“I need to know who he is. I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye, and I need to know that it’s him.”

In the 1960s, a man calling himself The Zodiac Killer terrorized San Francisco and neighboring cities by slaying couples, sending anonymous letters, and confounding anyone who tried to identify him. Cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) took on the mystery with fervor, and some believe that he may have cracked the case.

The Problem
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with murder mysteries. Zodiac does not fall into the traditional Whodunit category, but it does play on the idea of modern armchair detective work. Rarely (or never) does one find themselves in a room with a dead body and six suspects, but often do true crime aficionados like myself (also called Weirdos) try to leaf through engaging suspects and hypothesize the likelihood that someone committed established crimes. We have theories about Jack the Ripper, The Black Dahlia, The Zodiac, D.B. Cooper, and we have almost no friends.

While armchair detectives can be helpful (see the late Michelle McNamara, whose book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark paved the way to capturing The Golden State Killer), some leads are founded more by enthusiasm than evidence. Zodiac demonstrates that solving the puzzle is just one of the facets of the problem; determining which pieces even go to this particular puzzle is another problem entirely.

Robert Graysmith, according to the film, pursued the killer with such obsession that he could be accused of workaholism. More of a cultural diagnosis than a full-blown mental health disorder, workaholism is characterized by a compulsion to work out something, even at the expense of social or occupational functioning. Americans take pride in their workaholism, but all work and no play leads to heart disease, depression, chronic pain, social estrangements, and it makes Jack a dull boy. Try to balance it out, Readers. Eat some turkey. Take a nap.

The Solution
The Zodiac case has not officially been solved, but like many others, I do believe that Robert Graysmith got it right. Part of the massive task of solving the case, though, lends itself to which pieces you believe are really part of the puzzle. Let’s throw down in the comments, Readers. It’s about to get opinionated.

Not The Zodiac: 

  • I do not believe that the abduction of Kathleen Johns (played by Ione Skye, also featured in one of my all-time favorite movies Say Anything) was actually the work of The Zodiac. Instead, like Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) suggests, I think he just took credit for it because The Zodiac was King of the Weirdos.
  • I do not believe in “handwriting analysis.” Just think about this for a second: You raise a kid, then they spend a fortune going to college to learn how to analyze handwriting. Are you fucking kidding me? My handwriting changes based on how much caffeine I’ve had; my thyroid fog makes me add E’s to the end of the word “with” when I am tired (so yes, sometimes I write “withe” and then I know it’s time for one of those naps I alluded to earlier); and cursive is a game-changer entirely. Based on the movie, a lot of this case leaned heavily on “evidence” that is now being called into question, along with hair samples and other forensic investigative techniques that we once considered reliable. Do we really want to rule out a guy who may have been able to write with both hands because his handwriting didn’t quite match the Zodiac letters?


  • I do not believe in coincidences.

This is The Zodiac Speaking:

  • I believe that all the letters were written by the killer.
  • I believe that Arthur Leigh Allen (portrayed by John Carroll Lynch) was The Zodiac killer. The myriad of “coincidences” surrounding him as a suspect, up to and including his untimely death right before he was further questioned by police, are clear indicators that this was the guy. He wore a Zodiac brand watch; he had formulas for bombs in his house; he had an old friend that attested that Leigh called himself “The Zodiac” before the killer did; he wore military-style boots; and oh yeah, HE WAS A FUCKING WEIRDO.

Unfortunately, we may never have hard, non-handwriting based evidence to link Arthur Leigh Allen to known Zodiac crimes, so we may never know the answer for certain. In this sense, The Zodiac Killer and his victims may always fall into the realm of a murder mystery. It all depends on what you believe.


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