Month: September 2009

MYSTERYQUEST: Wasted Opportunities

On Wednesday, September 30, 2009, more than forty years after the Zodiac killer first appeared, the new documentary series MYSTERYQUEST focused on the unsolved crimes.

The first episode of MYSTERYQUEST proved that the skull touted for years by the Russians as that of the notorious dictator Adolf Hitler was actually the skull of a woman. The second episode about the Bermuda Triangle was far-less revelatory, but, then again, did anyone expect otherwise? This more or less sums up my expectations regarding the third episode about the Zodiac crimes: it’s not as if the show is going to solve the case, and it’s not as if their efforts to use new technology to conduct DNA testing on the Zodiac letters and other examinations of other evidence is going to magically identify a suspect. I didn’t expect the MYSTERYQUEST investigation to uncover or present any damning new evidence to implicate Richard Gaikowski, Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, or any other suspect– not that I wouldn’t welcome such evidence or the resolution to this case. Of course, I would happily accept any suspect as the Zodiac if it meant that the case would finally be solved.

The producers of MYSTERYQUEST worked diligently to obtain access to all of the available evidence in the various Zodiac cases. Those who have followed the case have had many questions for many years: Do any of the suspected fingerprints actually belong to the killer and, if so, are they of sufficient quality to accurately identify a suspect? Is the partial DNA profile previously obtained from Zodiac letters and envelopes reliable scientific evidence? Can this partial profile be completed using new technology? Can the DNA taken from one Zodiac letter be matched to DNA taken from another letter? What other evidence exists, and have authorities taken the necessary steps to process that evidence and share information? Unfortunately, MYSTERYQUEST did not answer any of these questions; the most significant new “evidence” presented was an age progressed sketch of the Stine suspect composite sketch.

As many of you had guessed, there is no audiotape of the Zodiac killer’s voice, despite the wording of the show summary on the MYSTERYQUEST website. Apparently, the individual who wrote the summary was in error, as the show did not feature any audiotape of the Zodiac’s voice.

The program gives the impression that Nancy Slover listened to the tape of Gaikowski’s voice for the first time; in fact, she heard the tape some time ago and has already stated that Gaikowski’s voice was similar to that of the Zodiac (she allegedly “identified” Gaikwoski as the man she spoke with more than forty years ago).

During the broadcast, Nancy was asked to listen to tapes of Gaikowski’s voice again and offered her opinion. “That came very close to his “Good-bye,” to me,” Nancy said of one portion of the tape. “It’s the same guy.” When asked if she was certain, she replied, “I am.” Slover added, “In my opinion, that is the man that called VPD in the early morning hours of July 5, 1969. I just know what my gut feeling is, and my reaction is.”

While some may choose to embrace Slover’s “identification,” it seems clear that such an identification cannot be considered reliable, despite the contradictory opinion allegedly expressed by Slover’s neurologist. More that forty years have passed since Slover spoke with the killer for a matter of seconds; at best, one could hope that Slover would be able to say that a voice was similar or dissimilar, but to refer to such an identification as “positive” is to ignore the obvious fact that no one could accurately identify a voice after so many decades have passed.

Unlike those who are clinging to bad theories and suspects, I see no legitimate reason to believe that the DNA evidence previously obtained by the SFPD crime lab is somehow flawed, contaminated or otherwise unreliable. If it was up to me, the DNA would match any one of the known suspects and we could all say “Case Closed.” Yet, no matter how sound the DNA evidence may be, I’m sure some theorist will come forward with a long-list of 75 retired mailmen who are willing to swear under oath that they used to walk around San Francisco licking envelopes as they made their rounds in 1969. While MYSTERYQUEST did not present any new DNA evidence, new technology may someday unlock whatever secrets the Zodiac’s envelopes may posses. According to the program, the San Francisco Police Department refused to cooperate with the efforts of MYSTERYQUEST to compare the recently obtained suspected-Gaikowksi DNA with the partial DNA profile reportedly obtained from a Zodiac envelope in 2002.

