As anyone who has followed the case of the ‘Zodiac’ Killer knows, Sherwood Morrill, then Questioned Documents Examiner in Sacramento, said that ZODIAC’s hand printing was so distinctive that he could identify it merely from a bank deposit slip.
After 50 years, it is not as easy as that. Much as happened since then. Let’s touch on a couple of points.
The case of the ‘Zodiac’ Killer may with retrospect seem so clear, but contemporarily it was not. Few believed that ZODIAC, the letter writer, and the killer were one and the same at the end of the summer of 1969. Jack Stiltz, the Chief of Police of Vallejo, was notably publicly skeptical. Within this context we can understand why ZODIAC reemerges after his break to write on the car door of his victims at Lake Berryessa on September 27, 1969. It is proof. Here there is no question that the letter writer and the killer were both at the scene of the crime.
It is often overlooked today, indeed perhaps just forgotten, that The ZODIAC was by no means considered the same as the killer until his writing on the car door of the Karmen Ghia confirmed he and the letter writer were the same.
The skepticism was over because, once again, ZODIAC’s printing was so distinctive it was apparent to all merely by looking at the car door. It is unquestionably the same printing as on the nasty poison pen letters to the S.F. Chronicle.
The car door negated the theory that ZODIAC used any kind of fancy method of disguising his printing at his desk or table or upon whatever surface he wrote his horrid missives.
But. . .
Since Lake Berryessa and Morrill’s confidence, a letter was received– the notorious Red Phantom Letter of 1974. It is believed to be from ZODIAC– the envelope’s address’ printing confirms it more than the printing on the card inside. The printing on the card is somewhat different, however, than the usual ZODIAC schrift! Not only does the perfect grammar and spelling prove that ZODIAC went way out of his way to sound like an uneducated punk in his earlier letters, to some extent it did show he could disguise his printing . . .disturbingly even on the side door of a car.
Of course, even earlier than this it was evident ZODIAC was capable of careful printing– the letter to Melvin Belli on December 20, 1969. Averaging all 3 styles, I would imagine that the Red Phantom Letter comes closest to the casual scribbles of ZODIAC. Careful printing seldom reflects how any of us naturally write, so forget the Bell Letter style. The slanted scribble– i.e. his usual– probably won’t be blatantly noticeable in his casual, daily printing. In going over 50 year old hand printing, I have kept all this in mind.
We must remember one other fact . . .
The ZODIAC knew, of course, that printing was the only evidence that could lead to him. He couldn’t foresee DNA from stamps, and we don’t really know as yet whether he licked those at all. He shot people, taken by surprise, and this left no evidence but shell casings and bullets. He stabbed a pair, but this left no traceable evidence.
SFPD has insisted they have his bloody fingerprints lifted from Paul Stine’s cab, but the other jurisdictions doubt these are truly his prints and not contamination by bystanders.
From the Red Phantom Letter I have operated on the assumption that he disguised his printing– I will find no “r” that is like a dash, no slanted “d,” no bad grammar, no misspellings.
For 6 years I have sought this from one man, and hopefully soon it will be over. But this article does give you an idea of how hard it could be to identify ZODIAC’s printing, especially 50 years after-the-fact. ZODIAC was a strange amalgam between careful gameplaying and clumsy perpetration. After 50 years it is the gameplaying side of ZODIAC’s murder spree one must deal with. Here he was very clever.
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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.