Retired homicide detective John Cameron believes the 77-year-old Edwards is indeed the Zodiac. Cameron, currently working for the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, spent his summer researching the ailing Edwards, who is incarcerated in an Ohio corrections institute for a 1977 double murder.
There have been worse suspects. The more one studies what is known about Edwards, the more viable he seems. John Cameron told the San Francisco Chronicle that Edwards may well be “the most prolific serial killer that ever was.”
I’ve put out a message to Mr. Cameron to talk about the case, possibly to cover it for another online publication. If I can’t sell them on it, I’ll cover it in fuller detail here, later.
Meanwhile, John Cameron’s Facebook wall gives some hints at what he’s been up to.
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The soldier currently missing from Fort Bragg has been identified as 2nd Lieutentant Holley Lynn Wimunc, age 24. Holley Wimunc was part of Charlie Company and assigned to Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Hospital. Wimunc vanished Thursday morning. Her apartment was burned; authorities have determined that the fire was set. Wimunc’s car was still in the complex parking lot.
She was known to be going through a divorce. Early Friday, Raleigh’s WRAL-TV reported
that Wimunc had once filed papers with the court to protect her from her estranged husband, John Wimunc. On her Facebook account, accessible only to her friends, Wimunc had begun calling herself Holley James
(presumably her maiden name).
Wimunc claimed that her Marine Corporal husband “held loaded 9mm to my head; choked me. Threw me around living room…” While her allegations certainly make her husband a good suspect, the Fayetteville Observer
published an article that stated, in part:
Wimunc’s husband, Marine Cpl. John Wimunc, was questioned by police Thursday, according to a Marines spokesman.
Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore, spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division, said Cpl. Wimunc was released back to his battalion Thursday after the Marines made him available for interviews.
The Marine Corps is keeping tabs on Wimunc’s whereabouts, Gilmore said…
The Observer also reported that Holley Lynn Wimunc was educated in Iowa, at St. Ambrose University. She was in the Army Nurse Corps and had been at Fort Bragg for nearly a year.
There are some elements in this missing persons case that make it difficult to ignore any possible connection with the June, 2008 murder of Spc. Megan Lynn Touma:
- Both Touma and Wimunc were in the Army, and both were medical specialists — Touma worked in dentistry.
- Touma was from Kansas. Wimunc was from Lafayette, Louisiana, but was educated in Iowa — a tangential Midwest connection.
- Holley Wimunc and Megan Touma shared the same middle name, Lynn.
- Wimunc was just one year older than Touma.
- Touma and Wimunc were in perilous situations where their personal lives were concerned. Megan Touma was divorced and pregnant by another man who was already in a relationship, and Holley Wimunc was estranged from husband John, whom she alleged to be abusive.
The map embedded below illustrates another interesting detail of the Wimunc disappearance — Google indicates just 1.4 miles between Cross Creek Mall and Wimunc’s apartment complex at 142 Wayah Creek Drive in Fayetteville.
John Wimunc, based on the claims made by Holley when she filed for court-sanctioned protection, might be an excellent suspect in his wife’s disappearance. But he’s not in custody right now, simply under observation. That could show a lack of convincing, hard evidence pointing towards a domestic answer to the riddle of Holley Wimunc’s disappearance.
Does Fayetteville, North Carolina have a serial killer, after all?
If there is a calculating serial at work, targeting women of a certain age, appearance, and profession, did he send the mysterious, Zodiac-like letter to the Observer
If he did, I expect another letter soon.
The Touma murder and Wimunc disappearance may only be connected by the singular motivation of men who think murder is the best way out of a relationship. A single serial killer would be easier to deal with, in a way — all the possibilities are focused in one phantom psycho. Take him off the street, and that particular deadly path is at an end. Domestic homicide, however, is a much larger problem, one as old as human relations. We can’t put it away and remove its power to wipe loved ones from the face of the Earth. A serial killer is, at the very least, a concrete answer to the huge question of why such things happen.
Violence between two people who once pledged their love to one another is far more widespread, and ultimately, a problem that seems to elude any easy answers.
Holley’s MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/hollister024
. Not much there anymore, if there ever was. Her “About Me”: “Hey, i’m your all american girl. funny bitchy and crazy. I’m 24, in the army…and hoping to get deployed soon :)”
This post will be updated and revised as needed.
Something strange and disturbing may be afoot in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Either a killer who harkens back to Northern California and the late 60s is truly at work, or a number of men have decided now is the prime time to rid themselves of troublesome women. Both possibilities are pretty damned spooky, in their ways. WRAL in Raleigh is reporting today
that a Fort Bragg-based female soldier is missing and her apartment was burned.
