This article contains spoilers for the television reality series The Most Dangerous Animal of All.
I watched all four episodes of the FX documentary series The Most Dangerous Animal of All, and that’s 4 hours of my life I will never get back. I don’t say that to insult the producers of this series, because they obviously did the right thing where it counts. The production value was impressive. Beautiful photography, with some good period pieces, vintage props, costumes, and cars, etc. The editing was well-paced, and the graphics were eye-catching. The storytelling kept the drama of Gary Stewart’s family issues front and center, and the interviews seemed to probe some difficult topics and situations without coming across as too exploitive in the final product. By today’s standards of documentary/reality series production, this show was obviously very professional, crisp, and certainly appealing to the average viewer.
But that’s where the real problem is revealed— this isn’t a show for anyone who is interested in the Zodiac case, because Gary Stewart’s story literally has absolutely nothing to do with the Zodiac case. Anyone who was interested in learning anything about the Zodiac story would be disappointed to find that the show brushed over that story, offering elements of the Zodiac case merely as a passing backdrop to the telling of Gary Stewart’s story of the search for his biological father and his obsession with his theory that this man was also the Zodiac killer. Sadly, the Zodiac story is just the launching pad for another story, a story which was barely worth telling and certainly isn’t worth listening to in the first place.
I don’t know whether or not Gary Stewart really believes that his father was the Zodiac, but, after watching the show, I feel that my first assessment of him is most likely accurate. Gary Stewart does not act like someone who actually believes the nonsense he’s been peddling for 6 years now. He behaves like a con man, someone who is smart enough to adjust his story to the listeners needs and arrogant enough to believe that he can fool and deceive other people. We’ll get into this more later, but Gary Stewart is selling a product, one that is faulty to begin with, and, like a dishonest salesman, he glosses over the real problems while reading from a prepared script specifically designed to distract the potential buyer long enough to rob him blind. Gary Stewart behaves like someone who already knows all the problems with this claims and tries to overcome the gap between credibility and nonsense with fast-talking and cheap theatrics. And he knows that the facts will not be useful in his purpose, his quest to convict his father in the court of public opinion, so he adjusts the facts, or even invents his own, in order to make the sale. And this tactic worked like a charm on his publisher, the media, and the general public. But, from the very beginning, people who actually knew the facts of the Zodiac story also knew that Gary Stewart’s theory was pure garbage. So, that raises a very important question— if Gary Stewart’s so-called “evidence” against his father was so weak, if his theory was absurd from the beginning, why did so many people jump on this bandwagon so eagerly, and why didn’t anyone ever ask the single most important question one should actually ask before writing, publishing and promoting a book which claims to solve one of the greatest unsolved serial murder cases in American history— where is the evidence?
Gary Stewart’s book was published in 2014. As the story goes, the book was the culmination of years of research, and that was what actually convinced writer Susan Mustafa to co-author the book. In 2014, Mustafa said, “I’m not willing to put my reputation on the line unless I believe what I’m writing.”
At the time, I was disturbed by Mustafa’s testimonial. She said that she wouldn’t put her reputation on the line without solid evidence, yet, I read the book, and there was nothing which even remotely resembled credible evidence to link Stewart’s father to the Zodiac crimes. That was the undeniable fact. So, I had to wonder— what was Mustafa talking about? No one who actually knew anything about the Zodiac case and the facts could possibly believe that Gary Stewart made a compelling case against his father. Yet, Mustafa said she was convinced to put her reputation on the line before she began writing the book. This is where the story gets really twisted and confusing.
According to Stewart and Mustafa, and according to their book, most of the so-called evidence was discovered AFTER they began working on the book. Mustafa says that she sent the fingerprint material for comparison. The book notes that the literary agent encouraged them on their interpretations of the Zodiac ciphers. Mustafa consulted document examiner Mike Wakshull AFTER they started working on the book. Stewart’s claims about the Zodiac fingerprint matching his father’s prints, and the discovery of his father’s name in the Zodiac ciphers, and the handwriting match constitute the only so-called “evidence” which could be cited as any kind of a “connection” between his father and the Zodiac crimes, yet all of this evidence was assembled after Mustafa and Stewart began working on the book together. So, Mustafa’s decision to write the book and put her reputation on the line was not based on that evidence, but on the other information about Gary’s story and his claims about his father’s alleged connection to the Zodiac. Therefore, Mustafa decided to put her reputation on the line and co-author a book claiming to solve the Zodiac case based on virtually nothing, no evidence whatsoever.
