6 – FACT vs. FINCHER – Scene by Scene – 51 thru 60

Scene 51 – Obsessions

Toschi sits at the scene of the cabdriver killing, lost in thought. He drives away as Graysmith arrives in a cab, signaling the beginning of his own investigation.

Scene 52 – The Beginning of a Great Friendship

Graysmith arrives at the San Francisco Police department and introduces himself to Toschi. He invites the inspector to lunch and, soon, the two are sitting in a nearby diner. At first, Toschi refuses to discuss the case, but after Graysmith shows him the results of his amateur detective work, he refers the cartoonist to Ken Narlow of the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.

Scene 53 – Narlow

At the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, investigator Ken Narlow tells Graysmith that he does not discuss the case with writers. Once he learns that Graysmith is an Eagle Scout and a cartoonist working with reporter Paul Avery, Narlow naturally agrees to share information concerning the still-open investigation of the most notorious serial murder case in California history

Scene 54 – The Vallejo Police Department

Graysmith meets with Detective Jack Mulanax at the Vallejo police department. Mulanax agrees to let Graysmith view the department files on the Zodiac case, but he tells the cartoonist he must do so without any pens, pencils or paper. He leaves Graysmith alone with the files. As he sifts through the documents, Graysmith mutters to himself, “Arthur Leigh Allen,” “painting party,” and other details from the reports.

Scene 55 – Notes

Graysmith dashes into a diner to take notes from his memory of the police files. He writes down the name of George Waters and other information regarding Darlene Ferrin.

Scene 56 – Strangers on a Bench

Toschi meets Graysmith on a bench on a quiet night. Graysmith asks about Michael Mageau and Toschi tells him the same “Mageau split” story offered by Mulanax in a previous scene. Graysmith then tells Toschi that the Vallejo police files revealed the fact that Darlene was being followed by a mysterious man in the months and weeks before her murder. He mentions George Waters, but then proceeds to tell Toschi that another man, still unidentified, was present for a “painting party” held in Darlene’s home in May 1969. This stranger apparently terrified Darlene.

Toschi is surprised to learn that the Vallejo police files also revealed the fact that someone had placed strange “breathing” phone calls to the homes of Darlene Ferrin, her parents and the parents of her husband. These calls were placed on the night Darlene was killed but before news of her death had reached the family. Graysmith says that the calls must have been placed by Darlene’s killer, and that the killer must have known Darlene.

Toschi then surprises Graysmith with the news that Zodiac had made other calls to the homes of others involved in the case. He tells the cartoonist to speak with attorney Melvin Belli in order to learn more.

FINCHER: Graysmith learns that an unidentified man had been bothering and following Darlene in the months before her death, and that this man was also present in her home for a so-called “painting party.” Graysmith tells Toschi that this man is not George Waters. He also claims that the mysterious phone calls prove that Darlene knew her killer. Toschi tells Graysmith to investigate a phone call to the home of attorney Melvin Belli.

FACT: The Vallejo police files mention only one individual who had been bothering Darlene – George Waters. Police investigated Waters in 1969 and cleared him as a suspect. In 1977, a woman who had worked as a babysitter for Darlene told police that she recalled a painting party at Darlene’s home sometime between January and May 1969. According to the babysitter, who was a young teenager at the time, three young men arrived at Darlene’s home but the babysitter left before the party began because she did not want to be around the three young men.

When Vallejo police investigated this party, they encountered many witnesses with little credibility. Two of Darlene’s sisters – noted for telling fanciful tales and seeking attention – told investigators that a strange man had been bothering Darlene and had attended the painting party. The sisters neglected to mention this information to police during the original investigation, despite the fact that they were repeatedly asked if they knew of anyone who had been bothering Darlene. At that time, in 1969, the sisters had only mentioned George Waters. (In his book, ZODIAC, Graysmith cites the stories concerning George but replaces George with a mysterious stranger.) The man at the party was then identified as a suspect named in Graysmith’s book as Todd Walker. One of the sisters later identified the man at the party as infamous Zodiac suspect, Larry Kane. A former Vallejo police officer also identified “Walker” as the stranger at the painting party. This officer was famous for his claim to have heard a recording of Zodiac’s phone call to Vallejo police on the night of Darlene’s murder. No such tape ever existed, and, in later years, the officer admitted he had invented the story.

When interviewed years later by Tom Voigt of Zodiackiller.com, Darlene’s brother Leo admitted that he was responsible for the calls on the night his sister was murdered. According to Leo, Darlene was supposed to bring him some marijuana, and, when she did not appear with the weed, he became impatient and began to call around looking for her. He did not speak when Darlene’s parents and in-laws answered the calls because he knew he was calling too late in the evening and did not want them to know he was the one who had called.

Toschi had no reason to tell Robert Graysmith that the Zodiac had made phone calls to Melvin Belli’s home because the inspector knew that the individual who had made the calls to Belli’s home had been identified as a patient in a mental hospital and that this man was cleared as a Zodiac suspect.

