1 – FACT vs. FINCHER – Scene by Scene – 1 thru 10


SCENES 1 – 10

Scene 1 – Vallejo, California – July 4, 1969

On the streets of Vallejo, residents celebrate Independence Day as a vehicle makes its way to the home of Michael Mageau. The teenager emerges from the house and climbs into the car to join twenty-two year old waitress, wife and mother Darlene Ferrin. Hungry and eager to get on the road, Darlene heads to Mr. Ed’s diner but, once they arrive, the pair decides the lot is too crowded, and they drive to nearby Blue Rock Springs Park to talk.

At the park, Darlene and Mike see a group of partygoers who throw firecrackers at Darlene’s Corvair and then drive off with laughter. Mike shouts at the tricksters, telling them to “Fuck off and die!” Darlene finds the remark amusing, and the two continue to talk as they listen to Donovan’s classic song, Hurdy Gurdy Man. Soon, another car approaches and stops behind them. Mike notes, “I saw that car at Mr. Ed’s.” The car drives away and Mike asks Darlene if the driver was her husband, but Darlene says, “No.” Mike again asks, “Who was that, Darlene?” and Darlene responds, “Don’t worry about it.” Mike, concerned, tells her, “Don’t tell me not to worry about it. Who was it?” Darlene replies, unconvincingly, “It’s nothing.”

Seconds later, they hear the screeching sounds of a vehicle turning around at high speed. The car, a reddish brown colored Mustang, speeds back into the parking lot and comes to a stop behind the Corvair. Fearful, Mike tells Darlene, “Let’s go.” A man emerges from the Mustang, holding a light. Mike tells Darlene to get her identification out, as if he believes the man is a police officer. The light shines along the passenger side of Corvair as Mike looks up at the man and says, “Man, you really creeped us out.” Before he finishes speaking, bullets rain down upon him and Darlene. The man fires a gun into the Corvair. The sounds of the shots are loud and reverberate although the gun has a silencer attached to the barrel. The man then walks back to his vehicle only to return to open fire on Darlene and Mike again. The gunman then walks back to the Mustang and climbs inside.

Moments later, a motorcycle officer arrives on the scene and discovers Mike, bleeding profusely from a wound to his mouth, lying by the rear wheel of the Corvair. The officer inspects the interior of the Corvair and the lifeless body of Darlene. The audience hears the audio of a phone call to police as the killer confesses his crime and directs authorities to the scene.

FINCHER: A reddish-brown colored Mustang is visible as Darlene and Mike drive through the parking lot of Mr. Ed’s diner. After the two drive to Blue Rock Springs Park, the same or an identical Mustang appears, causing Mike to remark that he had seen the vehicle earlier at the diner. Once the car drives away, Mike asks Darlene if she knew the driver and she responds evasively. The car returns and again stops behind the Corvair. A man emerges and approaches the passenger side of Darlene’s Corvair. Mike looks up at the man and says, “Man, you really creeped us out.” The man then shoots Darlene and Mike using a gun that has a silencer attached to the barrel.

FACT: Survivor Michael Mageau never described a reddish-brown Mustang. In fact, Mageau told police that the gunman had driven a vehicle similar to Darlene’s car – a light colored Corvair.

Michael Mageau never told investigators that he had seen the killer’s vehicle at Mr. Ed’s diner prior to the shooting. The statement in the film gives viewers the false impression that the killer had followed Darlene and Mike to the scene of the crime.

Michael Mageau did not tell police that he had asked Darlene whether the driver of the mysterious car was her husband, and he did not persist with his questions regarding the driver’s identity.

Mageau emphasized that he had difficulty seeing in the darkness and he never looked up at the gunman. He said that he did not speak to the gunman and the gunman did not say anything before, during or after the shooting.

In an interview with Detective Ed Rust only days after the shooting, Mageau admitted that he did not get a good look at the suspect and only saw him in profile, but he thought that he might be able to identify the man by a profile view. Rust did not believe that Mageau could accurately identify the gunman.

Michael Mageau did say that the sounds of the gunshots seemed muffled, as if the gunman has used a silencer. However, a witness who was approximately 800 feet from the scene at the time of the shooting told police that he heard the sounds of the shots, and he described the exact sequence of events provided by Mageau. The witness could not have heard the shots if the gunman had used a silencer, and Mageau never claimed to have seen one attached to the gun used by the shooter.

