Month: October 2009

CHERI JO BATES and The ZODIAC: Unsolved Crimes and Unanswered Questions

[A note to the reader: This blog entry is longer than most in order to address many of the issues revolving around the still-theorized connection between the Zodiac and Bates cases as well as the developments over the last 43 years.]

Forty three years ago today, a groundskeeper working on the campus of Riverside City College discovered the body of eighteen-year-old freshman Cheri Jo Bates. The young coed had been stabbed to death in an alley way in the last hours of October 30, 1966, and then left in the dirt and darkness until she was found the next morning.

Investigators came upon a man’s Timex watch lying on the ground near the body; the size of its torn wristband indicated that the killer had a wrist measuring approximately seven inches. A heel print at the scene was identified as a B.F. Goodrich waffle design boot in a size range between eight and ten. An autopsy determined that the victim had scratched her killer, and an analysis of traces of skin under her fingernails concluded that the killer was a Caucasian male. The unknown subject had stabbed the victims several times in her chest and at least once in her back, and also slashed her throat using a knife that measured approximately ½ inch wide and 3 ½ inches long.

Investigation revealed that Cheri Jo had traveled to the library, where she checked out a collection of books and then returned to the parking lot and her Volkswagen Bug. The car was still parked in the lot the following day and, when they opened the hood to examine the engine, police discovered that someone had disconnected a distributor wire, thereby disabling the vehicle. Speculation suggested that the killer sabotaged the car in order to create a ruse in which he pretended to assist Bates and offered her a ride. Convinced that the seemingly helpful stranger would take her to his car, Cheri Jo willingly walked away from the library and into the night with the man who planned to take her life.

Although police would later identify several suspects, the case remained unsolved and, in 1969, news of the notorious Zodiac killer reached Thomas Kinkead, Chief of the Riverside Police Department. The letter-writing killer reminded Kinkead of the unsolved homicide that occurred three years earlier. In early October, Kinkead contacted Agent Mel Nicolai at the Department of Justice to report his suspicion that the crimes could be connected. Nicolai directed Kinkead to investigators in Napa, and, on October 17, 1969, Chief Kinkead contacted the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

Chief Kinkead wrote in a subsequent letter, “One month after the homicide, letters were received at the Press and our department written by the suspect of our homicide. The suspect used a black felt tip pen to address the envelopes and had used upper case print. The confession was typed.”

By ______________________________



Police could not confirm a phone call to the police or the local newspaper, The Press-Enterprise. The letter was considered most suspicious. Kinkead offered a disturbing conclusion: “The person who wrote the confession is aware of facts about the homicide that only the killer would know. There is no doubt that the person who wrote the confession letter is our homicide suspect.”

Six months after the receipt of the “Confession,” three handwritten letters arrived at the Riverside Police Department, the local newspaper, and the home of Cheri Jo’s father, Joseph Bates. The first two read, “Bates had to die. There will be more.” A small symbol resembling the letter Z appeared at the bottom of each page. The third letter simply read, “She had to die. There will be more.”

A handwriting expert concluded that the Zodiac was responsible for the letters. At least one other expert agreed with this conclusion yet others would later express their doubts. After the possible connection was reported in newspapers with headlines which read, “Zodiac Link Is Definite,” the Zodiac wrote to say, “I do have to give them credit for stumbling across my riverside activity, but they are only finding the easy ones, there are a hell of a lot more down there.”

Kinkead’s letter demonstrated that Riverside police had embraced the possibility that the Zodiac was responsible for the Bates murder, however, in later years, the department reversed this position and focused its attention on a suspect who had allegedly dated the victim prior to her death. Further investigation failed to produce sufficient evidence to charge this individual and the crime remained unsolved in 1982, when the department released a statement to the public that read, “In November of 1981, new information came to light which resulted in the assignment of four investigators to work full time on this case. These investigators recontacted numerous persons who were either known to the victim or were known to associate with an individual we believe responsible for this crime. Current and past known associates have been interviewed in depth. All of the physical evidence related to this crime has been re-evaluated and in some instances forensically re-examined.” The statement went on to read, “The alleged connection with the ‘Zodiac’ by certain media and inquisitive individuals was anticipated when a decision was made to release this information. The showing of very old composites and the review of previously examined cryptic writings by some of the media, have resulted in considerable interest by the rest of the media whose knowledge of the ‘Zodiac’ is based on out-dated information linking this investigation with those referred to as ‘Zodiac’ cases. Speculation and creative reporting of this kind could conceivably hamper successful prosecution. The person we believe responsible for the slaying of Cheri Jo Bates is not the individual other law enforcement authorities believe responsible for the so called ‘˜Zodiac’ killings. Our investigation of the Cheri Jo Bates murder continues to be as thorough as possible.”

The new information concerned a sensational story told by a seemingly credible witness who knew the suspect in question. This witness claimed that he had seen the suspect on the night of the murder and then accompanied him back to the scene of the crime in search of the suspect’s watch. Police believed the witness was telling the truth but could not produce enough evidence to prosecute the suspect. If authorities in Riverside were concerned about the impact of media speculation linking the Bates case and the Zodiac crimes, they could not have been pleased when the best-selling book ZODIAC featured the Bates story, forever linking the two cases in the public imagination. Today, any discussion of one case must include the by-now obligatory reference to the other.

Those who dismissed this possible link often claim coincidence, or theorize that the Zodiac simply read of the Bates case and then decided to send the Riverside writings and take credit for a crime he did not commit. I will never forget the first time I walked onto the campus of Riverside City College more than ten years ago in January of 1999. As my eyes studied the scenery, I suddenly spotted a sign for a student production of The MIKADO. Was that a coincidence? Of course. However, when it comes to the possible link between the crimes of the Zodiac and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates, I believe that such explanations seems insufficient as we confront yet another un-happy Halloween and another anniversary of the still-unsolved slaying.

Contested or questionable links between unsolved crimes and those of a known serial killer are often at the center of debate and the source of contention among various law enforcement agencies. Even those investigators who do their best to work together and cooperate in pursuit of a common goal can be mistaken when attempting to determine which crimes where committed by which killer. In the now-resolved and infamous case of Wichita’s “B.T.K.” Strangler, FBI profilers offered their expert opinion that a long-unsolved murder of a young mother was definitely not the work of the then-silent killer who tortured his victims in their homes and wrote letters to the local media. When BTK resurfaced in 2004, he sent his first communication in years to a local newspaper: the envelope contained the photographs he had taken while he killed the young mother, a crime the FBI had determined was not linked to BTK.

The sad truth is that no one can accurately determine exactly which crimes were committed by whom until the persons responsible for those crimes are conclusively lined to those cases, or the killer provides the link himself. Most critics and amateur sleuths focus on conflicting or varying M.O.s, and argue that even the slightest deviation from a rigid pattern is proof that two seemingly different cases cannot be the work of the same individual. Beyond these simplistic terms and confines, another aspect of criminal pathology remains largely overlooked– the signature.

Theories connect the Zodiac to many unsolved cases, however, the killer only took credit for these specific crimes: the shootings on Lake Herman Road and at Blue Rock Springs Park, the stabbing at Lake Berryessa, the murder of cabdriver Paul Stine, the abduction of Kathleen Johns, and the murder of Cheri Jo Bates. The evidence clearly links the Zodiac to the first four cases, and even SFPD Inspector William Armstrong believed it was possible that Johns had actually encountered the Zodiac yet somehow survived to tell her story. The Zodiac appeared to claim as many as 37 victims by the time he vanished in 1974, yet no one knows just how many lives he destroyed during his career. At the end of his campaign of terror, he abandoned his previous nom-de-plume in favor of others, such as, “A Citizen,” “A friend,” and even “The Red Phantom.” The possibility exists that the killer had a career after he used “The Zodiac” as his signature, and therefore it is equally possible that he began his deadly work before assuming that persona. A simple examination of some basic facts raises serious questions regarding the logic behind the assumption that the Zodiac was not responsible for the murder of Cheri Jo Bates.

The term “signature” is simply a fancy word for need, and when homicide investigators study a crime, they search for a motive, a reason for that crime. No one can determine with any accuracy or precision the factors or feelings which may motive and drive a man to murder, but the study of his crimes will reveal his signature. While some murderers may vary their methods of operation, choosing to stab, shoot or strangle their victims in an effort to deceive authorities or engage in experimentation, a killer’s choices, actions and words reflect his needs– even when he attempts to deceive and even when he does not realize that he is doing so. In this sense, the killer’s crimes will reveal his psychological fingerprint.

In my unprofessional opinion as a citizen who as studied this case for many years, the characteristics of the Zodiac appear to be, in part:

#1) The killer’s crimes often appear to lack obvious motive; meaning, no evidence of sexual assault, robbery of significant monetary value, or personal animosity.

#2) The killer makes little to no effort to conceal his actions, often choosing populated or popular areas as the locations of his attacks.

#3) The killer takes risks beyond those preferable to one who has serious fear of capture.

#4) The killer’s crimes appear to be premeditated in nature, and often indicate preparation and planning.

#5) The killer can vary his methods but remains largely consistent in linking himself to these crimes rather than attempting to avoid detection of any connection.

#6) The killer enjoys recounting his deeds, either by telephone or written communication, including a message at a crime scene or handwritten letters.

#7) The killer often provides minor and/or important details: in some cases, the authorities state that these messages contain information known only by the killer.

#8) The killer favors victims of chance rather than preselected targets: couples on a roadside, a couple at a lake on a whim, or a cab driver passing by. The evidence suggests that he selected his targets at random.

#9) The killer can adapt to changing conditions and accomplish his goals, remaining calm under pressure and improvising when necessary. He has the ability to interact with his victims without raising suspicion.

#10) The killer can employ a carefully constructed ruse when it suits his needs. At Lake Berryessa, the killer concocted a curiously-false yet detailed story regarding a prison escape, the killing of a guard, and a flight to Mexico. He lied to his victims and claimed he only intended to rob them before stealing their car but the deception ended with a sudden ambush of violence. The selection of a cab driver and the direction to a pre-determined location also suggests planning as well as the ability to interact with and deceive a victim until the desired time to strike.

#11) The killer does not feel a need to interact with the victim after the initial violence other than to retrieve items he can later use for some known and/or known purpose, such as trophies or a possession which he can later use to prove that he was responsible for the crime. He does not sexually molest his victims, nor does he make any effort to transport them away from the scene of the crime. The killer makes no effort to conceal his crimes in that he does not dispose of or attempt to hide the bodies but prefers to leave them the victims where they fall.

#12) The killer inflicts potentially lethal and often deadly wounds but makes no apparent effort to ensure that his victims are dead before leaving the scene of the crime. In two instances, rather than leaving his victims to die at isolated locations, the killer called authorities and directed them to the scene and the victims, thereby increasing the possibility that they might somehow survive.

