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.

One thought on “MYSTERYQUEST: SFPD, DNA and WTF?

  1. Michael,

    I just watched the MYSTERYQUEST episode on the Zodiac, and I agree 100% with what you wrote! There are many unscrupulous people who only want to push ‘their’ Zodiac suspect on everyone as THE real Zodiac Killer… And make some quick money off of the tragedy that was/is the real Zodiac killings. It’s sickening to go to their websites and read them bashing each others’ chosen suspect(s) and each other. IMO, everyone should keep an open mind, because, let’s face it, if there were any concrete evidence, the FBI would have closed this case already. Everyone is a suspect; no one should be discredited (or CREDITED) as the Zodiac until there is absolute proof that ( fill in the blank ) was, in fact, the Zodiac.

    I da*m sure don’t want peoples’ chosen suspect shoved down my throat in the meantime, nor do I want to see people making money off of the terrible crimes by selling Zodiac “memorabilia” (Seriously, how sick, convoluted, and macabre is that?! Go slither back under the rock from which you came!)

    You were wonderful on MYSTERQUEST; keep it up!

    Ashley, SC

    PS – Did you see the program “True Crime With Aphrodite Jones” featuring the Zodiac killings? What are your opinions on Jack Torrance as a plausible Zodiac suspect (regardless of how you may or may not feel about his son)? You can email me if you don’t want to post publically. Thanks! =)

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