In the reality TV series, Mustafa says that she found the story of Gary’s search for his biological father compelling and decided that she wanted to help him tell that story. That’s understandable, but once the subject became naming a suspect in the Zodiac case, things changed. Mustafa was no longer writing a memoir, she was writing a true crime book which claimed to be a work of nonfiction, the kind of project which should be governed by an entirely different and much higher standard. Anyone who is writing a nonfiction book which claims to present the solution to an unsolved crime has a serious obligation to check their facts before publication. But, no one did that. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon with Gary Stewart for one reason and one reason only— they smelled money, lots of money. And, undoubtedly, someone like Susan Mustafa saw fame and fortune in her future. All she had to do was sacrifice her credibility, a sacrifice which is now undeniably apparent.
And that’s one of the big problems with this entire sad story. We see an editor passing the buck, explaining that publishers do not fact-check the books they publish as nonfiction, that they rely on the authors to do that work. When confronted with the obvious fact that this means publishers are often publishing fiction as nonfiction, the editor simply shrugs and offers a stupid smirk, saying in essence, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true as long as it makes money,” and, “if someone gets hurt, that’s not my problem.” Susan Mustafa offers a similar excuse when she says that writing true crime stories requires some dramatization. I’ve been hearing this sorry excuse for years, especially when it comes to the 2007 movie Zodiac by director David Fincher. People seem to believe— or actually, they insist, that true crime stories must be fictionalized in order to be compelling and entertaining. This just isn’t true.
Years ago, I was fortunate to become friends with true crime writer Jack Olsen. I was writing some minor articles on a true crime forum back in the 1990s, and Jack was also a member. One day, I received an email from Jack which asked, “Are you a professional writer? If not, you should consider being one.” I was a big fan of Jack’s work, so you can imagine what it was like to get that email. We started exchanging emails, and later we would continue our conversations in the occasional telephone call.
Wikipedia offered a summary of Jack’s early career as a journalist: Jack Olsen was Senior Editor-in-Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1954. He was Midwest bureau chief for Time magazine and a senior editor for Sports Illustrated in 1961. He was also a regular contributor to other publications, including Fortune and Vanity Fair. Later, Jack became a prolific author of nonfiction books, and he usually focused on true crime stories. His books have sold over 33 million copies.
Jack was an early critic of what was sometimes referred to as “faction,” or, the mixing of fact and fiction. Jack noted that some true crime stories were not so true. Decades ago, Jack questioned the veracity of the best-selling true crime book In Cold Blood by pointing out that some elements of the story had been fictionalized. The book remains a classic today, but, years after Jack died, news reports demonstrated that his criticisms were valid. Jack was also very critical of Lorenzo Carceterra’s book Sleepers, which the author claimed was a work of nonfiction about his own experiences but he had heavily dramatized a story which no one else had been able to confirm. The book was adapted into a feature film starring Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman.
Jack Olsen rang the alarm bell decades ago, as he said in an interview for the CNN documentary Murder By Number. Jack was asked about the theory that the growing interest in true crime stories could be attributed to the fact that more people were being effected by crime. Jack said, “That’s the new ingredient that’s making this a growth industry. I just wish that it would be a responsible growth industry… What TV producers and book publishers are going to produce, that’s called the first amendment. Maybe it would be nice if we did that, but when did anybody in America ever do anything nice, because, when it would cost them money?”
Peddling fiction as fact has always been a serious and inescapable problem in the Zodiac case. Anyone who has learned the facts about this case knows that the books written by Robert Graysmith have created decades of confusion, thanks to the author’s inaccurate and distorted account, and his efforts to twist the facts to fit his own theories. But he was just one of many people who used and abused this case for fame and fortune. Some of these people really believed that they had solved the case while others apparently believed that exploiting this tragedy was a good way to make some money and get their 15 minutes of fame in the spotlight. But so many of the people who claimed that they had identified the Zodiac had one thing in common— they didn’t care about the facts, and, no matter what they said in media interviews with the most sincerity they could muster, they really didn’t care about the victims, either.
