So How Smart was The ZODIAC?

To Captain Marty Lee, SF’s chief of detectives on the case, Zodiac was some misplaced fat paperhanger with too much time on his hands. Vallejo’s Captain Wade Bird declared: “I think he’ll prove to be a genius who got so far out he went over the edge.” Roy Conway, one of Vallejo’s detectives, thought Zodiac a spontaneous thrill killer who got lucky. These are only a few opinions, but they represent the wide spectrum of opinions. In essence they confuse Zodiac’s perpetration of his crimes with his skillful game playing with the media. It is with the latter that the Zodiac Killer truly showed his shrewdness. But the perpetration of his crimes was actually quite clumsy.

Does this give us a chance, a hope at any rate, that SFPD is right: they have his fingerprints? Forensics lifted prints off the overhead handle bar in Stine’s cab and off the outside handle on the door. They were bloody prints, and this reinforced to SFPD that they had to be Zodiac’s. The 2 police officers quickly at the scene of Washington and Cherry insisted they secured the area and kept back people. Officially that remains the word with SFPD, but Napa and Vallejo weren’t so certain. Crime scene contamination happens. There’s always some weirdo around who wants to peak or some good citizen who leans in and thinks they can help.

Contemporary photo of witnesses' home across street

The witnesses looked out from these windows across the street to where they saw Zodiac in Stine’s parked taxi.

There were reasons why Vallejo and Napa had reservations.” The kids– the witnesses– clearly described the “cab killer” as wiping down the inside of the cab’s dash and then the outside. This indicates that Zodiac removed his prints. On the other hand, SFPD could rightly say this would be unnecessary if Zodiac had worn gloves. So, ultimately, it does appear as if Zodiac could have left those bloody fingerprints, and the couple they lifted are those he forgot to wipe away.

If Zodiac left fingerprints in Stine’s cab, he was truly clumsy. But it was a pointblank bloody affair, and I don’t think Zodiac was expecting the gore that had resulted. He had to act quickly, and in his rush he may have made a serious mistake.

Zodiac’s hood reveals how self indulgent he was– but this does not translate to excessive care at a crime scene


SF’s prints at least prove potentially to be a good piece of evidence to identify Zodiac or eliminate a person of interest. SFPD compared all of their POIs prints to these. Each one was eliminated, including Leigh Allen.

But . . . SFPD also checked handwriting with all their suspects. This reveals a tad of skepticism that those prints were Zodiac’s. Each of those whose handwriting was checked was also eliminated. This rings true with all the jurisdictions and their POIs. Zodiac may have been clumsy enough to have left prints behind, and bold enough to have repeatedly given the police his handwriting, but he made sure he was far outside of the dragnet. That reveals a certain amount of cleverness before he even started his crime spree, however clumsy the perpetration of his crimes.

Of more interest is Zodiac DNA. As careful as he might have been, he could not have foreseen the advent of forensic DNA science. At best, saliva from a licked stamp could reveal blood type, plus a couple of other things. A forensic examination of a sampling of stamps on the envelopes of Zodiac’s nasty missives lifted DNA.

We’ll look at this potential in our next post.

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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester or Q Man. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

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