Scene 31 – Donald Cheney, Concerned Citizen
Armstrong interviews a man named Donald Cheney at his place of employment. Accompanied by friend and employer Sandy Panzarella, Cheney tells Armstrong that a mutual friend, Arthur Leigh Allen, might be the Zodiac killer. According to Cheney, he and Allen were drinking Coors together one night when Allen was “raw” about losing his teaching job. Allen had confessed a desire to commit similar crimes and use the name “Zodiac” in letters designed to taunt the police. Cheney says that Allen had spoken of hunting humans, “like that book” – The Most Dangerous Game. Allen also allegedly claimed he would attack a school bus and shoot the “little darlings” as they attempted to escape. Cheney explains that he had made a previous attempt to report this information but police dismissed him. Armstrong asks Cheney to clarify when this conversation with Allen took place and Cheney assures the inspector that the conversation occurred on January 1, 1968.
FINCHER: Cheney says, “like that book,” a reference to the short story The Most Dangerous Game. Cheney says that Allen was upset about losing his teaching job. He is certain that the conversation occurred on January 1, 1968.
FACT: Donald Cheney has told many sensational tales over the years, and his stories change from one telling to the next. Cheney never mentioned any book, or the short story The Most Dangerous Game.
In the film, Cheney says that Allen was “raw” about losing his teaching job when he last saw the suspect in January 1968. Cheney is certain that he never saw Allen again after this disturbing conversation, and he was certain that the conversation took place on or before January 1, 1968. Armstrong apparently looked Cheney in the eyes and decided that he believed Allen’s estranged friend. Had he looked at a calendar and used his common sense, Armstrong would have realized that Allen lost his teaching job in March 1968 – three months after the alleged conversation between Cheney and Allen. Armstrong most likely would then correctly deduce that Allen therefore could not have been “raw” about a termination that had yet to occur.
Police never investigated, and apparently never noticed, this discrepancy despite the fact that the timing of the conversation was crucial, as Cheney claimed Allen made the incriminating statements before the Zodiac crimes began. In fact, although Cheney based his timing of events on the date he believed he moved to Southern, California, police never checked on the timing of his move or made any other attempts to investigate or verify his story.
During an interview in 2000, Cheney mentioned that Allen had been upset about losing his job. When informed that Allen did not lose his job until March 1968 – three months after the alleged conversation – Cheney then changed the timing of the conversation to January 1969.
In the early 1990s, Cheney added another detail to his story. He claimed that Allen had shown him a “new” Zodiac wristwatch during the conversation in January 1968 or 1969. Cheney had not mentioned the watch to police in 1971 and did so only after Robert Graysmith’s 1986 book revealed that Allen owned such a watch. Cheney’s later stories also incorporated details from this book.
Scene 32 – Checking On Cheney
The two inspectors go over Cheney’s story. Toschi wonders why Cheney waited so long to come forward, and Armstrong informs him that the first recorded report on Allen from Cheney occurred on January 10, 1970. Armstrong then calls Cheney’s employer, Sandy Panzarella, and learns that Allen is ambidextrous and can write with both hands.
FINCHER: The inspectors learn that the Pomona police documented Cheney’s first attempt to report his suspicions regarding Allen. Sandy Panzarella informs Armstrong that Allen can write with both hands.
FACT: Armstrong tells Toschi that Pomona police recorded Cheney’s first attempt to report Allen on January 10, 1970. This is a “guesstimate,” based on comments made by Cheney during a 2000 interview with Tom Voigt, webmaster of Zodiackiller.com. Armstrong’s statement gives viewers the false impression that Cheney previously reported Allen and that documents support his claim.