Spc. Megan Touma
, the pregnant soldier found murdered in a Fayetteville motel on June 21, was associated with a medical specialty. The newly-missing soldier’s name and rank have not been released, but according to WRAL, “she was believed to be assigned to Womack Army Medical Center.”
The missing soldier didn’t show up for work on Wednesday, and members of her unit went to check on her. They discovered a burned-out apartment. The fire was determined to be arson. In fact, cops were already processing the scene when the apartment building was evacuated for fear a new fire might break out, perhaps from accelerants still on the scene.
This missing soldier was going through a divorce, and authorities are seeking her husband for questioning.
The immediate question that may come to mind if you’ve read about the Zodiac Killer-like letter
that accompanied the murder of Megan Touma is whether or not this is perhaps a second salvo in a serial killer’s war on the public in general and young military women, in particular.
Logically, though, another possibility presents itself: another psychopathic male has been following events in the Touma case and found himself “inspired” to take a novel and homicidal approach to his own problems with a woman in his life, perhaps hoping that the drama surrounding the Touma investigation might serve to help cover his tracks.
At the moment, my money’s on the latter explanation for this new Fort Bragg female soldier in peril. If another letter arrives in the mailroom at the Fayetteville Observer
, I may change my mind. I’ll update and revise this post as needed.
[Hat-tip to Mysteriew at Websleuths.com
People are free to talk about whatever they want on a message board, but let me make it clear that I reject one idea out-of-hand: the person who killed Spc. Megan Touma
sometime around June 17, 2008 in Fayetteville, NC was not the actual
I’m not going to try and make anyone feel good about themselves on that score. I’m amazed I even feel the need to write this, but I do. To suggest
that the real Zodiac killed Touma and then wrote the letter is patently ludicrous, as far as I’m concerned. If I’m somehow proved wrong, believe me — I’ll admit it in this space and apologize. If Zodiac is still alive — a big if — he is in his late 60s or 70s. As a killer like Gary Michael Hilton
proved, age doesn’t bar people from being active serial killers, but in general, it doesn’t help. Even psychopaths become settled, less violent over time. If Zodiac went on killing after 1969, he only got better at it, and learned one lesson — not to call any attention to himself, any more. At least not in a way that might lead to his capture.
But yes, there are a few people making that very argument in comments and on some message boards, and as open-minded as I can be about various theories regarding a wide range of mysteries, I’m not that
open-minded. So don’t bother at this blog, because I’ll either shoot you down or delete your comment if I’m really annoyed.
A poster using the nick “TheForeigner” on the message board associated with the best Zodiac resource on the Web, ZodiacKiller.com, noticed a fascinating and chilling coincidence. Tom Voigt, the site’s webmaster, posted the image created by “TheForeigner” to make note this coincidence. I took my cue from him and created the image you see on the left in Photoshop. I used the image the Zodiac imitator drew on the letter he sent to the Fayetteville Observer, claiming credit for Touma’s murder and calling it a “master piece,” and laid it over the cross-in-circle design of the Cross Creek Mall. The motel in which Spc. Touma was murdered is marked by a smaller version of the same symbol.
The investigation into Touma’s death — officially a homicide
— is ongoing. Police have yet to publicly name a suspect, but they have been interested in another Fort Bragg soldier who may have been the father of Touma’s child — the Dental specialist was 7 months pregnant when she was murdered. The soldier in question was said to be at a Special Forces school studying psychological operations. As I noted here
, that’s one good reason alone to suspect him in Touma’s murder. That the deaths of pregnant women usually come at the hands of the men they live with only adds to logical reasons to question this unnamed man and either arrest him or eliminate him as a suspect.
Here are a few of my ideas as to what may have happened, in order of most logical to most unlikley:
- Megan Lynn Touma’s baby-daddy, whoever he was, was terrified of the financial burden that might be placed on him by the impending birth. He planned the scenario well in advance, right down to the location. The Zodiac-like letter is nothing but a ruse designed to confuse the investigation.
- A real serial killer did it. He spotted the young, pregnant woman staying by herself and knew he had — in his book — an excellent target. He did some planning in advance, used a ruse to enter Megan Touma’s room, and then created his awful “master piece.” In this scenario the killer may be basically telling the truth in the letter to the Fayetteville paper — he has killed many times before, and he envies and wants to imitate the fact that the Zodiac was never caught. If this is what actually happened, the killer will write to another media outlet soon. He may even go further towards imitating Zodiac and include code of some sort. This killer’s code, unlike Zodiac’s, may be relatively simple and easy to solve — that, or it will be utterly senseless and never solved, because there will be no solution.
