Zodiac Killer Suspect Arthur Lee Allen

Arthur Lee Allen = Primed Suspect

  • Sergeant John Lynch of the Vallejo Police department was one of the detectives assigned to investigate the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park. Like his fellow investigators, Lynch spent as much of his time sifting through the relentless reports from private citizens who were convinced that they knew the identity of the Zodiac. Most of these reports were the result of nothing but suspicions, and many of the claims proved false upon further examination. Daily entries in the Vallejo police reports indicated that Lynch sometimes checked on as many as five or six suspects a day.

    For reasons that have never been adequately explained, Detective Lynch traveled to the Elmer Cave Elementary School on October 6, 1969, and spoke to a man identified as "Arthur Lee ALLEN." The one paragraph entry in Lynch's report did not offer any explanation as to how or why he came to know of Allen in the first place. However, the brief entry does indicate that the questioning concerned Allen's whereabouts on the date of the Zodiac's attack at Lake Berryessa, which had occurred little more than a week prior to the interview.

    According to Lynch, "On 9 26 69 Arthur went skin diving on salt point ranch, stayed overnight and returned to Vallejo on 9 27-69. This approximately 2 to 4:30 PM." Salt Point Ranch is located 119 kilometers northwest of San Francisco, along the coastline west of Sonoma. The report adds, "Arthur stated that on 9 27-69 after he returned from skin diving he stayed at home the remainder of the day. Unable to recall whether or not his parents were home on that day."

    Lynch described Allen as "6'1", 241, heavy build and is bald,” and reported him to be a "WMA 35 years dob 12 18 33. Resides 32 Fresno St., is single lives with his parents."

    The report does not indicate whether detective asked Allen to account for his whereabouts during any of the other crimes attributed to the Zodiac, particularly those crimes investigated by the Vallejo Police Department. Lynch noted the interview in his entries, and Allen's name joined those of the many other suspects in the police files.

    Five days after Lynch interviewed Allen, the Zodiac killed cabdriver Paul Stine in San Francisco. This was the Zodiac's last known murder, although the Zodiac would continue to send various letters, postcards, codes and other material in the years to come.

    In November of 1970, a story in The San Francisco Chronicle linked Zodiac to an unsolved murder in Riverside, California. This news quickly spread to newspapers throughout California, including The Los Angeles Times, which ran several stories regarding what some called the "Riverside Connection."

    Four months later in March of 1971, The Los Angeles Times received a letter that appeared to be from the Zodiac. In this letter, the author wrote that he had to give the police "credit for stumbling across my riverside activity, "and that he had chosen the LA TIMES because the paper did not "bury me on the back pages like some of the others." The Los Angeles Times published the letter, resulting in yet another flurry of news reports about the notorious killer who had been murdering people in and around Vallejo, writing taunting letters to police, and calling himself "The Zodiac."

    On Wednesday, July 14, 1971, The Los Angeles Times printed a story describing a brutal machete attack by an unidentified assailant at a California campground, in addition to a description of the suspect. This article also stated, "Police in San Francisco said the physical description of the killer approximates that of the Zodiac, who has claimed 17 murders and is believed by police to be responsible for at least six in the last two years. Inspector Dave Toschi of the San Francisco homicide division said it was 'a possibility' that the killer was the Zodiac." Witnesses described the killer as 5 feet 8, 200 pounds, 40, with thinning, gray hair.

    North of Los Angeles in Torrance, California, Donald Cheney read reports of the attack on the Dog Bar campground. Cheney had moved to Los Angeles from the Vallejo area almost three years prior and had known both Arthur Leigh Allen and his brother Ron.

    On the morning of July 15, 1971, Cheney's business partner, Santo Paul Panzarella, called the Manhattan Beach Police Department and spoke to Detective Richard Amos regarding information on a possible suspect in the Zodiac killings in San Francisco Area. Panzarella told Amos that he and Cheney "have for some time had suspicions on an ARTHUR LEIGH ALLEN, who lives in the City of Vallejo, California. The recent killings in the Grass Valley Area by an unknown suspect, middleaged, brought the suspicions to a focus."

    Panzarella and Cheney told police that they had attended college with Ron Allen and had known his brother, Arthur, for approximately ten years and last saw Allen around December 1968. Mr. Cheney, who apparently spent more time with Allen, related that on different occasions Cheney and Arthur Allen would go hunting together and engage in conversations.

    On one occasion, Cheney and Arthur Allen were talking more or less in a science fiction type story mode, and Arthur Allen asked Cheney, 'Have you ever thought of hunting people?' Allen talked on, relating how he could go to a lovers lane area and use a revolver or pistol with a flashlight attached for illumination and an aiming device, and he would walk up and shoot people. Allen went on saying that it would be without motive and how difficult it would be for the police to investigate. Allen stated that he would send notes to police or authorities to harass and lead them astray, and he would then sign the notes, “Zodiac.” Allen also talked about shooting the tires of a school bus and picking off the “little darlings” as they came bouncing off the bus.

    Mr. Panzarella and Mr. Cheney had read and seen articles in the newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, concerning the “Zodiac” killings and the physical description and drawing of the possible “Zodiac” killer. Both agreed the physical description and drawing fairly resembled Arthur Allen. Informants gave investigators the following: Arthur Leigh Allen aka Lee Allen Male, white, 37 years, 5 11, 220 250 pounds, light brown, graying hair, brown eyes.

    The two men cited Allen's educational background and described him as a very intelligent but emotional person. Cheney stated that Allen owned several weapons and told investigators that he believed Allen carried a weapon at all times. Described as a hostile man, Allen allegedly showed great hatred toward women. His mother was apparently the type of woman who constantly chided Allen about his weight. He had had never married. He was in the Navy in the late 1950's, but he had received a discharge other than honorable. The suspect was also reported to be anti establishment and believed to be a child molester.

    Detectives Langstaff and Amos contacted the C.I.& I. and gathered basic information regarding Allen, including his 1958 arrest for disturbing the peace and subsequent dismissal of the charges.

    The next day, Detective Langstaff contacted Inspector McKenna of the SFPD Homicide Division and informed him of the details regarding Cheney's story. McKenna suggested Cheney correspond with suspect Allen to obtain a sample of his handwriting and asked that Langstaff forward a report to Inspector David Toschi, who was in charge of the Zodiac case.

    Chief Crumly prepared a report and sent it to Toschi in San Francisco. There, Toschi and his partner, Inspector Bill Armstrong, reviewed the report and conducted their own research to obtain further information regarding Allen. Soon after, the detectives contacted Vallejo Police Chief Garlington to request assistance in the investigation, and asked Detective Jack Mulanax to gather background information on the suspect. Mulanax checked local records, and he, too, discovered that Allen had once been arrested for disturbing the peace and that the charges had been dismissed. The detective also uncovered several incident reports in which the suspect involved. However, he was either the victim of a crime or a witness to a crime. In a report documenting his investigation, Mulanax wrote that he had obtained numerous samples of Allen's handwriting from a source who requested to remain anonymous. Mulanax did not find the report regarding Allen, written almost two years earlier by Sgt. John Lynch.