#13) The killer’s crimes revolve around and concern vehicles: he drives to the locations where he attacks victims who are seated in vehicles, he asks for and/or takes the keys to the vehicles of his victims, he writes a message on the vehicle belonging to a victim, and he sits inside the victim’s vehicle in order to commit the crime. He even mentions and/or describes the vehicles of his victims in both his telephone and written communications.

#14) The killer repeatedly defines his crimes in reference to the method, the location and/or date of those crimes: referring to the victims he killed “last Christmas,” victims “one mile east of Columbus Parkway,” those people “up north,” and the taxi driver over by Washington and Maple streets. He even writes the location of his attacks on a car door as, “Vallejo,” as well as the dates of those crimes along with others.

#15) The killer often describes his fantasies using vivid details.

#16) The killer enjoys describing the reactions of his victims but makes no significant effort to inflict pain on his victims beyond that which is necessary to the completion of his apparent goal to wound or kill: he does not engage in any acts of obvious or pro-longed torture and or sadism.

#17) The killer alludes to past and future victims, often without providing specific details or information.

#18) The killer often warns of further attacks or threatens more violence unless his demands are met. He will provide elaborate details regarding his potential reprisals.

#19) The killer often states that he will strike again yet many of these threats appear to be nothing more than attempts to frighten the public and/or mislead or confuse authorities.

#20) The killer links himself to and/or claims credit only for crimes which remain unsolved.

These are the undeniable characteristics of the Zodiac, as established by the known facts. Any thorough and fact-based assessment of the behavior of the killer in the Bates case and the author of the “Confession” letter and other Riverside writings will reveal a very similar set of characteristics, and the same psychological fingerprint.

Some skeptics have speculated that the “Confession” may have been written by the someone who wished to deflect suspicion from an individual who had known the victim. However, the author of the “Confession” clearly states that the murder was his way of “MAKING HER PAY FOR THE BRUSH OFFS THAT SHE HAD GIVEN ME DURING THE YEARS PRIOR.” Rather than lead authorities to a stranger, the author directed them straight to a rejected suitor, a jilted lover, an angry acquaintance or even an obsessive friend. A suspect who wished to re-direct the investigation would attempt to implicate a stranger rather than those who knew the victim. A stranger who wished to mis-direct the investigation would implicate someone who had known the victim.

The author of the “Confession” described a scenario which was in keeping with the known facts, and claimed that he had disabled the victim’s car while she was inside the campus library. He further stated that he used this as the basis for a pre-conceived ruse to approach the victim, offer his assistance, and then guide her to a pre-determined location where he planned to execute Bates. The author provided details which police then stated could only be known by the actual killer, and he also offered an elaborate narrative describing the sequence of events, including the disabling of the vehicle, the approach of the victim, the use of the ruse, the walk to the car, the attack itself, and the reaction of the victim. The author mentioned a phone call placed after the murder. The author also alluded to past and future crimes and included an elaborate description of an impending attack which he did not commit (as in, “I SHALL CUT OFF HER FEMALE PARTS AND DEPOSIT THEM FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE”). The author of the three handwritten letters also warned of future attacks.

The behavior of the killer in the Bates case is also similar to that of the Zodiac in several respects. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer carried out a premeditated act which included careful planning, execution, and the use of a ruse in order to gain the trust of the victim. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer was capable of putting his victim at ease, and created an elaborate lie so that he could guide the victim towards his predetermined conclusion and the planned attack. Like the Zodiac, the Bates killer did not engage in any sexual activity with the victim and made no effort to transport or conceal the body after the murder. The Bates crime also lacked signs of any apparent or traditional motives such as sexual assault, robbery or personal animosity. The Bates killer also took risks, exposing himself to potential witnesses in the library parking lot and taking the chance that he might be seen talking to or walking with the victim before the attack.

Chief Kinkead strongly believed that the author of the “Confession” was the same individual responsible for the Bates murder, and he clearly viewed the Zodiac as a logical suspect. Kinkead based his opinion on many factors but other information also supported his conclusion. After the Bates murder, Riverside police, the local newspaper and Bates’ father received three virtually identical handwritten letters in April 1967. The Zodiac’s first written attempt to communicate consisted of three virtually identical handwritten letters mailed in July, 1969. The author of the Riverside “Confession” wrote, “SHE SQUIRMED AND SHOOK AS I CHOAKED HER, AND HER LIPS TWICHED.” In his letter of July 26, 1970, the Zodiac wrote: “Some I shall tie over ant hills and watch them scream + twich and squirm.” Theories regarding a possible link between the Zodiac and Bates crimes did not appear in news reports until three month after the Zodiac had misspelled the same word in the same manner as the author of the “Confession.” Although I cannot claim to possess complete knowledge regarding the history of writings linked to murders, I would venture to guess that these are the only two instances in which a killer mailed three virtually identical handwritten letters. This similarity, and the use of the identical misspelling, suggests that the same author may have been responsible for both communications.

I made my first trip to Riverside to conduct research regarding the Bates murder in January, 1999. I contacted the detective then in charge of the case, stated the purpose of my inquiry and introduced myself by name. The detective replied, “Is this the same Michael Butterfield who wrote this article I have in front of me?” I responded by saying that, while I did not know to which article he referred, it was unlikely that anyone else was writing about this case under the same name. The detective then said, (paraphrase), “You’re taking some pretty tough shots at us here.” I did my best to explain my position on the issues but the detective was clearly not interested in discussing any possible link between the Zodiac and the Bates murder.

The detective was adamant in his opinion that Bates had been killed in an act of personal rage. He cited the over-kill aspects of the attack, and, later, he would claim that Bates had been stabbed as many as forty-two times. When referring to the fact that the killer had almost severed Bates’ head with several slashes to her throat, the detective compared the murder to the “rage-killing” of O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown. While he never used these exact words, the detective essentially said, “We have it all figured out.”

After that discussion, I was forced to reconsider my own opinions about Bates murder. After all, I thought, these guys know more than I do, they are professionals, they have experience, and I’m just some guy who is interested in this case. Who am I to question their conclusions? I decided that I needed to accept the possibility that the Bates and Zodiac crimes were not connected, and went about the rest of my research. However, in the years that followed that trip, the facts once again forced me to question the opinions of the Riverside police department, and their theory regarding their pet suspect.

Information concerning the Riverside informant raised serious doubts about his story. Known as a respected employee of a major corporation, the informant was deemed credible by the Riverside authorities. Yet, for many observers, the story that he had accompanied the suspect to the scene of the crime on the night of the murder was simply suspicious. Many critics wondered why the man had waited more than a decade before coming forward to tell his story. Further, many questioned the notion that anyone would conceal the solution to a murder case simply because a friend had asked him to do so. The witness did not claim that the suspect bragged about the crime during a drunken bout years later, but that he had traveled to the scene with the suspect and even saw the body of Cheri Jo Bates; therefore, the witness was not one of those people who heard a possibly false confession and did not know what to make of what he heard– this man was there, at the scene, and he knew that the suspect was responsible. Also, this witnesses watched as the case remained unsolved for more than a decade and never came forward, despite the public pleas of the investigators for information, despite the ongoing speculation regarding the Zodiac link, and despite the fact that the Bates family had never received the justice they deserved.

As one who has studied the story told by the witness (according to the details made public over the years), I must say that I am not convinced and find the entire scenario highly questionable. Living with the knowledge that one possesses the solution to an unsolved murder but failing to come forward requires a special kind of person. In my opinion, anyone who could do so, let alone for the reasons offered by the witness, is not an honest or trustworthy human being. Allowing the case to remain unsolved while watching the authorities waste valuable resources and the family destroyed by a grief is inexcusable, under any circumstances. The witness and the suspect had no relationship which would justify protecting the killer– it’s not as if the suspect took a bullet for the witness on the beaches of Normandy.

The witness waited more than a decade to come forward, and, when he did so, he could only offer scraps of information, most of which had already appeared in news reports during that time. The story about looking for the missing watch may have seemed credible but even the most generous critics cite the fact that this story is dubious at best. A killer who was so desperately afraid of capture that he would risk returning to the scene of the murder in order to retrieve that possession was increasing his chance of capture ten-fold by involving another person in his crime. As investigation has proven, the watch did not link the suspect to the crime, so the decision to risk further exposure and possible capture by returning to the scene seemed unwarranted. Confessing his involvement in the murder to another human being put the suspect at eternal risk of being identified as the killer. While some observers may be tempted to believe the story told by this witness, I do not believe this witness is telling the truth, and, further, I do not believe that he ever went to the scene of the crime with the suspect that night. Police had no evidence to link their suspect to the Bates murder and, without the story told by the witness, the case against the suspect was virtually non-existent.

After my trip to Riverside, the report detailing the autopsy of Cheri Jo Bates surfaced on the Internet. The report clearly refutes the scenario described by the detective who claimed that Bates had been stabbed as many as forty-two times. The report indicated that the actual number of stab wounds was far less than forty-two, and that, despite the violence unleashed on the victim, the notion that this was an act of personal rage by someone who had known Bates was not supported by the facts. The theory endorsed by the Riverside police no longer seemed as plausible or correct.

Several years ago, word spread that Riverside authorities had obtained a genetic profile from the hairs found in the victim’s hand and planned to compare this sample with one obtained from their suspect. I predicted that the comparison would not implicate the suspect, and the results proved my prediction to be accurate– the tests proved that the DNA taken from those hairs did not match the DNA of the suspect. At one time, the suspect even issued a statement in which he not only denied killing Bates but refuted many of the stories which had been used to cast suspicion upon him in the past. The case remains unsolved, and the man who killed Cheri Jo Bates remains free– whoever he may be.

I am not one to criticize police or second guess the decisions of law enforcement professionals without cause, and, over the years, I have offered my own opinions about the progress of this case (or the lack thereof). Some observers and critics are quick to ridicule or blame the Riverside police department for the failure to identify and charge the killer, however, I think these investigators were always at a disadvantage in trying to solve such a crime. Since I now believe that Bates was killed by a stranger, I believe that disadvantage was most likely greater than investigators could ever overcome. Those who criticize the Riverside police often claim that these investigators are unwilling to even consider a Zodiac connection because to do so would also mean admitting that their failure to stop the killer back in 1966 ultimately left him free to claim more lives as the Zodiac years later. Again, I cannot blame the Riverside police for the failure to solve this case, and I do not believe that they can be blamed for what occurred outside of their jurisdiction. Those who would blame Riverside authorities for the Zodiac crimes are simply being unrealistic and unfair.

If I had one criticism of the position adopted by the Riverside authorities, I would cite their failure to remain open to other theories and possible suspects. No one would blame these investigators for doubting the Zodiac connection but I believe they would be better served to cooperate with the other agencies involved in those crimes in an effort to have all the evidence compared in order to determine if that connection actually exists. Reports indicated that the Riverside DNA was obtained from the hairs found in Bates’ hand, yet hair contains mitochondrial DNA which differs from and cannot be compared to DNA taken from saliva, blood or semen. However, the partial genetic profile obtained from the Zodiac’s envelope can be compared to any DNA obtained from the envelopes which contained the Riverside writings, or perhaps forensics experts could employ new techniques in an effort to obtain “Touch DNA” from the actual Riverside letters. The watch left at the scene of the Bates murder may prove useful if authorities were able to obtain DNA from its wrist band; such items can often reveal traces of sweat, or even skin. Given the nature of the crime, the killer may have cut himself and, therefore, a re-examination of the victim’s clothing using new technology and new methods could possibly reveal traces of the killer’s blood and therefore yield his genetic profile.