The production offered a unique experience; we visited each crime scene, and interviewed three of the original investigators: Pierre Bidou (Benecia PD), Ed Rust (VPD), and Ken Narlow (NCSO). As we traveled to the crime scene and spoke with the men who had stood on that same ground forty years to see the carnage created by this killer, as we heard their memories, studied the crime scene photos and original reports, and discussed the facts, the story of the Zodiac was more real, more terrifying than ever before. I was reminded of a scene from the television mini-series The DELIBERATE STRANGER, in which several detectives and a reporter talk about the painful price they have all paid in their pursuit of serial killer Ted Bundy.

Near the end of the film, Det. Bob Keppel (Frederic Forrest) likens Bundy’s effect on the world to that of a pebble in a pond and the many people swept into the tragedy to the ripples created by its sudden impact on a previously-peaceful surface. Keppel notes that the cost was irrelevant, and that if he played even a small part in stopping the killing, then his contribution would probably be the single most important thing he had ever done in his life. Those who are familiar with and have studied Keppel’s career know that his contribution far exceeds his uncanny ability to remain humble and still be one of the most insightful minds in the study of serial crime.

I cannot claim to have served society or contributed to the greater understanding of serial crime as Narlow, Rust, Bidou, Keppel and others have, nor can I claim to possess any special skill or indispensable insights into the human condition. At best, I’d like to believe that I have made some small contribution to this world, and this case, in my efforts to learn as much as I can about this unsolved mystery and share that information with those who care. Over the years, I have been reminded of the responsibility that comes with publicly “entering” this story, and the fact that– no matter how entertaining this murder mystery may be for some– this tragedy is all too real, and the people destroyed or traumatized by the ongoing injustice and exploitation deserve a lot better than the never-ending circus of the Zodiac saga. My unforgettable conversations with those involved in the story still haunt me; Dean Ferrin, husband of Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin, Sue Ayers, Dean’s cousin, Darlene’s sister Pam, police dispatcher Nancy Slover, detectives Ed Rust, Pierre Bidou, Ken Narlow, DOJ Agents Mel Nicolai and Fred Shirasago, survivor Bryan Hartnell, SFPD Inspectors Kelly Carroll, Tom Bruton, Vince Repetto, suspects Michael O’Hare, Mr. X, the family of suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, and many more. These people have lived the story– the rest of us are simply moving in the margins.

The seemingly-limitless supply of circus clowns proves that there will always be those who respectfully walk around a grave, and those who see that same sacred ground as an appropriate place for a dance party. The exploitation of the Zodiac case has become a cottage industry and a full-time career for many snake-oil salesmen. Like starved and impatient patrons in a fast-food drive-thru, crime buffs can choose from a large menu of cheap and preservative-filled suspects sold by the likes of Howard Davis, Blaine Blaine, Robert Graysmith, Dennis Kaufman, Deborah Perez, and so many others. Now author Steve Hodell has joined the chorus of children accusing dead fathers; his book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac, and the Further Crimes of Dr. George Hodel will be met with praise from “respected” true-crime writers and more who are happy to promote yet another shameless and irresponsible stunt on the Zodiac stage. Each new crackpot, theory and suspect creates more confusion and inspires more crackpots with more theories and suspects. The story of the Zodiac often seem lost somewhere in the fog surrounding these fools, funny fellows, comic men and clowns of private life.

Unfortunately, MYSTERYQUEST sqaundered its opportunity to provide information and clear confusion. Instead of using the hours of material shot at the crime scenes, in which the original investigators revealed important details and debunked many myths, the program devoted an inordinate amount of time to the crackpot Blaine Blaine and his enablers; in fact, the show was little more than a protracted commercial for Blaine’s accusations. Frankly, I am disappointed; once again, valuable time was wasted on nonsense rather than focusing on important issues. In short, MYSTERYQUEST was a wasted opportunity.