    Mulanax contacted Allen's former employer, the owner of a service station in Vallejo. The owner described Allen as an honest, efficient worker who had a habit of showing too much interest in small children, including one of the man's three daughters. Mulanax learned that Allen had recently taken the man's young daughter on his boat without the man's knowledge or permission. Mulanax wrote, "While on boat, Allen is alleged to have made improper advances towards the girl." The man did not report Allen's behavior to police and had not seen him since the incident, which occurred approximately six weeks earlier

    On July 27, 1971, Mulanax met with SFPD Inspectors Toschi and Armstrong in Vallejo. Agent Mel Nicolai of the C.I.& I. was also present and had traveled to Vallejo to assist in the investigation. Armstrong had talked to Cheney and told the other investigators that he believed the man was telling the truth. Mulanax wrote, "Armstrong strongly convinced that his source of information is good. He made personal contact with informant over past weekend and could not shake statement given in report as to dates, substance of suspect's remarks, etc."

    The group decided to gather more information about Allen before confronting him, and asked Mulanax to contact the other investigators when the time came to interview Allen in person.

    Seven days later, Mulanax reported the results of his "discreet background investigation" of Allen. He wrote that Allen had an excellent reputation with many of his neighbors. Most had known Leigh since he was a small boy. Allen's neighbors did not know the purpose of the police inquiries, and Mulanax discovered that, "contrary to prior reports, neighbors state Allen is very devoted to his mother and she to him."

    At 11:30 am, Mulanax made a phone call to Allen's employer, Union Oil in Pinole, California, and arranged an interview at the refinery where the suspect worked as a junior chemist. Mulanax then notified Armstrong and Toschi.

    On August 4, 1971, Mulanax, Toschi, and Armstrong drove to the refinery, and asked that supervisors call Allen to the personnel office. As previously agreed, Inspector Armstrong was to lead the questioning. Upon Allen's arrival at the office, the investigators identified themselves, and Armstrong then informed Allen that an unnamed informant had told police about certain statements he had allegedly made in January of 1968. Armstrong then described the alleged statements, but he did not divulge the source of the information. Allen stated that he did not recall having had such a conversation.

    Armstrong asked Allen if he had heard of the Zodiac, and Allen replied that he had read about the Zodiac when it first appeared in the newspapers, but that after the initial reading he did not follow it any longer as he thought it was “too morbid.” Allen then said that a Vallejo sergeant had questioned him after Berryessa murder in Napa County. After repeating his previous story regarding his whereabouts during that crime, Allen added that he had met a service man and his wife. Allen could not remember the couple's name, but said he had it written down somewhere at home. He then claimed to have spoken to a neighbor upon his return to Vallejo at approximately 4:00pm.

    Allen said that he had "neglected to inform the Vallejo officer who had talked to him about being seen by his neighbor at the time he was questioned. This neighbor, a Mr. White, died approximately a week after he was questioned,” and “so he never bothered to re-contact the police." Mulanax wrote that "... without any questioning regarding a knife, Allen made the following statement: ‘The two knives I had in my car with blood on them, the blood came from a chicken I had killed.' He (Allen) evidently of the opinion we (police) had information regarding a knife that we did not possess."

    Later in the interview, Allen told Armstrong that he had been in Southern California at the approximate time of the Riverside murder in which Zodiac was a suspect. Mulanax noted that this statement was "volunteered by Allen without prompting." Allen also said that he was interested in guns but claimed the only handguns he owned were .22 calibers. The officers inspected Allen's wristwatch and discovered it bore the brand name Zodiac as well as a crossed circle. According to Allen, his mother had given him the watch as a gift approximately two years earlier.

    The report mentioned that Allen expressed his willingness to assist investigators and wished the time would come when people no longer referred to police officers as “pigs.”

    Mulanax asked Allen if he had discussed the Zodiac case with anyone, and Allen replied that he might have had a conversation with Mr. Kidder or Mr. Tucker of the Vallejo Recreational Department, but was not positive.

    Allen allegedly offered one final tidbit of information. According to Mulanax, Allen stated that he had read a story in high school that made a lasting impression on him, “The Most Dangerous Game.” The story concerned a man shipwrecked on an island hunted by another man “like an animal.” In conversation with Cheney, Allen allegedly discussed this story.

    After they concluded the interview, Mulanax, Toschi, and Armstrong all agreed that Allen required further investigation. Toschi and Mulanax contacted Ted Kidder, the head of the Greater Vallejo Recreation Department. Allen had worked for the Department as a lifeguard and trampoline instructor. Allen lost his job at the GVRD approximately five years earlier due to his association with small children. Kidder stated that he had received numerous complaints from parents regarding "various acts towards their children." Like the owner of the service station, Kidder had not reported Allen's inappropriate conduct to police.

    Kidder could not recall having discussed the Zodiac case with Allen, but stated that he had talked about the case with the G.V.R.D. General Supervisor, Philip Tucker, three weeks earlier. In fact, the two men had discussed the notion that Allen may have been the Zodiac, primarily because of Allen's suspected sexually deviant behavior towards children and the fact that he resembled the description of the Zodiac. Both parties considered Allen to be a loner.

    This news obviously intrigued the investigators, and they summoned Tucker to Kidder's office. When asked if he had ever talked about the Zodiac case with Allen, Tucker recalled casual type conversations, and on one occasion, Allen said that police had questioned him as a suspect. Tucker said Allen had "discussed a special light attached to a gun barrel so that a person could shoot more accurately."

    Tucker added that he and his wife had visited Allen at his home, and that Allen had shown the couple a puzzling piece of paper. According to Tucker, Allen took the paper from a grey metal box located in his bedroom, and remarked "that he only showed this particular thing to 'very certain people' or something to this effect ... This paper was hand printed and pertained to a person who had been committed to Atascadero State Hospital for molesting a child. It rambled on and on about this person having been betrayed by his attorney, using language of a legal nature or terminology. Also in this script were various symbols similar to those used by Zodiac in his coded messages. Symbols and code very neatly done. Tucker expressed a polite interest in paper, but his wife showed genuine interest. She asked Allen if she might borrow the paper to study it, but Allen refused to allow her to take the paper. He did promise to have a copy made to give her. This he never did."

    Asked if Allen had an interest in guns, Tucker replied that Allen "did have and owned two handguns, one revolver and the other some type of automatic." Mulanax noted that Allen never mentioned owning an automatic weapon.

    In an attempt to learn if Allen drove a vehicle similar to that driven by Zodiac during the Blue Rock Springs Park shooting, Mulanax asked Tucker if Allen had owned a 1965 or 1966 brown Corvair. Tucker replied "in the negative," but added that he, himself, "had owned a brown 1964 Corvair" and added that he had never loaned the car to Allen. At the time, Tucker had two cars, a Corvair and a Pontiac. Allen had used his Pontiac on occasion. Tucker explained that at this particular time he was living in Berkeley, and "in the summer of 1969, he had left the Corvair parked at the Richfield Service station at Nebraska and Broadway for a period of approximately two weeks in an attempt to sell it. Keys were left at the station. At this time Arthur Allen was employed at this service station as an attendant. The exact time the car was left could not be recalled by Mr. Tucker other than it was mid summer of 1969."