The true crime business has exploded in the last decade, and that means there is a lot of money to be made by exploiting interest in the genre. But every true crime murder story starts with a victim, and the victims rarely benefit from this business. It’s difficult to believe that the Zodiac victims were somehow served by Gary Stewart’s elaborate publicity stunt. And one could argue that the publicity and attention and money far outweigh whatever embarrassment Gary Stewart might experience after this TV series, even though the series was far more critical of his claims than any scrutiny he has ever faced before. And that’s where the series did serve the victims. But one has to wonder if that message isn’t lost when we see Gary Stewart prospering after years of conning the world with his baseless claims to have solved the case.
The TV series starts with one episode devoted to Gary Stewart’s story of his birth and abandonment by his parents. The search for his birth parents leads him to his father Earl Van Best, Jr., and many sorted secrets about his background. Earl Van Best Jr. essentially brainwashed and abducted a 14 year old girl named Judy. On the run from authorities, Judy gives birth to Gary Stewart. But Earl Van Best abandons the child, Judy returns to her family, and Gary was adopted by a loving couple. He learns that his real father was not a good man, and this truth takes Gary Stewart to a dark place. The family drama plays out as expected until Stewart watches a TV show about the Zodiac case. He sees the image of the now-infamous composite sketch of the Zodiac killer and immediately concludes that the killer looks like his father. According to Stewart, this marked the beginning of his quest to prove that his father was the Zodiac.
The TV series includes many dramatic shots of Gary Stewart sitting in various spaces, examining documents, posing for the camera, and staring directly into the lens. To me, Stewart’s performance lacks sincerity. Every word seems chosen for some phony dramatic effect which Stewart clearly believes packs much more of a punch than reality permits. He often looks and sounds rather silly as he talks about the pain of discovering the horrifying secret that his father was a notorious serial killer. Watching him go on and on, knowing the facts about his ridiculous tale, I couldn’t help but wonder if he hadn’t fallen into his prepared script to the point that he was now incapable of recognizing just how absurd he seems. His arrogance is on display, he’s not ashamed to stand in front of a camera or an audience and make claims which would embarrass most people to the point that they wouldn’t leave the house for a while. But not Gary Stewart— he marches on, year after year, repeating his story and convincing many people that he has actually solved the Zodiac case. Knowing all of this, watching these scenes where he’s studying reports and “investigating” his theory are unbearably stupid, to be polite. Even if the producers planned to scrutinize him later, the first 2 1/2 episodes of the series often seemed disingenuous because we know we’re watching nonsense, even if the producers wait to tell the audience this important information.
Stewart cries a lot in this show, and we’re forced to sit and wait while he regains his composure or pauses for over-dramatic effect. I know I’m cynical about all of this, so it’s difficult to sit through the first 2 hours as the producers drag us into Stewart’s false narrative. This is forgivable because the producers use this opportunity to set up the audience as they see Stewart’s arrogance and wild claims unravel.
The Zodiac case is barely mentioned beyond the basic references to the crimes. The show also includes some factual errors and persistent myths. Stewart’s co-author Susan Mustafa repeats the tired-claim that the various law enforcement agencies did not cooperate despite the fact that the evidence— including the original police reports and other official documents— debunks this claim. The myth that police didn’t cooperate would also play a part in claims that the San Francisco police department somehow covered up the truth about Gary Stewart’s father and the Zodiac case.