[NOTE: Director David Fincher explained his use of a silencer in his recreation of the crime and said that the silencer was “in the police reports.” The actual reports simply repeated Mageau’s original statements that the shots sounded somehow muffled, as if the killer had used a silencer, however the same reports also stated that a witness, George Bryant, had heard the shots that night. Fincher justified the use of a silencer and said that, while some witnesses had reported hearing gunshots, other witnesses had heard firecrackers which may have been mistaken for gunshots. Bryant told police that he had heard the sound of firecrackers prior the shooting, and that he then heard the sound of gun shots. With the exception of Michael Mageau, Bryant was the only witness who claimed to have heard firecrackers, and he was the only witness who said he had heard the shots. Fincher’s comments are curiously unfounded, and his attempt to justify the inclusion of the silencer may be a minor issue but serves as an example of the overall apathetic view taken when addressing the factual nature of the film.}

CONCLUSION: Michael Mageau did not see the gunman’s car at Mr. Ed’s prior to the shooting, and he did not say, “I saw that car at Mr. Ed’s,” as shown in the film. The car driven by the gunman in the film is not similar to the car described by Michael Mageau. Contrary to the film’s depiction of the events, Mageau did not speak to or look at the gunman as he approached the car. Further, Mageau never claimed that he had seen a silencer attached to the barrel of the gun used by the killer, but the gunman in this scene fires a weapon with an apparently defective silencer attached while the sounds of loud shots ring out in the night.

Scene 2 – Opening Title Sequence – San Francisco, “Four Weeks Later”

This scene depicts the morning activities of editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith and the staff of The San Francisco Chronicle on the morning of August 1, 1969. Graysmith sends his son off to school and drives to work at the newspaper, where a suspicious envelope addressed to the editor arrives with the morning mail.

Scene 3 – The Chronicle

Graysmith, along with the rest of those in the meeting, are stunned to learn that the offices received a letter from someone claiming to be the killer of Ferrin and two other victims shot to death in December. Accompanying the letter was a coded message, and the writer tells the newspaper to publish the code and threatens more bloodshed if the editors fail to comply with his demands. The writer claims that the coded message will reveal his identity. Graysmith says that the killer would not give his name. Many of those in the room, including reporter Paul Avery and Graysmith, touch the letter and the code, leaving fingerprints that will further confound the investigation and the hunt for the killer.

The publisher and the editors learn that other newspapers plan to publish other letters and coded messages mailed by the killer, and decide to do so as well.

FINCHER: Graysmith touches the letter and the coded message.

FACT: Even Graysmith never claimed he had touched the Zodiac’s letters or codes, and, if he did so, his name joins the list of those who contaminated the only evidence linked directly to the killer.

Scene 4 – The Reaction

Graysmith returns home with his young son and, in a symbolic move, removes one of his own cartoons from a bulletin board and replaces it with a copy of the killer’s code. Law enforcement agencies examine the code while a couple in Salinas, California, see the cryptogram in a newspaper and decide to solve the puzzle.

Scene 5 – The Chronicle

Paul Avery introduces himself to Robert Graysmith, and reveals that the Salinas couple had solved the killer’s code. He asks how the cartoonist had known that the killer would not give his identity. Graysmith reads the deciphered message aloud, and wonders why the phrase “most dangerous animal” seems familiar to him. When he sees the last eighteen letters of the code remain unsolved, he uses a pencil and paper to rearrange the letters to form the name Robert Emmett the hippie. Avery is impressed with Graysmith’s abilities.

FINCHER: Avery and Graysmith begin a friendship of sorts as they enter the case. Graysmith discovers the name Robert Emmett.

FACT: Paul Avery claimed that he had no contact with Robert Graysmith until both men left the Chronicle years after the Zodiac case was history. Avery said he met Graysmith twice, and the retired reporter was not impressed with Graysmith’s book or his influence on the unsolved case. This scene, along with EVERY other scene depicting Avery and Graysmith together, is pure fiction.

Many individuals reported the name “Robert Emmett the hippie” to Vallejo police and the name was the subject of speculation in many news reports at the time. Graysmith may have come up with the name but, like most attempts to make sense of the last eighteen letters of the Zodiac’s code, Robert Emmett the hippie is not a valid solution. The name requires more letters than provided by the eighteen characters.

Scene 6 – The Zodiac Speaks

The staff of the Chronicle responds to a new letter featuring the name “The Zodiac.” The writer provides more details about his crimes.