I would hope that Riverside authorities would be willing to explore all of these possibilities and do whatever is necessary to cooperate with the agencies in the Zodiac cases. In the end, any new evidence obtained from a renewed examination of the Bates case may ultimately prove or disprove a link between the cases, or even implicate the suspect favored by Riverside authorities. No matter what the result, the Riverside police department would silence its critics and rightfully claim that its investigation of the Bates murder “continues to be as thorough as possible.”

Forty three years ago, Cheri Jo Bates was a beautiful, vibrant, friendly, out-going young woman who sought to better herself through education. Her loving family had high hopes for Cheri Jo, and they most likely dreamed of watching her graduate from college, find her career, build a life and perhaps even start her own family. Instead, they watched as her body was lowered into the ground, along with their hopes of finding justice. The man who killed Cheri Jo Bates deceived her in order to win her confidence and then used that trust to lead his victim to her death. If the author of the “Confession” was, in fact, the killer, he not only bragged that he had killed Bates but mocked her for ever trusting him in the first place. The cowardly liar also warned, “There will be more.” If the author of the “Confession” was, in fact, the Zodiac”– as some experts and even Chief Kinkead suspected– then his words were not only prophetic, but still continue to haunt and taunt us in ways he never imagined.

Michael Butterfield
October 31, 2009


After the recent broadcast of the new History Channel program MYSTERYQUEST, many viewers were disappointed by its brief and rather cursory examination of the actual crimes, its reliance on an informant with no credibility, and its protracted focus on the baseless accusations against a “new suspect,” Richard Gaikowski. Other complaints noted that the program failed to uncover any new information and left viewers hanging without the results of a comparison between Gaikowski’s DNA and the partial genetic profile previously obtained from a Zodiac envelope.

While I offered my criticisms regarding the final cut of MYSTERYQUEST, I have nothing but good things to say about my experience working on the production. Anyone who studies this case would jump at the chance to tour the actual crime scenes with the original investigators in order to learn from the men who were there right from the very beginning, and I certainly learned a great deal. Ken Narlow’s recounting of the events at Lake Berryessa more than forty years ago was perhaps the most compelling of all the interviews, simply because that crime is so much more frightening than the rest. Ed Rust’s recollections of the Blue Rock Springs Park crime scene helped to dispel some myths regarding the life and death of victim Darlene Ferrin and the contradictory statements of survivor Mike Mageau. Pierre Bidou helped to clear some of the confusion regarding the murders on Lake Herman Road and the subsequent investigation. These interviews would have proved insightful and informative to those who are interested in this case, and I believe that the producers made an unfortunate decision to minimize this material in favor of a questionable informant making dubious claims. However, such is the nature of television and entertainment. The producers made a practical decision to attract viewers with a “new suspect” and DNA technology, most likely based on the assumption that audiences would find a seemingly routine re-examination of the crimes to be less entertaining.

While the show may have failed to meet expectations, those who worked behind the scenes to produce the program should be commended for their efforts to conduct further testing on the case evidence using new technologies. The producers of MYSTERYQUEST did their best to gain access to the original case evidence as well as the partial genetic profile created by the SFPD crime lab, but the San Francisco Police Department declined to participate in the program and refused to provide access to the DNA evidence. Some people viewed the lack of cooperation as proof that the SFPD was engaged in some sinister attempt to thwart the investigation of Richard Gaikowski or conceal the fact that their evidence was not as sound as they had led us to believe. To these armchair critics, the behavior of the SFPD was baffling, and the refusal to participate in the production was characterized as “arrogant” and even “irresponsible.” To others, the actions of the SFPD made perfect sense.

Richard Gaikowski first became a “suspect” back in 1986, thanks to the claims of “Blaine Blaine” (aka Goldcatcher). Despite the fact that members of law enforcement (including Ken Narlow) did not believe that he was a credible source, Blaine found new support for his incredulous claims decades later in the likes of Tom Voigt and David Morris of the website Ignoring Blaine’s credibility issues and his habit of telling mutually exclusive versions of the same story, Voigt and Morris resurrected Blaine’s bogus claims and introduced him to a world ignorant of his history. Armed with audio recordings of telephone conversations between Blaine and the suspect, as well as a long list of seemingly damning evidence, Voigt and Morris launched their campaign to promote Gaikowski as a new and compelling suspect. The message board at became a 24-hour source for propaganda designed to convince the world that Voigt and Morris were hot on the trail of the killer’s true identity. Not unlike college pranksters leading gullible freshmen on a snipe hunt, Voigt and Morris led their newly-converted believers down a path carefully constructed to create the conclusion that Gaikowski was a viable suspect in need of serious investigation.

More than 20 years ago, Ken Narlow looked into Blaine’s accusations; he concluded that Blaine had no credibility and that his suspect was unworthy of further examination. Blaine’s letters and manuscript demonstrate that Narlow’s assessment of Blaine was correct. During his many written communications to investigators, Blaine desperately tried to establish a link between Gaikowski and slain cab driver Leonard Smith, and he provided a long list of circumstances and coincidences to create a rather strained connection. Blaine also claimed that he had stumbled upon Gaikowski’s secret identity as the Zodiac and that, once he had started investigating his suspect, Gaikowski began killing people in order to intimidate and silence Blaine.

In his recent telephone “confession,” Blaine Blaine told an incredible and very different story.“I was there in [Gaikowski’s] house … and then there was a fellow cab driver Leonard Smith, he was there. And what happened was, uh, Gaikowski and I were, uh, I was, uh, I was trying to free myself from the kind of spell he was putting over me – all this talk about murder. I was in denial, I, I, I, I, I, I didn’t want to believe, uh, that anything like this would happen. And, uh, even now as I talk about this, uh, I don’t, I find myself wanting to censor myself because the truth is so evil about it. Well, what it came down to was, uh, this guy Leonard Smith, he was the first one, now, Gaikowski has decided that he got, he, he, he’s got a new way to start a bunch of killings … Well, what I’m trying to say here is that, was, uh, that Gaikowski was saying, ‘Uh, look, Blaine, we’ve been in these murders since the beginning.’ I didn’t like how he was saying that, like, like, somehow he’s getting me involved in these murders, he did that from the beginning. Then he was saying, uh, ‘You know what, I could kill this guy, I don’t like this guy anyway, Leonard Smith, the guy, you had sex with him, right? And, uh, uh, we kill this guy, and, I go over there, I’m gonna kill him, and, in his cab, and take a ride. Call him up and he’ll meet me someplace in his cab, right? And, uh, when I kill him, I’ll leave a, uh, you know, I’ll spray paint a golden calf on the sidewalk, yeah.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? Are you nuts? Don’t do anything crazy like that.’ Well, he did that, he killed that guy, and, uh, the reason was that, he wanted, he wanted, he wanted to do a little test, and the test was, just as he was invincible as the Zodiac, he was going to do a series of killings called ‘The Golden Calf Killings,’ and, uh, here’s how he got me involved in this. He said, ‘Okay, you know I killed Leonard Smith. Christ, you were in the van over there, at the south market. I drove by, you heard the gun shot, you got out, you saw me there, you know, I, I, I killed the guy, I killed Leonard Smith, but, what I want you do, though, is, you call up the San Francisco homicide – Mayor Feinstein, she’s got a reward out for that guy, ten thousand bucks! Go ahead and call and say, you know this guy, a friend of yours, you say my name Gaikowski, and you say you saw me kill him.’ Okay, I’m thinking, ‘Are you crazy or what?’ And, then he said, ‘But don’t worry, because you’re gonna be rewarded for this.’ And I said, ‘What, have you gone out of your, off your rocker?’ and then he said, ‘No. Then you say that, uh, Gaikowski is the Zodiac. Yeah, tell them that. And, I’ll be here when you get back. You can make the call from somewhere else, right? And tell me what happens.’ I’m thinking about that, because, he killed this cab driver that we both knew. Lots of details of this first murder. Well, when I called the police about it, uh, I think the cops, uh, the Inspector was Napoleon Hendrix. But when I said that Gaikowski was the Zodiac serial killer, they said, uh, ‘We don’t want to hear anymore of this stuff, okay. We get people calling here everyday claiming they know who the Zodiac is, so, you know, why don’t you, you know, just forget this, okay, buddy.’ And, uh, this was actually what happened. I was astounded. I told Gaikwoski and he laughed and said, ‘Yeah.’ No. And I thought, ‘Well, okay, I did that. What’s the big deal?’…” 

( Blaine/Goldcatcher’s audio confession can be heard  here:  )

Decades ago, Blaine claimed that he had stumbled upon Gaikowski’s identity as the Zodiac; today, he claims that he was asked by Gaikowski to report the suspect to police. Decades ago, Blaine had been unable to establish a connection between Gaikowski and Smith; today, he claims he was in the same room with the two men. Decades ago, Blaine had nothing more than speculation to connect Gaikowski to Smith’s murder; today, he claims that Gaikowski not only told of him of his intention to kill Smith, but that he was at the scene when the murder occurred. Decades ago, Blaine claimed that Gaikowski was killing people in order to stop his investigation; today, he claims that Gaikowski invited him to participate in the murder spree.

Richard Gaikowski was arrested in the 1960s; the version of the story offered today has Gaikowski writing a story about conditions in the local jail and he attempted to get arrested in order to investigate from within. However, Blaine offered a somewhat different story when he spoke with David Morris. In an email dated March 9, 2008, Morris wrote: “I spoke with Blaine today and asked why Richard was arrested in 1965. He’d told me the story before, but it didn’t make a ton of sense. He retold it exactly as before. Richard got into a fight with Darlene, and, this is what’s fuzzy, for some reason held out a beer bottle from the driver side window of his car as a police cruiser went by. The cops saw it, stopped him, and arrested him for it. He lost his job over the incident.” Of course, the story has now changed to remove the outlandish claims regarding Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin.

Voigt and Morris have chosen to ignore these serious credibility problems, just as Voigt ignored the same problems when it came to his associations with and promotion of Robert Graysmith, Allen-accuser Don Cheney, Manson conspiracy theorist Howard Davis, and others over the years. In a recent post on his own message board, Voigt wrote, “I can’t count how many times a sensational claim about Gaikowski from Goldcatcher turned out to be true. He’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt.” Apparently Voigt does not count the times when Blaine’s story proved to be false.