Gary Stewart and Susan Mustafa touted the so-called “evidence” in their book as if it hadn’t been thoroughly debunked years ago. Clearly, both authors decided to just ignore the criticisms and/or offer incredibly weak, self-serving and usually absurd explanations for the undeniable weakness of their case against their suspect. They talk about the claimed “fingerprint match” as if it’s important evidence when, in fact, it’s just an unexplained line in a suspected Zodiac fingerprint, a many-generation image of poor quality, and Stewart’s father had a scar on one of his fingers. The claim that this scar explains the line in the Zodiac fingerprint depends entirely on the notion that one must reverse the image of the Zodiac fingerprint in order to align the scar with that line in the fingerprint. There’s no reason to think the zodiac fingerprint was somehow reversed, so there’s no reason to believe this is a legitimate “match” to Earl van Best Jr’s fingerprint. An expert debunks the fingerprint match in the TV series, but the fact that this match was ridiculous at best was clear years ago, so there was no legitimate reason for Stewart and Mustafa to pretend otherwise now.
Gary Stewart also claimed that he had discovered his father’s name in the Zodiac ciphers. This claim was debunked years ago by David Oranchak in the article titled The Most Pattern-Seeking Animal of All. Stewart’s claims were as weak as the fingerprint match, and his solutions to the ciphers were clearly self-serving and forced, but he continues to tout the ciphers as proof that his father was the Zodiac when that claim is clearly not supported by the evidence or the ciphers. Like the fingerprint claims, the cipher solutions actually highlight the overall weakness of the case against Earl Van Best Jr.
And that brings us to the handwriting claims. To recap this ridiculous story— Stewart and Mustafa consulted a handwriting expert named Mike Wakshull. He examined the only available handwriting samples of Earl Van Best, some certificates and documents from his marriage to Stewart’s mother Judy. Wakshull concluded that the handwriting on the marriage documents matched the Zodiac handwriting, thereby concluding that Earl Van Best was the Zodiac. Immediately after the publication of Stewart’s book, Zodiac theorist Mike Rodelli stated that he had contacted the church linked to the documents and learned that the handwriting in question belonged to the reverend at the church, meaning, the handwriting did not belong to Best, so Wakshull was claiming that the reverend was the Zodiac. Gary Stewart claimed that his mother told him the writing on the documents belonged to Best, but, in his book, Stewart and Mustafa wrote that Judy was not present when the document was completed and she did not see Best writing on those documents. The most logical conclusion based on the facts was that the handwriting belonged to the reverend and that the reverend was not the Zodiac, and, simply, that Wakshull was wrong. An expert-for-hire, relying on bad information, made a mistake. But Wakshull had already authored his own book titled The End of the Zodiac Mystery, touting his conclusions as the solution to the case. This entire fiasco served as a perfect illustration of the irresponsible, sloppy, and dishonest nature of the book authored by Stewart and Mustafa, the kind of book that should never have been written let alone published. This was not an honest, responsible investigation or a credible work of nonfiction, this was just some really irresponsible and unethical people throwing a bunch of garbage out there to profit from a very real tragedy. To say that the authors were just exploring a theory is to ignore and excuse their abject failure to engage in anything even remotely resembling legitimate journalism.
In the TV show, Mike Wakshull is confronted by the fact that the handwriting on the marriage documents did not belong to Earl van Best and that his conclusions based on that false assumption cannot possibly be correct or reliable. Instead of simply admitting that he made a mistake, Wakshull actually speculates that the reverend may have been Earl Van Best’s accomplice in the Zodiac crimes. Again, there is NO legitimate evidence to even justify the theory that Best was the Zodiac, so there is no reason to leap to the conclusion that someone else must have been helping him simply because a handwriting expert made a stupid mistake. Instead of admitting he was wrong, Wakshull doubled down on this absurd mistake by inventing yet another baseless conspiracy theory while implying that the reverend was complicit in murder. Think about how incredibly irresponsible that kind of behavior is and you’ll start to see why so many people sat there staring at the TV screen in disbelief as they witnessed one of the most jaw-dropping moments of public stupidity I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life.
