I have the feeling that the pursuit of EAR/ONS will be successful in the foreseeable future, though we are in for a gulf of time in which enough must be done to inspire a DNA test. When the case of THE NIGHT PREDATOR is solved, however, I think it will be quickly archived. No lingering desire will remain to probe into his motives. They will have been written off as a desire for thrills by a demented though calculating fiend. Little mystery of interest will remain. DNA taken from a dead body will satisfy everybody.
But identifying is not always the same as solving. For EAR/ONS identifying will no doubt be enough. But for The Zodiac Killer I wonder. Both represent two extremes. EAR/ONS devoted all his calculating mind to the execution of his crimes; ZODIAC devoted his evil “genius” to the marketing of his otherwise mundane shootings, leaving open the possibility there was much more to his crime spree than merely thrill killing.
When one genuinely attempts to solve the varied crime sprees that make up cold cases one has to confront and accept the difference between identifying and solving. One also has to accept that within the system identifying is enough. District Attorneys don’t need to prove motive to get a conviction. There is nothing narrow with that precept, but it does create a rather razor blade attitude. This is not a hobby for them. It is their job. When a dead man is identified as having been the perp of a cold case, the case is solved.
But for the rest of us, for the populace in general, we want motive. Why did such a villain do what they did? Without a living suspect motive is hard to prove. “Thrill”– the standard excuse– isn’t enough for some cases. For some there has to be more. The ZODIAC is such a case.
From an evidentiary approach, ZODIAC committed almost a perfect crime spree, though not a very original one. As an essentially drive-by killer, he had little contact with his victims. Except for ballistics there would be no way to trace him, only the gun. Pitch the gun, no evidence. (The letters would seem a mistake, but they may actually be a different kind of clue which I will bring up later.) And, frankly, I think he had just dumb luck.
ZODIAC struck at a tumultuous time in America in which a terror campaign carried a punch. He is given an exotic flare because of his hood at Lake Berryessa. He catered to our curiosity because of his cryptograms. All this remains his image today. Popular culture has been blinded by ZODIAC’s fame and confuses this with having been an exceptional villain. But his actual crimes were of little complexity. More than one jurisdiction said he merely seemed a spontaneous thrill killer who got lucky with his marketing.
Perhaps it is not that simple. But after 47 years the marketing isn’t evidence. In fact, we’re left with almost nothing. Even the DNA isn’t certain. Leigh Allen was cleared because his DNA didn’t match that on the stamps of the ZODIAC’s nasty missives, but many choose not to believe it. The DNA would have to match someone who looked like the ZODIAC composites. Such a match would do. Lack of a match means nothing.
When you try and tackle the case seriously, especially 47 years later, you learn how daunting it is.
It is the lack of genuine evidence by legal standards that has allowed The ZODIAC case to devolve into folklore– anybody can and has claimed a father or relative or friend as having been the ZODIAC and then written the appropriately shallow book or had their 15 minutes of undeserved fame. For EAR/ONS that is not possible. There is no doubt about his DNA. There can be no genre of “my daddy did it” books since a test would easily prove it. The pursuit of EAR/ONS has also been blessed by 3 honest books, two written by actual detectives on the case. I’m afraid no one can say that for the first books or even the latter books on ZODIAC.
Did I say lack of legal evidence? Not only. Lack even of circumstantial evidence. What exactly is there? We don’t even know what type of car he drove. There is great, theatrical veneer, but after so much time there is only ballistics and handwriting.
This one great hurdle must be cleared: Solving verses Identifying.
For sometime now I have presented to the public my suspect for ZODIAC. Yet I have been choked at the seemingly insurmountable odds of proving it through the system’s standards. As I write HorrorScope, I begin to struggle with the reality that even if I finally do legally identify him, will I have solved the case?
I have decried that ZODIAC was a cerebral killer. You can see all too well how his game of death developed. Maybe he knew how law enforcement worked, and this is why he struck in 4 different jurisdictions. That’s not too cerebral. Was his whole style the result of contemporary knowledge on how to reduce evidence at a crime scene? It doesn’t seem so. Why write those letters? Handwriting analysis could link him. Why wear such a rare type of shoe at Lake Berryessa? Rather, it seems to be that ZODIAC’s inconsistency protected him.
Not all the inconsistencies in ZODIAC’s crime spree can be explained, but if one thing can be surmised about why he didn’t take some precautions it is that his confidence was inspired by the fact he felt he was completely unsuspected and would remain unsuspected. ZODIAC struck from afar, so that he possibly believed he was far outside of any potential police dragnet.
It is in this area where the folklore that Arthur Leigh Allen was The ZODIAC has proved crippling. The clues that ZODIAC struck from afar would have been more apparent had it not been for the grandstanding about local Vallejoan Leigh Allen. Allen would have been a natural suspect, as indeed he proved to be, and he would have taken the necessary precautions, such as to not wear Wing Walker shoes. On the contrary, ZODIAC’s blatant evidence (handwriting; Wing Walker shoes) reflect someone who felt they had taken the necessary precautions not to be suspected.
Worthless as evidence. True. But it is a clue, one that has continued to motivate me to pursue my suspect, a man who knew the area and yet struck from afar.
Identifying The ZODIAC has been difficult for 47 years, and it still presents legal difficulties. Suspicion is enough for a hot case, but not for a cold one. It is perfect for a living suspect. Not for a dead one. How much more difficult will it be to “solve” after an already difficult identifying takes place?
I usually don’t get into anniversaries, but on September 27, 2015, I watched Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) for the first time. I thought I best finally watch it. I came away with the same feeling everybody else has noted: there’s body but no soul. There’s the letter but not the spirit. It was a reenactment of some of the crimes and some of the attempts to investigate them, but nothing was put together. There was no antagonist or protagonist. It was a soulless chronicle. ZODIAC is not an ever-present and dangerous antagonist. He is not the object of the film; he is merely an excuse that sets the investigators in action. We see the actor playing Leigh Allen only 3 times, two of which are little better than a cameo.
Fincher actually revealed a great truth. Without knowing ZODIAC’s motive, we are left with no soul. Fincher followed Robert Graysmith’s slant on things, but despite Graysmith sure he could identity ZODIAC as Leigh Allen, he still cannot give a motive. Fincher’s Zodiac likewise explained nothing.
I am not a fan of Graysmith’s version of things, but even his book presented himself as stalking and being stalked by his suspect. There is no such interaction in Zodiac. It would have helped it, but still it would not explain ZODIAC’s motives, especially the reason for the bizarre outfit at Lake Berryessa.
The movie could have been done much better than being something made by fans for fans. But Fincher was also hampered by the truth. Nobody knows what motivated a man to start such a crime spree, brag about it, get theatrical about it, then suddenly stop and continue a strange terror campaign through poison pen letters to the San Francisco Chronicle.
But I wonder, rather fear, that ultimately this is the truth of the real ZODIAC. Even if solved now, will ZODIAC ever be more than a mere identification of the perpetrator? Can the spirit, motive, soul of the crime spree and all of its inconsistencies ever be delivered?
As I write HorrorScope I pause. I cannot repeat the mistake of Body and no Soul. There must be one consistent motive behind so many inconsistencies.