Anyone who has followed the saga of the Gaikowski/Blaine/Voigt/Morris machine can see that the accuser has no credibility, his enablers have no concern for the facts, and the evidence used to accuse the Gaikowksi does not justify his inclusion on the list of viable suspects. Even the producers of MYSTERYQUEST failed to uncover any new information to implicate Gaikowski. In fact, the program did much to support the conclusion that Gaikowski was not in the state of California during the time of the Zodiac crimes. Gaikowski himself claimed that he was not even in the country at the time. Absent any credible evidence to implicate the suspect, Gaikowski is simply one of many men accused of murder by less-than-ethical individuals who repeatedly fail to provide any support for their claims.

Most Zodiac theorists ask the public to ignore the fact they have no credible evidence to support their accusations against their suspects. Instead, they use a slight-of-hand distraction to make critics focus on the subject of their choosing, and ask, “Can you prove that my suspect is not the Zodiac?” The accusers call for DNA testing as well as fingerprint and handwriting comparisons, and when the results exclude their suspects, the accusers then attack the evidence. None of the Zodiac theorists has ever abandoned a theory or suspect after the evidence excluded that suspect, indicating that nothing would stop them from continuing their campaigns to convict their suspects in the court of public opinion. When fingerprint comparisons excluded Arthur Leigh Allen, Robert Graysmith and others claimed that the Zodiac used a severed finger to leave fake fingerprints. When handwriting comparisons excluded Allen, Graysmith claimed that Allen had someone else write the letters for him. When DNA comparisons excluded Allen, Graysmith claimed that Allen may have had someone else lick stamps and envelopes for him. When DNA excluded the suspect known as Mr. X, his accuser, Mike Rodelli, devoted his time to discrediting the DNA evidence.

Theorists spread their accusations and often call for police to further investigate, yet, when that investigation refutes their theory, they often claim that police are incompetent, apathetic, or, worse, engaged in a sinister conspiracy to ignore the evidence. The familiar mantra of discredited theorists is, “They don’t want to admit that some average citizen proved them wrong and solved this case.” In their minds, the theorists believe that they are the only ones who can see the truth that their suspect is the notorious Zodiac, and the rest of us are in denial.

The producers of MYSTERYQUEST did their best to have Gaikowski’s DNA compared to the partial profile created by the San Francisco Police Department crime lab. Despite the fact that no credible evidence exists to implicate Gaikowski, the producers acted responsibly in requesting such a comparison as he had already been accused in public for more than a year. However, the SFPD refused to cooperate with the production; a sample believed to belong to Gaikowski was forwarded to the SFPD, yet the department has not released any information or confirmed that any comparison was conducted. Supporters of the Gaikowski theory characterized this refusal as evidence that the SFPD was not interested in pursuing legitimate suspects or solving this case. David Morris offered his own thoughts on the reasons behind the refusal to cooperate, and wrote on Voigt’s message board, “Concern over looking stupid for letting a bunch of net geeks solve the most famous case in SF history? Ding ding ding.”

While this may have seemed like a perfectly reasonable explanation to David Morris, residents of planet earth viewed the actions of the SFPD in a very different light. Initially, some members of the SFPD believed that DNA testing might be an effective tool when it came to discrediting crackpots, however, as Graysmith, Rodelli and others have made clear, theorists simply march on, undeterred by such evidence.

The SFPD most likely has more than a passing familiarity with the career and claims of Tom Voigt; years ago, Voigt leaked a worksheet from the San Francisco Police Department concerning previous attempts to obtain DNA from the Zodiac’s envelopes. Members of the department may also remember that Tom Voigt is the same individual who promoted the already-discredited Robert Graysmith, assisted Graysmith in accusing Allen and spreading nonsense about that suspect, and generated the hype surrounding the non-suspect known as “Sam.” Voigt also sold Arthur Leigh Allen underwear, a beer mug featuring the face of victim Paul Stine, tee-shirts and more. In short, Voigt’s reputation among those in law enforcement and most especially the SFPD is less than stellar. If the SFPD knew that Tom Voigt was behind the accusations against Richard Gaikowski they may have seen no value in pursuing DNA testing when they knew Voigt’s history of propping up strawmen suspects only to knock them down after they lost their value as a marketable commodity.

There are many legitimate reasons to explain the SFPD’s refusal to participate in a DNA comparison concerning Gaikowski. Recent events surrounding the ridiculous claims made by Dennis Kaufman and Deborah Perez have created unnecessary work for law enforcement. The men and women who are constantly forced to investigate the tall tales told by individuals in search of fame and profit may be tired of devoting valuable time, resources, manpower and money to such nonsense. Blaine Blaine is the only reason that Gaikowski ever became a Zodiac suspect in the first place, and the SFPD may be well aware of the fact that he has no credibility, that he had already taken his information to every law enforcement agency, including the FBI, only to be dismissed as a kook, and that Blaine has been coddled and promoted by Tom Voigt. Rather than encourage others to engage in the same shameless opportunism, the SFPD may have decided that the best way to deter future crackpots was to simply ignore claims made by those who clearly have no credibility. The SFPD may have believed that they would be wasting time and effort on a new investigation of a suspect already examined and abandoned by investigators such as Ken Narlow and others more than twenty years earlier. In short, the SFPD’s refusal could be a statement saying, in effect, “We are not the crackpot clearinghouse, and we don’t come running every time some nutcase claims he has solved the Zodiac case.”

The SFPD may have other reasons for their decision not to participate in the MYSTERYQUEST or other productions. The genetic profile reportedly obtained in 2002 may reveal information about the Zodiac’s ethnic background or other details which the SFPD does not wish to reveal to the general public. Armchair critics may claim that this makes no sense, and that the SFPD should release that information in order to dismiss anyone who does not match that ethnic profile, however, such a revelation would most likely only cause more accusations against men who did match that profile. If the SFPD crime lab has continued testing on the Zodiac letters, they may have obtained more evidence which they do not wish to reveal to the general public, or they may simply be engaged in further testing at this time and see no need to share their ongoing work with anyone outside of the investigation.

Regardless of the reasons behind the SFPD’s decision not to participate in the MYSTERYQUEST testing, the department is under no obligation to share any information with the public, curious crime buffs, or men who are accusing suspects based on the flimsiest of evidence. The fact that SFPD does not do what some people want the department to do does not mean that the department is somehow irresponsible or apathetic, or that members of law enforcement are somehow afraid of or embarrassed by the so-called “net geeks” like Tom Voigt and David Morris. If one can read anything from the behavior of the SFPD, one might conclude that they have been paying attention and offered the most appropriate response to the Gaikowski/Blaine/Voigt/Morris machine.

In Memory Of Paul Stine: No Justice For The Dead

Forty years ago today, Paul Stine climbed into his taxi cab to begin his night shift. He undoubtedly planned to finish his work and then return to his loving wife, his quiet home, and the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, Paul Stine stopped on a San Francisco street to pick up a man in need of a ride. The man climbed into the cab and directed Stine to an upscale neighborhood known as Presidio Heights. Unbeknownst to Stine, his passenger was a sociopath, a psychotic killer who called himself the Zodiac. While the man may have given Stine the impression that, once they reached the designated destination, he would simply pay the fare and go on his way, the man had other plans; he lied to Stine, knowing full well that he planned to execute the driver who was only doing his job.

Minutes later, Stine’s lifeless body lay in the front seat of the cab, his lifeblood escaping through the gunshot wound in his head. The killer walked away and has never faced the consequences of his murderous deed. He remains free today, mocking justice and living a life Paul Stine never had the chance to live.

Most people only know the victim as an image in a two-dimensional photograph; Stine’s body hangs out of the open passenger door of the cab, forever trapped in time, immortal yet devoid of life. No one knows his last thoughts as he may have seen his killer raising the gun to strike. Perhaps his entire life flashed before his eyes, as the movie-cliche goes. Perhaps he thought about his wife, or the children he would never raise. Perhaps he thought of God, and his failure to intervene.

When Stine pulled up to that curb and picked up his passenger, he planned to do his job and take the man where he wanted to go. In short, the passenger could trust Stine to do the right thing. Sadly, Stine had no such luxury, and his passenger was actually a cowardly murderer who lied in order to gain Stine’s trust just long enough to take his life. For forty years, this coward has enjoyed his freedom while his victim remains trapped in that photograph, lost to history. If there is any justice in this world, Stine’s killer will one day be identified, captured, and punished for his crimes so that Stine’s soul may finally find some peace.

As we mark the 40th anniversary of Paul Stine’s tragic and senseless death, we should remember Paul Stine the man. In order to pay his way through college, Stine worked a variety of jobs. Education meant a chance for a better life, a hope that he and his wife might live in some semblance of comfort and security. Like all of us, Paul Stine was concerned about his future, even though he would never have one.

Take a moment to remember Paul Stine, and think about the man he might have been if he had been given the chance to live, and how the world might have been a better place with his contribution. To honor his memory, then take a moment to appreciate all that you have, the air you breathe, the loved ones in your life, the freedom you enjoy, and the future that will hopefully be yours.


The recent publication of the book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac and The Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hodel marks a sad chapter in the unending saga of the unsolved “Zodiac” crimes. Several years ago, former detective-turned-author Steve Hodel appeared on the “true” crime scene with his claims that his deceased father was responsible for one of the most horrific and infamous killings ever recorded, the so-called “Black Dahlia” murder. The sensational case has been the subject of debate, speculation and constant exploitation since the body of Elizabeth Short – carefully severed in half at the waist – was first discovered in a Los Angeles neighborhood in 1947. Along with Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac, the Black Dahlia killer was the stuff of legend. The unsolved crime made for popular entertainment, most recently in director Brian De Palma’s revisionist account of the unsolved crime BLACK DAHLIA. Hodel’s best-selling book BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER named George Hodel as the killer, and the author’s meteoric rise in the world of the true crime business included appearances on radio and television as well as a movie deal. Even Los Angeles County District Attorney Stephen Kay endorsed Hodel’s theory. However, others found the author’s case lacking in evidence and substance. Many of Hodel’s claims proved unsound, including the theory that a photo found among his father’s possessions depicted victim Elizabeth Short. Hodel’s critics cited the fact that his entire premise rested on shaky ground; his defenders cited the fact that George Hodel was, at one time, a suspect in Short’s murder and was actually named in official documents as such. Without any definitive method to confirm or refute Hodel’s accusations, the theory that George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer simply lingers in limbo, dismissed by most critics yet embraced by many believers.

In his second book, MOST EVIL, Steve Hodel claimed that his father was responsible for the Black Dahlia murder, the killings of many other victims, and the Zodiac crimes. Of course, Hodel is not the first person to come forward and accuse a deceased parent of murder; Dennis Kaufman first surfaced at the turn of the century with the claims that his dead step-father was the killer, and now the publicity-seeking Deborah Perez accuses her own dead step-father. Yet Hodel is the only father-accuser given credibility by the mainstream media, and the only one with a publisher peddling his nonsense.

Hodel’s article THE CSI EFFECT is little more than a self-serving attempt to avoid the inevitable; Hodel knows the accusation that his father was the Zodiac cannot withstand scrutiny. He also knows that the day will come when someone will demand that the DNA evidence be compared with that of his father. Hodel has taken a cue from the other Zodiac theorists and decided to attack the evidence first.

