breaths more than four decades ago. This is, after all, America, where the mantra often seems to be, “Who cares as long as it doesn’t effect me.” Translated into simple, everyday language, this means, “When something bad happens to me, it’s tragedy,” and “When something bad happens to someone else, it’s entertainment.” This logic has fueled the recent wave of those coming forward with claims that they have identified the Zodiac killer.

Years ago, a debate broke out on the old true crime message board regarding the publication of the book DADDY WAS THE BLACK DAHLIA KILLER. Janice Knowlton told a wild story in which her father had not only killed the infamous Hollywood murder victim Elizabeth Short but was part of an underground sex ring that served the Hollywood elite. The book, written by Michael Newton, caused a splash in the media and Knowlton did her best to earn her fifteen minutes, peddling her bizarre, wholly unsubstantiated tales as much as possible. Her campaign led her to the message boards where she and Newton defended their book against the crowd of skeptics and critics who viewed their efforts as little more than shameless opportunism that only further muddied the story of the Black Dahlia killing. As one who had read the book and studied the claims made by the author and Knowlton, I raised questions regarding the veracity of the claims as well as the motives behind the book. In my opinion, it was clear that Knowlton was mentally-ill and that Newton was morally corrupt, eager to exploit the woman for whatever she was worth with little regard for her emotional well-being. In short, it was a quick buck, but Newton did his best to justify his work and boost the sagging credibility of his co-author. No matter how bizarre or unsubstantiated her claims may have been, everyone seemed happy to ignore that obvious reality as long as Knowlton didn’t start accusing little green men from Mars, too. My exchanges with both characters left me convinced that the entire episode was a sad commentary on the world – the whole book was total crapola and Knowlton had no credibility whatsoever, but that kind of talk just interfered with the business of selling books and making money. Who wants to stop and admit that the whole story is pure nonsense when there are talk shows to book, contracts to sign, movie rights to sell. Crapola sells, and people who sell crapola are not interested in selling substance.

After Knowlton faded from the spotlight, no one stopped to care about how she had been effected by the entire episode. The media machine chewed her up and spit her out on cue when she was no longer profitable. When she died in an apparent suicide, Knowlton once again became marketable and, on cue, the media returned to milk the most out of her breakdown and demise. Today, the Janice Knowlton saga is just a sad footnote in the never-ending spectacle that is the Black Dahlia story; this legendary murder case had also fallen victim to the distortions of Hollywood many times over, including director Brian DePalma’s fictional film. Now, others have come forward to accuse their own dead fathers of the crime while the media machine gobbles them up and marches mindlessly forward in search of more mentally ill attention seekers or morally challenged morons to consume.

For too many years, the mentally ill, the morally ill, and the media have infested the Zodiac case like ravenous maggots over a rotting corpse. William Beeman called a press conference and disgraced himself back in the ‘80s when he accused his brother Jack. Beeman sold a book about his amateur investigation for fifty bucks; later, he admitted that he was wrong.

Blaine Blaine pestered every law enforcement agency in Northern California and more with his claim that his estranged friend Richard Gaikowski was the Zodiac; Blaine lived in an alternate universe where he was a credible individual and, unfortunately for him, every one of the members of law enforcement he encountered lived in another universe where Blaine was a brandied fruitcake, and never the two shall meet.

Gareth Penn launched his now-decades-old campaign against Michael O’Hare, accusing the former Harvard lecturer of the Zodiac and other crimes using his own twisted interpretations of the Zodiac’s writings and codes; today, Penn is still at it but, in a fitting bit of irony, he now stands accused of the Zodiac crimes by someone who used his same dubious methods. [O’Hare recently wrote an online article about the sorry saga, almost thirty years after it began – click on the SUSPECTS & THEORIES link and then scroll to the bottom Penn page to read O’Hare’s article.]