In the show, Wakshull claims that he contacted the church, as if he was concerned about conducting a thorough examination of the evidence, yet he failed to do this before reaching his conclusions and he only did so after Mike Rodelli had exposed Wakshull’s incompetence. Mike Rodelli posted an account of his communications with Wakshull and wrote that Wakshull “apologized to me and admitted I was right and he was wrong!” I think Mike Wakshull reluctantly admitted that he was wrong in private but just couldn’t bring himself to do it in front of the cameras for the TV show. He had to find a way out, so he squirmed himself into another hole with this laughable theory that the reverend was helping Earl Van Best in the Zodiac murders. Best married Stewart’s mother in 1962, and the Zodiac murders occurred in 1968 and 1969, and the letters began in 1969 and continued until at least 1974, according to some handwriting experts. So, one has to believe that this reverend helped Best by writing all of the Zodiac letters, and the writing on a car door at a crime scene, for some unknown reason, while Best was doing the killing, or, however Wakshull tries to twist this nonsense into some excuse to avoid simply admitting he made a big mistake. And, there’s no evidence that Earl Van Best had any relationship or contact of any kind with this reverend after the marriage ceremony, either, so there’s no basis for this nonsensical theory that they conspired to commit the Zodiac murders. Instead of admitting that his accusations against Earl Van Best were wrong, now Wakshull is dragging another innocent man into this garbage and smearing his name as a so-called “suspect.” This shameful and selfish refusal to admit a mistake was bad enough, but seeing Wakshull claim that he’s just being thorough and objective was even more pathetic. Mike Wakshull owes the reverend’s family and the world an apology. Thankfully, the show included a documents examiner who clearly explained her conclusion that Wakshull’s findings were not supported by the evidence or the handwriting examination.
The show also dismantles other aspects of Gary Stewart’s narrative, including his claims about DNA. I’m not going to go over all the details here because it’s just so absurd and convoluted that it would require even more time than permitted, but the simple explanation is that Gary Stewart claimed that the SFPD told him that his father’s DNA could not be eliminated when compared against Zodiac DNA, and that he had consulted experts who told him that the Zodiac DNA was similar to his familial DNA, meaning, Earl Van Best’s DNA was similar to Zodiac’s DNA and SFPD could not eliminate Best as the source of the Zodiac DNA. That sounds really compelling, until you hear the rest of the story. Gary Stewart saw a graphic of “Zodiac DNA” on a TV show. He then wrote down the information, and, he guessed on certain numbers that were blurred in the TV show. He then assembled that information and sent it for DNA analysis. And, this information was submitted to the SFPD for comparison. But, once again, we see the fatal flaws in Stewart’s so-called evidence. Turns out, the DNA graphic from the TV was a mock-up, a fake, it wasn’t a real DNA profile of the Zodiac, it was just an image created as an illustration in the TV show, and the DNA numbers were not real. It was all fake. And Gary Stewart based ALL of his DNA claims on his interpretation of the information in this graphic. His entire DNA narrative fell apart with one simple bit of fact-checking.
Gary is confronted by the DNA truth in the TV show, and he immediately dissembles and falls apart in a truly embarrassing breakdown, expertly edited by the production to spotlight his increasing desperation and inability to process the facts which destroy his entire narrative. At no point does Gary Stewart ever consider that he’s just an irresponsible crackpot who made a stupid mistake in his rush for fame and fortune. Instead, he babbles on about how the truth doesn’t matter because such and such number is still there and this or that DNA marker means whatever the hell he thinks he’s talking about. At this point in the show, I could not help but laugh out loud. He was just another desperate crackpot, and the TV show made it clear Gary Stewart’s claims could not be trusted.
And that’s where the biggest twist comes in. Susan Mustafa talks about how Gary Stewart provided her with a copy of Earl Van Best’s criminal record, which included information that he was incarcerated at Atascadero, a prison hospital for the criminally insane. Mustafa says that this information helped her build a portrait of Earl Van Best as a violent man capable of committing the Zodiac crimes. Now, it’s important to remember that most of the so-called “evidence” now cited to accuse Best had not been discovered when Susan Mustafa joined Gary Stewart in writing the book accusing Best. And, Mustafa already argued that writing true crime stories requires a certain level of dramatization. In the book, Mustafa wrote a narrative of the Zodiac crimes and simply inserted Best’s name in place of the Zodiac when describing the actual attacks. So, now, the TV producers informed Susan that the actual and official copy of Best’s criminal record includes no mention of Atascadero and there is no evidence that Best was ever there at all. Susan stares at the camera and then asks to be excused. She walks off-camera but we can hear her angry response when she says, “Motherfucker.” She then returns and complains that Gary transcribed the criminal record and apparently added the Atascadero reference without any supporting evidence. Stunned by this news, Susan complains that she made a mistake in trusting Gary instead of checking the facts.
