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.