- A woman who knew Touma was the killer. The Fayetteville Observer has reported that the Zodiac symbol found in the death room was drawn on the mirror with lipstick. The female killer may not have realized that Touma was only 7 months along and was intent on taking the baby. A variation on that scenario: Touma was killed out of jealousy.
- The real Zodiac having committed the murder is easily the most outlandish choice. He would be older, possibly elderly now, and have no logical reason for re-announcing his presence. It is more logical to think he came out of ‘retirement’ to kill Christian camp counselors Lindsay Cutshall and Jason Allen in Sonoma County, CA in 2004. Cutshall and Allen were in Zodiac’s old stomping grounds and in a situation that seemed to trigger him in the past — a young couple alone in an isolated spot. I don’t actually think the Zodiac Killer committed that double murder, either, but it would be more logical than thinking he’s alive and well in North Carolina and killing pregnant young Army Specialists.
Of course there are other possibilities, but the ones above seem most prevalent in discussions on the Web.
I have no reason to think this, no tip to go on, but I feel some new developments in the Touma investigation will be announced tomorrow. I don’t know if they will be major, but I do feel strongly that the investigation into this case is intense and relentless. No matter what or who he is, Megan Touma’s killer is dangerous.
The True Crime Weblog:
“Zodiac’s Ghost: Letter citing infamous serial killer as inspiration claims kill in N.C.“
I guess I’m off hiatus, now. It’s a little like being Michael Corleone — every time I think I’m out and ready to do something else, some psycho does something that pulls me back in.
So here ya go. Dumbest damned headline of the day, courtesy of the fabulous folks at Fox News:
Zodiac Ties Probed in Slain Pregnant Soldier Case
What do you think when you read that? I think — if I look at it as if I were someone with very little knowledge of this story — “oh, has the real Zodiac come back?”
A quote from the article:
A symbol similar to one often left by the nefarious Zodiac killer of the 1960s was scrawled in lipstick on a mirror in the North Carolina hotel room where Army Spc. Megan Touma was found June 21, police said.
A letter sent to a local newspaper and published last week also contained the symbol, a circle with a cross through it…
The rest of the article is pretty straightforward and gives us ‘the case so far.’ The worst thing is the headline, because it is misleading. At the moment, it is much easier to be skeptical of the letter sent to the Fayetteville Observer than anything else. Cleverly written as the letter was — the writer managed to ape the Zodiac Killer’s tone and attitude pretty well in just a couple of paragraphs — it beggars common sense to think a true, anonymous, serial-killing inheritor to the California killer from the late 60s has made himself known. The only “tie” I can see at the moment between the real deal and the writer of the letter in NC is the current unknown criminal’s co-opting of Zodiac’s symbol and his writing style.
About the case so far — one of Megan Touma’s fellow soldiers is under investigation. The soldier may have once been stationed with Touma in Bamberg, Germany and is now at the Fort Bragg-based U.S. Army Special Operations Command. NBC 17 in Raleigh, NC reports
that the suspect was studying — wait for it — psychological operations (this won’t be news to anyone who followed comments on the previous post about this case — neither will the fact that NBC 17’s website loads slower than your teenager’s pimped-out social networking profile).
I don’t have a source to support this contention, but I am fairly sure that anyone learning U.S. Military psy ops studies killers like the Zodiac, BTK Strangler
, and Son of Sam
(David Berkowitz) at some point. Why? Because these letter-writing, taunting serials were individuals who used their acts and their communications with the police, press and public at large to commit a kind of domestic terrorism.
Dennis Rader (BTK) killed 10 people — that we know of. That’s bad enough, but he also became, for 3 decades, the boogeyman of Wichita, Kansas. Parents used BTK to caution their kids. Rader was a nebbishy, anal-retentive minor public official, but as BTK he cast a long, terrifying shadow.
David Berkowitz managed to terrify everyone in New York City and capture the attention of the nation one hot summer in the 1970s. Berkowitz was a lowly, withdrawn postal worker living in a shabby little apartment. But he was a monster in the mind of anyone reading newspapers or watching the nightly news broadcast.
And the real Zodiac Killer? We don’t know who he was, even today. Some people claim they’ve solved the case, others have their pet theories, sure — including me. But Zodiac remains a cipher. He was probably like Rader and Berkowitz — a small man in a small, nothing job. A nowhere man. But he had big plans. And when he put them into action, he cast a far more terrifying and monstrous shadow over the public than he ever truly cast standing on the street corner late at night, smiling as the sirens wailed in the distance.
Killers such as these performed psychological operations on the public. The men themselves were small, nobodies. Their homicidal creations, promoted to everyone through strange, mad letters, codes, threats, warnings — they intimidated thousands, even millions.