    Once again, the subject of Allen's interest in children arose, and Tucker revealed that he had met with Allen in order to persuade him to seek psychiatric treatment. This meeting had taken place at the request of Allen's sister in law, Karen Allen, after Allen had "some recent involvement with a child that the family had received a complaint about." Despite his efforts, Tucker "apparently could not get through to him he needed help. The conversation ended by Tucker requesting Allen not to come around his home in the future and that their association had come to an end."

    After this interview, investigators contacted Karen Allen and asked her to come to the police building. "On her arrival she was advised to the reasons we wished to talk to her and seemed surprised that Arthur Allen was suspected as possibly being the Zodiac. Karen stated that she and her husband were aware that Allen had “some type of hangup regarding children,” but that she “could not believe that he could be Zodiac." She proceeded to offer the familiar portrait of Allen as a man who "hated women" and "had never had a serious relationship with a woman his own age." Allen's sister in law stated that Allen "resented her and had made threats against her as he thought she had come between him and her husband," Allen's brother, Ron.

    Karen went on to state that "Arthur hated his mother and had often expressed this hatred in her presence." Allen was "spoiled and pampered by his mother," who "did his cooking, washed his clothes, cleaned up after him and gave him money" and "paid for two automobiles and two boats."

    At this point, police showed Karen various notes written by Zodiac to the newspapers, and she could not recognize the printing as being similar to suspects, but did relate that certain phrases were of the context he would use. According to Karen, her brother in law "would use the phrase 'trigger mach' instead of trigger mechanism." She also definitely recalled having received a card at Christmas from Arthur in which he spelled Merry X-Mas the exact same way as the Zodiac had, doubling the letter S (Merry X-Mass).

    Karen explained "Allen was left handed," but "teachers had attempted to convert him to right hand. He learned write right handed but soon reverted back to using his left hand." Allen's apparent ability to write with both hands interested investigators.

    That evening, Inspectors Armstrong and Toschi met with Karen Allen again at her home and spoke to her husband, then landscape engineer Ronald Allen, who "promised all assistance possible in investigation but could not believe his brother could be a serious suspect in the case."

    The Inspectors told Ronald that they had information that indicated that his brother may have made several incriminating statements. Upon hearing that the source was Donald Cheney, Ronald did say that he was acquainted with Cheney and Panzarella, and that "they were responsible people who would not have made such statements if they were not true. He further stated that he had received a complaint from Cheney that his brother had made improper advances towards one of his children."

    Ronald "had no knowledge of any notes possessed by his brother such as described by Tucker" but "did have knowledge of a gray metal box in his brother's bedroom." He also said that his brother "owned two guns, both .22 caliber revolvers."

    According to Ronald, his brother "drank to excess and had a definite problem as far as children were concerned."

    The interview ended, and Ronald promised to contact Sgt. Mulanax if he could develop anything that might assist in the investigation.

    One week later, on August 11, 1971, Sgt. Mulanax, spoke to the owner and operator of the Arco Service Station in Vallejo. Vallejo police told the man that they were conducting an investigation of a former employee, but did not mention any connection to the Zodiac crimes. Allen had worked at the station on a part-time basis for approximately six months, until the owner terminated his employment in April of 1969. The man described Allen as an "undependable employee" who had a drinking problem and was "too interested in small girls."

    Mulanax asked if Philip Tucker had ever left his Corvair at the service station, and the man said yes, but he "did not think it was for a two week period."

    That afternoon, Mulanax went to Tucker's home and interviewed his wife regarding the paper in Allen's gray metal box. Mrs. Tucker confirmed her husband's statements, stating, "at the time...she was preparing for an examination in psychology and admitted that she was very interested in contents of letters."

    Mrs. Tucker told Mulanax "Allen had explained he had received these papers from a patient at Atascadero," and her "interest was primarily directed towards the working of the person's mind." She said that the "exactness and neatness of the printing of the symbols used made an impression on her." Mulanax showed Mrs. Tucker "photostatic copies of some of the codes sent by Zodiac. She identified numerous symbols . . . she saw in the papers shown her by Allen. It was her recollection these papers were drawn with a felt point pen."

    At 5:30 PM, Philip Tucker arrived police also showed him the Zodiac codes. Tucker stated, "they appeared the same as those shown him by Allen."

    Mulanax asked Tucker when he had left his 1964 Corvair at the service station, and Tucker could not recall the date. He was able to remember, "after this time when the car was not sold he had left it parked in front of his father in law's home for a considerable period of time." To the best of his knowledge, Allen had never used the car.

    Tucker shared his opinion that Allen was "a schizophrenic personality," and added that he was "an avid reader of science fiction literature." He said that Allen "seems to live what he has read. He can tell a lie and actually believe what he is telling."

    The next day, Mulanax finished his report. The investigation continued, but investigators were unable to find any evidence that linked Allen to the Zodiac crimes. Experts compared Allen's handwriting to that of the Zodiac, but needed better samples to conduct a thorough comparison. Police did not feel that they had enough evidence to obtain a warrant to search Allen's Fresno Street address, so they turned to Allen's brother for help. Ronald Allen searched his brother's basement room and apparently found some "cryptogram type material, but he was unsure if they related to the Zodiac." Ronald Allen did not find anything else that appeared to be relevant to the investigation.

    As time passed, and investigators were unable to find any further evidence against Allen, it became clear that it would be necessary to obtain a search warrant in the hopes of finding whatever evidence might remain at any of the locations in question. Ronald Allen's search of the Fresno Street address gave investigators little reason to believe that they would find evidence in Allen's basement room. Allen also maintained several trailers throughout the Bay area, and since he was the only one who used the trailers in reasonable privacy, investigators thought that they might yield some evidence. Investigators worked to collect all the available information and turned to a Sonoma County superior court judge in order to obtain a warrant to search Allen's trailer in Santa Rosa, California.

    Inspector Armstrong prepared the request, stating his reasons for suspecting that the search might uncover evidence to link Allen to the Zodiac crimes. Armstrong noted that Allen had made an incriminating statement concerning bloody knives and owned a Zodiac watch that, according to Armstrong, was the only place where the name, Zodiac, and the crossed circle symbol appeared together. The request did not mention Allen's allegedly incriminating statements to Cheney.

    Armstrong listed the known evidence in the Zodiac case that they hoped to find in Allen's trailer, including weapons, knives, taxi cab keys, and scraps of bloody clothing. Armstrong signed the affidavit, and he would have to swear to its contents in court, and filed in Sonoma County on September 14, 1972. A superior court judge reviewed the affidavit, questioned Armstrong regarding the information it presented, and granted the request.

    Inspectors Armstrong and Toschi traveled to Santa Rosa, and found Allen's trailer sitting at the Sunset Trailer Park. Allen was not present, but the investigators opened the trailer and began to conduct a preliminary inspection. The men were surprised to find a small freezer containing the bodies of several dead squirrels. Allen was attempting to earn a degree in biology at the time and had obtained permission from the state to experiment on such animals. Police also found a large dildo and other sexually oriented materials.

    At some point during the search, Allen arrived at the trailer and the two investigators confronted him. They gave Allen a piece of blank paper and a black felt tip pen and asked him to copy the text of a Zodiac letter. They further instructed him to copy the text twice, once with each of his hands. Allen obeyed and printed the text with each hand and in upper and lowercase.

    SFPD fingerprint expert Robert Dagitz took several samples of Allen's fingerprints and compared them to the latent prints found at the scene of Paul Stine's murder in San Francisco.

