Season 2 of the popular true crime podcast MONSTER features a 15-episode series devoted to the Zodiac mystery. Rolling Stone magazine published a brief article about the series, and The Wrap posted also posted a story about the premiere. The series features retired Vallejo police detective Ed Rust, photographer Tom Balmer, former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Duffy Jennings, criminal psychologist Eric Hickey, San Francisco State University historian and lecturer Peter Richardson, cipher expert David Oranchak, writer Michael Butterfield, and others, with audio clips of surviving victim Bryan Hartnell, Leslie, the daughter of Zodiac codebreakers Donald and Bettye Harden, possible Zodiac victim Kathleen Johns, SFPD Inspector David Toschi, park ranger William White, and many others involved in the case.
Listen to the audio trailer and episodes at iHeartRadio.
New episodes premiere every Tuesday.
[Episode #1 premiered on iHeartMedia News/Talk radio stations on January 2, 2019, with more episodes available on January 3, 2019, at the iHeartPodcast Network and other podcast providers.]
The Travel Channel featured a new episode of the series Mysteries at the Museum devoted to the Zodiac case. An episode synopsis posted at the Travel Channel website read: “Don Wildman searches for the identity of one of America’s most notorious serial killers. He meets with a retired inspector who worked on the case, learns code breaking from an expert cryptographer and reveals a new theory on who may be responsible.”
Don Wildman and cipher expert David Oranchak.
Host Don Wildman presented a basic overview of the Zodiac story and visited the four crime scenes. He also consulted with cipher expert David Oranchak. Wildman and Oranchak examined the Zodiac’s first coded message and the still-unsolved 340 cipher while discussing some of the killer’s methods as a cryptographer.
During his tour of the Zodiac crime scenes, Wildman was accompanied by theorist Mark Hewitt, who also shared his theory that the Zodiac was Ted Kaczynski, the infamous “Unabomber” responsible for several bombings and three murders.
Zodiac theorist Mark Hewitt and host Don Wildman at the Lake Berryessa crime scene.
The episode promised a “new theory” regarding the Zodiac’s identity but Ted Kaczynski became a Zodiac suspect immediately after his arrest in 1996. Theorists Douglas Oswell and Michael Rusconi published a book about the possible “Zodiac/Unabomber connection” titled Dr. Zodiac, and others had promoted this theory over the years.The episode also included a brief recap of the theory that the Zodiac was Arthur Leigh Allen, the so-called “prime suspect” named in the books by Robert Graysmith and the 2007 film Zodiac.
Convicted child molester Arthur Leigh Allen and Ted Kaczynski aka “The Unabomber.”
Retired San Francisco police Inspector Vincent Repetto joined Wildman at the scene of the Zodiac’s last known murder, the intersection of Washington and Cherry Streets in the Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco. Repetto expressed his doubts that the Zodiac would be captured and said he believed the killer was most likely dead, but he also shared optimism that the case could be solved if new evidence was discovered or DNA identified the killer.
Retired SFPD Inspector Vincent Repetto at the scene of the Zodiac’s last known murder.
In the final segment of the episode, Wildman met with Gary Harmor, a DNA analyst at the Serological Research Institute who worked as a consultant on the Zodiac case. Wildman asked about the chances of finding sufficient DNA on old envelopes and stamps, and Harmor explained that new methods increased the odds of retrieving DNA from older materials. Harmor used an old envelope to demonstrate the methods used in the process. When asked about the reliability of this forensic process, Harmor replied, “It’s extremely dependable. The only thing that would hold up getting a type from the piece of evidence is not having enough good quality, reasonably good quality DNA to do the testing.”
Gary Harmor demonstrates a method used to obtain DNA from old stamps and envelopes.
The narrator stated, “The actual Zodiac evidence was collected in a state lab in May 2018 who then sent the DNA to a genealogical lab in Florida.” Previous news reports, comments from law enforcement sources, and internet rumors indicated that investigators were still waiting to hear if the lab could retrieve usable DNA evidence, but the narrator’s statement created the impression that usable DNA had already been obtained and had been sent to a lab in Florida to be used in forensic genealogy research to identify the Zodiac. The narration may have been a simple mistake as misinformation continues to create confusion about the status of the investigation. If the narrator was correct, then attempts to identify the Zodiac using forensic genealogy may be proceeding.
Mysteries at the Museum also featured an unusual representation of the costume worn by the Zodiac during the attack at Lake Berryessa. Unlike previous recreations, the actor portraying the Zodiac appeared to be wearing a large, narrowed black bag with a white crossed-circle over the chest. This version of the costume apparently had no eye-holes, meaning the Zodiac would not be able to see during the attack.
The Zodiac killer as depicted by Mysteries at the Museum.
In June 2018, I traveled to San Francisco to participate in an upcoming Zodiac project. As usual, the trip included some free time between appointments and I took a walk in the city. My hotel was near the intersection of Mason and Geary, where some investigators and researchers believe the Zodiac had selected his last known victim, cabdriver Paul Stine, in 1969.
The intersection had changed in many ways in the decades since, but one thing remained the same, the PineCrest Diner, established in 1969. I decided to dine at PineCrest. Joining me that evening was software engineer and noted cipher expert David Oranchak, also the owner of the website ZodiacKillerCiphers.com. I had communicated with Dave via emails and online chats, but this was our first in-person meeting. I quickly discovered that Dave was intelligent, insightful, and funny as we discussed various aspects of the Zodiac saga. We met again the next day for another meal and another great discussion.
As I often note in public interviews, I am not an expert regarding ciphers or cryptography, and, I rely on people like David Oranchak to help me understand the complex issues surrounding the Zodiac’s ciphers. I read Dave’s numerous articles online and watched videos of his presentations to the NSA’s Cryptologic Symposium, but talking with him in person was a very different experience. I was immediately struck by Dave’s ability to simplify some issues and offer accessible explanations. Many of us can examine and reject a proposed cipher solution but Dave could provide an easy-to-understand explanation of the solution’s pros and cons. Like many people, I am fascinated by this part of the Zodiac mystery, and I appreciated Dave’s thoughts and observations.
Shortly after my San Francisco trip, I was planning the next episode of the audio series The Zodiac Files with House of Mystery radio host and author Alan R. Warren. Al mentioned that he wanted to do an extended series of episodes about the Zodiac killer. The expanded format provided time for more in-depth discussion of various issues, and we decided to invite others to join the program. David Oranchak was a natural choice, along with Mike Morford, host of the Murder in the Family podcast and the owner of ZodiacKillerSite.com. The result was a late night, 4-hour marathon recording session, and I enjoyed the interesting and sometimes amusing conversation with Mike, Dave, and Al, covering a range of topics including the Zodiac crimes, the letters, the mysterious ciphers, the theories, suspects, and much more.
The original radio broadcast aired in Los Angeles, California, and the episodes are now available online at the House of Mystery channel on YouTube, Spreaker, and other audio streaming sources.
Click on the links below to listen to The “Zodiac Roundtable” discussion with webmaster Mike Morford (ZodiacKillerSite.com), cipher expert David Oranchak (ZodiacKillerCiphers.com), writer Michael Butterfield (ZodiacKillerFacts.com), and host Al Warren.
ZR EP #1: Zodiac suspects – Arthur Leigh Allen, Ross Sullivan, and more
ZR EP #2: Zodiac Ciphers – The Zodiac’s 408 Cipher and more
ZR EP #3: Zodiac Letters – The Zodiac’s messages and unsolved ciphers
ZR EP #4: Zodiac Connections – Cheri Jo Bates and the “Riverside Connection”