Then there was the guy who murdered his friend in what he claimed was a re-enactment of a Zodiac crime, the New York Zodiac or ZODIAC II, the Zodiac killer in Japan, the Zodiac copycat in North Carolina, and any number of other losers inspired by the glorification of the killer and his crimes – all examples of the mentally ill or morons without a conscience. Harry Martin with his 9,745 part special series about the answer to the Zodiac crimes, involving Robert Hunter, Charles Manson, Larry Kane, the Illuminati, the Freemasons, E. Howard Hunt and Hanger 18. Charles Clifton Collins thought his daddy might have been the Zodiac, and he had to go on national television before he’d face the fact that doing so might have been a bad idea.

And now we have even more lunatics adding their names to the list of funny fellows, comic men and clowns of private life who have disgraced themselves in their efforts to exploit the unsolved mystery. Dennis Kaufman has been accusing his now-deceased step-father Jack Tarrance of the Zodiac crimes since 2000; back then, his wild claims and tales did little to impress those who studied the case or those in law enforcement. For some reason, those who are in charge at Sacramento’s CBS 13 television station have taken on the role as Kaufman’s unabashed PR firm; reports from CBS 13 seem to be little more than talking points handed down by Kaufman and unverified by any of the so-called “journalists” at the station.

Sandy Betts claimed that the Zodiac had been following and harassing her for decades; she even claimed that the killer had left his hooded costume in her car back in the 1960s. Yet, of course, Betts could not produce this costume when asked to do so. Howard Davis claimed that the Zodiac’s hooded costume was discovered among the possessions of the so-called “Manson family” and then destroyed as part of an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the family’s involvement in the Zodiac crimes. Davis claimed that his ex-district attorney/ex-brother-in-law told him of the nefarious plot; apparently the source was mistaken – more than three decades later, Dennis Kaufman discovered the Zodiac’s hood in an old piece of stereo equipment among his late step-father’s possessions.

After he failed to convince authorities that he had identified the Zodiac as Richard Gaikowski, Blaine Blaine produced a scan of a book which bore the signature “Paul Stine.” According to Blaine, this book was found among Gaikowski’s possessions; of course, Blaine claims he no longer has the actual book. Deborah Perez produced a pair of old glasses which she claimed her step-father had taken from Zodiac victim Paul Stine.

Despite what can only be described as an undeniable lack of credibility, each of these theorists and accusers still manage to convince others that their claims have merit, and these converts then work to endorse, promote and protect the theorists. Deborah Perez garnered the assistance of a disbarred attorney who once worked with the infamous lawyer Melvin Belli. Perez’s PR machine called a press conference and spoke of a film in the works. Previously, Perez had approached true crime writer William C. Phelps with her story in the hope that the author might embrace her tale as a potentially profitable endeavor. Phelps later wrote that he believed Perez and her story were credible until she also claimed that she was JFK’s illegitimate daughter. Phelps later wrote that he felt as if he had been “duped.” Even on the surface, Perez’s claim that she had accompanied her father during several Zodiac attacks was dubious at best. Those who had studied the Zodiac crimes immediately noticed several problems with Perez’s story, and even those who knew little about the case could quickly recognize the fact that Perez’s wild tale was simply too sensational to be true. The fact that Phelps considered Perez credible only until she allegedly claimed to be JFK’s illegitimate daughter suggests that Phelps might still be convinced of Perez’s credibility if she had simply been a better liar peddling a better lie. The scenario was reminiscent of author Michael Newton’s relationship with Janice Knowlton and the book DADDY WAS THE BLACK DAHLIA KILLER; Newton was apparently happy to embrace and promote Knowlton’s absurd story as long as her lies remained subtle and almost plausible.

