The mysterious case of the Zodiac Killer has baffled experts and investigators for over five decades, remaining unsolved to this day. Despite numerous efforts to crack the case, no significant clues have emerged that could lead to the identification of the killer. One of the key challenges in unraveling the mystery lies in the contradicting descriptions provided by witnesses, which greatly vary when it comes to the physical attributes of the murderer. Additionally, the ballistic evidence and fingerprints collected from the crime scenes do not definitively point to a single individual committing the crimes. While the globally accepted theory pointed to a single killer, the inconsistencies in witness testimonies and forensic evidence cast doubt on this hypothesis.
The story of the Zodiac Killer gained widespread attention, particularly due to his chilling portrayal in David Fincher’s film Zodiac, which depicted the horrifying murders associated with the killer. There are also several documentaries that have discussed the same thing over and over. However, Peacock’s captivating two-part documentary series directed by Andrew Nock, Myth of the Zodiac Killer, goes beyond conventional explanations and asserts that the entire narrative surrounding the Zodiac Killer was, in fact, a myth all along.
According to the findings of English professor Thomas Henry Horan, who conducted thorough research on the matter, he has determined that the elusive case known as the “Zodiac Killer” was not the work of a lone perpetrator but rather involved multiple individuals with distinct motives. Additionally, Horan raises doubts about the authenticity of the letters sent to journalists, suggesting that they may have been written by multiple people. This leads him to propose the idea that the term “Zodiac Killer” was possibly created by someone as a fictional construct intended to instill fear.
Why Was Thomas Horan So Certain About The Myth Of The Zodiac Killer?
Author Thomas Horan, known for the novel Myth of the Zodiac Killer, intrigued filmmaker Andrew Nock with his unconventional theory that the Zodiac Killer was not a single person. Nock saw an opportunity to analyze Horan’s theory and determine its validity. To their shock, Horan presented compelling evidence that could not be overlooked.
In their investigation, the filmmakers revisited the five chilling murders that occurred between 1968 and 1969. The first murder took place on Lake Herman Road, where 17-year-old Eagle Scout student David Faraday and his first date, 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen, were attacked by an unidentified assailant in 1968. They had stopped their car on the road when another car pulled up alongside them. A person emerged from the car and shot both of them, resulting in their deaths. Detectives initially had no knowledge of the infamous Zodiac Killer since no letters had been received by the police or the media at that point. Thomas Horan suspected that these two teenagers were not killed by a single killer but by two individuals. He examined the victims’ profiles and discovered a strong motive for someone to harm them. David Faraday, known for his leadership abilities as an Eagle Scout, had gotten into an argument with the local drug-dealing group called the Hell’s Angels since they’d been dealing drugs in his area. As a result, Horan speculated that two members of the Hell’s Angels sought revenge by targeting David. Betty Lou was unfortunately killed because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. To support this theory, Horan presented intriguing evidence. Andrew accompanied Horan to the location where David and Betty were shot. Based on the ballistic evidence, Horan deduced that there were two individuals in the car parked near David’s vehicle: one person stood near their own vehicle and shot at David’s car, while the other person was the driver. Horan believed that if the killer had acted alone, they would have shot the victims from the driver’s seat.
In another murder case, this one from 1969, Michael Magaeu and Darlene Ferrin were shot in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Road by an unknown assailant. While Magaeu survived the attack, Darlene was tragically shot nine times in the back and died at the scene. Shortly after this incident, the police received their first phone call from an individual claiming to be the killer responsible for both the Blue Rock Springs and Lake Herman Road murders. Subsequently, a letter and a cipher code arrived, featuring a Zodiac sign with a crossed circle as the signature, leading the detectives to believe that the two murders were connected and likely committed by a single killer.
In this case, Horan expressed doubts regarding the identity of the killer responsible for the murder of Darlene Ferrin, suggesting that it might not be the same individual who committed the Lake Herman incident. He specifically raised suspicions about Darlene’s ex-husband, Jim Philipps Crabtree, who harbored resentment towards Darlene, according to accounts from her sister and second husband, Dean. Intrigued by Horan’s theory, filmmaker Andrew decided to meet Jim and interview him to gather more information. However, Andrew was surprised when Jim, who was a bit outgoing, denied being the Zodiac Killer or Darlene’s killer but revealed certain details that could potentially link him to the Zodiac case, such as his claim to be a former army cryptographer, adding a layer of mystery to his alibi. He also mentioned that he had cursed Darlene when she left him, saying that she would experience suffering nine times in her life, and she coincidentally suffered nine gunshot wounds to her back.
Jim had previously been questioned by detectives, but they did not find any substantial evidence suggesting a suspicious motive for him to have killed Darlene. Andrew was baffled by the conflicting information provided by Jim and decided to consult Horan to verify Jim’s claims. However, Horan asserted that Jim was lying about his job as a cryptographer. The reasons behind Jim’s misleading statements to Andrew remained ambiguous, leaving open the possibility that he might have been messing with the filmmaker, just like Bob Vaughn (played by Charles Fleischer) had messed with Robert Graysmith (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) in David Fincher’s film “Zodiac.”