    Allen stated that he had not killed anyone, and police left the trailer with no evidence to prove otherwise. Sherwood Morrill, the Documents Examiner for the state of California, gave investigators the disappointing news that Allen's handwriting did not match the writing in the Zodiac letters. A fingerprint comparison failed to match Allen's prints to those believed to belong to the Zodiac. Although police knew there was a slim possibility that the bloody fingerprint might not belong to the killer, the lack of both fingerprint and handwriting matches limited the options for further investigation. Unless investigators could develop some ballistic evidence, eyewitness testimony, or other information to link Allen to the Zodiac's crimes, the investigation had effectively stalled.

    Inspectors Armstrong and Toschi believed that Allen was a good suspect and were reluctant to exclude him based on a fingerprint, which, at the very least, was questionable, and the opinion of a handwriting expert. Handwriting analysis, graphology, is not an exact science. A graphologist examines handwriting and offers only an educated opinion. Two different experts with the same education, training, and experience can and do reach conflicting conclusions. Therefore, investigators decided to keep an open mind regarding Allen, despite the evidence that appeared to exonerate him.

    The San Francisco Police investigation of Allen ended until further evidence surfaced.


    Not long after the SFPD seemed to lose interest in Allen as Zodiac suspect, he became the subject of another, unrelated criminal investigation.

    Allen's problem with children had apparently led him to molest a young boy, and officers of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office arrested him on October 1, 1974. Subsequently convicted, Allen served out his sentence at the Atascadero State Hospital. The convicted child molester joined the hospital population on March 14, 1975.

    While at Atascadero, agents of the California Department of Justice investigated Allen as a possible suspect in the Zodiac case. At the same time, officers of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office considered the possibility that Allen may have been responsible for the murders of over forty young women in and around Santa Rosa.

    Sonoma investigators found that Allen's Santa Rosa trailer was in the center of the area where the killer had left the bodies of the victims, and that he tied some of these victims with clothesline similar to that used by the Zodiac in his attack at Lake Berryessa. However, these crimes were very different from those of the Zodiac in that the killer transported, stripped and dumped bodies of the victims in remote areas. The Zodiac never transported his victims, and always left them clothed at the scene of the crimes. Despite the apparent differences, the Sonoma investigators checked Allen's whereabouts during these crimes, and after extensive investigation, they were unable to find any evidence to link Allen to the Santa Rosa killings.

    The agents of the Department of Justice were facing a lack of evidence as well. Their investigation failed to uncover any evidence that linked Allen to the Zodiac's crimes. Agent Jim Silver was determined to take advantage of all the available options, and he asked Allen to submit to a polygraph examination, or a lie detector test.

    According to one source, the test indicated that Allen was telling the truth when he denied any involvement in either the Zodiac or Santa Rosa killings. Allen "passed" the test with "flying colors." Allen would later claim that the test had last "10 hours," and that results of the test proved that he as not the Zodiac.

    The Department of Justice inquiry had produced no evidence against Allen, and although some agents believed that Allen may have been a killer, others came to believe that he was little more than a pedophile, and the department was wasting its time and resources on an investigation that, by all appearances, was no longer warranted. This was the beginning of the spilt between D.O.J. agents regarding Allen's viability as a Zodiac suspect. The conflict resurfaced years later in another investigation of Allen.

    Allen completed his sentence and left Atascadero on August 31, 1977. He returned to Vallejo, and the basement room of his mother's home. The conviction had made Allen's "problem" with children a matter of public record, and it is doubtful that his life was ever the same after his return from the state hospital.

    Allen's criminal record made it difficult for him to find employment, and, most likely, earn the trust of those around him. The knowledge that police had suspected that Allen was the Zodiac must have made his neighbors, friends and family nervous when around him, and it is doubtful that these rumors did not circulate throughout the Vallejo community.

    Despite his obvious obstacles, Allen was able to find employment as a fleet mechanic at the Benicia Import Auto Service in January of 1978. He would work his way through a series of such jobs, until landing a position as a sales clerk at the Ace Hardware store in Vallejo. Allen would continue to work at the store for the next decade.

    As Allen attempted to settle back into his life in Vallejo, there were forces at work against him.

    The BOOK

    Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had decided to write a book about the Zodiac case, and he had been talking to some of the detectives involved in the investigation. According to Graysmith, he first learned of Allen during a conversation in March of 1980. Allen allegedly wrote to Toschi and informed the Inspector of his release from Atascadero.

    Graysmith then interviewed many people who knew Allen, and, at times, even followed him and spied on him at his place of work. At one point, Graysmith approached Allen's employer in an unsuccessful attempt to gather samples of the suspect's handwriting. The cartoonist did not mention Allen's name, but did tell the man that his request had "to do with threatening letters received over a ten year period." Allen's boss eventually decided not to give Graysmith the samples, so the cartoonist then sent his friends into the Ace Hardware store to "buy things" from Allen, and obtain samples of his handwriting.

    The results of Graysmith's amateur detective work appeared in his book ZODIAC, published by St. Martin's Press in 1986. The book caused a flurry of media attention to the Bay area's most notorious unsolved case, and Graysmith was immediately ordained "the expert" on the Zodiac murders. The cartoonist turned author was interviewed by many local reporters, and appeared on several radio and television talk shows. Inevitably, the subject turned to the suspects mentioned in Graysmith's book, and the mysterious man named "Starr."

    Allen had never been publicly named as a suspect, and had Graysmith used his real name in his book, he could have faced a lawsuit for defamation of character, or any number of legal woes. Therefore, Allen's name was changed to "Bob Hall Starr," and, using this pseudonym as a shield, Graysmith was able to distort and exaggerate the facts, omit exculpatory evidence, and invent much of the case against the suspect, all without fear of repercussions.

    Yet Graysmith's portrait of "Starr" matched Allen in many ways, including the fact that he lived in the basement of his mother's Vallejo home. The author had provided enough detail for anyone to recognize that Allen must have been the basis for the character named "Starr." Allen himself may have read the book, and realized that Graysmith was, in effect, naming him as the notorious Zodiac killer. No one can say what impact the publication of ZODIAC may have had on Allen, but it is doubtful that the appearance of the book improved the quality of his life.

    ZODIAC became a bestseller and went into multiple printings. As years passed, numerous articles about the case continued to mention the man named "Starr," and, in one article, Graysmith stated that the killer was in Vallejo. After a series of "Zodiac" copycat murders in New York, retired Detective Jack Mulanax was interviewed by a TV reporter regarding the California case. Mulanax stated that the only good suspect he had ever encountered was working in a hardware store in Northern California.


    By December of 1990, 50 year old career criminal Ralph Spinelli faced up to 30 years in prison for nine armed robberies. In an attempt to escape punishment for his crimes, Spinelli told police that he was prepared to reveal the name of the Zodiac killer if "some type of deal is made regarding his offenses." Detective Jim Overstreet called the Vallejo Police Department to report Spinelli's claim, and was referred to Detective George Bawart. The Vallejo Police Department had retained Bawart on "a contract type basis to do follow up" on leads in the Zodiac case after his retirement in September of 1989.