There is some truth to the notion that popular crime-science shows such as CSI have given the public the impression that forensic science can solve any crime, and that DNA is a magic bullet in criminal investigations. Indeed, in these programs, authorities obtain DNA results in a matter of seconds, and can even discover a person’s DNA in a room when that individual only thought about entering that room. Hodel wants us all to believe that this fantasy-thinking has tainted the discussion of the DNA evidence in the Zodiac case, and his presentation in defense of that position leaves much to be desired.

The issue at the center of the debate seems to be the validity of the DNA evidence; i.e. is the DNA taken from a Zodiac envelope actually the DNA of the killer? While many theorists accusing suspects who were cleared by this DNA are eager to dismiss this evidence, the San Francisco Police Department has clearly expressed its confidence in this evidence – and rightfully so. As Inspector Kelly Carroll stated years ago, it is unrealistic to believe that that Zodiac took precautions against leaving genetic evidence on the envelopes or stamps because DNA testing did not exist back in 1969. Further, given the fact that Zodiac was brazen and reckless – leaving victims alive, allowing himself to be seen, sending authorities samples of his handwriting, calling police, and much more – the assumption that the killer was driven by such concerns for caution is not supported by the known facts. In truth, if any killer was likely to have licked a stamp or envelope without concern, it was the Zodiac.

Theorists are quick to claim that the DNA is actually that of a detective who handled the envelope or a deranged postman who licked the mail as he made his rounds. As much as these explanations may be tempting – even more useful – for the theorists, the rest of the world cannot afford to accept such nonsense. After all, perfectly usable DNA has been retrieved from envelopes and stamps, some just as old or even older; in some cases, that DNA then identified a specific individual who was, in fact, responsible for a crime. The fact that an envelope has been stored in a police filing cabinet, handled by others, or even exposed to certain temperatures, will not cause the DNA under the stamp or envelope to magically transform into the DNA of someone other than the individual who licked that stamp or envelope. Hodel and others seem to believe that the DNA of a detective or postman could somehow seep under the stamp, obliterate the original DNA, and replace that DNA. In truth, the results would indicate mixed DNA, or the sample would simply be unreadable.

Hodel references the claims made by theorist Mike Rodelli, who has been accusing his suspect, Mr. X, for several years. In 2002, the DNA of Mr. X was compared to the partial profile obtained from the Zodiac’s envelope, and the results excluded Mr. X. In a surprise twist, Mike Rodelli then devoted his efforts to discrediting the DNA evidence. After interviewing anonymous sources, Rodelli’s website presented the claim that NO DNA was ever found on any of the Zodiac letters during previous testing; the inference being, that if DNA was found, it cannot be that of the Zodiac because none of the other letters contained any DNA. At its core, this explanation is designed to cast doubt on the DNA evidence while, at the same time, portray the authorities as disinterested in the truth. In Rodelli’s world, the SFPD is simply trying to make him shut up and go away, and they are using this falsified DNA evidence to laud over theorists with worthy suspects because they refuse to care about this case.

Steve Hodel has most likely studied the history of Rodelli, Robert Graysmith and others, and he most likely has no desire to follow in their footsteps on the path of public humiliation, back-peddling and desperation. Therefore, he has chosen to act in a pre-emptive fashion and denounce the evidence before that evidence is used to clear his suspect. Like most con-artists, Hodel hopes that he is smarter than his audience.

The notion that the DNA is the final word on a suspect’s viability is laughable. As with the notorious fingerprints found on the cab of victim Paul Stine, DNA should only be given great credence when that evidence implicates an individual. As I have stated in the past, if a suspect was found in possession of the missing portion of Paul Stine’s shirt yet his fingerprints did not match those found on the cab, dismissing this suspect would be unwise, to say the least. At the same time, when a suspect stands accused based on the flimsiest of evidence and the fingerprints do not match that suspect, then the fingerprints or DNA could be considered as the last word on a debate that should have ended long ago. This was the case with Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, Charles Clifton Collins, etc., and will be the case with Guy Ward Hendrickson, Jack Tarrance, and now George Hodel. These theories were not supported by credible evidence, the available evidence cast severe doubt on these theories, and these theories were often in direct conflict with known facts and/or presented by accusers with no credibility. When the DNA, fingerprints, palm print or handwriting fail to implicate such suspects, that should be the end of that theory. Unfortunately, for Graysmith, Rodelli and so many others it’s only the beginning.

In 2002, the ABC network obtained access to the SFPD crime lab as it tested several Zodiac letters in search of sufficient DNA in order to create a genetic profile. Dr. Cyndi Holt presented her findings, which excluded Arthur Leigh Allen, Mr. X, and Collins. As she spoke to the ABC correspondent on camera, Holt stated that the DNA belonged to an individual who, at one time, had “come in contact” with the stamp. Steve Hodel splits every hair of the ABC PRIMETIME transcript for his own purposes. To Hodel and other theorists, Holt’s words provided a window of opportunity, a tiny crack through which they can pass and continue to promote their respective theories. Again, the real culprit is a sloppy detective or a drooling mailman, and the DNA does not belong to the killer.

During the recent History Channel broadcast of the program MYSTERYQUEST, a forensic technician stated her belief that a DNA sample obtained from under the sealed portion of an envelope mailed more than 40 years ago most likely belonged to the individual who had licked that envelope. This genetic material was sealed under the envelope flap, as was the DNA sample found under a stamp on a Zodiac envelope. The technician further stated that it was not unusual when testing older items to obtain only a partial profile, as was the Zodiac profile. These comments reflect a simple, common sense – and scientific – approach to the evidence: genetic material trapped in the sealed portion of the envelope or under the stamp is considered more reliable than DNA found on the outside of the envelope, or in the areas exposed to and handled by others. Some may choose to continue attacking this evidence and claim that the DNA obtained from a Zodiac envelope belongs to someone other than the Zodiac. Those who use common sense, the facts, and logic, will most likely reach a different conclusion.

The real problem should be obvious to even the most casual observer: theorists feel the need to attack, discredit and discard all of the evidence in the Zodiac case. From fingerprints, DNA, a palm print or even the handwriting, this evidence is constantly cast aside by those who know that such evidence will put an end to their efforts to exploit this case for their own benefit. If anyone is really sitting around wondering why the theorists attack the evidence and employ such methods, you are exactly the kind of person that Steve Hodel and others are hoping will spend 25 bucks to buy a book filled with pure nonsense.

MOST EVIL is a perfect example of what has gone wrong in the Zodiac case, and in our society. The cynical nature of such books in the Zodiac, Jack the Ripper and other cases has become so common place that we don’t even bat an eye when we hear that yet another classless clown has come forward with a story that should make even the most jaded among us do a spit-take. Lying, distorting the facts, and doing so for personal profit is now the American way, and Steve Hodel can’t be faulted for wanting a piece of pie. He can, however, be called to account for his crimes against the truth.

Hodel will have his defenders. On another website, the owner uses his real name to promote the book while hiding behind a fake name to endorse the book on another site, posting, “I think he really solved it!” and “Thank you, Steve Hodel! YAAAYY!” Of course, this is all about increasing traffic and hits to websites, and padding wallets. Some less-than-ethical individuals have figured out that its profitable to join in and help others exploit the case if the run-off trickles down to them. In this world, anything goes, and the ends always justify the means.

We should remember that the evidence used to accuse George Hodel can only be described as speculation at best. Steve Hodel has not constructed a circumstantial, fact-based case against his father; instead, he has simply offered a theory supported by nothing other than his own conclusions based on that strained speculation. In the end, there is no credible evidence that George Hodel was the Zodiac, and that is the central issue, not the value or results of the DNA testing. Like all theorists, Hodel wants to put the cart before the horse and then asks us all to ignore the fact that he has no horse to propel that cart. Hodel wants us to talk about DNA rather than recognize the fact that he has failed to provide a credible case in the first place. This same pattern has played out with other suspects in the past, and is at the core of the recent accusations against Richard Gaikowski. The question should always be: What credible evidence implicates a suspect? However, the theorists, accusers, crackpots and opportunists want the question to be: Do you have any proof that a suspect is not the Zodiac? This twisted logic enables the theorists to continue to accuse their suspects when the more practical, fact-based approach would cut them off at the knees before they ever got out of the gate.

Here are three good reasons to avoid Steve Hodel, his book, and his claims:

1) The last time Hodel accused his dead father of one of the most notorious crimes in US history, much of the evidence he claimed implicated his father turned out to be distorted, erroneous or flat out wrong.

2) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he was convinced based on rather flimsy evidence in the first place, even before some of that evidence was discredited or proven false.

3) The last time Hodel accused his dead father, he made a lot of money doing so, and he liked it.

At the time of the Zodiac murders, George Hodel was approximately 60 years old. The oldest witness description placed the Zodiac somewhere in his mid-thirties to mid-forties. There are many other reasons to conclude that Hodel was innocent but, at the end of the day, the best reason to believe that George Hodel was not the Zodiac is simply that he stands accused by Steve Hodel.

Do I think that Hodel actually believes that his father was the Zodiac? No, not for a second. According to reports, Hodel had a movie deal in the works after the publication of BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER, but the deal apparently fell through after the writer’s strike in Hollywood. Perhaps Hodel was in need of cash when he decided to write MOST EVIL. Who knows.

Many Zodiac buffs may feel the need to rush to their local bookstore and buy a copy for their Zodiac collection, but I encourage those who care about the Zodiac case to avoid Hodel’s book like the plague. If you want to read it, go to the library, sit down at the bookstore with a copy, or wait until its in the remainder bins where it belongs. Let’s do what little we can to discourage this kind of shameless, immoral behavior, and show Steve Hodel and the other con-men that while they may keep selling pure nonsense, we aren’t buying.

ZODIAC: Deborah, Dennis, Delusions and Daddy Issues

More than 20 years ago, the publication of the sensational and largely fictional book ZODIAC inspired a legion of amateur sleuths who claimed they had identified the Zodiac, holding press conferences, peddling books, accusing suspects and telling tall tales. Things really have changed since then – er, actually, nothing has changed at all.

The last two years have been a nightmare for anyone who cares about the case and the truth, and it’s more than clear why those in law enforcement did not welcome the production of David Fincher’s revisionist history film, ZODIAC, a film based on the largely fictional book by Robert Graysmith. The effect of the film has been much like the effect its source material had on the case and society more than 20 years ago – meaning, the film and its opportunistic exploitation of the many already-debunked myths about the case only served to inspire others with even less shame. When society praises and rewards those who exploit the case with no regard for the truth, why would we expect the public to get any message other than – “Exploiting the Zodiac case for your own fame and profit while spitting on the truth and the victims is perfectly acceptable behavior.”