Isn’t that a key goal of offensive psy ops? I’m pretty sure it is. There are positive uses for psychological operations, of course — positive in the sense that they do not involve attempting to scare others. But if you have an enemy you’re trying to rattle before the bombs start to drop, you need to know how to push peoples’ buttons.
At the moment, it makes much more sense to me to suspect someone being trained in psychological operations of even thinking to write a fake “Zodiac is my hero” letter to the press than it does to think some blank-faced, prolific serial killer has finally announced himself to the public.
If the latter ends up being the case, it’ll be a hell of a story, and probably have me parked at this blog posting updates daily. But I’m doubtful. The explanation for the tragedy of this pregnant young soldier’s murder is likely to be much more prosaic, in the end.
UPDATES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST
If there was ever a good reason to break my hiatus from updating this blog, this is it.
“‘I’m killer’ of Spc. Touma.
A quote from the article — bold emphasis has been added:
A person claiming to be the killer of the pregnant soldier found dead in a motel has written an anonymous letter calling the murder a “master piece” and threatening to kill again.
On Friday, sources requesting anonymity told The Fayetteville Observer that a symbol used in the letter is identical to one found written in lipstick on a mirror in the Fairfield Inn room where Spc. Megan Lynn Touma’s body was discovered June 21…
The Observer apparently received the letter Wednesday. It was dated June 17 (the symbols beside the date on the letter — @))* — seen if you click the image above to enlarge it, are the symbols over the numbers 2008 on a typewriter or computer keyboard) and postmarked June 24. You can read the full text of the letter by clicking on the screen capture, but I’ll make it easier by quoting — formatting, spelling and punctuation mistakes have been left intact:
To whom it may concern. The following is to inform that I am responsible for the dead body that was found on Saturday, June 21 @ 1130 in room 143 at Fairfield INN by Marriott off Skibo RD. It was a master piece. I confess, that I have killed many times before in several states, but now I will start using my role-model’s signature. There will be many more to come.
Fayetteville law enforcement are very incompetent. I basically, sat there and watch while investigaters were on site.
The writer signed off with the mysterious, 60s-era serial killer’s chosen symbol — a circle quartered by a cross. The Zodiac sign has been interpreted in many ways. Zodiacologists all know that one likely source was the Zodiac brand watch, which was sold in the 60s and 70s. Other possible inspirations were a scaled back representation of a typical chart showing the 12 houses of the Zodiac — Scorpio, Sagittarius, etc — or the cross-hairs seen through a rifle scope.
Lt. David Sportsman of the Fayetteville PD said that investigators think the letter is “valuable evidence.” He also said that it might be an attempt to misdirect not only the investigation into the death of Megan Touma, but the publics’ perception of the investigation.
Clearly trying to forestall any public outcry about a serial killer in their midst, Sportsman said “There is absolutely no reason to believe” that other killings related to the confessional letter have actually occurred.
Specialist Touma’s death has not been officially declared a homicide. Her cause of death won’t be clear until an autopsy is completed. According to the search warrant application
filed by investigators, Touma was in “an advanced state of decomposition” when she was found. A clear cause of death may not be easily established.
According to the Observer
, 23-year-old Megan Lynn Touma arrived in Fayetteville on June 12. She had been re-assigned to Fort Bragg, having previously been stationed at the U.S. Army Dental Clinic in Bamberg, Germany as a dental specialist. Touma didn’t show up for formation with the 19th Replacement Company on June 16. She was found on the 21st, and a “Do not disturb” sign had been on the door to the room she rented since at least June 17 — the date on the letter from the Zodiac admirer.
At first the Fayetteville paper honored a police request to not publish the letter. The authorities felt that it might cause a panic. Then the Observer
received a tip that connected the letter to a “symbol at the death scene.” Observer
Executive Editor Brian Tolley said, “We wanted to be responsible stewards of the information, to weigh our obligation to inform the public with the possibility of the damage we could do […] In the end, we just wanted to do what we believe was the right thing.”
What about the letter-writer’s claims?
I believe he is telling the truth about being an admirer of the Zodiac Killer. If you visit Tom Voigt’s comprehensive ZodiacKiller.com
, you can find good copies of every letter
the Zodiac wrote to the press in his years-long campaign of terror. Though the still-unknown San Francisco-area serial killer killed 5
and injured 2 between 1968 and ’69, he was sending letters to the press as late as 1974. The Zodiac was a publicity-seeking and savvy killer. His campaign of letter-writing and sending cryptic codes to newspapers showed a bent towards domestic terrorism, a tendency fully expressed in later years by The Unabomber
and Wichita’s BTK Strangler, Dennis Rader
The Fayetteville Zodiac admirer’s letter reveals his inspiration in some subtle ways. While Zodiac did use the word “masterpiece” in one letter without splitting it in two, that kind of mistake would have been classic Zodiac. An example of that sort of mistake from the Zodiac: he wrote the word “Christmas” as “Christmass” — possibly just an error, possibly his way of revealing that he understood the origins of the word.
