The varying descriptions of the Zodiac lead some to believe that more than one person was involved in the crimes, yet these discrepancies are common occurrences in most investigations. Eyewitnesses are often mistaken in their attempts to accurately recall the facial features, hair color, height, weight, clothing and other aspects of a suspect’s appearances, producing conflicting descriptions of the same individual. In some instances, eyewitnesses and victims of crime have positively identified an individual as the perpetrator of a crime only to later discover that they were wrong when the real culprit was identified. Other witnesses have accurately identified the correct suspect.
No one saw the shooter on Lake Herman Road so no description exists. Michael Mageau described the suspect at the Blue Rock Springs Park shooting as a “WMA, short, possible 5’8”, was real heavy set, beefy build… not blubbery fat, but real beefy, possibly 195 to 200 [lbs] or maybe even larger… short curly hair, light brown almost blond… with a large face.”
Bryan Hartnell stated that the attacker had brown hair and when asked to explain he said, “‘Cause I saw it from where the goggles fit… I looked so closely to find out. And when he turned you know they kind of flittered… I could see his hair. It looked kinda greasy.” Bryan told me, “I remember when I was first talked to, I mean, I had the guy being a walrus, you know… He had one of those Sears-type of jackets, you know, those can be either lined or unlined, and if it’s lined, a person could be thin, if it’s unlined the person would be heavy… I mean, he’s not obese.”<
Witnesses at the Stine scene provided this description: “White Male Adult, in his early forties, 5’8″, heavy build, reddish-blond ‘crew cut’ hair, wearing eyeglasses, dark brown trousers, dark (navy blue or black) ‘Parka’ jacket, dark shoes.” This description was subsequently adjusted for the SFPD composite sketch which published this description: WMA 35-45 years old, 5’8″ Reddish brown hair, Crewcut, Heavy Rim Glasses, Navy blue or black jacket.
Officer Don Fouke offered variations of his descriptions, including:
1969: “The suspect that was observed by officer Fouke was a WMA 35-45 Yrs about five-foot, ten inches, 180-200 pounds. Medium heavy build- Barrel chested- Medium complexion- Light-colored hair possibly greying in rear (May have been lighting that caused this effect.) Crew cut- wearing glasses- Dressed in dark blue waist length zipper type jacket (Navy or royal blue) Elastic cuffs and waist band zipped part way up. Brown wool pants pleated type baggy in rear (Rust brown) May have been wearing low cut shoes. Subject at no time appeared to be in a hurry walking with a shuffling lope, Slightly bent forward. The subject’s general appearance- Welsh ancestry.”
1989: “The individual I saw that night was a white male adult, approximately 35-45 years of age, five feet ten inches tall, 180-210 pounds.”
The suspect at the Stine scene was said to have brown or blond hair, possibly with a red tint. A small reddish brown hair was discovered behind a stamp used by the Zodiac, indicating that this description may be accurate.
Mageau described the killer as 5 feet 8 inches tall while Fouke said the suspect was approximately five feet ten inches tall. Fouke and Mageau were both seated in vehicles at the time; Fouke saw the suspect from a distance and Mageau saw the shooter just outside the car. The Stine witnesses saw the killer from a window of the house across the street from the crime scene. They described the suspect as a “White Male Adult, in his early forties, 5’8″, heavy build, reddish-blond ‘crew cut’ hair.” The fact that Mageau’s description is similar to the Stine suspect indicates that he may have been fairly accurate if the killer had gotten a recent haircut.
Estimates regarding the killer’s age demonstrate that witnesses often have great difficulty when judging age due to subjectivity. Younger witnesses often over-estimate the age of older individuals, and everyone judges the age of others based mostly on appearance. Assuming that all of the witnesses were describing the same individual, we must also assume that they were all mistaken regarding his age. If the girls at the lake saw the Zodiac before he donned his hooded costume, then the lowest age estimate for the killer is mid-to-late twenties, while Stine witnesses believed that the suspect was almost two decades older, in his early-to-mid forties. Most people would not assume that a man with a full head of brown, wavy or even curly hair would be forty years old, but if the same man had a crewcut and glasses in the late 1960s, some witnesses might simply assume that he was older because of his hair style and appearance. Even a younger man with a receding hairline can appear much older. The Stine witnesses provided the oldest estimate of the killer’s age and they, like Don Fouke, saw the man from a distance at night.
The Zodiac stated that he only resembled this composite sketch when he was committing his crimes. If the man seen at the lake became concerned after police released a composite sketch which did resemble him, he might have decided to drastically change his appearance by getting a crewcut. If this theory is correct, then we must account for a troubling fact: The witnesses at the lake thought that this man was 28-30 years old while the Stine witnesses thought he was at least ten years older. If all of these witnesses were describing the same individual, the killer may have been much younger than described in most accounts. However, the description of the man at the lake is only relevant if he was, in fact, somehow involved in the crime.
If the descriptions provided by Bryan Hartnell, Nancy Slover and David Slaight are at all accurate, the Zodiac’s voice may have sounded older than his teenage victims, and was lower and deeper than the voice of “Sam,” the Zodiac imposter who called into The Jim Dunbar Show in October 1969. No one knows if the Zodiac was attempting to disguise his voice. Nancy Slover estimated the caller’s age as “mid-thirties.”
By compiling the available information and reconciling the various descriptions, a portrait emerges, suggesting that the Zodiac may have been as young as 28 years old, or as old as 35 to 40 years old. His weight cannot be known, as the range provided by witnesses spans from 180 to 220 lbs; he may have weighed even less than the witnesses believed. He had brownish, possibly reddish hair, and stood somewhere between 5’8″ and 6″. The description of Paul Stine’s killer included dark glasses, but it is possible that the glasses were part of his disguise and he did not wear them in his daily life.
Michael Mageau reportedly identified suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, yet this witness also indicated that the attacker’s face resembled that of another suspect in the police photo line-up. Mageau had only seen the shooter for a brief instant from a profile view. During the shooting, the suspect flashed a bright light at Mageau and then shot him in the jaw. Police did not believe that he could accurately identify the suspect, and representatives of the Vallejo Police Department have stated that Mageau’s identification of Allen is unreliable at best. Vallejo police detective John Lynch interviewed Allen on October 6, 1969, and described the suspect as a “WMA 35 years… 6’1″, 241[lbs], heavy build and is bald.” In July 1969, Mageau described his attacker as a “WMA, short, possible 5’8”, was real heavy set, beefy build… not blubbery fat, but real beefy, possibly 195 to 200 [lbs] or maybe even larger… short curly hair, light brown almost blond… with a large face.” These two descriptions clearly conflict, and Allen could not be the Zodiac if Mageau’s description is at all accurate.
Possible Zodiac victim Kathleen Johns identified suspect Larry Kane as the man who tried to abduct her in March 1970. Many critics have noted that the Zodiac description did not match Larry Kane, and that Johns first identified the Zodiac as her abductor when looking at the composite sketch of the Stine suspect. Johns was certain that the once-prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen was not the man she had encountered.