5 – Graysmith, the ghoul

Graysmith followed Zodiac with more true crime books, such as The Sleeping Lady and The Murder of Bob Crane. On the dust jackets for these books, Graysmith and his publishers were content to refer to Graysmith as “the best selling author of Zodiac.” Yet, after Allen’s death in 1992, Graysmith abandoned all shame, not to mention the truth. His Unabomber: A Desire to Kill features the blurb “Robert Graysmith, the man who solved the Zodiac murders…” as well as Graysmith’s modest claim that he is one of the nation’s leading experts on serial killers. Exaggerating his importance as a political cartoonist, Graysmith also claims that he was a “journalist” at the San Francisco Chronicle for twenty years. In The Bell Tower, Graysmith claims he has identified yet another infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, and offers a rather ridiculous solution to the long-unsolved mystery.

Graysmith’s book about the unsolved murder of Hogan’s Heroes TV star Bob Crane served as the basis for the film AUTO FOCUS. In a statement released to the media, Crane’s sons had complaints similar to those involved in the Zodiac case. “The book (The Murder of Bob Crane) by Graysmith is nothing to trust. He finished the book before the case (against a suspect who was later acquitted) was complete and he left out a lot of the facts as well as made up his own lies.

Graysmith appeared on television several times after the publication of Zodiac Unmasked. During appearances on the cable news channel MSNBC, Graysmith stated that the Zodiac called his crimes “a game of outdoor chess,” and plotted his crimes using “the horoscope.” Graysmith also claimed that Allen knew, and stalked, all of the victims. He once again repeated his false claim that Allen could be placed at all the crime scenes. In fact, the Zodiac never used the phrase “outdoor chess,” and there is no evidence to indicate that he plotted his crimes using the horoscope. More importantly, there is absolutely no evidence that Allen knew any of the victims, let alone all of them. The claim that Allen stalked all of the victims is also unsubstantiated, and reminiscent of the author’s twisting of truth in Zodiac regarding the mysterious and frightening “Bob,” and “Starr.”

In an interview for ABC’s PRIME TIME THURSDAY, Graysmith falsely stated that Allen wore Wing Walkers similar to those worn by the Zodiac. He also repeated the false claims that Allen knew all of the victims and could be placed at all the crime scenes. During an appearance on LARRY KING LIVE, Graysmith stated that Allen was a suspect who ” was turned in by his family, who knew all the victims, who stalked some of them, who was at some of the crime scenes.”

The paperback version does contain the following change in the final lines of the epilogue: “Stirring up people, getting things accomplished, making a difference, isn’t that what books should be about.”

Given the evidence, it would appear that Robert Graysmith’s books concerning the Zodiac case have stirred people indeed, and he did make a difference. His distorted and erroneous accounts have effectively misinformed the public and obstructed efforts to investigate the still-unsolved crimes.

Phoenix Pictures will soon present a new motion picture based on Graysmith’s books. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal portrays the curious cartoonist obsessed with the unsolved case and his chosen suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen. Critics may wonder whether the actor was “lost in the part” when interviewed about his portrayal of the infamous opportunist. Gyllenhaal told a reporter, “I play Robert Graysmith who is a cartoonist who became obsessed with the case and eventually solved it, even though they never found the Zodiac.

As facts fade in favor of box office returns, the true story behind the unsolved crimes may be overshadowed by fictitious substitutes and forever lost to history as Robert Graysmith steps over the graves of the Zodiac’s victims to reach the spotlight of fame.

A note to the reader:

An earlier version of this article first appeared on the Internet in 2003. Over the years, this author has made repeated attempts to contact Robert Graysmith in hopes of finding explanations for many of the points listed in the article above. Telephone messages to Graysmith went unanswered. Recently, this author again attempted to call Graysmith, and, while in the process of leaving another message on the answering machine, Graysmith picked up the phone.

After explaining that he had been unable to get to the phone sooner because of some household task, Graysmith offered his assistance. This author then asked a question regarding the so-called “Birthday call” to Melvin Belli that was described in Graysmith’s book.

Upon hearing the question, Graysmith’s voice grew weary as he said, “What’s your name again?”

“Michael Butterfield.”

A slight, pregnant pause was followed by regretful recognition of the name. Oh, I know who you are,” Graysmith replied. I know all about you. I know what you’re doing. I don’t want to talk about that right now, I’ll, I’ll call you back.”

The line went dead. Of course, Graysmith did not remember to ask for a phone number, although he may have that information on file somewhere after the many previous messages left on his answering machine. In the months since that contact, Graysmith never called to resume the conversation.

The reader is left to wonder if Robert Graysmith will ever be called to account for his crimes against the truth.