Author believes he knows Zodiac Killer's identity 

Thirty-nine years after the murders of David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen sparked the investigation into what would come to be known as the Zodiac murders, the case remains unsolved. Despite a wealth of evidence, including the cryptic letters sent by the killer to reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle and The Examiner, the identity of the Zodiac is a mystery that, to this day, baffles the authorities and amateur sleuths.

Is it possible, then, that former Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, author of "Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked," has solved the case? Based on DNA and fingerprint evidence recovered from the Zodiac’s letters and the scene of his only San Francisco murder, the answer would seem to be no. Still, Graysmith, whose writings and research inform the new David Fincher thriller "Zodiac," says he believes otherwise, and he’s not alone.

"One thing I got out of the Zodiac experience, besides a couple of books, is a great friend, (former San Francisco homicide) inspector Dave Toschi, who was the model for ‘Dirty Harry’ and Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt,’" Graysmith says. "Dave and George Bawart of the Vallejo police and his boss, Roy Conway, they’re convinced (the Zodiac) is Arthur Leigh Allen, the same man I believe was the killer. Other people believe it was someone else. All I can say is, there were 2,500 suspects, and it took me 10 years to get it down to six."

Graysmith’s favorite suspect is a controversial one — primarily due to the lack of forensic evidence linking him to the crimes — and the author, still living in San Francisco, freely acknowledges that the Zodiac could still be out there. (Allen, who grew up in Vallejo, died in 1992 of natural causes.) But, armed with evidence collected over the course of 25 years, Graysmith stands by his findings.

"Arthur Leigh Allen was one of only nine people at Lake Berryessa on Sept. 27, 1969, the day Cecelia Shepard was killed," he says. "He bragged to (co-worker) Don Cheney that he was going to hunt couples at night, send letters to the press and call himself ‘Zodiac.’ And Cheney passed a lie detector test."

Still, he concedes, "The evidence is circumstantial, and you never know in this case. I do think to myself, ‘There were thousands of suspects, but what if there was one more?’ Maybe there’s some guy living in a cabin somewhere whom we never suspected, and we’re all going to be surprised. That’s what final chapters are for. If that ever happened, I’d be the first to write that story."

While Graysmith, after more than three decades investigating the Zodiac, would be thrilled to discover new, case-breaking evidence — whether or not it confirmed his convictions — he’s not going to seek it out himself. "No, no, not me," he says with a nervous chuckle. "I’m done. I can’t get involved anymore, it’s too hard. I enjoyed watching the movie guys get obsessed. The movie is wrapped, it’s done, and who’s calling me last Sunday? They are. They’re still looking for clues, and I felt fine watching them do all the silly, stupid things I used to do. I knew they’d catch the bug. But me? I can’t do it anymore. I’m afraid of that case. It’s not healthy."

Graysmith knows the bizarre details of the Zodiac case seem made for a movie, and he couldn’t be more pleased with the work of director David Fincher and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, who, he says, captured the essence of his life-changing obsession.

"This is one of the great mysteries of all time," he says. "And that’s the great thing about this film — even if some people don’t like it, it’s going to stir up interest in the case, and new people will start to do their own investigating. But I’m satisfied that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac. So is Dave Toschi, and he’s a pretty sharp guy. That’s good enough for me."

The Zodiac Killer coined his name in a 1969 letter to the Examiner. Our special section reviews the new "Zodiac" movie and looks back at his still-unsolved killing spree.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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