    Detective Bawart spoke to Detective Overstreet to get the details of Spinelli's arrest as well as his story, and then called VPD Captain Roy Conway to explain the unfolding scenario. Conway had been a sergeant with the VPD in 1969, and had been present at the scene of the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park. According to a VPD report, Ralph Spinelli was well known to both Conway and Bawart, as his family was prominent in the Vallejo Area in the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's, and thought to have connections with Organized Crime. Spinelli had a history of prior arrests, and had served two years in prison for the armed robberies of several Oregon restaurants in 1972.

    Conway and Bawart met with Spinelli at the Santa Clara County jail in January of 1991. The prisoner refused to identify "the person he knew as the Zodiac without first being offered a deal; wherein, all charges against him were dropped." Spinelli was informed that neither Conway nor Bawart would agree to his terms, and was then "asked how he knew the individual he would not name was the Zodiac?"

    According to Spinelli, the unnamed individual had told him that "he was going to San Francisco and kill a cab driver. The next day or so, a cab driver was killed in San Francisco, and the Zodiac took credit for it."

    Captain Conway and detective Bawart pressed Spinelli to identify the individual in question, but he would only agree to give the man's name to his public defender, Craig Kennedy. Conway later wrote: "Throughout January 1991, subsequent meetings were held with Craig Kennedy and Craig Kennedy's immediate boss Bryan Schechmeister regarding the information Spinelli had. They refused to divulge any further information without some concrete deal being given to Ralph Spinelli which we refused to do."

    The stalemate came to an end on January 31, 1991, when Capt. Conway "received a phone call from Craig Kennedy. He indicated that the name given to him by Ralph Spinelli was Lee Allen."

    Once again, Allen was the subject of yet another seemingly incredulous story, which, if true, indicated he possessed prior knowledge of the Zodiac crimes. Once again, Allen is said to announced his murderous intentions in advance. Once again, the VPD launched another investigation of Arthur Leigh Allen.


    Bawart and Conway traveled to Sacramento and met with Agent Fred Shirasago of the California State Department of Justice Homicide Unit. Shirasago's division was "the receptacle for all the Zodiac cases investigated by police departments throughout the state of California."

    The next day, Bawart met with retired SFPD Homicide Inspector Bill Armstrong and discussed the search of Allen's trailer in 1972. Armstrong told Bawart that he and Inspector Toschi did not find any evidence which linked Allen to the Zodiac murders, and added that fingerprint and handwriting comparisons had failed to yield a match.

    The retired homicide investigator described the confusion that resulted when handwriting experts presented conflicting professional opinions regarding whether or not Allen had written the Zodiac letters. Conway later wrote: "Armstrong indicated that one handwriting expert, identified as Terry Pascoe, Department of Justice Document Examiner, indicated that if writing had been a product of a mental state, the writing of subject can be different when in a different mental state, or it could be a case of an intentional deception. And with the talents that Allen has (writes with both hands) this could be done. Pascoe's recommendation was, 'Do not eliminate this subject because of handwriting.' Another handwriting expert, Sherwood Morrill, who examined known printing of the Zodiac, as well as Allen's indicated he did not feel a mental state would alter handwriting. Armstrong indicated that he was never able to reconcile this problem."

    Armstrong told Bawart that "handwriting samples of Arthur Leigh Allen were submitted to handwriting experts with known writings of the Zodiac killer. Experts indicated that the handwriting was similar but definitely was not that of the Zodiac killer."

    According to Armstrong, Allen was "the most viable" suspect that he and Toschi had come across during the course of their investigation. The retired Inspector "further indicated that Arthur Leigh Allen's name was never published in any media to his knowledge, and that the only persons who would know his name are law enforcement personnel directly related to the Zodiac investigation, or someone that Arthur Leigh Allen had personally dealt with."

    Police reports, FBI documents, search warrant affidavits, news articles, and even the books of Robert Graysmith demonstrate that many private citizens as well as members of the law enforcement community knew Allen had been a Zodiac. Allen’s family, friends, employers, and neighbors were all aware that Allen had been the subject of a police investigation concerning the Zodiac crimes. Allen also told many people that he had been a suspect.

    The book ZODIAC used the pseudonym "Bob Hall Starr" to portray Allen as the prime Zodiac suspect, and after its publication, the book inspired many to learn more about the mysterious man known only as “Bob Hall Starr.” According to ZODIAC UNMASKED, Allen’s name and connection to the Zodiac surfaced in a very public fashion as early as October of 1987, immediately following the release of ZODIAC.

    “The leak came not from the media, but the local police department. A substitute teacher in Santa Rosa and senior high schools became concerned. ‘My occupation has given me the opportunity to observe how local teenagers have reacted to your book about Zodiac,’ he informed me. ‘I’ve seen copies pulled out at free reading time in classrooms all over town, but I never had much interest in the subject until last spring when, at various times, I overheard students and staff members discussing the book. Apparently one of the students is the son of a local policeman, and word has gotten around that the man you call “Starr” works at Friedman Brothers hardware in south Santa Rosa. Some of the kids seem to know the man’s real name, or think they do.”

    Graysmith wrote that a group of high school students and another young man named Craig had learned of Allen via the Santa Rosa police department.

    Bawart and Conway next traveled to Sacramento to meet with Agent Fred Shirasago of the California State Department of Justice Homicide Division. Shirasago's division was the receptacle for all Zodiac cases investigated by police departments in the state of California.

    Agent Shirasago gave Bawart and Conway the reports which documented the SFPD investigation of Allen in the early 1970's, as well as a copy of the Manhattan Beach Police report that detailed Donald Cheney's claims.

    Mel Nicolai, a retired Department of Justice agent who had assisted in the original investigation of Allen, echoed Armstrong's remarks, and "indicated that he had no knowledge of any media attention given to Arthur Leigh Allen...the only persons that had any information regarding Allen were law enforcement personnel."

    Based on the statements of Armstrong and Nicolai, Detective Bawart and Captain Conway concluded that "Ralph Spinelli had to have had personal contact with Arthur Leigh Allen or with a close associate of Arthur Leigh Allen to obtain the name of Lee Allen."

    Bawart then contacted psychologist Larry Ankron of the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Unit in Quantico, Virginia. Ankron was "informed of the investigation by Detective Armstrong in 1971, and the more recent information obtained from Ralph Spinelli."

    The Quantico psychologist told Bawart that the Zodiac killings would probably still be continuing if the killer was not deceased or imprisoned. He stated that most serial killers would "keep souvenirs or trophies from these criminal they can keep these in a hidden place and relive the incident many times over." Dr. Ankron added that such killers would often store these trophies along with "journals and news clippings of the crimes themselves" in "ingenious hiding places within their residence such as, false walls, hidden safe, etc." Bawart was also advised that it was possible that a serial killer might have a storage place at another location.

    Detective Bawart understood the underlying message behind Dr. Ankron's comments. If Allen was, indeed, the Zodiac killer, the very evidence which could have proved his guilt may have been hidden in Allen's home or somewhere on other property he controlled. Vallejo police needed a warrant to search Allen's home if they hoped to recover the souvenirs or trophies described by Dr. Ankron. Yet, before police searched Allen's residence, Bawart and Conway wanted to learn more about Allen and the house on Fresno Street.

    In February of 1991, Allen still worked at the Ace Hardware store in Vallejo. Allen's mother, Bernice Allen, had died in October of 1989. Arthur lived alone in the house and still maintained the basement room as his own. Allen also owned a 22 foot sailboat, which was stored at a friend's house in Vallejo.