To be fair, it’s not as if the makers of ZODIAC invented the exploitation of the Zodiac case – that began almost as soon as the first victims took their last breaths more than four decades ago. This is, after all, America, where the mantra often seems to be, “Who cares as long as it doesn’t effect me.” Translated into simple, everyday language, this means, “When something bad happens to me, it’s tragedy,” and “When something bad happens to someone else, it’s entertainment.” This logic has fueled the recent wave of those coming forward with claims that they have identified the Zodiac killer.

Years ago, a debate broke out on the old true crime message board regarding the publication of the book DADDY WAS THE BLACK DAHLIA KILLER. Janice Knowlton told a wild story in which her father had not only killed the infamous Hollywood murder victim Elizabeth Short but was part of an underground sex ring that served the Hollywood elite. The book, written by Michael Newton, caused a splash in the media and Knowlton did her best to earn her fifteen minutes, peddling her bizarre, wholly unsubstantiated tales as much as possible. Her campaign led her to the message boards where she and Newton defended their book against the crowd of skeptics and critics who viewed their efforts as little more than shameless opportunism that only further muddied the story of the Black Dahlia killing. As one who had read the book and studied the claims made by the author and Knowlton, I raised questions regarding the veracity of the claims as well as the motives behind the book. In my opinion, it was clear that Knowlton was mentally-ill and that Newton was morally corrupt, eager to exploit the woman for whatever she was worth with little regard for her emotional well-being. In short, it was a quick buck, but Newton did his best to justify his work and boost the sagging credibility of his co-author. No matter how bizarre or unsubstantiated her claims may have been, everyone seemed happy to ignore that obvious reality as long as Knowlton didn’t start accusing little green men from Mars, too. My exchanges with both characters left me convinced that the entire episode was a sad commentary on the world – the whole book was total crapola and Knowlton had no credibility whatsoever, but that kind of talk just interfered with the business of selling books and making money. Who wants to stop and admit that the whole story is pure nonsense when there are talk shows to book, contracts to sign, movie rights to sell. Crapola sells, and people who sell crapola are not interested in selling substance.

After Knowlton faded from the spotlight, no one stopped to care about how she had been effected by the entire episode. The media machine chewed her up and spit her out on cue when she was no longer profitable. When she died in an apparent suicide, Knowlton once again became marketable and, on cue, the media returned to milk the most out of her breakdown and demise. Today, the Janice Knowlton saga is just a sad footnote in the never-ending spectacle that is the Black Dahlia story; this legendary murder case had also fallen victim to the distortions of Hollywood many times over, including director Brian DePalma’s fictional film. Now, others have come forward to accuse their own dead fathers of the crime while the media machine gobbles them up and marches mindlessly forward in search of more mentally ill attention seekers or morally challenged morons to consume.

For too many years, the mentally ill, the morally ill, and the media have infested the Zodiac case like ravenous maggots over a rotting corpse. William Beeman called a press conference and disgraced himself back in the ‘80s when he accused his brother Jack. Beeman sold a book about his amateur investigation for fifty bucks; later, he admitted that he was wrong.

Blaine Blaine pestered every law enforcement agency in Northern California and more with his claim that his estranged friend Richard Gaikowski was the Zodiac; Blaine lived in an alternate universe where he was a credible individual and, unfortunately for him, every one of the members of law enforcement he encountered lived in another universe where Blaine was a brandied fruitcake, and never the two shall meet.

Gareth Penn launched his now-decades-old campaign against Michael O’Hare, accusing the former Harvard lecturer of the Zodiac and other crimes using his own twisted interpretations of the Zodiac’s writings and codes; today, Penn is still at it but, in a fitting bit of irony, he now stands accused of the Zodiac crimes by someone who used his same dubious methods. [O’Hare recently wrote an online article about the sorry saga, almost thirty years after it began – click on the SUSPECTS & THEORIES link and then scroll to the bottom Penn page to read O’Hare’s article.]

Then there was the guy who murdered his friend in what he claimed was a re-enactment of a Zodiac crime, the New York Zodiac or ZODIAC II, the Zodiac killer in Japan, the Zodiac copycat in North Carolina, and any number of other losers inspired by the glorification of the killer and his crimes – all examples of the mentally ill or morons without a conscience. Harry Martin with his 9,745 part special series about the answer to the Zodiac crimes, involving Robert Hunter, Charles Manson, Larry Kane, the Illuminati, the Freemasons, E. Howard Hunt and Hanger 18. Charles Clifton Collins thought his daddy might have been the Zodiac, and he had to go on national television before he’d face the fact that doing so might have been a bad idea.

And now we have even more lunatics adding their names to the list of funny fellows, comic men and clowns of private life who have disgraced themselves in their efforts to exploit the unsolved mystery. Dennis Kaufman has been accusing his now-deceased step-father Jack Tarrance of the Zodiac crimes since 2000; back then, his wild claims and tales did little to impress those who studied the case or those in law enforcement. For some reason, those who are in charge at Sacramento’s CBS 13 television station have taken on the role as Kaufman’s unabashed PR firm; reports from CBS 13 seem to be little more than talking points handed down by Kaufman and unverified by any of the so-called “journalists” at the station.

Sandy Betts claimed that the Zodiac had been following and harassing her for decades; she even claimed that the killer had left his hooded costume in her car back in the 1960s. Yet, of course, Betts could not produce this costume when asked to do so. Howard Davis claimed that the Zodiac’s hooded costume was discovered among the possessions of the so-called “Manson family” and then destroyed as part of an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the family’s involvement in the Zodiac crimes. Davis claimed that his ex-district attorney/ex-brother-in-law told him of the nefarious plot; apparently the source was mistaken – more than three decades later, Dennis Kaufman discovered the Zodiac’s hood in an old piece of stereo equipment among his late step-father’s possessions.

After he failed to convince authorities that he had identified the Zodiac as Richard Gaikowski, Blaine Blaine produced a scan of a book which bore the signature “Paul Stine.” According to Blaine, this book was found among Gaikowski’s possessions; of course, Blaine claims he no longer has the actual book. Deborah Perez produced a pair of old glasses which she claimed her step-father had taken from Zodiac victim Paul Stine.

Despite what can only be described as an undeniable lack of credibility, each of these theorists and accusers still manage to convince others that their claims have merit, and these converts then work to endorse, promote and protect the theorists. Deborah Perez garnered the assistance of a disbarred attorney who once worked with the infamous lawyer Melvin Belli. Perez’s PR machine called a press conference and spoke of a film in the works. Previously, Perez had approached true crime writer William C. Phelps with her story in the hope that the author might embrace her tale as a potentially profitable endeavor. Phelps later wrote that he believed Perez and her story were credible until she also claimed that she was JFK’s illegitimate daughter. Phelps later wrote that he felt as if he had been “duped.” Even on the surface, Perez’s claim that she had accompanied her father during several Zodiac attacks was dubious at best. Those who had studied the Zodiac crimes immediately noticed several problems with Perez’s story, and even those who knew little about the case could quickly recognize the fact that Perez’s wild tale was simply too sensational to be true. The fact that Phelps considered Perez credible only until she allegedly claimed to be JFK’s illegitimate daughter suggests that Phelps might still be convinced of Perez’s credibility if she had simply been a better liar peddling a better lie. The scenario was reminiscent of author Michael Newton’s relationship with Janice Knowlton and the book DADDY WAS THE BLACK DAHLIA KILLER; Newton was apparently happy to embrace and promote Knowlton’s absurd story as long as her lies remained subtle and almost plausible.

Dennis Kaufman seems to have television reporter Cris Pickel wrapped around his finger and he has now attracted the support of a university professor in Arizona. The professor believes that his geographical analysis of suspected murder sites confirms Kaufman’s claims concerning several unsolved crimes. While the professor was happy to add his own endorsement of Kaufman, the professor’s university was quick to note that the professor spoke for himself and not for the institution. Another man stayed awake for several days until he became convinced that the Zodiac’s letters contained hidden messages that further implicated already-exonerated suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. According to the sleep-deprived amateur sleuth, the hidden messages only became visible when viewed on a computer monitor that was tilted to a certain angle. This theorist sought out his fifteen seconds of notoriety and discovered that the media was eager to oblige. Other men and women have come forward with their own claims; these individuals would have remained anonymous thrill-seekers without a media ready to provide a forum for the latest crackpot.

In the late 1990s, the Zodiac story found new life on the Internet. While the public still accepted the theories and solutions offered by author Robert Graysmith, many of the Internet critics challenged this version of the story and consistently exposed the factual errors, distortions, and fraud in the best-selling book ZODIAC. More than a decade after the publication of Graysmith’s “definitive account of the case,” the author’s work proved to be little more than revisionist history designed to implicate his chosen suspect. Those who cared about the case had hoped that the mainstream media would report this important truth, but others embraced Graysmith while endorsing and defending his work, even censoring and silencing legitimate, fact-based criticisms of the author’s many dubious claims. These followers continued Graysmith’s exploitation of the Zodiac tragedy, ignoring the voices of critics who warned that the resurrection of the author and his theories would cause irreparable harm to the historical record and further mislead the public. Graysmith’s Internet defenders launched their own efforts to convict Arthur Leigh Allen in the court of public opinion, and the results influenced the author’s shockingly deceptive sequel, ZODIAC UNMASKED. Long after DNA and other evidence excluded Allen as a suspect and the so-called “mountain of circumstantial evidence” of his guilt had been discredited, Hollywood adapted both ZODIAC and ZODIAC UNMASKED for the feature film ZODIAC – we all know how that worked out.

Howard Davis has turned his Manson/Zodiac conspiracy theory into a mini-career and, like Graysmith, has his own defenders and followers who are eager to overlook his wild claims and irresponsible actions in this case simply because they think he’s a swell guy. Davis’ sensational story of a Zodiac/Manson cover-up was exposed as a fraud by Davis’ own source, Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and others. Like Robert Graysmith, Davis had defenders and allies to censor and then silence legitimate, fact-based criticism of Davis and his work. The justification? “Who cares if he lied about something 15 years ago. No one believes his theory, no one believes the cover-up story, no one buys his book, and you’re just giving him more attention than he deserves.” When reminded of the moral contradiction, the defenders are not moved and offer this excuse, “I’m trying to solve the case. He’s helping me with my goal. I’m not going to sacrifice that relationship.” If Davis were one of the detectives assigned to a case, or a group of journalists covering a story, and he peddled this nonsense, anyone who actually cared about this case would escort Davis to the door and leave a large boot print on his rear end.

Then there was “Sam,” a non-suspect suspect of sorts, and an Internet-funded investigation that went nowhere. Other suspects surfaced, including an already discarded oldie, Richard Gaikowski. Once the subject of a brief law enforcement attention in the late 1980s, Gaikowski became a suspect only after Blaine pestered virtually every law enforcement agency involved in the case with his ridiculous decipherings of the Zodiac’s coded messages and his bizarre theories. Ken Narlow, the SFPD, the FBI and others had rightfully dismissed Blaine as a crackpot, but others saw opportunity in the discredited kook. Today, Blaine’s theory and suspect have become mainstream, despite the fact that no credible evidence exists to implicate Gaikowski and his accuser is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Another man and his family are thrown to the wolves by those who claim to care about this case while they, instead, spend their time, efforts and reputations coddling crackpots.