Yet, there were some highlights for me. During the filming of the program I was privileged to work with criminalist Paul Holes, Chief Forensic Services Division of the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department. The producers made the right choice when they asked criminalist Paul Holes to examine the evidence in this case. Paul’s work in the unsolved EAR/ONS [East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker] case may someday help to convict a suspect. Paul approached the evidence in this case with the skepticism and pragmatism of a true professional, and my discussions with him forced me to re-examine some of the opinions regarding the evidence we have all heard about for so many years. My conversations with Paul left me convinced that he would follow the evidence wherever it led and that he took great pride in precision, professionalism and the process itself. As I listened to Paul discuss his past cases, his victories and the unsolved cases, I realized that, as much as I would never possess his skill, expertise and experience, I knew that we both shared one simple personality trait: we hated mysteries. Whenever I say that people look at me with a puzzled expression as if such a statement was somehow in direct conflict with my work on this case. Quite the contrary; I am attracted to unsolved crimes because they are questions in need of answers, and knowledge makes the difference. I’m sure I speak for Paul when I say that he has no interest in walking away from any case without those answers, and neither do I.

Yet answers have always proven to be elusive in the Zodiac case, and while MYSTERYQUEST may have provided some useful information, we are not “one step closer to solving the mystery.” Like so many who have followed this case, I still have hope that this mystery can be solved. As much as I cling to that hope, I often feel as if entering the Zodiac story is a bit like entering hell, where a sign reportedly reads, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Welcome to

Hello and welcome to the new

Some visitors to this site may be new to the case; therefore, I will take a moment to share some information about myself for anyone interested in the origins and owner of this site.

My name is Michael Butterfield. For more than a decade, I have conducted extensive research into the unsolved Zodiac crimes as I prepared to write a new book about the case. My research included a thorough examination of the official documents, original police reports, FBI files, autopsy reports, ballistics reports, death certificates and much more, as well as newspaper articles, magazine stories, Internet reports, television and radio broadcasts, and more. In the last ten years, I have interviewed many of those involved in the case, from witnesses, investigators, suspects, survivors, family of suspects and victims, and more, including investigators Ken Narlow, Ed Rust, Pierre Bidou, Tom Bruton, Mel Nicolai, Vince Repetto, Kelly Carroll, Fred Shirasago and others, survivor Bryan Hartnell, Dean Ferrin (husband of victim Darlene Ferrin), Sue Ayers (Dean’s cousin), Pam (Darlene’s sister), the family of Arthur Leigh Allen, Michael O’Hare, “Mr. X,” officer Armand Pelissetti, and many, many more. I have done my best to thoroughly research the Zodiac case as well as the many theories. Due to my research and public writings about the case, I have become a recognized expert on the unsolved crimes. As a result, I have acted as a source for media reports, and served as a consultant on the feature film ZODIAC. I have also appeared on television programs such as CASE REOPENED, COLD CASE FILES, and the History Channel documentary MYSTERYQUEST.

I created this site in 2007, in part as a response to the film ZODIAC and its revisionist history of the case. The film was based on the dubious books by author Robert Graysmith and resurrected the long-ago abandoned suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. The resulting public confusion, and the resurgence of Graysmith’s already-debunked theories and claims, proved that websites like mine are necessary in order to ensure that the interested public has access to reliable information about the case. In addition to a thorough examination of Graysmith’s career and claims, this website also offers analysis of other theories such as the Manson/Zodiac conspiracy theory, the work of Gareth Penn, and more. Readers will of course decide for themselves, but it is my opinion that none of the named suspects was or is the Zodiac. I do not endorse any theory or suspect in this case — as far as I am concerned, any rational, intelligent and objective observer would be forced to concede that no credible evidence exists to implicate any of the named suspects, and, further, that there is no legitimate reason to continue to consider these men to be viable suspects. Those who have made mini-careers out of accusing suspects and peddling theories are, in my opinion, nothing more than snake-oil salesmen; they are the reason there is so much public confusion about this case and the reason that those who attempt to research this case and care about this case are often perceived as kooks with no credibility.