Dennis Kaufman seems to have television reporter Cris Pickel wrapped around his finger and he has now attracted the support of a university professor in Arizona. The professor believes that his geographical analysis of suspected murder sites confirms Kaufman’s claims concerning several unsolved crimes. While the professor was happy to add his own endorsement of Kaufman, the professor’s university was quick to note that the professor spoke for himself and not for the institution. Another man stayed awake for several days until he became convinced that the Zodiac’s letters contained hidden messages that further implicated already-exonerated suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. According to the sleep-deprived amateur sleuth, the hidden messages only became visible when viewed on a computer monitor that was tilted to a certain angle. This theorist sought out his fifteen seconds of notoriety and discovered that the media was eager to oblige. Other men and women have come forward with their own claims; these individuals would have remained anonymous thrill-seekers without a media ready to provide a forum for the latest crackpot.

In the late 1990s, the Zodiac story found new life on the Internet. While the public still accepted the theories and solutions offered by author Robert Graysmith, many of the Internet critics challenged this version of the story and consistently exposed the factual errors, distortions, and fraud in the best-selling book ZODIAC. More than a decade after the publication of Graysmith’s “definitive account of the case,” the author’s work proved to be little more than revisionist history designed to implicate his chosen suspect. Those who cared about the case had hoped that the mainstream media would report this important truth, but others embraced Graysmith while endorsing and defending his work, even censoring and silencing legitimate, fact-based criticisms of the author’s many dubious claims. These followers continued Graysmith’s exploitation of the Zodiac tragedy, ignoring the voices of critics who warned that the resurrection of the author and his theories would cause irreparable harm to the historical record and further mislead the public. Graysmith’s Internet defenders launched their own efforts to convict Arthur Leigh Allen in the court of public opinion, and the results influenced the author’s shockingly deceptive sequel, ZODIAC UNMASKED. Long after DNA and other evidence excluded Allen as a suspect and the so-called “mountain of circumstantial evidence” of his guilt had been discredited, Hollywood adapted both ZODIAC and ZODIAC UNMASKED for the feature film ZODIAC – we all know how that worked out.

Howard Davis has turned his Manson/Zodiac conspiracy theory into a mini-career and, like Graysmith, has his own defenders and followers who are eager to overlook his wild claims and irresponsible actions in this case simply because they think he’s a swell guy. Davis’ sensational story of a Zodiac/Manson cover-up was exposed as a fraud by Davis’ own source, Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and others. Like Robert Graysmith, Davis had defenders and allies to censor and then silence legitimate, fact-based criticism of Davis and his work. The justification? “Who cares if he lied about something 15 years ago. No one believes his theory, no one believes the cover-up story, no one buys his book, and you’re just giving him more attention than he deserves.” When reminded of the moral contradiction, the defenders are not moved and offer this excuse, “I’m trying to solve the case. He’s helping me with my goal. I’m not going to sacrifice that relationship.” If Davis were one of the detectives assigned to a case, or a group of journalists covering a story, and he peddled this nonsense, anyone who actually cared about this case would escort Davis to the door and leave a large boot print on his rear end.

Then there was “Sam,” a non-suspect suspect of sorts, and an Internet-funded investigation that went nowhere. Other suspects surfaced, including an already discarded oldie, Richard Gaikowski. Once the subject of a brief law enforcement attention in the late 1980s, Gaikowski became a suspect only after Blaine pestered virtually every law enforcement agency involved in the case with his ridiculous decipherings of the Zodiac’s coded messages and his bizarre theories. Ken Narlow, the SFPD, the FBI and others had rightfully dismissed Blaine as a crackpot, but others saw opportunity in the discredited kook. Today, Blaine’s theory and suspect have become mainstream, despite the fact that no credible evidence exists to implicate Gaikowski and his accuser is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Another man and his family are thrown to the wolves by those who claim to care about this case while they, instead, spend their time, efforts and reputations coddling crackpots.