After the occurrence of three horrifying murders, the Zodiac struck again at Lake Berryessa, targeting 20-year-old Bryan Hartnell and his girlfriend, Cecilia Shepherd, who was 22 years old at the time. They were attacked by a black-hooded man with a zodiac sign on his costume. The assailant stabbed the victims multiple times, and while Bryan survived, Cecilia tragically succumbed to her injuries after getting admitted to the hospital. Bryan provided a detailed description of the attacker, confirming that it was indeed the work of the Zodiac Killer. The message left on their car matched the handwriting from the earlier Zodiac letter. However, Horan expressed doubts about whether the Zodiac Killer responsible for this attack was the same person who committed the previous three murders.
Horan pointed out that not only Bryan and Cecilia witnessed the black-hooded man, but there were also other young students present at the lakeside who saw him. One of these students, Linda, provided a description of the killer that did not resemble the description given in the Paul Stine murder case (The Zodiac Killer’s last victim). Horan concluded that it wasn’t the same individual and suggested that someone else had assumed the role of the Zodiac Killer to mislead investigators. He cast doubt on the park ranger who discovered the crime scene since he had tampered with it, even raising suspicion among the detectives. The park ranger’s actions were considered questionable because, as a law enforcement officer, he should have known not to compromise the crime scene. However, even if one were to accept Horan’s suspicion of the park ranger, it is evident that the park ranger’s face did not match the identikit, indicating that he may not be a suspect after all. Linda, who had concealed herself for nearly five decades, finally met with Andrew and expressed her belief that the man she had seen lurking behind a tree on that day was undoubtedly the killer. Back then, in 1969, when Linda had helped the detectives by giving the description of the killer, the detectives also believed the man of the identikit was actually the killer they were searching for.
What Did The Linguistic Experts Conclude About The Zodiac Letters?
In a surprising turn of events, the fourth attack by the Zodiac Killer took place beyond the landscapes of Vallejo or Napa County in the busy and upscale city of San Francisco. A cab driver named Paul Stine was shot in the head by a passenger he had picked up and transported to the neighborhood of Presidio Heights. Witnesses, particularly some children who had seen the man walking down the road, provided a puzzling alibi that suggested the killer was a person of color. However, two local detectives who had encountered the man and suspected him to be the killer described him as a white man. Their description became widely known as the face of the Zodiac Killer. On the other hand, Detective David Collins, the original investigator of the Berryessa attack, claimed that Linda’s identikit provided an accurate description of the killer, and he was emphasizing this in a way that almost made it seem like he had seen the killer with his own eyes.
Following the Paul Stine murder case, the Zodiac Killer’s letters became a regular occurrence, specifically targeting the newspaper known as the Chronicle. The Chronicle became the sole newspaper receiving these letters, which raised suspicions in Horan’s mind. However, a plot twist emerged in the Paul Stine case. After Paul Stine’s murder, the first letters received by the Chronicle had a piece of Paul’s blood-soaked shirt attached to them, seemingly solidifying the connection between the Zodiac Killer and the murder. However, Horan remained skeptical even in this aspect. He suspected that while Paul Stine’s body was undergoing investigation at the laboratory, someone might have taken the piece of clothing and attached it to the letter. One individual under suspicion was Paul Avery, the editor of the Chronicle, who had earned the nickname “Unsavory Avery” due to his eagerness to create sensational stories for the newspaper. Horan believed that Avery might have written some of the letters to perpetuate the ongoing story and attract attention to their publication. However, detectives and other journalists who had extensively worked on the case dismissed the idea of a journalist resorting to such devious means for publicity.
Following the murder of Paul Stine, a total of 28 letters were sent by the Zodiac Killer, and all of these letters were analyzed, revealing that they were written by a single person, a conclusion Horan strongly objected to. In order to support Horan’s theory of multiple letter writers involved in this case, Andrew consulted two French linguist experts who utilized advanced linguistic analysis technology to examine whether one or multiple persons had written these letters. After spending considerable time analyzing the Zodiac Killer’s letters, the linguistic experts informed Andrew that they suspected the letters might have been written by multiple individuals. They based their suspicion on the significant variations in writing styles, choices of words like the,” like,” rather,” etc., and sentence structures observed throughout the letters. However, forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Judy Ho refuted this notion, arguing that over time, an individual’s writing can naturally evolve and change. Horan continued to emphasize that in each murder case, there were distinct differences in modus operandi (MO). Even in the Berryessa murder case, a knife was used instead of a gun. The killer exhibited different patterns and behaviors, making the case perplexing and intricate. However, forensic psychologists argue that serial killers may change their methods of killing as they explore different types and patterns, and it is not uncommon for them to do so.
The linguistic experts talked about the possibility that multiple people may have been involved in the Zodiac Killer case, which adds some credibility to Thomas Horan’s theory. However, it remains a highly debatable aspect considering the description of the killer and the forensic evidence available. Personally, I found Horan’s theory to be occasionally forced, while at other times, it provided fresh perspectives that had not previously crossed my mind.
Regardless of the theories and investigations, the Zodiac Killer case remains elusive, and most importantly, the families of the victims never received the justice they deserved. The Zodiac Killer continues to hold a dark and chilling place in the history of serial killers. We still do not know the true identity of the killer or whether they are alive or have faded into obscurity over time. The documentary has done an excellent job so far, capturing both the captivation and the intricate details of the case. I would have liked to explore more episodes of the series, but for now, I had to satisfy my curiosity with just two of them.