I have to admit that Susan Mustafa deserves a bit of respect for her condemnation of Stewart’s deception, but that credit is quickly cancelled out by her failure to act responsibly in the first place, and, her acceptance and promotion of such laughably bad evidence in a book claiming to be a work of nonfiction which solves one of the greatest unsolved serial murder cases in history. The time to be a responsible journalist was before writing the book, not years later after dozens of other people had to debunk your false claims.
Gary also tried to blame Susan and others for his own mistakes and falsehoods. He claimed that Susan sent the fake DNA profile, and blamed her for the book’s dramatic excesses. Watching Gary and Susan turn on each other was somewhat satisfying, but it just served as another example that their book was incredibly irresponsible and dishonest. Now that they’ve been caught, they blame each other, and they’ve both been exposed as frauds.
One piece of information puts the final nail in the coffin of the theory that Earl Van Best was the Zodiac. Gary ignored a letter written by one of Best’s other children which stated that Earl Van Best Jr. was in Austria at the time of the Zodiac crimes and did not return to the United States until 1971. If true, this timeline of events proves that Earl van Best could not be the Zodiac. Of course, Gary just glosses over this troubling information, but the implication was clear: Gary Stewart knew about this a long, long time ago and decided to keep accusing his father anyway.
At the end of the show, Susan says that she’s going to burn the book she wrote with Gary Stewart, as if she’s signaling that she’s disgusted and done with this entire sordid episode. Clearly, an apology is due, especially to the Zodiac victims, but don’t hold your breath. In the final shot of the TV show, we see the vanity license plate of Gary’s BMW which reads “Van Best.” After hours of watching him disown and vilify his father, the vanity plate clearly demonstrates what this is all about— money and fame. Gary Stewart is now a true crime celebrity, he’s made a lot of money, and he’s probably never going to admit the truth that he’s wrong. Even the TV show debunking his claims will have little effect on his followers. On Facebook, I saw someone who apparently knew Gary or his family in Louisiana respond to a post about the show by writing, “I’m just glad the case is finally solved” and then praised Gary Stewart. When informed that the show actually proved that Gary was wrong and the case was not solved, the person simply wrote, “Solved.” And others insist that Gary’s cipher claims prove his father was the Zodiac, or they claim the handwriting is a match, and so on. It will never end. Once a person is named as a Zodiac suspect they will apparently always be a Zodiac suspect no matter what, even if all of the so-called evidence is debunked. There is no shame, no matter how much the producers of the TV show tried to expose Stewart as a fraud.
For any reasonable person, Gary Stewart’s book was debunked years ago, and it was obvious that his theory was nonsense back then. The TV show simply took that debunking to the next level, far beyond what was necessary for any reasonable person to realize that Gary Stewart’s claims are just nonsense. He claimed that his father’s fingerprint matched a suspected Zodiac fingerprint, that his father’s handwriting matched the Zodiac handwriting, and that Zodiac DNA somehow implicated his father. All of these claims have been decisively debunked. Gary Stewart claimed he had found his father’s name in the Zodiac ciphers, but the evidence clearly demonstrates that he has simply forced these solutions and that his methods can be used to find many other names— meaning, his cipher claims cannot be considered evidence to implicate his father in the Zodiac crimes. Without this so-called “evidence,” Gary Stewart has NO evidence whatsoever to implicate his father in the Zodiac crimes, and there is no legitimate reason to even claim that he should be considered a viable suspect. Put simply, that means that no one has any reason to claim that Earl Van Best was the Zodiac.
But, that won’t stop Gary Stewart. He has a Facebook page to promote his book. It’s plastered with pictures of his speaking engagements and media appearances. After the documentary aired, Stewart wrote the following post on his Facebook page: “Did the documentary leave you skeptical? Read “The Most Dangerous Animal of All” to learn more about all the concrete evidence Gary L. Stewart collected that didn’t make the final film cut.”