Years ago, Steve Hodel was another newcomer to the world of sensational true-crime claims and the Internet. Back then, Hodel was convinced that his father, now-deceased doctor George Hodel, was responsible for the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder in 1947, and eventually Hodel’s theory appeared in the book BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER. While some embraced Hodel’s theory as the solution to the mystery, others rightfully noted that Hodel’s entire theory hinged on what could only be described as tenuous speculation and assumptions; in some instances, Hodel’s “evidence” was discredited. Yet, Hodel remained undeterred and he has now released his latest attempt to cast a dark cloud over the memory of his dead father – the book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hodel, in which Hodel claims that Dr. George Hodel was also the Zodiac. That George Hodel was approximately sixty-years-old at the time of the Zodiac murders was apparently the first fact to be thrown out the window as Hodel attempted to exploit yet another unsolved tragedy for personal gain. Some are thrilled to see a new Zodiac book and happily promote Hodel’s latest effort, and once again, the contrast is clear: anyone who actually cared about the Zodiac case would not welcome the publication of yet another book peddling yet another bad theory and yet another bad suspect. Once again, so many of those who claim to care about this case seem far more interested in serving themselves.

When confronted with the fact that Robert Graysmith’s books are filled with falsehoods and his theory and suspect have no merit, the author’s defenders and others always search for something nice to say about the man and, unable to find a suitable response, they inevitably fall back on that familiar broken-record refrain, “Well, at least he kept the story alive.” This is a bit like saying: My friend told me he was hoping to meet a nice woman so I decided to brain him upside the head with a tire-iron in the hopes that he would go to the emergency room and possibly meet a nice nurse.

Anyone can “keep a story alive” using the self-serving and irresponsible methods of the theorists and crackpots, and it’s a bit absurd to suggest that the Zodiac case would fade into the pages of the history book if there weren’t a bunch of lunatics and losers running around exploiting the tragedy just in case we might all forget that this is the most enduring and frightening unsolved serial murder mystery in American history.

And there will be those who will say that the case is the most enduring and popular because of the efforts of these circus clowns, but anyone who really knows this story and has been paying attention also knows that this is an absurd rationalization. The reason that this case remains one of the most popular and interesting cases in history has more to do with the story itself than the clusters of opportunists who claim to keep it alive. The Zodiac crimes still haunt us because they were so inexplicable, so cruel, so bizarre. The countless lives lost and destroyed, the pain, the tragic proportions of the sad story are only the beginning. The fact that a murderous coward could kill so freely, even boast about his crimes and taunt his pursuers in bold letters mailed to the media, serves as a shocking and ominous truth about the world in which we live – the fact that this man could commit such crimes and evade justice to this day only reinforces that brutal lesson as we struggle to cope with and comprehend the evil among us. No one needs to accuse Kermit the Frog in order to keep the story of Jack the Ripper alive – the story speaks for itself. The story of the Zodiac tragedy endures not because it is a story about murder, but a story about us, and more often than not, when we look in the mirror, we don’t like what we see.

Hence the need for distractions. In an example of ultimate irony, many of those who claim to keep the story alive with their antics seem largely unaware that they – themselves – are the ultimate examples of a failure to learn that lesson. Forty years ago, when confronted with the terror of the Zodiac, society responded not by learning the valuable lessons provided by tragedy, not by uniting to stop the threat, and not by demanding justice, but by turning the tragedy into a distraction, so much filler, “real” entertainment. If the Zodiac’s game was creating terror and confusion while playing games with our fears and the truth, then it is clear that we, as a society, have simply learned to play his game better than he ever imagined, and that we no longer need him to keep the story alive.