Zodiac may have been a bit of an Anglophile — a lover of all things British. He quoted from the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Mikado
in his letters, and his letter-writing mirrored the first publicity-seeking thrill killer, London’s Jack the Ripper
. Zodiac misspelled numerous words in every message, but his use of grammar was as precise as an over-achieving British schoolboy’s. The Fayetteville Z-fan’s letter is too short to analyze his use of grammar with any degree of accuracy (and I’m not the world’s greatest grammarian), but the overall tone is clearly reminiscent of the killer the letter-writer claims to admire. Even the date on the letter, “17 June” is a British construction. Americans typically write “June 17” or “6/17”.
The person who wrote the letter to the Observer
knew his role-model’s style
From the Zodiac’s letter to the San Francisco Chronicle
, dated October 13, 1969: “The S. F. Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motor cicles (sic) seeing who could make the most noise.”
: “Fayetteville law enforcement are very incompetent. I basically, sat there and watch while investigaters were on site.”
Zodiac to the San Francisco Examiner
on July 31, 1969: “I am the killer of the 2 teenagers last Christmass (sic) at Lake Herman & the girl last 4th of July. To prove this I shall state some facts which only I & the police know…”
Fayetteville, NC, 2008: “The following is to inform that I am responsible for the dead body that was found on Saturday, June 21 @ 1130 in room 143 at Fairfield INN by Marriott off Skibo RD.”
The letter smacks of someone who has read the Zodiac’s letters over and over and made it a point to digest both the attitude and the style of the California killer.
It is peculiar that the letter appears
to have been composed on a typewriter (I’m not so convinced that you can’t get a typewriter-like product from a word processor and a printer, but I’ll save that argument for later). The killer may be trying to evade forensic detection by doing so, but typewriters are pretty rare nowadays, and perhaps even easier to trace than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
Also strange, and potentially chilling — the letter-writer’s claim that he has”killed many times before in several states.” On true crime message boards, people are already posting links to stories of other unsolved murders that might fit this killer’s m. o.
I’m not ready to buy into that claim. Here, the Fayetteville police may be correct — claims of many other murders in other states may be a lie intended to obfuscate the investigation into Spc. Touma’s death. Nationwide attention to this mysterious death in Fayetteville, NC could distract the public from potential clues to solving this crime right there in Fayetteville. The letter-writer could by trying to imply that he’s already moved on, isn’t even in that city anymore.
Chris, a fellow crime blogger
and a poster on the message board
associated with ZodiacKiller.com
, made a succinct point
about this in a thread discussing the Fayetteville letter. Chris wrote: “There is always the possibility that this is just an attempt at a cover-up. The fact that this woman was pregnant when she was killed raises that likelihood. Also, she was killed in a hotel room, indicating that she very likely knew her killer. This could just be a distraction from the obvious suspect –the would-be father of the child Touma was carrying.”
Chris may be right. After all, when you hear hoofbeats, you don’t typically think a herd of zebras is on its way to trample you. You hear hoofbeats, you think horses. Killers like the Zodiac are zebras. Panicky, psychopathic baby-daddies are, sadly, a dime a dozen — horses — when it comes to dead, pregnant women.
This post may be updated and revised.
Extra link: WRAL’s copy of the inventory of items seized
in the search of Megan Touma’s motel room.
Fayetteville police say they have a suspect
. The NBC affiliate in Raleigh, NC reports that the Touma murder is being treated as a homicide, and police have begun analyzing evidence taken from an unnamed suspect’s residence.
Having someone under investigation may indicate that the letter was indeed a “red herring,” as suggested by fellow crime blogger Chris in a quote above.
You can read the article about the search of a suspect’s home on NBC 17’s website here
, but be warned: the site is so heavily loaded with ads, flash videos and pop-ups it might as well be some teenager’s overly-pimped MySpace profile. Click at your peril, if you have a slow connection.