Scene 33 – The Arthur Leigh Allen Interview
Detective Jack Mulanax accompanies Inspectors Toschi and Armstrong to Allen’s place of work. The suspect is called to a room and the interview begins. Armstrong takes the lead and asks the suspect if he had any conversations with anyone regarding the Zodiac case. Allen is unable to explain the source of Armstrong’s story and the allegedly incriminating statements. In an obvious effort to explain why someone would say that Allen had made such statements regarding hunting people, Allen offers that he has been a long time fan of the story, The Most Dangerous Game.
Allen explains that he had already been interviewed by a Vallejo police sergeant shortly after the stabbing at Lake Berryessa. He also mentions that he had bloody knives on his car seat and tells the investigators that he had seen a neighbor, Bill White, on the day in question. Allen tells the investigators that he had used the knives to kill some chickens he then ate. He explains that White had died shortly after this, and wonders aloud if Bill White had seen the knives and called the police.
As Allen speaks, Jack Mulanax eyes the suspect’s footwear – a pair of boots virtually identical to the Wing Walker boots worn by the Zodiac at Lake Berryessa. Allen tells the men, “I am not the Zodiac, and if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.” After examining Allen’s Zodiac watch, the investigators dismiss Allen and agree the suspect warrants further investigation.
FINCHER: Allen theorizes that neighbor Bill White may have seen the knives and called police. Allen is seen wearing boots that are identical to the Zodiac’s Wing Walker boots.
FACT: Allen never offered any speculation concerning Bill White and the knives – he simply stated that White may have seen him at the time in question. According to the police report written by Vallejo police detective Jack Mulanax, Allen did state that he had bloody knives on the seat of his car that day but Allen explained that he had used these knives to kill chickens. [In his book ZODIAC, Robert Graysmith later claimed that Allen’s sister-in-law had seen these knives yet this was not true– Karen Allen never claimed to have seen these knives and no one but Graysmith ever claimed that she had seen these knives.]
Allen never told investigators, “I am not the Zodiac, and if I was I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”
There is no credible evidence to indicate that Allen ever owned or wore Wing Walker boots, and he was not wearing these boots during the interview with police. Had Allen been wearing these boots during the interview, Mulanax and the other investigators would have noted this extremely important detail in their police reports. They did not, and, during the last 37 years, no one has ever claimed that Allen was wearing these boots during the interview.
The fact that the character is shown wearing the same boots worn by the Zodiac gives the audience the false impression that Allen and Zodiac wore virtually identical boots when they did not.
Scene 34 – Allen’s brother and sister-in-law
NOTE: In the film, these characters are given fictitious names in order to protect their identities. However, elsewhere in the film, close-up shots of actual police documents reveal the true names of Allen’s brother and sister-in-law. For the purposes of this review, the real names are not used.
Armstrong meets with the brother and sister-in-law of suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. The brother learns that Allen is a Zodiac suspect. Armstrong asks the couple whether it is true – “about the children.” The couple says it is true, and says that Allen has been troubled for some time.
When asked if he knows Donald Cheney, the brother asks if Cheney was the one who reported Allen to police. Armstrong replies that that information is confidential, and the brother says that Cheney is a responsible person and that if he had said something he would believe it was true. The sister-in-law then interrupts to tell Armstrong that Allen had once sent them a card with the same misspelling used by the Zodiac – “Christmass.”
FINCHER: Allen’s brother-in-law tells Armstrong that he would consider Cheney’s statements to be “true” and he is then interrupted by his wife who cites the similarity between the misspellings of Allen and the Zodiac.
FACT: Detective Jack Mulanax was present during the interview with the Allen’s brother and sister-in-law. His police report states: “(Allen’s brother) did say that he was well acquainted with the sources of information who had originally given statements to police indicating Arthur Leigh Allen was a prime suspect. [Allen’s brother did not know the nature of Cheney’s statements at this time.] (He) stated that they were responsible people who would not have made such statements if they were not true. He further stated that he had received a complaint from Cheney that his brother had made improper advances toward one of his children. This might be a motive why Cheney would make such an accusation against Arthur Leigh Allen. This is RO’s (reporting officer’s) observation and not [that of Allen’s brother].”
