GARY STEWART: Revisited

Gary Stewart’s book The Most Dangerous Animal of All was released in May 2014. Three months later, ZodiacKillerFacts.com featured a review of Stewart’s book which debunked his claims that his father Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac killer. Links to this review were posted at the ZodiacKillerFacts forum, Reddit, Twitter and other social media sites. David Oranchak’s informative site ZodiacKillerCiphers.com also featured analysis of Stewart’s cipher claims in article which also included a link to the ZodiacKillerFacts review of Stewart’s book.

Since the publication of his book, Gary Stewart has made the rounds with various media, including People magazine, radio interviews and television appearances. Stewart routinely claims that he has solved the case, yet he has consistently failed to provide any credible evidence to substantiate these claims. The evidence Stewart has offered can be politely described as lackluster at best.

Stewart and his publishers hired document examiner Mike Wakshull, who quickly concluded that Stewart’s father had written the Zodiac letters. In his own book, The End of the Zodiac Mystery, Wakshull described his methods and the handwriting samples used in his examination. Wakshull wrote, “The only writing from Van on the first and the third marriage certificates was his signature. Regarding the second marriage certificate, Judith [Stewart’s mother] had attested to Gary that Van completed all the information except the witnesses’ signatures, including her printed name.” Wakshull then explained that he “had only four documents for comparison, three of them containing only Van’s signatures.” The fourth document was the marriage certificate reportedly completed by Best himself. This marriage certificate was included in the photograph section of Stewart’s book but the image was very small. At least four different photograph exhibits of handwriting comparisons between the Zodiac’s writing and Best’s writing cited this marriage certificate as evidence.

Shortly after the publication of Stewart’s book, Zodiac theorist Mike Rodelli reported that he had contacted the church where Stewart’s parents had married. According to a church source, the writing on the marriage certificate was that of Reverend Edward Fliger, the man who had presided over the marriage ceremony of Earl Van Best and Judy Chandler. Other samples of Fliger’s writing on other marriage certificates were remarkably similar to the writing on Best’s marriage certificate. Wakshull claimed that the writing on the marriage certificate was that of the Zodiac killer. Wakshull’s conclusions implicated Edward Fliger and not Gary Stewart’s father.

Wakshull’s conclusion that Best had written the Zodiac letters relied heavily on the assumption that Best was responsible for the writing on the marriage certificate, and any conclusion based on that mistaken assumption could not be valid. The removal of the Best/Chandler marriage certificate from the known writing samples of Earl Van Best, Jr. left Wakshull with only three signatures to compare to the Zodiac’s writing. Therefore, certain letters of the alphabet were not available in the Best signatures to compare with the same letters which appeared in the Zodiac writings. Three signatures were not sufficient to form a valid conclusion. Put simply, Wakshull was wrong and the handwriting evidence did not implicate Earl Van Best, Jr. as the author of the Zodiac letters.

Gary Stewart was interviewed by Richard Grinell of ZodiacCiphers.com. When asked about the many problems with his handwriting “match,” Stewart claimed that he had other samples of Earl Van Best’s handwriting. In his own book, Wakshull stated, very clearly, that he had only four examples of Best’s handwriting, the samples described by Wakshull. If other handwriting examples were available, the documents featuring only Best’s signature would not have been as important as Wakshull stated when describing the basis for his conclusions. However Stewart wished to explain away the many contradictions and problems regarding the handwriting “match,” he repeatedly failed to address the simple fact that Wakshull had determined that whatever samples of Best’s handwriting he was given had matched the Zodiac’s handwriting only to learn that at least one of those samples was written by a third person, Edward Fliger. This fact demonstrates that Wakshull’s conclusions cannot be considered valid or credible. The false “match” proved that Wakshull’s methods and expert conclusions were not reliable.

Without handwriting evidence, Stewart had little to implicate his father in the Zodiac crimes. Stewart claimed that his father’s fingerprints matched a fingerprint found at the scene of a Zodiac murder. This conclusion was largely based on a “line” which is visible on the SFPD fingerprint card. The ZodiacKillerFacts blog titled “The Most Dangerous Daddy of All” demonstrated that the fingerprint “match” is not credible evidence:

“The fingerprint was found at the crime scene but no one knew if that fingerprint actually belonged to the killer. The only way to link Earl Van Best to the crime relied on assuming that the print was left by the killer and then reversing the image of that print. As a further stretch, the assumption that the print was valid and the reversal of the image did not produce any match between the fingerprint found at the crime scene and Best’s fingerprint. The reversal only changed the placement and alignment of a line which may or not be a scar. The faint line which appears to run through the fingerprint in question could have been produced by some feature or indentation on the surface of the cab where the print was obtained. The methods used to achieve the favorable results were unreliable and self-serving. Stewart and Mustafa had no reason to believe that experienced police officers had somehow reversed the fingerprint. The authors simply assumed that such a reversal had occurred and then reversed the image to suit their needs. The fingerprint evidence did not link Earl Van Best to the murder of Paul Stine.”