    Captain Conway reviewed the information gathered by Detective Bawart and subsequently wrote an affidavit in which he "prays" that a judge grant his request for a warrant to search Allen's home as well as one of the boats at the other location. Conway concluded the affidavit by requesting "that after the service of this search warrant that the Search Warrant Affidavit and Return of Service be sealed by the court. The reason this request is made is that the Zodiac case has had national publicity and has been one of the few case (sic) that has so inflamed the public that it would serve no purpose for the media to get information from this affidavit if no charges are filed. In the other vein, if charges are filed, the publicity from this affidavit would tend to make it difficult to have a fair trial." Sealing the affidavit also served to conceal the identity of the informant who had set the events in motion.

    Captain Conway's prayers were answered on February 13, 1991, when Vallejo Benicia Municipal Court Judge Paul Dacey issued the warrant and sealed the affidavit. The following day, Vallejo police presented Allen with a valentine of sorts -- a warrant to search the Fresno Street address.

    An FBI memorandum summarized the encounter: "Investigators described this (basement) apartment as very dark and dreary, almost 'museum like'... Allen denied any involvement in the (Zodiac) murders." Conway and Bawart reported that Allen was "very amiable, calm and cooperative throughout their interview. He told investigators he was a 'nice guy,' although he did receive cruel pleasure from sadistic type pornography."

    The search uncovered a box of audio reel tapes and an audio cassette tape which Allen apparently claimed "was a tape in which he is spanking a young boy who was feigning pain." Allen admitted that he found this tape to be sexually stimulating.

    The FBI memorandum also states: "Allen was shown a piece of yellow lined paper which contained a 'menu' for making a bomb. Allen told investigators that he never saw that piece of paper before, and denied having left several bombs in a friend's basement years ago."

    Allen may have denied that the bomb menu belonged to him, but it was clear that he was very interested in explosives. Among Allen's belongings, police found four pipe bombs, one primer cord, seven impact devices, two rolls of safety fuses, nine non electric blasting caps, pipes, pipe threads and vises, fireworks, black powder, and bottles of potassium nitrate and sulfur.

    Police also found a large collection of weapons, which included a Ruger .22 revolver, another .22 pistol, a Ruger .44 Black Hawk, a Colt .32 auto, a Marlin .22 rifle with scope, an Inland .30 caliber rifle, a Stevens Model 835 12 gauge double barrel shotgun and a Winchester Model 50 20 gauge automatic shotgun. Allen also kept a stock of varied ammunition and a hunting knife with sheath and rivets.

    The infamous Zodiac Sea Wolf watch was confiscated, as were miscellaneous papers and news clippings regarding the Zodiac case and a "Cut letter from D. O. J. [Department of Justice]." The VPD inventory list of the items seized also mentioned two articles from The Vallejo Times Herald dated June 1, 1982, and two articles from The San Francisco Chronicle dated June 1, 1982.

    Despite an extensive search of both Allen's home and his boat, Vallejo police failed to recover any evidence which linked Allen to the Zodiac crimes. As a convicted felon, Allen could not legally possess or own any firearms, much less the arsenal found during the search. The weapons, as well as the collection of illegal explosives, provided Vallejo police with the legal cause to arrest Allen. Yet, for reasons unknown, they declined to do so.

    Conway and Bawart knew that they would need to find more evidence if Allen was to be arrested for the Zodiac murders. The absence of any physical evidence left police with few options. Without a ballistics, handwriting, or fingerprint match to connect Allen to the Zodiac's weapons, letters, or latent prints, police would have difficulty convincing a district attorney that Allen could be convicted based on the available evidence. The investigation would have to explore other avenues if police had any hope of building a case against Allen.

    Whatever Conway and Bawart may have had planned, circumstances surrounding their suspect virtually changed overnight. The search of Allen's home had not gone unnoticed by neighbors, and word quickly spread that the Vallejo police were very interested in Arthur Leigh Allen. Publisher Harry V. Martin was running a series on the Zodiac case in his biweekly tabloid newspaper, The Napa Sentinel. In May of 1991, Martin's headline read, "After 20 years, Vallejo Police search premises of prime suspect again." The article identified the suspect as Arthur Leigh Allen.

    Once the identity of the prime suspect in the Zodiac murder case had become public knowledge, media attention focused on Allen. His name spread throughout the Bay area, and news reports revealed that the suspect was, in fact, the basis for the character, Bob Hall Starr. More than 20 years after his name first entered the Vallejo police files, Allen was in the spotlight of curiosity, scrutiny, and suspicion.

    Allen's neighbors had already witnessed the search of his home and the subsequent removal of several items, and some had even been interviewed by police. Allen had lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, and many of his neighbors had not only known him for years, but some had even been interviewed by police during the years of relentless investigations. The news that the aging man could be one of the most elusive and notorious killers in the annals of American crime history was a shock to some and simply confirmation of the worst fears of others.

    Graysmith's portrayal of Allen had served to prejudice the jurors in the court of public suspicion, and the actions of the Vallejo police created an atmosphere in which Allen was presumed guilty. The order of events seemed to indicate that police had uncovered some evidence during their search, and that this evidence had been the basis for the ensuing rumors that he was the Zodiac. Few people were aware that the spark that had renewed and ignited the long dry investigation had been the incredulous claims of a convicted felon seeking to escape a 30 year prison sentence.

    The assumption that police must have obtained some evidence which linked Allen to the Zodiac murders would ultimately prove more troublesome than beneficial for Vallejo police. After the initial wave of press coverage began to wane, the absence of a resulting arrest was puzzling to many, and the fact that police had seized items in Allen's home had created expectations which police were unable to meet. Soon, many observers wondered if the Vallejo PD was accusing the wrong man, and others, who knew that there was virtually no evidence against Allen, quietly made their opinions known.

    Staff writer Jacqueline Ginley interviewed Allen while writing an article which would later appear in The Vallejo Times Herald. Allen complained about the February search of his home. "These guys tore the whole place apart...I phoned them asking when I was going to get my stuff back, and they phoned back two weeks later and said there was some damning new evidence."

    Aware of the fact that Ralph Spinelli was responsible for resurrecting the investigation, Allen explained, "He phoned down from Tahoe and said we had a conversation in 1969, and I told him that I'd go down to San Francisco and shoot a cabbie...He's a punk and a hood...I've never talked to him in my life."

    The article stated that Allen claimed police had pressured him to submit to a polygraph examination even though Allen claimed to have done so in the 70's. He said, "I took a 10 hour lie detector test and passed the...damn thing...So, they tell me, 'Well, you're a sociopath and you can cheat on lie detector tests." The article then paused to reminded readers that the Zodiac was thought to be a sociopath.

    Allen was understandably upset by the accusation that he was the Zodiac. If he was the wanted killer, the police and media attention could put him in prison; if Allen was innocent, he was living a nightmare. "This crap has haunted me for the last 22 years." Ginley wrote, "Allen said he wants to hire an attorney but can't afford to hire one on his $500 a month disability checks. He said he's considered contacting Marvin Belli, the famed San Francisco attorney who got a plea for help from the Zodiac in the 70's." Allen was optimistic: "I've been thinking about it, but then again, this has always blown over when they don't find anything."