In reality, three key pieces of information were revealed during the interview:
1: Allen’s brother knew Donald Cheney and said that he was a trustworthy person.
2: In the same breath, he said that Cheney had complained that Allen had attempted to molest one of Cheney’s children.
3: Allen’s sister-in-law told Armstrong about the “Christmass” misspelling.
In the film, the scene presents the first piece of information, then skips the second important detail and jumps straight to the third. This omission gives the audience the false impression that Donald Cheney had no reason to invent his tale about Allen. Viewers may have reached different conclusions regarding the veracity of Cheney’s claims had they known all the facts.
When they were informed that Allen was a suspect, his brother and his sister-in-law told police that they did not believe he could be the Zodiac. The couple has never changed their opinion that Allen was not the Zodiac.
NOTE TO THE READER: The misspelling of “Christmas” as “Christmass” is extremely common, and even police officers unintentionally misspelled the word in the exact way when writing their own reports. These misspellings were not quoting Zodiac’s misspelling.
Scene 35 – Assessing Allen
The Inspectors discuss the case against Allen. They mention that Vallejo police sergeant John Lynch had interviewed Allen on October 6, 1969, but dismissed the suspects because he did not resemble the description of the Zodiac.
FINCHER: Toschi and Armstrong are aware of the Lynch interview.
FACT: Detective Jack Mulanax reviewed the Vallejo police files and was unable to locate any report mentioning an interview of Allen at the time of the Lake Berryessa attack. Years later, a search of the files revealed a brief entry by Lynch regarding the interview.
Scene 36 – Sherwood Morrill Rains on Dave’s Parade
Inspector Toschi consults handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill, who examines Allen’s handwriting and declares, “This suspect is not your Zodiac.” Toschi is not happy to hear this news, and questions the expert regarding ambidexterity. Morrill explains that even the ability to write with both hands could not produce writing so different as to avoid detection.
FINCHER: Morrill’s conclusions are presented as rigid and even questionable.
FACT: Many handwriting experts examined Allen’s handwriting, including samples produced by his left and right hands, and confirmed Morrill’s conclusions. Only one expert, Terry Pascoe, told police that an altered state of consciousness could also alter handwriting. This scene is depicted later in the film. However, even Pascoe concluded that Allen did not write the Zodiac letters.
Scene 37 – Giving Up On Allen
Armstrong talks with Jack Mulanax by telephone. The two men reluctantly agree that the investigation of Allen has nowhere to go.
Scene 38 – Time Passes
A montage of images and music depicting the passage of time and the changes in San Francisco architecture.
Scene 39 – Avery – The Marked Man
In the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle, Avery is no longer able to conceal his drug use and alcoholism. His boss takes him to task, citing Avery’s kook-like letter to the Department of Justice on Chronicle letterhead, in which Avery asks to be appointed the head of the Zodiac investigation. As he storms out of the offices, Avery is stopped by Robert Graysmith, who asks, “Paul, are you all right?” Avery replies that he not all right, and stumbles off.
Scene 40 – The Sister-In-Law Again
September 1972. Inspector Armstrong sits in the living room of Allen’s sister-in-law. She is concerned that police are not pursuing the investigation of the suspect. She tells the inspector that she and her husband had arranged for Allen to see a social worker but he only went twice. The sister-in-law had asked the social worker if Allen was capable of killing and the social worker said, Yes. Allen was now said to be using a trailer in Santa Rosa.
FINCHER: The sister-in-law was concerned that police were not pursuing the suspect. Armstrong learns that Allen had a trailer in Santa Rosa.
FACT: The sister-in-law did not contact police and ask that they continue the investigation. Most mental health experts would agree that the alleged opinions of the social worker in question could not be considered sound when based only on two short visits. The sister-in-law had told Armstrong about the Santa Rosa trailer in August of 1971, more than a year before this scene in the film is dated.