While the men and women of law enforcement worked to catch the killer, the media, the public and, most notably, the theorists blamed investigators and accused them of fighting amongst themselves, withholding information, clinging to pet theories and suspects, and failing to conduct proper, thorough investigations. Today, the theorists withhold information from researchers, the public, and others, doling out seemingly damning bits while studiously omitting any and all information that may cast doubt on their own claims. Some withhold information and cite the need to keep something back in order to facilitate future “trading” with others. Innocent men stand accused by crackpots armed with little more than a three-ring binder filled with contrived coincidences and strained speculation. Many theorists claim to have solved the case, court the media, create websites and write books before they conduct serious research; most never conduct any real research at all. Wild theories, rumors, and pure nonsense dominate the public discussion of the case, and each theorist/theory/suspect develops its own following or faction at war with another. No matter how delusional, disturbed or discredited the theorists or accusers may be, someone will believe, promote, defend, endorse and even protect them. Everyone may be talking about and/or somehow exploiting the case but few seem to have any interest in facts, let alone clearing away confusion. Coddling crackpots who peddle phony proof, panhandling for cash on the Internet for Zodiac “charity,” promoting books, and pursuing fifteen seconds of fame at the expense of the case and even the truth has proven to be far more lucrative and entertaining.

When all we care about is “keeping the story alive,” we get what we deserve – Robert Graysmith and his works of fiction; ZODIAC the movie resurrecting the worst suspect in the case and, coincidentally, a sleep-deprived man tilts computer monitors and alerts the media of his Arthur Leigh Allen-based hallucinations; amateur code-breakers who are determined to retain their amateur status with hallucinatory solutions to the Zodiac ciphers which accuse Allen, Ted Kaczynski, Richard Marshall and even Gareth Penn, the original code-breaker crackpot of all time; Howard Davis and others crying conspiracy and cover-up as they attempt to exploit both the Zodiac and Manson crimes; Blaine Blaine digging up and re-accusing a dead man with the assistance of eager enablers in search of a quick buck; and Dennis Kaufman, Deborah Perez, Steve Hodel and others playing out their private daddy issues in public spectacles.

These individuals and others do not care about this story or the people consumed, destroyed or otherwise touched by this tragedy, and if you believe that they do, then you’re probably the kind of person who could – with a straight face and absolute sincerity – refer to a verbally abusive armed robber as a motivation speaker.

MYSTERYQUEST: Paul Holes and The Murder of Paul Stine

During the filming for the new History Channel program MYSTERYQUEST, I was given a unique opportunity to travel to the Zodiac crime scenes and interview the original investigators. Joining me on the expedition was criminalist Paul Holes, Chief Forensic Services Division for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Unfortunately, the final broadcast included very little of these discussions, and the viewers missed the chance to hear these men share their memories and opinions on the case. My previous blog entry, titled PIERRE BIDOU & THE LAKE HERMAN ROAD MURDERS, included some of the insights provided by the retired investigator. Now, I would like to share some of my experiences at the crime scene in San Francisco with Paul Holes.

On the night of October 11, 1969, cab driver Paul Stine was shot and killed at the intersection of Washington and Cherry in the upscale Presidio Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. The killer was seen by several witnesses as he handled Stine’s body inside the cab and then seen again minutes later by two police officers as he fled the scene. The descriptions provided by these witnesses led to a composite sketch, the now-infamous drawing of a suspect wearing glasses.

The killer’s behavior on that night has always puzzled me. Why did the killer linger at the scene for so long? Why did the killer –who usually had little-to-no contact with the victim after the attack– decide to handle the victim’s body and, as a result, become covered in Stine’s blood? Why did the killer act in a such a reckless fashion, touching Stine’s cab and leaving fingerprints? To me, this behavior seemed in conflict with the Zodiac’s character and usual methods.

After visiting the scene several times (the first in 1999), examining the police report, interviewing the first responding officer, and more, I pondered a theory regarding the events of that night. A picture began to emerge, a scenario which, I believe, makes more sense than any I have heard before or since.

According to Stine’s trip sheet, the man who entered his cab that night had directed the driver to the corner of Washington and Maple streets, one block east of the actual crime scene. For some reason, the cab was found one block further west, at Washington and Cherry. For years, this detail has made many observers question the killer’s motives and actions that night. As I studied this crime, I realized that the discrepancy regarding the destination might offer insight into what really happened. [I first presented this scenario in an audio-cast titled ZODIAC: A TO Z.]

