“Starr was everywhere I looked.” – Robert Graysmith, ZODIAC
ZODIAC presents a character based entirely upon a real-life suspect named Arthur Leigh Allen. Using the pseudonym “Starr”, Graysmith creates the villain of the piece; a disturbed, violent man who is most likely responsible for the Zodiac murders, and suspected in the murders of more than 40 young women in and around Santa Rosa. “Starr” is so frightening that his own family believed he was the Zodiac and informed the police of their suspicions. Police believe “Starr” was the elusive killer, but could not find the proof they needed to put him behind bars. The book ends with the author’s conclusion that “Starr” was the Zodiac, forever damning the character to eternal infamy.
The character of Bob Hall Starr and the man known as Arthur Leigh Allen are two different people, yet, for years, the two have been synonymous to the public. Just as TV’s fugitive Doctor Richard Kimball was not Dr. Sam Shephard, and Dracula was not Vlad the Impaler, the difference between Starr and Allen lies in the gray area between fact and fiction.
Robert Graysmith based his fictional character on a real person, yet the fictional character exists in a work of nonfiction. Graysmith informed readers that he had changed the man’s name, but few were aware, or would bother to suspect, that the author had also changed the facts to suit his purposes.
The subtle and deliberate manner in which Graysmith transformed Arthur Leigh Allen’s life and person in order to give the reader the impression that he was the Zodiac is almost invisible to those who do not have access to or do not seek the facts. Relying on Graysmith to be truthful, the reader learns about Starr, and therefore, Allen, through his words. As readers are introduced to Starr, they are led down a path that has been carefully constructed by an author who was willing to distort the truth in order to convince readers that the character, and, by proxy, the suspect he represented, was the Zodiac.
The process of prejudicing the jury of readers begins on the back cover of Graysmith’s book, ZODIAC, where he promised his readers the author’s “theory of the Zodiac’s true identity,” which is based on “eight years of research” and “hundreds of facts never before released….” These claims give the author, and his conclusions, credibility.
On page 15 of ZODIAC, Graysmith introduced a mysterious stranger as a man who “frightened” Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin in the months before her death. Several people claimed to have seen this man, but, in the decades since the crime, no one has identified this individual. According to Graysmith, Darlene was “scared to death” of the stranger, who watched her “constantly.”
On page 18, readers learned that a strange man named “Bob” had known Darlene, and that “Bob” is not the man’s real name. Later, this “Bob” will become “Starr,” and although Darlene Ferrin did know a man named “Lee,” there is no evidence that Arthur “Lee” Allen was that man. Neither “Starr,” nor Allen, matches the physical description of “Bob,” who was said to be “five feet eight inches tall or so…hair curly, wavy…dark hair…” Allen was at least six feet tall, practically bald, weighed two hundred pounds, and was 36 years old. One witness cited in ZODIAC stated that “Bob” was “thirty to twenty-eight and not heavy. He wore glasses.” Allen did not wear glasses, and was, by any definition, “heavy.”
Page 39 introduces the theory that Darlene had an argument with a “stranger” who then followed her to Blue Rock Springs Park and killed her.
Although there is no evidence that Darlene argued with such a man that night, Graysmith proceeds to tell readers that a Vallejo detective uncovered such information. In reality, police had learned that a witness had seen a waitress (not identified as Darlene Ferrin) talking to man in the parking lot of Darlene’s place of work. This event occurred the afternoon before the midnight shooting, and the witness stated that the man and woman appeared to be talking about a vehicle, not arguing as Graysmith has claimed. The description of the man seen talking to a waitress in the parking lot does not match the description of the man who shot Darlene, although Graysmith continues to imply that the two men are the same individual. The descriptions of the man who was seen talking to a waitress in the parking lot does not match the description of “Bob,” yet Graysmith continues to imply that the two men are one and the same. The description of the man who was seen talking to a waitress in the parking lot, the man who shot Darlene, and “Bob” do not match the description of “Bob Starr,” but Graysmith leads the reader to believe he is all three.
Graysmith introduced the villain of his book on page 260 as “Robert ‘Bob’ Hall Starr,” a “weird son of a bitch” who must be watched “all the time.” A brief character study of “Starr” does match Arthur Allen on several counts, including the fact that he lived with his mother in her Vallejo home at the time of the Zodiac murders. “Starr” was highly intelligent, and a loner who collects rifles and enjoys hunting.
“Starr,” like Allen, was a pedophile, and Graysmith concluded, “This would fit in with Zodiac’s knowledge of school bus routes and vacation times for kiddies.” The author does not mention that the Zodiac never demonstrated any knowledge of any bus routes, or that anyone who had attended school for at least a year would possess accurate knowledge regarding the “vacation times” of schoolchildren.
Graysmith repeats a theory that “Starr” had access to a car similar to that used by the Zodiac at the Blue Rock Springs shooting. The author appears to have had access to the police report detailing the investigation of this possibility, but neglects to mention that the same report states that police learned that Allen had most likely not used the car.
The author’s efforts to implicate his suspect continued in the years since the publication of ZODIAC. Graysmith spread an unsubstantiated rumor that Allen had received a speeding ticket near the scene of Zodiac’s Lake Berryessa attack. This rumor eventually appeared as a verified fact in a book written by former FBI profiler John Douglas.
In an article for the website APBnews.com, Graysmith claimed that excited SFPD investigators had contacted him with news that initial DNA tests had produced a positive match to Allen’s DNA. The article described a meeting in which the disappointed investigators broke the bad news that the match was a “false positive.” The investigators in question stated that no false positive match ever occurred and that the entire story is not true.
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