Years ago, Steve Hodel was another newcomer to the world of sensational true-crime claims and the Internet. Back then, Hodel was convinced that his father, now-deceased doctor George Hodel, was responsible for the infamous “Black Dahlia” murder in 1947, and eventually Hodel’s theory appeared in the book BLACK DAHLIA AVENGER. While some embraced Hodel’s theory as the solution to the mystery, others rightfully noted that Hodel’s entire theory hinged on what could only be described as tenuous speculation and assumptions; in some instances, Hodel’s “evidence” was discredited. Yet, Hodel remained undeterred and he has now released his latest attempt to cast a dark cloud over the memory of his dead father – the book MOST EVIL: Avenger, Zodiac and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hodel, in which Hodel claims that Dr. George Hodel was also the Zodiac. That George Hodel was approximately sixty-years-old at the time of the Zodiac murders was apparently the first fact to be thrown out the window as Hodel attempted to exploit yet another unsolved tragedy for personal gain. Some are thrilled to see a new Zodiac book and happily promote Hodel’s latest effort, and once again, the contrast is clear: anyone who actually cared about the Zodiac case would not welcome the publication of yet another book peddling yet another bad theory and yet another bad suspect. Once again, so many of those who claim to care about this case seem far more interested in serving themselves.

When confronted with the fact that Robert Graysmith’s books are filled with falsehoods and his theory and suspect have no merit, the author’s defenders and others always search for something nice to say about the man and, unable to find a suitable response, they inevitably fall back on that familiar broken-record refrain, “Well, at least he kept the story alive.” This is a bit like saying: My friend told me he was hoping to meet a nice woman so I decided to brain him upside the head with a tire-iron in the hopes that he would go to the emergency room and possibly meet a nice nurse.

Anyone can “keep a story alive” using the self-serving and irresponsible methods of the theorists and crackpots, and it’s a bit absurd to suggest that the Zodiac case would fade into the pages of the history book if there weren’t a bunch of lunatics and losers running around exploiting the tragedy just in case we might all forget that this is the most enduring and frightening unsolved serial murder mystery in American history.

And there will be those who will say that the case is the most enduring and popular because of the efforts of these circus clowns, but anyone who really knows this story and has been paying attention also knows that this is an absurd rationalization. The reason that this case remains one of the most popular and interesting cases in history has more to do with the story itself than the clusters of opportunists who claim to keep it alive. The Zodiac crimes still haunt us because they were so inexplicable, so cruel, so bizarre. The countless lives lost and destroyed, the pain, the tragic proportions of the sad story are only the beginning. The fact that a murderous coward could kill so freely, even boast about his crimes and taunt his pursuers in bold letters mailed to the media, serves as a shocking and ominous truth about the world in which we live – the fact that this man could commit such crimes and evade justice to this day only reinforces that brutal lesson as we struggle to cope with and comprehend the evil among us. No one needs to accuse Kermit the Frog in order to keep the story of Jack the Ripper alive – the story speaks for itself. The story of the Zodiac tragedy endures not because it is a story about murder, but a story about us, and more often than not, when we look in the mirror, we don’t like what we see.

Hence the need for distractions. In an example of ultimate irony, many of those who claim to keep the story alive with their antics seem largely unaware that they – themselves – are the ultimate examples of a failure to learn that lesson. Forty years ago, when confronted with the terror of the Zodiac, society responded not by learning the valuable lessons provided by tragedy, not by uniting to stop the threat, and not by demanding justice, but by turning the tragedy into a distraction, so much filler, “real” entertainment. If the Zodiac’s game was creating terror and confusion while playing games with our fears and the truth, then it is clear that we, as a society, have simply learned to play his game better than he ever imagined, and that we no longer need him to keep the story alive.

While the men and women of law enforcement worked to catch the killer, the media, the public and, most notably, the theorists blamed investigators and accused them of fighting amongst themselves, withholding information, clinging to pet theories and suspects, and failing to conduct proper, thorough investigations. Today, the theorists withhold information from researchers, the public, and others, doling out seemingly damning bits while studiously omitting any and all information that may cast doubt on their own claims. Some withhold information and cite the need to keep something back in order to facilitate future “trading” with others. Innocent men stand accused by crackpots armed with little more than a three-ring binder filled with contrived coincidences and strained speculation. Many theorists claim to have solved the case, court the media, create websites and write books before they conduct serious research; most never conduct any real research at all. Wild theories, rumors, and pure nonsense dominate the public discussion of the case, and each theorist/theory/suspect develops its own following or faction at war with another. No matter how delusional, disturbed or discredited the theorists or accusers may be, someone will believe, promote, defend, endorse and even protect them. Everyone may be talking about and/or somehow exploiting the case but few seem to have any interest in facts, let alone clearing away confusion. Coddling crackpots who peddle phony proof, panhandling for cash on the Internet for Zodiac “charity,” promoting books, and pursuing fifteen seconds of fame at the expense of the case and even the truth has proven to be far more lucrative and entertaining.

When all we care about is “keeping the story alive,” we get what we deserve – Robert Graysmith and his works of fiction; ZODIAC the movie resurrecting the worst suspect in the case and, coincidentally, a sleep-deprived man tilts computer monitors and alerts the media of his Arthur Leigh Allen-based hallucinations; amateur code-breakers who are determined to retain their amateur status with hallucinatory solutions to the Zodiac ciphers which accuse Allen, Ted Kaczynski, Richard Marshall and even Gareth Penn, the original code-breaker crackpot of all time; Howard Davis and others crying conspiracy and cover-up as they attempt to exploit both the Zodiac and Manson crimes; Blaine Blaine digging up and re-accusing a dead man with the assistance of eager enablers in search of a quick buck; and Dennis Kaufman, Deborah Perez, Steve Hodel and others playing out their private daddy issues in public spectacles.

These individuals and others do not care about this story or the people consumed, destroyed or otherwise touched by this tragedy, and if you believe that they do, then you’re probably the kind of person who could – with a straight face and absolute sincerity – refer to a verbally abusive armed robber as a motivation speaker.

MYSTERYQUEST: Paul Holes and The Murder of Paul Stine

During the filming for the new History Channel program MYSTERYQUEST, I was given a unique opportunity to travel to the Zodiac crime scenes and interview the original investigators. Joining me on the expedition was criminalist Paul Holes, Chief Forensic Services Division for the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. Unfortunately, the final broadcast included very little of these discussions, and the viewers missed the chance to hear these men share their memories and opinions on the case. My previous blog entry, titled PIERRE BIDOU & THE LAKE HERMAN ROAD MURDERS, included some of the insights provided by the retired investigator. Now, I would like to share some of my experiences at the crime scene in San Francisco with Paul Holes.

On the night of October 11, 1969, cab driver Paul Stine was shot and killed at the intersection of Washington and Cherry in the upscale Presidio Heights neighborhood in San Francisco. The killer was seen by several witnesses as he handled Stine’s body inside the cab and then seen again minutes later by two police officers as he fled the scene. The descriptions provided by these witnesses led to a composite sketch, the now-infamous drawing of a suspect wearing glasses.

The killer’s behavior on that night has always puzzled me. Why did the killer linger at the scene for so long? Why did the killer –who usually had little-to-no contact with the victim after the attack– decide to handle the victim’s body and, as a result, become covered in Stine’s blood? Why did the killer act in a such a reckless fashion, touching Stine’s cab and leaving fingerprints? To me, this behavior seemed in conflict with the Zodiac’s character and usual methods.

After visiting the scene several times (the first in 1999), examining the police report, interviewing the first responding officer, and more, I pondered a theory regarding the events of that night. A picture began to emerge, a scenario which, I believe, makes more sense than any I have heard before or since.

According to Stine’s trip sheet, the man who entered his cab that night had directed the driver to the corner of Washington and Maple streets, one block east of the actual crime scene. For some reason, the cab was found one block further west, at Washington and Cherry. For years, this detail has made many observers question the killer’s motives and actions that night. As I studied this crime, I realized that the discrepancy regarding the destination might offer insight into what really happened. [I first presented this scenario in an audio-cast titled ZODIAC: A TO Z.]

In this scenario, the killer directed Paul Stine to Washington and Maple, where he planned to kill the driver upon arrival. However, as Stine slowed the cab to a stop at that corner, he did not put the cab in park, instead, letting the engine idle as he expected the passenger to pay the fare. He may have thought the transaction would be quick and he would simply pull away from the corner in a matter of seconds. However, something happened. Perhaps the killer’s gun was visible too soon and Stine tried to resist before putting the car in park. An unexplained bruise or discoloration on the back of Stine hand indicates that he may have tried to deflect the weapon. Stine’s foot may have slipped off the brake pedal, causing the cab to roll down the street, headed west toward Washington and Cherry. This was not part of the killer’s plan and he was forced to improvise. At some point, the killer shot Stine in the right side of the head. Perhaps he shot Stine and then tried to gain control of the rolling vehicle, or, he may have struggled briefly with the victim and then shot Stine as the cab was moving.

As the cab rolled forward, the killer either jumped from the back seat into the front, or he exited the back seat by opening the door and then jumped into the front seat with Stine’s lifeless body. In order to reach the steering wheel and the pedals, the killer would have been forced to push Stine’s body toward the driver’s door into an upright position where he would remain as long as the killer struggled to regain control of the vehicle.

After the cab had rolled forward for a matter of seconds, the killer steered the vehicle to a stop at the next intersection and may have come to an abrupt stop. The witnesses in the upstairs floor of the house across the street told police that they never heard a gunshot, but something attracted their attention to the street below where they quickly noticed the suspect inside the cab doing something with Stine’s body. Police were alerted, but the killer fled the scene before the first officer arrived. This officer, Armand Pelissetti, claims that he saw the so-called “bloody fingerprints” on the outside of cab as he first approached the scene. These prints were found in the exact location where the witnesses last saw the killer standing, making contact with the cab as he appeared to be “wiping” the outside of the vehicle.

Why did the Zodiac permit himself to be covered in Stine’s blood? Because he had to touch the body in order to stop the rolling cab? Why did the Zodiac linger at the scene? Perhaps because, once he had gotten blood all over himself, he wanted to wipe up the mess before exiting the cab– a man covered in blood would undoubtedly appear suspicious. So, he tore a portion of Stine’s shirt away to use as a rag. Once he wiped the blood from his hands and fingers, the killer realized that he may have touch other parts of the cab as he attempted to regain control of the vehicle. Perhaps, at the moment when Stine’s foot fell from the brake pedal and the cab began to roll, the Zodiac –who was sitting in the back seat– may have reached forward and grabbed onto parts of the cab for leverage. Therefore, he made an effort to obliterate whatever fingerprints he may have left but failed to wipe away all of the fingerprints, leaving several for police to later discover.