    The famed San Francisco attorney Allen had mentioned was, of course, Melvin Belli. After receiving a letter from the Zodiac, Belli had publicly promised to help the killer if he surrendered. Those who were convinced that Allen was the Zodiac found his comments incriminating. Perhaps, once he had been wrongly accused, the one suspect in the Zodiac case had simply thought of the one lawyer who had promised to help the Zodiac.

    When the article appeared under the headline "Signs point to Vallejo Man," former SFPD Homicide investigator David Toschi was said to have"declined to discuss why Allen was dismissed as a suspect, but said that he had looked very good. Vallejo Police Chief Gerald Galvin offered a prophetic answer to the obvious question: "Do I expect an imminent arrest in regard to Zodiac? No, I do not."

    Those who were desperate for other suspects may have been amused, if not disappointed, when Geraldo Rivera's tabloid TV program, Now It Can Be Told, broadcast the results of its "investigation" into the Zodiac murders. Author and conspiracy theorist Maury Terry had concluded that a satanic cult was responsible for the Zodiac's crimes, and in an attempt to dismiss the prime suspect, Allen was interviewed in silhouette as he stated his innocence, "I'm not the Zodiac. I've never killed anyone." A correspondent reported that the Vallejo police department was the only agency which believed Allen was the Zodiac.

    The publicity surrounding Allen proved an embarrassment for the Vallejo Police Department, which was under pressure to produce some evidence against its so called "prime suspect." Allen was placed under surveillance, and police often sat in parked cars outside his Fresno Street address. A friend of Allen described the somewhat comical series of events that followed as Vallejo police conducted frequent, unannounced raids on Allen's home in the futile attempt to catch the suspect engaged in illegal activity or uncover incriminating evidence.

    An FBI memorandum indicates that Allen was questioned on several occasions in the months after the search of his home. The memo stated that Allen was always "very cooperative, but continues to deny that he is the Zodiac."

    For his part, Allen used every available opportunity to protest his innocence. In further interviews with television media, a frustrated Allen continued to appear in silhouette sitting in his basement room. "They haven't arrested me because they can't prove a thing. I'm not the damn Zodiac...the only way I can clear myself would be for the real Zodiac to confess, if he's still alive." Allen spoke softly, "I am not the Zodiac. I've never killed anyone...these guys almost, well, they, they had me questioning myself."

    On March 6, 1992, Allen was featured on another nationally syndicated tabloid television show, A Current Affair. The segment titled "Branded a Butcher" stated that families in one particular community were living in fear because their neighbor was a suspect in a string of unsolved killings.

    A photo of "The Butcher," clad only in shorts, was shown on the screen, and his face was obscured by pixilated squares. In the sensational style that made the program famous, reporter Mike Watkis narrated in breathless script, "Arthur Leigh Allen, a long time Vallejo resident and former professional student, is the man many still believe to be the dreaded Zodiac, and for nearly half his adult life, Allen has lived with the Zodiac's loathsome label attached to his name. Now, for the first time ever on national television, Allen tells A Current Affair his side of the story."

    Once again, Allen sat in his basement room and was shown in silhouette. "Well, they weren't able to get me for the simple reason that I, I've never killed anyone in my life and don't intend to...There are a lot of people around, with, with all this bad publicity that think I'm, I'm Zodiac. People who know me? No problem...Thank God for our constitution because that says a person is innocent until proven guilty."

    The reporter quoted from Graysmith's book, and erroneously reported that "his own family, at one time, found him terrifying." Allen scoffed "I enjoy a good tussle, but hey, even odds."

    Of the accusations against him, Allen explained, "There were coincidences that, that tended to point towards me...and killing, just for the pleasure of it? It's just totally foreign to me."

    Police were frustrated by the media attention which portrayed Allen as little more than an odd man who was harassed by the Vallejo Police Department. Retired Detective George Bawart and Captain Roy Conway hoped that an eyewitness might be able to identify Allen and that such an identification would justify Allen's arrest.

    Department of Justice Agent Jim Silver had asked Bryan Hartnell to observe Allen as he worked in the Vallejo hardware store. Hartnell watched the suspect carefully and, at one time, spoke with him briefly. Hartnell reportedly stated, "I can't say that that isn't him."

    Surviving victim Michael Mageau virtually disappeared after the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park. Although he was shown photos of several suspects in the weeks after the crime, law enforcement officers apparently never bothered to locate Mageau and show him a photo of Allen during the 20 years of their various investigations. Mageau had seen the killer in "profile" and thought that he might be able to identify the suspect from that view, although he admitted that he had been unable to get a good look at the suspect in the darkness.

    Producers of Now It Can Be Told apparently had no trouble finding Mageau, and the second edition of their so called investigation into the Zodiac murders featured Mageau under hidden camera surveillance. Years of alcohol and drug abuse had left the 44-year-old survivor gaunt, and the struggle to put the traumatic shooting behind him seemed to have taken its toll. Darlene Ferrin's sister confronted a nervous and confused Mageau and quizzed him regarding the name of a mysterious man who was said to have stalked Darlene in the weeks before she was killed. Mageau was unable to offer any answers and shrugged, "I don't know, I can't remember a lot of those names."

    The program was titled "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and the video footage of a bewildered Mageau was coupled with the claim that he was the one man who could identify the notorious Zodiac killer. Although there is some evidence to suggest that he may have been given names and photographs of some suspects at that time, Mageau was not said to have made any identification. It seemed Mageau did not know as much as the program had led viewers to believe.

    Retired Vallejo police detective George Bawart had located Mageau in August of 1991and presented him with photos of several men, including Arthur Leigh Allen. Mageau was asked if any of the men could be the man who had shot he and Darlene more than twenty years earlier. According to an FBI memorandum, Mageau was said to have positively identified Allen as the Zodiac killer. Bawart described the identification and stated that Mageau saw Allen's photo and declared, "That's him. That's the man who shot me." Bawart’s report to the Vallejo Police Department stated that Mageau was asked to assess the certainty of his identification of Allen on a scale of 1 to 10, and Mageau replied that his level of certainty was an 8. He also pointed to the picture of another man in the photo lineup and stated that the face of that individual was similar to the face of the Zodiac.

    The eyewitness identification of the prime suspect seemed to be damning new evidence, yet Mageau's original description of the killer did not match Allen. As a witness, Mageau left much to be desired. He had abused alcohol and drugs for many years. Retired detective Ed Rust had interviewed Mageau in the days after the shooting and did not believe he could have identified the gunman in 1969, let alone do so some twenty-two years after the shooting.

    Allen's health had begun to deteriorate, and diabetes had caused his kidneys to fail. The disease forced Allen to undergo renal dialysis on a regular basis, and the treatments left him thin, sickly, and frail. Complications of the disease had also rendered Allen legally blind. He also nursed a large abscess on his foot, which made it difficult for him to move about, and he was no longer able to work. He, therefore, spent most of his time at home. In order to earn extra income, Allen had rented the upper portion of his house to a young woman, although he continued to reside in the basement room.