Scene 7 – Lake Berryessa – Napa, California

College students Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell are resting on the banks of Lake Berryessa in the late afternoon sun. A man approaches the couple and Cecelia becomes suspicious. She watches as the man approaches, carrying a gun and wearing a black hood with a crossed circle. Bryan attempts to talk to the stranger, who orders Cecelia to tie Bryan’s hands behind his back before doing the same to her.

The hooded stranger then stabs Bryan in the back before setting upon Cecelia. The young victim faces the camera as the killer’s knife plunges into her chest. She screams and writhes in agony as blood soaks through her clothing. The stranger then walks away. The audience hears the audio of a phone call to police as the killer confesses his crime and directs authorities to the scene. Bryan Hartnell, shown clutching a bloody blanket in the darkness and sitting near the open door of truck, survives and waits for the ambulance to arrive.

Scene 8 – Avery and Graysmith at the Chronicle

Graysmith sketches at his desk. Avery is surprised to see a drawing of the hooded costume worn by the Berryessa suspect. Graysmith then remembers that the phrase “most dangerous animal” was reminiscent of a line from a classic film, The Most Dangerous Game. Based on the famous short story of the same name by Richard Connell, the film features the murderous Count Zaroff, a hunter who prefers humans as his prey.

FINCHER: Graysmith and Avery discuss the case while Graysmith works on his sketch.

FACT: In previous interviews, Graysmith had claimed that he produced the sketch after his interview with surviving victim Bryan Hartnell in the late 1970s.

Scene 9 – Taxi Driver

On a dark, rainy San Francisco street, a man climbs into the cab driven by unsuspecting victim Paul Stine. Dressed in a blue, long-sleeved jacket and wearing glasses, the man waits until the driver stops at the intersection of Washington and Cherry, where he then places a gun against Stine’s head and pulls the trigger. Stine’s body falls in slow motion as blood sprays into the interior of the cab. The gunman is then shown handling Stine’s body as the audience hears the audio of a phone call to police by a frightened young girl reporting the crime in progress. The gunman then exits the cab, walks around to the driver’s side, reaches into the driver’s window and shuts off the headlights before walking north on Cherry Street.

FINCHER: In interviews with the media, Fincher claimed that he had come up with the stunning theory that the Zodiac had taken Stine’s glasses and worn them as he escaped. If true, Fincher’s theory demonstrated that the infamous sketch of the killer depicted a man wearing not his own glasses, but those of his victim.

FACT: Fincher’s film shows the killer wearing glasses as he enters the cab before the shooting.

Scene 10 – Introducing Inspectors Toschi and Armstrong

The sound of a ringing phone awakens Inspector David Toschi of the San Francisco Police department. On the line, Toschi’s partner, William Armstrong, informs the sleepy inspector of a cab driver murder in Presidio Heights. As they head to the scene, Armstrong says that witnesses described the gunman as a Negro Male. Toschi asks Armstrong asks his partner for his usual box of Animal Crackers.

The two men arrive at the intersection of Washington and Cherry and learn that the suspect was actually a white male. A bloody fingerprint left on the exterior of the cab appears to belong to Stine’s killer. Puzzled by the behavior of the suspect, the inspectors wonder why a robber would choose to get in the front seat with the bleeding victim. They learn that officers found a pair of gloves while searching the interior of the cab and witnesses across the street from the cab provided the description of the suspect. Toschi then attempts to question the young witnesses.

FINCHER: Characters repeatedly refer to these gloves throughout the rest of the film as the Zodiac’s gloves.

FACT: In his book, ZODIAC, Graysmith wrote that Inspector Toschi had learned that the gloves belonged to a female passenger who had ridden in the cab earlier that day with another driver. Suggestions that Graysmith invented this female passenger in order to protect the “key” piece of information that only the real killer could confirm fail to consider the fact that Graysmith revealed the existence of the gloves in the first place. Graysmith must have had a source for this information, and, if true, the fact that the gloves belonged to a female passenger indicates that the gloves did not belong to the killer.

A report on the Zodiac crimes prepared by the Department of Justice stated that the black gloves found in the cab were men’s size seven gloves. A size seven glove is the smallest glove size available, worn by men with below average size hands. The suspect described by the witnesses was most likely too large to wear a size seven glove.

NEXT: Scenes 11 – 20


IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8 – Conclusion