In this scenario, the killer directed Paul Stine to Washington and Maple, where he planned to kill the driver upon arrival. However, as Stine slowed the cab to a stop at that corner, he did not put the cab in park, instead, letting the engine idle as he expected the passenger to pay the fare. He may have thought the transaction would be quick and he would simply pull away from the corner in a matter of seconds. However, something happened. Perhaps the killer’s gun was visible too soon and Stine tried to resist before putting the car in park. An unexplained bruise or discoloration on the back of Stine hand indicates that he may have tried to deflect the weapon. Stine’s foot may have slipped off the brake pedal, causing the cab to roll down the street, headed west toward Washington and Cherry. This was not part of the killer’s plan and he was forced to improvise. At some point, the killer shot Stine in the right side of the head. Perhaps he shot Stine and then tried to gain control of the rolling vehicle, or, he may have struggled briefly with the victim and then shot Stine as the cab was moving.

As the cab rolled forward, the killer either jumped from the back seat into the front, or he exited the back seat by opening the door and then jumped into the front seat with Stine’s lifeless body. In order to reach the steering wheel and the pedals, the killer would have been forced to push Stine’s body toward the driver’s door into an upright position where he would remain as long as the killer struggled to regain control of the vehicle.

After the cab had rolled forward for a matter of seconds, the killer steered the vehicle to a stop at the next intersection and may have come to an abrupt stop. The witnesses in the upstairs floor of the house across the street told police that they never heard a gunshot, but something attracted their attention to the street below where they quickly noticed the suspect inside the cab doing something with Stine’s body. Police were alerted, but the killer fled the scene before the first officer arrived. This officer, Armand Pelissetti, claims that he saw the so-called “bloody fingerprints” on the outside of cab as he first approached the scene. These prints were found in the exact location where the witnesses last saw the killer standing, making contact with the cab as he appeared to be “wiping” the outside of the vehicle.

Why did the Zodiac permit himself to be covered in Stine’s blood? Because he had to touch the body in order to stop the rolling cab? Why did the Zodiac linger at the scene? Perhaps because, once he had gotten blood all over himself, he wanted to wipe up the mess before exiting the cab– a man covered in blood would undoubtedly appear suspicious. So, he tore a portion of Stine’s shirt away to use as a rag. Once he wiped the blood from his hands and fingers, the killer realized that he may have touch other parts of the cab as he attempted to regain control of the vehicle. Perhaps, at the moment when Stine’s foot fell from the brake pedal and the cab began to roll, the Zodiac –who was sitting in the back seat– may have reached forward and grabbed onto parts of the cab for leverage. Therefore, he made an effort to obliterate whatever fingerprints he may have left but failed to wipe away all of the fingerprints, leaving several for police to later discover.

I believed that this scenario not only made sense but was in keeping with all of the known facts. I found it difficult to believe that the Zodiac intended to be covered in blood, intended to spend so much time at the scene, intended to behave in such a sloppy and reckless manner, or intended to take such risks. After I presented this theory in the audio-cast ZODIAC: A TO Z, I received emails from many people who also believed that this scenario made sense.

The last stop on the MYSTERYQUEST film shoot was San Francisco, and the Stine murder scene. As we waited for the producers and camera crew to finalize their plans for that segment, Paul Holes and I waited in a vehicle on Jackson Street, one block north of the crime scene at Washington and Cherry. In preparation for the shoot, I brought along my case files on each of the crimes, including the crime scene photographs. I decided to show these photos to Paul before the shoot in order to familiarize him with the details of the crime before we were asked to discuss the case on camera.