As “PoorPaula” noted in the comments on this entry, someone using the name “Anibal” left an interesting comment
on a post
at Bonnie’s Blog of Crime
about the Touma murder. This is most of “Anibal’s” comment, dated June 28 and time-stamped 4:46 a.m.:
This is regarding the murder of SPC Megan Lynn Touma….her boyfreind name was Sgt Edgar Patino..He is station in Fort Brag. He is aslo marry to Heileen Patino. He was also station he in Bamberg, Germany. I spoke to her the day before she left and she told me that was his baby and she was seven months pregnant. He was a buddy of mind. We were both assigned to 54th Egineer Batallion…
Keep in mind that Patino has not been mentioned in any other reports about this crime. As far as anyone knows right now, neither he nor anyone associated with him is a suspect or person of interest in the murder of Megan Lynn Touma. [Edited to add: “nursebeeme,” a trusted long-time reader of this blog, has indicated that Patino’s full name is actually Edgar Patino Lopez. The same tipster confirmed that Patino was at one time stationed in Bamberg, Germany.]
I’ve gotten to where I think bloggers shouldn’t talk about what they see in their web statistics unless the blogger feels threatened and wants to make that public. But I did feel that it was worth it in this instance to note that this blog post has received several hits from servers owned by various Fayetteville-area publications since Edgar Patino Lopez’s name was added in update 2. That makes me believe that he may indeed be the person of interest in this case.
But at the moment that’s only a guess.
Nurse pointed out a new comment
on Bonnie’s Blog of Crime
— reporter Greg Barnes from the Fayetteville Observer
asking Anibal to speak with him about Sgt. Patino. I can think of a lot of reasons why Barnes would want to talk about Patino, but right now, it’s pretty obvious what the main reason might be.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, etc.
Directed By: David Fincher
Zodiac is brilliant. Completely absorbing from beginning to end. Is it long? I guess so. I didn’t really notice.
Consider that in light of the fact that I know
the Zodiac story. I’ve read Robert Graysmith’s books
about this most mysterious of serial killers. I’ve tried my hand at solving one of the ciphers
that’s never been cracked. Hell, I have my own kooky theory
about who Zodiac might have been. The unsolved Zodiac murders have held my fascination since I was a teen — I read Graysmith’s first book
just after it was first published in the 80s. I may not be a “Zodiacologist,” but I’m pretty close.
is engrossing, for the most part, because of the incredible work done by director David Fincher and the people he assembled to make this masterful true-crime movie.
The late 60s and 70s are captured with so much attention to detail that it felt like a form of time-travel to watch events unfold. From Zodiac’s second attempt at double-murder on July 4, 1969
(one victim survived), through the early 1990s, every detail of time and place is re-created with immense care. The soundtrack, for instance — other reviewers have already made note of the clever use of Donovan’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man,” and I have to agree. I’ve always thought the song was pretty creepy-sounding, and the way it weaves into the fabric of this movie is a touch of dramatic genius.
The acting is top-notch all the way around. Robert Downey Jr., in my opinion, should get a best supporting actor nomination from the Academy for his vibrant portrayal of the witty but deeply troubled Paul Avery, the San Francisco Chronicle
reporter who was actually threatened by the Zodiac at one point. Avery gets most of the limited moments of humor in the movie, and Downey plays them with perfect pitch — never over-the-top.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith, the cartoonist-turned-true-crime scribe and wannabe detective, and it is hard to think anyone but Gyllenhaal could have played this role properly. He is entirely believable in the way he grows from the wide-eyed former Eagle Scout into the obsessed amateur sleuth. It’s some of the best work I’ve seen this actor do. I once thought that Gyllenhaal could be like Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks if he wasn’t careful — one of those actors who are easy to like, but you end up remembering them
more than the roles they play.
Jake Gyllenhaal succeeds in erasing that impression. His Graysmith is likable and sympathetic, but never quite
the hero of the story. In doing this Gyllenhaal really seems to disappear inside the role, proving his intelligence and maturity as an actor.
I read at least one other review that implied that Mark Ruffalo was miscast as Inspector Dave Toschi, the famed San Francisco homicide detective who was the model for Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character — I disagree. Ruffalo’s portrayal humanizes the legendary Toschi, and that was necessary for this story.
Toschi’s little quirks come across in Ruffalo’s characterization — his cadging of food from his partners, his temper and sensitivity. Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards, as Toschi’s partner Bill Armstrong, convey an easy rapport between their characters, professionals, yes, but camrades, too.
The secondary roles in this movie are equally well-played. John Carroll Lynch, as Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, simply doesn’t have enough screen time. Lynch’s Leigh Allen is full of understated menace, shaded with irony. Lynch, with a spooky dead-eyed stare, makes it easy to believe that Allen was, if nothing else, creepy enough to convince a number of people that he could
be a serial killer.