Police had been unable to trace the calls to the television station made by “Sam,” the person who claimed to be the Zodiac in conversations with Belli. After the Zodiac imposter contacted Belli by phone at the television station, the real Zodiac sent a letter to Belli’s San Francisco home. This letter was postmarked December 20, 1969. After the Zodiac’s letter to Belli was the subject of intense media coverage, a person claiming to be the Zodiac then began to call Belli’s home. A housekeeper answered the call, and the man on the line told her that he wanted to speak to Belli. She told the caller that Belli was in Europe and the man said he could not wait because, “Today’s my birthday!” The housekeeper then alerted police. Inspector William Armstrong notified the FBI of the developments in a report dated January 14, 1970. Once a trace was placed on Belli’s home telephone, subsequent calls were traced to the mental institution and the imposter patient. Armstrong notified the FBI on February 18, 1970, that the investigation had identified the individual responsible for the calls.

CONCLUSION: George Waters, and not some mysterious stranger, was bothering Darlene before her death. Leo, and not the Zodiac, was responsible for the phone calls to Darlene’s house and the other locations on the night of her murder. The mental patient, and not the Zodiac, was responsible for the phone calls to Belli’s home, including the “birthday” call.

Scene 57 – Melvin’s Housekeeper Holds the Key

Graysmith sits in the home of Melvin Belli, waiting to meet with the famous attorney. Melvin’s housekeeper brings the cartoonist some refreshments while he moans about the length of his wait. He tells her that he is writing a book about the Zodiac case and the housekeeper says, “I talked to him.” Graysmith asks, “With Mr. Belli, about the case?” and the housekeeper replies, “With Zodiac, when he called.” She tells Graysmith that the caller had said it was his birthday.

When asked to recall the date of the phone call, the housekeeper says, “Mr. Belli was away for Christmas, gone for a week…then the letter arrived.” She further states that Belli “came back on Christmas.” Graysmith deduces, “So, the call came before December 20” and says to himself, “So, he (Belli) left on the 18th.”

FINCHER: Belli’s housekeeper tells Graysmith that the Zodiac called while Belli was away for Christmas, and that Belli returned to San Francisco for Christmas. She also says that the Zodiac called before the letter from Zodiac arrived. Graysmith deduces that Belli left for Europe on December 18.

FACT: Graysmith never interviewed Belli’s housekeeper, and he did not learn of this so-called “birthday” call until 1999 with the release of the FBI files on the Zodiac case. These files demonstrate that the phone calls to Belli’s home occurred in early 1970, and that these calls were traced to the patient in a mental hospital. Belli did not leave for Europe on December 18, but on December 20, as he told reporter Paul Avery. Belli was not in San Francisco for Christmas as his housekeeper described, but in Munich, Germany, as is well documented in press accounts of that time.

Scene 58 – Confirmation of a Call

Graysmith breathlessly dials Toschi for confirmation on the “birthday” call. Toschi is evasive but then tells the cartoonist that, had his partner checked on the call, he would have to “put that in a report” for the Department of Justice.

FINCHER: Toschi tells Graysmith that Armstrong checked on the call and put that information in a report to the Department of Justice.

FACT: Any reports Armstrong would have filed with the Department of Justice would have stated that the phone calls to Belli’s home were traced to a mental patient and were not made by the real Zodiac. Toschi therefore had no reason to tell Graysmith otherwise.

Scene 59 – The Department of Justice

Graysmith sits in the offices Agent Mel Nicolai of the State Department of Justice in Sacramento, California. The cartoonist babbles on about the “birthday” call until he is interrupted by an incredulous Nicolai. Nicolai states that none of the suspects had been born on December 18, the day Graysmith believes the “birthday” call took place. The agent says, “Armstrong checked this out,” and tells the cartoonist to focus on fingerprints and handwriting evidence.

FINCHER: Nicolai is aware of the “birthday” call. He tells Graysmith that Armstrong had already “checked this out” and determined that none of the suspects had a birthday of December 18.

FACT: If Armstrong had kept the agent informed during the investigation, Nicolai would have known that the Zodiac did not make the “birthday” call. If Armstrong had checked his own files, he would have discovered that his own suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, was born on December 18. None of the investigators seemed to notice this important coincidence, indicating that they knew that the “birthday” call did not take place on December 18, and they considered the call to be of little importance in the investigation.

Scene 60 – Graysmith at Home

Melanie tells Graysmith that handwriting expert Sherwood Morrill had called. She then complains that Graysmith’s name appeared in an article in the Chronicle. She worries that the Zodiac will read the article. An anonymous tipster calls with news concerning a possible suspect named Richard Marshall. The caller claims that Marshall recorded the Zodiac murders on film and directs Graysmith to Marshall’s friend, Bob Vaughn.


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