I believed that this scenario not only made sense but was in keeping with all of the known facts. I found it difficult to believe that the Zodiac intended to be covered in blood, intended to spend so much time at the scene, intended to behave in such a sloppy and reckless manner, or intended to take such risks. After I presented this theory in the audio-cast ZODIAC: A TO Z, I received emails from many people who also believed that this scenario made sense.

The last stop on the MYSTERYQUEST film shoot was San Francisco, and the Stine murder scene. As we waited for the producers and camera crew to finalize their plans for that segment, Paul Holes and I waited in a vehicle on Jackson Street, one block north of the crime scene at Washington and Cherry. In preparation for the shoot, I brought along my case files on each of the crimes, including the crime scene photographs. I decided to show these photos to Paul before the shoot in order to familiarize him with the details of the crime before we were asked to discuss the case on camera.

Paul examined the photos and, within minutes, his brow began to furrow with what appeared to be some concern about what he saw. I studied him carefully; he kept flipping the photos back and forth, staring at one, then another. He would focus on some portion of a photograph, and then asked me questions such as, “When was the body first moved? Who moved the body?” Clearly, something in the photographs stood out to him, and something didn’t seem right. As I watched him scrutinizing these photos, I could see why Paul was so good at his job; he had an eye for detail and a determination to learn as much as he could. He was also weary of forming an opinion too quickly, so even though I wanted to know what was on his mind, my experiences with him at the other crime scenes had taught me that he wouldn’t offer his opinion until he was satisfied he had given the issue proper consideration.

He pointed to the infamous photograph of Paul Stine’s lifeless body hanging half way out of the open passenger door of the taxi cab. Suddenly, he spoke: “It seems as if someone moved the body.”

I replied, “Yes, the body was moved shortly before this photograph was taken.”

He shook his head. “No, it looks like someone moved the body before that.” His finger tapped at the photo as he spoke. “The blood pattern on his shirt. It’s not consistent with his body lying on the seat of the cab as we see in these photos.”

I was obviously intrigued, and asked, “So you think the body was moved before the police moved it?”

Paul nodded. “Looks that way.” He focused on the large bloodstain on Stine’s shirt, clearly visible in the photograph. The dark stain covered the entire front portion of the shirt, and appeared to have flowed in a downward motion, away from the gunshot wound on the right rear side of Stine’s head. “This flow pattern is not what I’d expect to see if he was shot and then slumped over.”

We then discussed the eyewitness account of the killer’s movement inside the cab with Stine’s body. For Paul, the actions of the killer still did not account for the pattern on the shirt. “If he was shot sitting in an upright position and then left in that position, then this blood flow pattern makes sense. But if he was shot and then slumped over the suspect’s lap as described by the witnesses, this pattern is not consistent.”

Paul then stated that the photographs indicated that the killer had somehow handled Stine’s body in such a manner as to keep the victim propped up in the driver’s seat for an unknown period of time, long enough for the flow of blood to move down the front of Stine’s shirt and create the large visible stain.

When I heard Paul offer this explanation, my ears pricked up. I immediately realized that Stine’s body would be forced into such a position if the killer had jumped into the front seat next to him in order to regain control of the rolling cab. To do so, the killer would have to force Stine’s body to the left, against the door, in order to reach the steering wheel with his hands and reach the pedals with his feet. With the killer in this position, Stine’s body would be propped upright in the driver’s seat for a period time sufficient to direct the flow of blood downward and cause the large stain on Stine’s shirt. In short, Paul’s observations about the victim’s body and clothing confirmed a theory inspired by the seemingly inexplicable actions of the killer than night.

I cannot say with any certainty that this scenario is what happened that night, and I cannot speak for Paul when it comes to his opinions regarding this crime. At the very least, I wanted to share this intriguing possibility with those who may be interested. I am grateful that I had an opportunity to work with Paul Holes, and I valued the experience of discussing this case with a seasoned forensics expert. I learned a lot, and it is unfortunate that MYSTERYQUEST viewers will not get a chance to hear Paul’s observations about the Zodiac crimes.

As Paul and I were discussing the possible scenarios at the Stine scene, one of the producers overheard us, was intrigued, and asked that we start the discussion from the beginning for the cameras. So, we repeated the exchange, this time with the cameraman leaning over our shoulders to shoot the photographs of the crime scene as Paul and I offered our thoughts. For me, this discussion was fascinating, and I am sure that viewers would have found the exchange as fascinating as I did.

I have done my best to present Paul’s thoughts accurately, and I have avoided expanding on the dialogue I remember and the notes I took at the time. If Paul Holes would like to write up his own take on this issue, I welcome him to do so and would happily post anything he would like to offer.

I would like to thank Paul for his contribution to the show. He did his best to bring his knowledge, experience and expertise to this case, and I am sorry that viewers did not get a chance to see more of his contribution or hear his insights. This case needs more professionalism, common sense and candor, and Paul demonstrated all three of these qualities. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with him, but I am also glad I had a chance to learn from Paul.

MYSTERYQUEST: Pierre Bidou and The Lake Herman Road Murders

The recent History Channel broadcast MYSTERYQUEST included footage taken during interviews with the original investigators at the actual crime scenes. Unfortunately, the program focused more on a theory and a suspect than the case itself and, therefore, viewers never heard these men tell their stories, share their memories, or offer their insights. Anyone who researches the Zodiac crimes would welcome the opportunity to tour the crime scenes with retired investigators Pierre Bidou, Ed Rust, and Ken Narlow, and the experience was, to say the least, unforgettable. Both Rust and Narlow have given many media interviews in the past, but Pierre Bidou has rarely spoken about what he witnessed on that dark night in December, 1968. Since viewers of MYSTERYQUEST missed this opportunity, I’d like to share a few highlights from our visit to the crime scene on Lake Herman Road.

Four decades ago, Bidou worked for the Benicia Police Department, and on the night of the murders, he and another officer were in a patrol car, on the road. “…we got the call from the dispatcher that an accident, or something, had occurred on Lake Herman Road, so we turned around and came by.”

At the scene, a Rambler station wagon sat parked on the side of the road, the passenger door open and the window rolled down. In the darkness, Bidou noticed the bodies of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen lying on the ground; Faraday was still breathing and clinging to life while Jensen had already died from the five gunshot wounds in her back. Faraday was taken to the hospital but did not survive the damage caused by one bullet fired into his skull. Shell casings found at the scene– and the number of wounds identified on the victims– indicated that the assailant had fired at least 10 shots; six entered the bodies of Faraday and Jensen, two were lodged in the Rambler station wagon, and two more had apparently disappeared into the cold night air.

The subsequent investigation failed to uncover any significant leads or evidence. Initially, investigators considered the possibility that the victims had been killed by someone who had known the victims and sought revenge for some perceived slight or wrong. One of Jensen’s high school boyfriends quickly became a suspect according to local gossip, but investigation proved that the boy had no access to a vehicle that night and most likely did not commit the crime. Authorities were forced to conclude that the two teenagers had been killed by a stranger in an apparently random act of inexplicable violence. Bidou stated that it would not be unusual to find young couples parked at the lovers’ lane spot. I asked, “If you were familiar with this area, would you expect to find couples out here at night?” Bidou answered, “Yes.”

David and Betty Lou had not planned to be on Lake Herman Road that night; in fact, they had promised Mr. and Mrs. Jensen that they would return home by 11:00 PM. However, a passing motorist saw the couple parked at the crime scene shortly after 11:00PM, and when another driver passed minutes later, another vehicle was parked along side Faraday’s Rambler station wagon. Despite the brief sighting of the killer’s vehicle, police were unable to produce any further information. “We never got a decent description of the vehicle,” Bidou explained.

Bidou offered his opinion on the theory that the killer chose the location or the victims at random. “I don’t believe personally that he was just passing by, and the kids were just here. I think, it was planned out, by him, for whatever sadistic reason, to some extent…”

Shortly before the murders on Lake Herman Road, Bidou had been involved in the investigation of marijuana distribution in the area; he recalled, “We even looked at the person who was involved.” I asked Bidou about the theory that David Faraday had been targeted by the pot dealer he allegedly confronted at a local restaurant. “There was nothing to it,” he replied. “Nothing came of it.”

When asked about other theories raised over the decades, Bidou endorsed none. He also dismissed the claim that authorities had obtained a credible confession from a suspect then in custody for another crime. The retired investigator laughed aloud at the notion that the notorious Manson family of killers were somehow behind the Zodiac crimes. “I don’t believe in that theory, either.”

The MYSTERYQUEST production was based in a Benicia hotel, located on the corner where witness Stella Borges had stopped to talk with local police on the night of December 20, 1968. Most of the interviews for the program were filmed in one of the hotel rooms, so a cast of Zodiac characters passed through the lobby at various times, including former police dispatcher Nancy Slover and retired detective Ed Rust of the Vallejo Police Department. As we chatted in the lobby, Rust expressed his doubts that the Zodiac was responsible for the murders on Lake Herman Road. When I asked him to explain the reasons for his doubts, Rust could only cite the fact that some of the investigators who had worked on that case did not believe that the Zodiac had committed the crime.

Prior to the interview at the Lake Herman Road crime scene with Bidou, criminalist Paul Holes also raised the possibility that the murders were not committed by the same individual responsible for the Zodiac crimes. Holes speculated that the Zodiac may have had access to a police teletype which contained the details of the Lake Herman Road crime. At the crime scene, Holes asked Bidou about the details provided in the teletype, and Bidou answered without hesitation, “It was sketchy.” He further explained that this was the result of a deliberate decision to keep certain details from the public so not to aid the killer by releasing information about their investigation and to avoid false confessions.

The notion that the Zodiac simply took credit for the crime has persisted for years, so I asked Bidou for his opinion on the issue. Could the details in the Zodiac’s letters come from a false confessor armed with information contained in news accounts or the police teletype? Bidou answered, “No, I don’t think so … there was too much detail.” After examining the case for decades, Bidou was convinced that the crimes were, in fact, connected. “I do believe the Zodiac was responsible.”

Like so many others, he admitted that he had no idea who the Zodiac was or what had happened to him. “Who knows if the Zodiac is alive today, or is incarcerated for something else, or if he just stopped killing.”

The passing years had not diminished Bidou’s hope that the killer would someday be identified. As I listened to him describe his memories from forty years ago, I could see in his eyes that need for answers. Like Rust and Narlow, Bidou carried the weight of the unsolved crimes on his face, in his shoulders, and in his voice. The notion that the murderer responsible for so much bloodshed, so much terror, and so much grief, was still walking among us greatly troubled the retired investigator. Bidou looked up at the clear blue sky and quietly sighed. “I want to see the case closed.”

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to meet with Pierre Bidou and listen as he shared his memories of that horrific night more than four decades ago. Like Bidou, I want to see the case closed. If there is any justice in this world or the next, the cowardly killer who claimed the lives of David Faraday, Betty Lou Jensen, and so many others, will someday be called to account for the carnage and sorrow he has created.