That post speaks volumes on Gary Stewart’s character and his motives. In the 3rd episode of The Most Dangerous Animal of All, I stated an undeniable fact and said, “You can read Gary’s book over and over again and you won’t find anything remotely resembling evidence to implicate his father in the Zodiac crimes.” I wrote the same thing years ago when the book was first published. It was true then, but even more accurate once the TV show eliminated all doubt. Without his fingerprint, handwriting, and DNA claims, and without bogus cipher solutions, Gary Stewart has no evidence at all, and he certainly doesn’t have any concrete evidence. There’s no concrete evidence in his book, and most of the so-called evidence in his book was debunked in the TV show, so it’s perfectly obvious that he’s wrong when he says that his book contains concrete evidence that was not in the show.
On his Facebook page, some of his fans claim that they actually watched the TV show but still believe that Gary Stewart is a great man who solved the Zodiac case— proving once again that common sense is not so common.
Listen to the audio version of this article in the podcast episode
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In an interview to promote the FX documentary series The Most Dangerous Animal of All, producer and director Keif Davidson said: “Part of the reason why the Zodiac case was not solved was due to a lead detective’s obsession… I can’t reveal too much more because, actually, there’s an element in the Zodiac case that’s really not been talked about before that we uncovered and got people to talk about how that explains why it wasn’t solved in the 1970s.” Davidson claimed that there was a “culture within the (San Francisco) police department that you don’t talk, you don’t rat out your fellow officers. I wouldn’t go as far to say that there was a cover up, per se, but there is certainly information that these former detectives were not talking about that I ultimately did get them to talk about.”
Davidson does not name the lead detective who he blames for the failure to solve the case, but the TV show clearly points a finger at SFPD Inspector David Toschi. However, the show does not reveal any information which would justify Davidson’s claims. There’s no evidence that David Toschi’s actions somehow prevented the case from being solved, or, more importantly, that Davidson has any idea how the case could actually have been solved without Toschi’s alleged interference. If Davidson is going to claim that some people said otherwise in his interviews for the show then he should share that information instead of making vague and wholly unsubstantiated claims blaming Toschi or anyone else in what he clearly implies is a coverup even if he won’t say what he really means in that quote. The TV show included absolutely nothing which would substantiate those claims. If these people revealed important information in an interview then we are left to wonder why that information is not in the show.
I don’t know what “element” Davidson was referring to in the Zodiac case that’s “really not talked about before” or whatever he “uncovered” and got people to talk about that somehow explains why the case wasn’t solved in the 1970s. What element could possibly explain how ONE investigator could somehow prevent the case from being solved? Again, Davidson would have to know just exactly how the case could have been solved in order to make that claim. How could one investigator’s obsession somehow prevent the case from being solved? And, more importantly, what was it that Dave Toschi did not do that could have solved the case? If anyone could even begin to answer that question, one has to ask the next follow up question— Why didn’t someone else just do whatever that thing was and solve the case? Especially after Toschi was removed from the case. This doesn’t appear to be a big secret if people are telling TV producers all about it, albeit conveniently after Toschi’s dead and can’t defend himself. So, just what was it that should have been done to solve the case that Dave Toschi failed to do and prevented everyone else from doing?
Of course, none of this makes any sense. I can’t claim to know what was behind these comments, but it seems like just an angle to hype the show— the idea that the SFPD somehow conspired to derail the Zodiac investigation because Gary Stewart’s birth mother had married a man who worked in the San Francisco police department because they were afraid that the truth that Gary Stewart’s father was the Zodiac could somehow embarrass the department. Of course, there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim and no reason whatsoever for any rational and informed person to believe that theory. Claiming that an investigator’s “obsession” somehow prevented the case from being solved seems to be little more than a claim to have connected the dots between vagaries and speculation. If there was some evidence that Toschi botched the case, let’s hear it. Until then, it’s just a lot of meaningless words. People are entitled to their opinions about Toschi and some criticisms may be warranted, but no one has presented any evidence that his actions somehow prevented the case from being solved. Blaming a dead man might seem like a good soundbite, but I think Dave Toschi deserves better.