Without the fingerprint and handwriting matches, Gary Stewart had virtually nothing to link his father to the Zodiac crimes or the Zodiac letters. The only remaining “evidence” said to link Best to the Zodiac crimes seemed to be little more than trivia:

* Best somewhat resembled the composite sketch of the Zodiac.

* Best was reportedly in California during the time of the Zodiac crimes.

* Best liked Gilbert and Sullivan operas quoted in Zodiac letters.

* Best had some interest in ciphers when he was younger.

* Best allegedly knew a satanist and allegedly played music with a murderer.

* Best was an immoral person who may have committed crimes.

This list was not conclusive or compelling. In a CNN interview with Erin Burnett, Stewart boasted, “I believe for the first time in the history of this case that I have presented more evidence than has ever been presented on any one suspect.” Stewart’s certainty was not justified by the evidence. The fingerprint “match” is inconclusive and most likely invalid, at best. The handwriting “match” is an absolute farce which failed miserably in the attempt to implicate Stewart’s father. The rest of the “evidence” does not justify Stewart’s ongoing declaration that he has solved the case.

Gary Stewart does not respond well to criticism. Since the publication of his book, Stewart has posted statements on various websites, defending his claims and attacking his critics. He repeatedly boasts that he has made a lot of money and that he has gotten a lot of attention, indicating his true motives behind the accusations against his father. Like most people who are peddling false claims to have solved the Zodiac mystery, Gary Stewart blames everyone else for his failure to convince the world. Stewart claims that the San Francisco Police Department has thwarted his efforts and refuses to conduct the DNA testing necessary to prove that Earl Van Best, Jr. was the Zodiac. Stewart also blames his critics for failing to acknowledge that the mystery is “beyond solved.” Stewart’s favored falsehood is claiming that his critics don’t want to see the Zodiac case solved and this explains why no one takes him seriously. This explanation may sound satisfying to some, but Stewart once again fails to address important facts and reality itself.

While Stewart may be mostly correct in dismissing some of his critics as angry competitors, such convenient dismissals do nothing to refute the criticisms found in the original ZodiacKillerFacts article about his book, or the debunking of Stewart’s cipher solutions posted at ZodiacKillerCiphers. On August 1, 2014, three months after the publication of Gary Stewart’s book, I posted a review of The Most Dangerous Animal of All titled The Most Dangerous Daddy of All. In December of 2015, Gary Stewart sent angry email to the ZodiacKillerFacts contact email address. Stewart wrote. “Why did it take 16 months after the release of my New York Times Bestseller for you to publicly ‘debunk’ me?” Stewart also bragged, “I’ve solved the case,” and then cried that “people without real purpose” continued to “pursue some boogey man in a case that’s beyond solved!”

In his email, Stewart proudly declared, “I’ve solved the case,” despite the fact that this claim has already been debunked. To date, Gary Stewart has not presented any credible evidence that he has solved the case. No law enforcement agency has accepted his evidence as valid and virtually all of his evidence has been debunked. Stewart has not presented any other credible evidence to implicate his father in the Zodiac crimes and he has repeatedly failed to address the many serious problems with the evidence he has already offered. While I have no doubt that Stewart’s competitors are desperate to keep the Zodiac cause buried in nonsense and confusion in order to keep their own careers alive, anyone who has followed my record will know that I have no desire to keep pursuing a boogey man. I would gladly accept Earl Van Best, Jr. as the Zodiac killer if Gary Stewart or anyone else provided any credible evidence to support that solution. To date, no one has presented any credible evidence to implicate Earl Van Best, Jr. in the Zodiac crimes, and that statement is based on the known facts, logic, common sense, and reality.

Critical thinking skills are crucial when assessing the value and validity of claims made by Gary Stewart and others. Fact-checking is also crucial. Gary Stewart, his co-author Susan Mustafa, his publisher Harper/Collins, and his handwriting expert Mike Wakshull presented the handwriting “match” as fact in Stewart’s book only to learn in a matter of days that someone had identified the real person responsible for handwriting samples attributed to Earl Van Best, Jr. This fact alone demonstrates the many problems with the methods and claims made by Stewart and his associates. This level of incompetence renders their claims permanently suspect and demonstrates that they are not reliable sources of information or experts with authority. In his email, Gary Stewart asked why I had waited “16 months” to debunk his “New York Times bestseller” book. My article debunking Stewart’s book was first post in August 2014, just three months after the publication of Stewart’s book. Apparently, Stewart never noticed that article and, instead, focused on the publication date of the new updated posting of the original blog entry which was dated November 2015. This update occurred when the website switched to a new format. Once again, Gary Stewart was wrong on a simple and easily verified matter of fact but he still demands that the world accept his claim that he has solved the most notorious unsolved serial murder case in American history using a few bits of trivia. He shouldn’t be surprised when informed people find it difficult to take him seriously.

– April 29, 2017