The so-called “Zodiac community” has taken a turn for the worse, and a new wave of crackpots emerged in the public spotlight with sensational and bogus tales; Dennis Kaufman, Deborah Perez, Steve Hodel and Gary Stewart each claim that their own father was the Zodiac; several amateur code-breakers and others have received media attention for code solutions which were laughable at the outset; Blaine Blaine has reemerged to accuse another old suspect unworthy of note; and a host of others have jumped on the bandwagon with other absurd and baseless claims. I receive many emails from individuals who are certain they have solved the Zodiac’s codes and discovered the names of Arthur Leigh Allen, Richard Marshall, or Ted Kaczynski. All of these solutions proved invalid, as is so often the case, but these “code-breakers” are not interested in facts and continue to insist they have deciphered the true messages. Thanks to this endless supply of the mentally and morally ill, the public only hears about the Zodiac case when some shameless opportunist seeks and receives fifteen seconds of fame. As the Zodiac mystery turns forty years old, the public face of the case has become the face of a crackpot.

[SEPTEMBER 27th, 2009] Today is the 40th anniversary of the Zodiac’s attack at Lake Berryessa. I hope that those of you who care about this case will take a moment to remember the victims, Bryan and Cecelia; on this day all those years ago, they confronted a terror that most of us cannot even begin to imagine. These people and the others who have suffered and sacrificed are the reasons that I care about this case and, in my opinion, they deserve a lot better than they have received from the “Zodiac community.” They deserve better than sensationalism, opportunism, and exploitation. They deserve better than to have their private tragedy turned into public entertainment. And they deserve better than to have those who claim to care about this case out there in the public eye, coddling crackpots, promoting bad theories and endorsing bad suspects. In short, these human beings continue to be victimized year after year by the very people who claim to champion their cause.

As we recognize yet another passing year and yet another decade without the resolution to this case, I’d like to ask all of you a question: How can we make this year different? How can we make this year count, and make some sort of valuable contribution to this case? Can we join together in exposing the frauds who exploit this tragedy? Can we join together to help clear confusion about the crimes, the suspects, the evidence, the theories? Can we join together to further the study of this case? It may sound silly or over-dramatic, but I think we should all start looking at this case through a new perspective: Ask not what the Zodiac case can do for you, but what you can do for the Zodiac case. Can we find a way to unite in our common cause, for our common concerns, and work together to make a difference, even a small one? I think so. And I ask those of you who have joined this site to help make that goal a reality. We can do a lot to help further the study of this case and clear public misconceptions if we work together.

On that note, I’d like to take a moment to respond to some of the emails I have been receiving in the last few weeks since this new message board became available. As much as I appreciate the offers of donations, I cannot and will not accept any donations. If you feel the need to donate money, I encourage you to make a donation to your local police department, P.A.L. (The Police Athletic League), your favorite charity, or someone in need. And I would also encourage you to be weary of anyone who asks you for money. There is no charge for access to this message board, and I will not ask anyone for money at any time. I pay to maintain this site, and therefore I am paying money out of my own pocket so that visitors may have a free forum; all I ask in return is that you treat myself and others with respect, act with civility, and be responsible.

My thanks to all of you who have sent your kind words of support and encouragement. With your help, I believe that this site can serve a useful purpose while providing a sorely-needed alternative for those in search of thoughtful, meaningful discussion and the exchange of ideas. How successful this site ultimately proves to be depends far more on its members than on me, so I hope I can count on all of you as my partners in this effort. This site, and its message board, will only be as good as we make it, so, in the long run, it’s only as good as its members. Let’s make it the best. Thank you.


Michael Butterfield

Owner and Operator of