In the first two “Zodiac” letters, the writer provided information regarding the first two crimes. According to hoax theorist Thomas Horan, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter and the author of the Zodiac letters must have had a copy of a police report written by Vallejo police officer Richard Hoffman.
HORAN: The reporter, most likely Keith Power, of this story undoubtedly had a copy of Hoffman’s July 5 report—the only VPD report typed before July 8. How did he get it? Did someone read it to him over the phone? Or, was he in Vallejo on the morning of July 5? What’s doubly interesting about this article is the fact that “Zodiac” also had a copy, and used it to write his first two letters. The most obvious red flag is the mention in Hoffman’s report of the brief arrest of Andy Nickolatos, Jr, who was observed leaving the scene slowly and quietly. Andy could not have been the shooter, and there was no mention of Andy in any newspaper article (until Dave Peterson’s interview of Mike Mageau August 19) so, how did “Zodiac” know that his second letter would be “confirmed” by VPD? This reporter, who obviously had a copy of Hoffman’s report, therefore knew about Andy, but didn’t include him in this story. “I shall state some facts which only I + the police know . . .” Andy leaving the scene slowly and quietly was one of those facts which only Zodiac, the police, and Keith Power knew.”
HORAN: “The reporter at the Chronicle had a copy of Hoffman’s report… The first two Zodiac letters, that person also had a copy of Hoffman’s report, and we know that for two reasons.
1 “Those two letters are responding directly to that particular article in the Chronicle and correcting things the reporter got wrong or adding info the reporter left out from Hoffman’s report.
2 “Most of these funny spelled words in these zodiac letters– there are 13 funny spelled words in those first two letters and they are identical to funny spelled words in Hoffman’s report. So we know that the person who wrote the first two letters and a reporter at the Chronicle had a copy of Hoffman’s report.”
HORAN: “And he got all that information from Hoffman’s report. So we know that the person writing the letters was not the killer, he was somebody who had copies of some of these police reports.” [Horan, House of Mystery radio interview]
Horan said that the first two Zodiac letters contained thirteen “funny spelled words” and that the words were “identical” to the “funny spelled words in Hoffman’s report.” The two Zodiac letters contain at least twenty “funny spelled words,” including:
1. “Christmass” for “Christmas”
2. “cyipher” for “cipher”
3. “frunt” for “front”
4. “cruse” for “cruise”
5. “untill” for “until”
6. “lyeing” for “laying”
7. “haveving” for “having”
8. “all ready” for “already”
9. “origionaly” for “originally”
10. “fireing” for “firing”
11. “squealling” for “squealing”
12. “raceing” for “racing”
13. “shabbly” for “shabbily”
14. “epasode” for “episode”
15. “victoms” for “victims”
16. “silowets” for “silhouettes”
17. “srounded” for “surrounded”
18. “pencel” for “pencil”
19. “celling” for “ceiling”
20. “darck” for “dark”
Officer Richard Hoffman’s report contains the following spelling errors:
1. “writter” for “writer”
2. “reconized” for “recognized”
3. “aws” for “was”
4. “splatered” for “splattered”
5. “resonsibility” for “responsibility”
6. “untill” for “until”
7. “caseings” for “casings”
8. “belived” for “believed”
9. “taged” for “tagged”
10. “victime” for “victim”
11. “pronouned” for “pronounced”
12. “could’nt” for “couldn’t”
13. “tryed” for “tried”
14. “flashlite” for “flashlight”
The total number of “funny spelled words” that appear in both Hoffman’s report and the Zodiac letters is one. The misspelled word “untill” appears in both Hoffman’s report and in the Zodiac letters. In the Zodiac letters, the writer repeatedly inserted the letter “e” into words before completing the end of the word with the letters “ing,” such as “haveing” or “fireing.” Instead of the proper spelling “casings,” Hoffman’s report includes the misspelling “caseings,” with the extraneous letter “e.” The writer of the Zodiac letter inserted the letter “e” into the word “lyeing” for “laying,” although is not the same kind of error. Hoffman’s report adds the letter “y” to the world “tryed” for “tried,” but this is not similar to Zodiac’s error. These are the only apparent similarities between the Zodiac letters and the Hoffman report regarding language and spelling. Despite these similarities, the evidence does not somehow prove that the author of the Zodiac letters was not the killer or that the author had access to Hoffman’s report. The fact that the writer of the Zodiac letters misspelled some words does not constitute evidence that doing so proved the writer had access to Hoffman’s report, and the writer had no reason to misspell words simply because Hoffman misspelled words in his report. The word “until” appears on most lists of frequently misspelled words and the majority of people who misspell the word “until” do so by adding an extra “l” at the end. Many people also misspell words by inserting an extraneous letter “e.”
In the second Zodiac letter, the writer denied that he had left the scene with squealing tires as one newspaper article had reportedly stated. Hoffman’s report states that a man named Andy was stopped as he was driving away from the area of the crime scene.
Hoffman’s report: “At this time the Police Unit stopped a late model Gray Cad. that was proceeding towards Vallejo on Columbus Parkway. As the driver got out of this Cad. he was reconized by writter as Andy…”
Horan assumes that the denial in the Zodiac letter is a reference to Andy. According to Horan, only someone who had read Hoffman’s report, or someone at the scene, could have known about Andy. The evidence does not indicate that the writer of the Zodiac letters was referring to Andy or that the writer even knew about Andy. Hoffman’s report does not mention speed so his report was not the source for the writer to claim that he had left the scene slowly. The reference to the writer driving away slowly can only be perceived as a reference to Andy if one accepts Horan’s assumption that the writer was referring to Andy. Horan’s explanation is not the only explanation or the most logical explanation, and there is no reason to accept Horan’s premise and no reason to believe that the writer was referring to Andy at all.
The first Zodiac letter offered details about the shooting at Blue Rock Springs Park:
1 girl was wearing patterned slacks
2 The boy was also shot in the knee.
3 Brand name of ammo was western
In the second letter, the writer offered the following details:
“On the 4th of July: I did not open the car door, The window was rolled down all ready. The boy was origionaly sitting in the front seat when I began fireing. When I fired the first shot at his head, he leaped backwards at the same time thus spoiling my aim. He ended up on the back seat then the floor in back thashing out very violently with his legs; thats how I shot him in the knee. I did not leave the cene of the killing with squealling tires + raceing engine as described in the Vallejo paper. I drove away quite slowly so as not to draw attention to my car.”
Hoffman’s report did not mention the clothing worn by victim Darlene Ferrin. Hoffman’s report states that Mageau had been shot in the “lower left leg” while the Zodiac letter states that Mageau was “shot in the knee.” The report does not mention the brand name of the ammunition used in the shooting but the letter states that the brand name was Western. Hoffman’s report does not mention anything about the killer opening or not opening a car door. The report does state that Michael Mageau told Hoffman that the car window was down and the Zodiac letter states that the window was “all ready down.” The report does not state that Mageau was sitting in the front seat “origionaly” as the letter described. Hoffman’s report does not make any reference to the shooter leaving the scene at all. The Zodiac letter insisted that the killer left the scene slowly, an apparent response to a newspaper article. The evidence does not indicate that the author of the Zodiac letters had access to Hoffman’s report.
The writer of the Zodiac letters may have been the killer, and he may have had a reason to deny that he left the scene at a high rate of speed as the newspapers stated. He may have lied because he did not want to appear cowardly. Many other interpretations are far more logical than the assumption that the letters were a hoax perpetrated by someone with direct access to police files. Hoffman’s report does not contain most of the information offered in the Zodiac letters and the author did not need the report to obtain information about the Zodiac crimes.