Arthur Leigh Allen aka “Bob Hall Starr” became the most infamous Zodiac suspect after the publication of the book Zodiac in 1986.
ALLEN: The Beginning
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.
NEXT – ALLEN: Crimes and Punishment