Paul examined the photos and, within minutes, his brow began to furrow with what appeared to be some concern about what he saw. I studied him carefully; he kept flipping the photos back and forth, staring at one, then another. He would focus on some portion of a photograph, and then asked me questions such as, “When was the body first moved? Who moved the body?” Clearly, something in the photographs stood out to him, and something didn’t seem right. As I watched him scrutinizing these photos, I could see why Paul was so good at his job; he had an eye for detail and a determination to learn as much as he could. He was also weary of forming an opinion too quickly, so even though I wanted to know what was on his mind, my experiences with him at the other crime scenes had taught me that he wouldn’t offer his opinion until he was satisfied he had given the issue proper consideration.

He pointed to the infamous photograph of Paul Stine’s lifeless body hanging half way out of the open passenger door of the taxi cab. Suddenly, he spoke: “It seems as if someone moved the body.”

I replied, “Yes, the body was moved shortly before this photograph was taken.”

He shook his head. “No, it looks like someone moved the body before that.” His finger tapped at the photo as he spoke. “The blood pattern on his shirt. It’s not consistent with his body lying on the seat of the cab as we see in these photos.”

I was obviously intrigued, and asked, “So you think the body was moved before the police moved it?”

Paul nodded. “Looks that way.” He focused on the large bloodstain on Stine’s shirt, clearly visible in the photograph. The dark stain covered the entire front portion of the shirt, and appeared to have flowed in a downward motion, away from the gunshot wound on the right rear side of Stine’s head. “This flow pattern is not what I’d expect to see if he was shot and then slumped over.”

We then discussed the eyewitness account of the killer’s movement inside the cab with Stine’s body. For Paul, the actions of the killer still did not account for the pattern on the shirt. “If he was shot sitting in an upright position and then left in that position, then this blood flow pattern makes sense. But if he was shot and then slumped over the suspect’s lap as described by the witnesses, this pattern is not consistent.”

Paul then stated that the photographs indicated that the killer had somehow handled Stine’s body in such a manner as to keep the victim propped up in the driver’s seat for an unknown period of time, long enough for the flow of blood to move down the front of Stine’s shirt and create the large visible stain.

When I heard Paul offer this explanation, my ears pricked up. I immediately realized that Stine’s body would be forced into such a position if the killer had jumped into the front seat next to him in order to regain control of the rolling cab. To do so, the killer would have to force Stine’s body to the left, against the door, in order to reach the steering wheel with his hands and reach the pedals with his feet. With the killer in this position, Stine’s body would be propped upright in the driver’s seat for a period time sufficient to direct the flow of blood downward and cause the large stain on Stine’s shirt. In short, Paul’s observations about the victim’s body and clothing confirmed a theory inspired by the seemingly inexplicable actions of the killer than night.

I cannot say with any certainty that this scenario is what happened that night, and I cannot speak for Paul when it comes to his opinions regarding this crime. At the very least, I wanted to share this intriguing possibility with those who may be interested. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to work with Paul Holes, and I valued the experience of discussing this case with a seasoned forensics expert. I learned a lot, and it is unfortunate that MYSTERYQUEST viewers will not get a chance to hear Paul’s observations about the Zodiac crimes.

As Paul and I were discussing the possible scenarios at the Stine scene, one of the producers overheard us, was intrigued, and asked that we start the discussion from the beginning for the cameras. So, we repeated the exchange, this time with the cameraman leaning over our shoulders to shoot the photographs of the crime scene as Paul and I offered our thoughts. For me, this discussion was fascinating, and I am sure that viewers would have found the exchange as fascinating as I did.

I have done my best to present Paul’s thoughts accurately, and I have avoided expanding on the dialogue I remember and the notes I took at the time. If Paul Holes would like to write up his own take on this issue, I welcome him to do so and would happily post anything he would like to offer.

I would like to thank Paul for his contribution to the show. He did his best to bring his knowledge, experience and expertise to this case, and I am sorry that viewers did not get a chance to see more of his contribution or hear his insights. This case needs more professionalism, common sense and candor, and Paul demonstrated all three of these qualities. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with him, but I am also glad I had a chance to learn from Paul.