ALLEN: The Book
Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had decided to write a book about the Zodiac case, and he had been talking to some of the detectives involved in the investigation. According to Graysmith, he first learned of Allen during a conversation in March of 1980. Allen allegedly wrote to Toschi and informed the Inspector of his release from Atascadero.
Graysmith then interviewed many people who knew Allen, and, at times, even followed him and spied on him at his place of work. At one point, Graysmith approached Allen’s employer in an unsuccessful attempt to gather samples of the suspect’s handwriting. The cartoonist did not mention Allen’s name, but did tell the man that his request had “to do with threatening letters received over a ten year period.” Allen’s boss eventually decided not to give Graysmith the samples, so the cartoonist then sent his friends into the Ace Hardware store to “buy things” from Allen, and obtain samples of his handwriting.
The results of Graysmith’s amateur detective work appeared in his book Zodiac, published by St. Martin’s Press in 1986. The book caused a flurry of media attention to the Bay area’s most notorious unsolved case, and Graysmith was immediately ordained “the expert” on the Zodiac murders. The cartoonist turned author was interviewed by many local reporters, and appeared on several radio and television talk shows. Inevitably, the subject turned to the suspects mentioned in Graysmith’s book, and the mysterious man named “Starr.”
Allen had never been publicly named as a suspect, and had Graysmith used his real name in his book, he could have faced a lawsuit for defamation of character, or any number of legal woes. Therefore, Allen’s name was changed to “Bob Hall Starr,” and, using this pseudonym as a shield, Graysmith was able to distort and exaggerate the facts, omit exculpatory evidence, and invent much of the case against the suspect, all without fear of repercussions.
Yet Graysmith’s portrait of “Starr” matched Allen in many ways, including the fact that he lived in the basement of his mother’s Vallejo home. The author had provided enough detail for anyone to recognize that Allen must have been the basis for the character named “Starr.” Allen himself may have read the book, and realized that Graysmith was, in effect, naming him as the notorious Zodiac killer. No one can say what impact the publication of ZODIAC may have had on Allen, but it is doubtful that the appearance of the book improved the quality of his life.
Zodiac became a bestseller and went into multiple printings. As years passed, numerous articles about the case continued to mention the man named “Starr,” and, in one article, Graysmith stated that the killer was in Vallejo. After a series of “Zodiac” copycat murders in New York, retired Detective Jack Mulanax was interviewed by a TV reporter regarding the California case. Mulanax stated that the only good suspect he had ever encountered was working in a hardware store in Northern California.
NEXT – ALLEN: The Informant