Surviving Zodiac victim Bryan Hartnell is a small role in the context of this movie, but Patrick Scott Lewis makes the most of it, even in a short scene where Hartnell is brought in to identify a tape-recorded voice as the Zodiac. Lewis gets a chance with very little screen time to ably act an arc from carefree college kid on a weekend outing to limping survivor, shadowed and ghost-like.
is a must-see for true crime fans, and anyone who loves well-made, well-acted cinema. If you want to see all the blood splatter and brain matter, this ain’t the movie for you (and frankly, this isn’t the blog for you, either). There are certainly graphic moments, but Zodiac
is for the cerebral true crime fanatic — the puzzle solver, the crime historian.
is a very rare kind of movie, in my experience — a thinking
person’s crime drama. If only every movie in this genre were so finely wrought.
Go see it, and enjoy.
Notes about the source material for this movie
Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac books are controversial, and rightly so. Graysmith — and this becomes very clear in the movie — fell into a deep trap that is surely familiar to anyone who has ever done any armchair sleuthing. He became obsessed first with the crimes and finding the monster behind them, and then with his idea of who that criminal must have been.
Both books, Zodiac
and Zodiac Unmasked,
ended up being devoted to the idea that Arthur Leigh Allen was
the Zodiac. Graysmith fell prey to the amateur sleuth’s big bugaboo: forming a theory and then trying to make it fit the facts. Real detectives, with access to as much real evidence as they can collect, are able to — hopefully — let the facts, the evidence, dictate the theory of the crime.
Evidence that would have made Leigh Allen a slam-dunk in a court of law for the Zodiac murders simply doesn’t seem to exist. No one ever conclusively matched any samples of Allen’s handwriting to Zodiac’s. Even a relatively uninformed look at samples side by side
show almost no commonalities. Fingerprints associated with Zodiac did not match Allen’s prints. Ultimately, DNA didn’t match. All the evidence that points to Allen being the Zodiac Killer is either hearsay or circumstantial, at best.
Moreover, Allen was a convicted child molester. His known M.O., something no one really seemed to consider at the time, doesn’t sound like it fit with the Zodiac’s crimes, at all.
Allen’s pedophilia became known when he was working as an elementary school teacher. It was classic, for a pedophile — Arthur Leigh Allen worked his way into a job that would provide him constant access to his prey. He was, by many accounts, a well-liked teacher by his peers and students… until his groping of a few kids came to light. In high school, Allen was sociable, popular, and a star athlete. He had a time in his life when he was the golden boy. Right up until the fact that he was a pedophile became known, Arthur Leigh Allen seemed to lead a successful, charmed life, with a network of good friends and supportive family.
Arthur Leigh Allen was probably the type of pedophile who groomed his victims, ingratiated himself with them and their families. I base this assumption on two things: Allen’s first choice of job would have required him to appear to be ‘good’ with kids; Allen never served much time for molestation convictions, at least not by today’s standards. Had he been overtly violent or sadistic in his attacks on children, he surely would have eventually done much more time in lockup.
While the molestation of a child is inherently
sadistic, there are, broadly speaking, two types of pedophile. One type insinuates himself into a chosen victim’s life. This pedophile develops what he thinks of as a relationship with the child. Many of them seem appalled at the idea that they might do what they perceive as harm to a kid. If they murder, it is a twisted act of desperation.
The second type of pedophile appears to be less common. Sometimes called a mysoped
, the second type of pedophile is sadistic. They have poor social skills. They will travel great distances, stalk, and kidnap children. The mysoped typically tortures victims, and beyond murder, may even become cannibalistic if not caught early in their horrific career. The source webpage I’ve linked has a good quote about mysopeds: “There is a sense of something inherently ‘evil’ about their existence. They evoke a reaction of contempt that is beyond what society normally reserves for the criminal element.”
In many ways, Zodiac seemed to be the first killer of his kind (he wasn’t, but that’s for another blog entry). That said, there have certainly been killers in the decades since who seem to have some notable similarities.
David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer
, murdered couples parking on sidestreets, just like Zodiac. He sent taunting letters to the press, like Zodiac. When he was arrested, Berkowitz turned out to be a weird, psychopathic loner with mother issues.
BTK, Dennis Rader
, had a lot in common with Zodiac, and may have even modeled some of his behavior after the Zodiac Killer. Rader was more socially competent than Berkowitz, and on the surface he lived a perfectly presentable middle-class life. Rader, unlike Berkowitz or Zodiac (with one exception, in Zodiac’s case), was a much more hands-on killer, one whose sexual psychopathy was obvious to anyone examining the crime scenes he left behind. While Rader used guns and knives to subdue those he attacked, he preferred to strangle his victims.
However, Rader loved to play with the police, and taunt the public by using the press to get his creepy letters out. When Rader decided to “come out of retirement” as BTK in 2004, having been silent for nearly 20 years as far as letters went, he even sent a puzzle to the Wichita (KS) authorities. He shared Zodiac’s love of the limelight, and his domestic terrorist’s inclination to try and spook the populace.