    In the spring of 1992, freelance writer Rider McDowell interviewed Allen in his home while researching an article for The San Francisco Chronicle. McDowell described the ill and aging suspect as disarmingly friendly and wrote that Allen had "acknowledged that he had spent time in jail and gotten away with 'a lot of bad things', but he denied any involvement in the Zodiac case." Allen told McDowell, "It wasn't me...and that's the truth. And if people want to believe it was me, well, that's their problem. I was cleared on every angle, including the handwriting tests. Plus, I don't look anything like the guy."

    Vallejo police continued to pressure Allen to submit to another polygraph examination, and, by late August of 1992, Allen apparently considered taking such a test in the hope that the results would clear his name. He used his home computer to draft an agreement regarding the police request and then used his printer to produce a copy of the document. A previous polygraph examination had indicated that Allen was truthful when he denied any involvement in the Zodiac murders, and Allen may have been confident that he would be able to pass the lie detector test a second time.

    The test never took place, and Allen never had the chance to prove his innocence.


    On the afternoon of August 26, 1992, the Vallejo police and fire departments were notified that a person needed assistance at 32 Fresno Street. There, fire and ambulance personnel found Allen's lifeless body on the floor of his basement room. The prime suspect in the most notorious unsolved murder case in California history was dead.

    Upon inspecting Allen's room, VPD officers Lawson and Baron noticed the computer on Allen's desk and the copy of Allen's polygraph agreement still in the printer. Retired Detective George Bawart then received a phone call from Baron, and learned that Allen had died. Bawart drove the scene and inspected the basement room and Allen's body.

    Allen was wearing a robe and had a bruise on his head, which may have occurred when he fell to the floor. The bruise seemed somewhat suspicious to Bawart, and although there were no signs of foul play, the state required that an autopsy be performed on the body in order to determine the cause of death. This autopsy would later reveal that Allen's death was caused by the complications of diabetic kidney failure, and it uncovered no evidence to indicate that the head wound had not occurred during the fall.

    Bawart examined the basement of the Fresno Street address and hoped that some scrap of evidence remained which could prove that Allen was the Zodiac. The retired detective noted that the computer appeared to be new and had not been in the room when Vallejo police had searched the property more than a year earlier. Near the computer, Bawart found an index of computer discs which had been labeled "Polygon." The document in the printer, revealing Allen's intention to submit to the polygraph examination, must have seemed ironic to the detective.

    Allen had a collection of video tapes next to his bed, but he had placed one tape on a bookshelf across the room. This tape had been labeled "Z." Bawart suspected that the tape might contain some evidence related to the case, and he asked Vallejo Detective Sampayan to confiscate the tape until a warrant could be obtained to view its contents. Sampayan, who had been assigned to investigate the circumstances of Allen's death, agreed and returned to headquarters with the video tape.

    The following day, Capt. Conway drafted another affidavit requesting a warrant to view Allen's mysterious video tape. Conway also asked that the court permit Vallejo police to seize Allen's computer and discs so that they could be studied by a competent computer operator. Again, a judge granted the request, and police soon received their final disappointment.

    According to one source, the video tape featured only a few Zodiac related television programs. However, an unconfirmed report stated that the tape contained a message from Allen in which he Allen cursed the Vallejo police. Allen was said to have concluded the taped message by exposing his bare buttocks to the camera.

    Equally disappointing were Allen's computer discs, which had been labeled "Polygon." In his affidavit, Conway wrote: "Webster's dictionary defines polygon as a closed plane figure bounded by straight lines a closed figure on a sphere bounded by arcs of great circles." Conway added, somewhat erroneously, that he was "aware that the Zodiac sent cryptograms to various newspapers and police agencies which (featured) geometric figures which could be called polygons."

    Analysis of the discs failed to uncover any information which could establish any connection between Allen's polygon data and the Zodiac's writings. Nevertheless, police thought it was curious that a sickly 58-year-old man would pursue such interests. By all appearances, the relatively new computer had only been used to create the polygon discs and the polygraph agreement. The enigmatic discs and Allen's reasons for producing them remained an odd footnote at the end of Allen's story. The possibility exists that Allen had attempted to label the disc “Polygraph” using some form of abbreviation but did so illegibly.

    The death of Arthur Leigh Allen was reported in the local newspapers and TV media; most attributed his demise to a heart attack. An article in The San Jose Mercury News quoted Captain Conway's comments on the February search of Allen's home. "We found some writings, some pipe bombs, some illegal weapons...None of it was sufficient to make an arrest for him being the Zodiac."

    Former SFPD Inspector David Toschi echoed Conway, "Mr. Allen was a very, very good suspect. We looked into Mr. Allen very closely." The article further stated that police "focused on Mr. Allen in 1971 when relatives and friends told police he was acting erratically," and that "Mr. Allen had reportedly told some people that he was the Zodiac killer." Neither of the statements were entirely accurate, and the sudden reference to the suspect as "Mr. Allen" seemed an obligatory gesture to the dead.

    Days later, The Vallejo Times Herald featured another story under the headline "Suspect's death won't halt Zodiac investigation," which detailed the posthumous search of Allen's home and the discovering of the puzzling videotape and discs. Capt. Conway refused to comment on the ongoing investigation, but did say that Allen's death did not appear to have been a suicide or the result of foul play.

    On April 26, 1993, an audience gathered in the auditorium of San Francisco State University for a conference regarding the Zodiac case. Members of a special panel included Robert Graysmith, author of the book which had promoted Allen as a prime suspect, Captain Conway, and retired detective George Bawart.

    Captain Conway told the audience that the evidence indicated that Allen was the Zodiac. Bawart said, “I find so many coincidences that point in one direction, I feel it is no longer a coincidence, and I feel there are so many areas that point directly at Arthur Leigh Allen that I feel he is a viable suspect and in all probability the Zodiac.” Graysmith agreed.

    In 1994, Conway told writer Rider McDowell, “I believe as I always have that the Zodiac was Arthur Leigh Allen,” and stated, “If Allen were alive today, we would file charges against him as the Zodiac.” Jim Lang, then Chief Deputy District Attorney for Solano County, also told McDowell, “If things had continued to develop against Allen, we would have filed charges.”

    While the statements of both Lang and Conway were often cited by Allen’s accusers, the statements of Lang’s superior, District Attorney Mike Nail, appeared to contradict the claim that Allen would have been charged in the Zodiac case. In August of 1991, Nail told a reporter for The Vallejo Times Herald, “It’s unlikely charges will be pressed against (Allen) in connection with the mysterious killings. I really suspect that nothing’s going to come of it.” At the time that Lang made this statement, most of what has been considered to be the damning evidence against Allen was known to Vallejo authorities.

    Speculation concerning Allen's possible guilt only increased in the years after his death, despite the apparent lack of any evidence to connect him to the Zodiac crimes. Unable to defend himself from the grave, Allen had now become "the man who most detectives believed was the Zodiac" an epitaph which might just as well have been engraved on his tombstone.

    Fingerprint comparisons, palm print comparisons, handwriting comparisons, and DNA comparisons appear to exonerate Allen, and more than three decades of investigation by police, the media and amateur sleuths failed to produce any credible evidence to link the so-called "prime suspect" to the Zodiac crimes.

    Allen had professed his innocence and stated, “I’m not the damn Zodiac.” Had he lived to stand trial, it is quite possible that a jury would have believed him.

    ZODIAC/MANSON: ConspiraZ Theory