David Berkowitz had no known tendency towards pedophilia, and while Dennis Rader did have some inclination towards children, his primary victims were adult women in his general age-group.
Pedophile serial killers usually kill children, based on the research I’ve done. They often seem to be mysopeds. The best example from recent years is Joseph Edward Duncan III
, who sounds like the definition of a sadistic pedophile. When Joseph Edward Duncan did kill two adults in May of 2005, it was to get them out of the way and eliminate witnesses. As brutal and bloody as the deaths of Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie were, they were also, in a sense, utilitarian, for Duncan’s purposes.
It’s simple. Had Arthur Leigh Allen been a killer, many of his victims would surely have been kids. No murder definitively linked to the Zodiac Killer involved a child. One person who survived an apparent encounter with Zodiac had a baby with her, and she said Zodiac threatened to throw the baby out the window of the car in which they were riding, but that was it. Zodiac threatened to kill children — but then he jeered at the police when it became apparent they believed his threat.
Zodiac was more interested in killing women. Two male victims surviving his attacks may have even goaded Zodiac into killing cabbie Paul Stine
. Stine was the last victim to be definitively linked to Zodiac. Stine’s murder seemed at the time like a bizarre deviation from Zodiac’s pattern.
But when the killer phoned in the knife attacks on Cecilia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell
at Lake Berryessa, he specifically referred to a “double murder.” By the time Stine was murdered on October 11, 1969, it was all over the press, how another male had survived a Zodiac attack. Zodiac wanted to prove he could kill anyone
he chose, at the time he chose.
Because the movie Zodiac
is based on Graysmith’s books, Arthur Leigh Allen is the suspect who receives the most focus. Only one other likely candidate, Rick Marshall
, is discussed at any length. Marshall is among the many one-time suspects who, like Allen, have been cleared by police.
My point is this — Zodiac
is a fantastic movie based on real events, but it is not a documentary. Robert Graysmith’s books contain a lot of good information about the murders and likely suspects other than Marshall or Allen, but Graysmith’s books also contain truckloads of bias, more than you can find today in 50 crime blogs. There are many suppositions and theories presented as fact, not to mention all the hearsay from people who may have had major axes to grind with guys like Arthur Leigh Allen. By the time I finished the second book, Zodiac Unmasked,
I had the distinct feeling I was reading the work of a man trying too hard to prove a point he could not actually prove.
I have much more sympathy for Robert Graysmith than many who talk about these crimes online, because I understand something about the sort of obsession under which he labored for so long. I do believe that when the man began to try and find out everything he could about The Zodiac, he did it for perfectly understandable reasons, reasons familiar to many people reading this blog or writing their own crime blog. I am certain that Robert Graysmith went to lengths to gather all the info he needed to write both books that might awe the average crime blogger.
When he was “done,” though, he had to have a conclusion. A very good true crime writer once advised me that you shouldn’t try a book about an unsolved crime unless you think you can solve it. He knew what he was saying, because in the business of book-selling, that’s the kind of true crime tome that gets attention, and makes money. Robert Graysmith’s second marriage ended because of his pursuit of the Zodiac (according to the movie, anyway), and Graysmith put in untold amounts of time pursuing the case. It seems like a conclusion of some sort would be mandatory in that case, and Graysmith’s conclusion was that Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac.
Real evidence and what we know now about criminal psychology just don’t agree. I’d love for Allen to have been the guy — he was already a creep of the worst sort.
I think Zodiac got away. He either died shortly after the last known letter from him or got put away for another crime entirely. It could be that he basically retired, as Dennis Rader did for many years. The kind of person I think he might have been I will save for another blog entry. Perhaps Zodiac found another route to satisfy his jones for power and control, a route that wouldn’t put him on a collision course with the police.
Is he still out there? Anything is possible. Seems like this movie would bring some word from him if he was, though.
Tom Voigt has compiled one of the best resources on or offline for anyone wanting to study the Zodiac murders, the suspects, the theories as to who he was, what he was like. I’ve already linked several pages in this entry, but here’s the main URL, which is old news many regular readers of this blog:
To start working on your own ideas or just get an idea of what really happened, start with ZodiacKiller.com
. The new movie and Robert Graysmith’s books are worthwhile reference points, but Tom Voigt’s site is where you should begin if you want to get a much more balanced view of this infamous series of unsolved murders.
Whatever you do, be warned: you will get hooked. And once you see Jake Gyllenhaal as Graysmith near the end of Zodiac,
you will understand the fevered, slightly mad gleam in his eye.