In his book The Annals of Unsolved Crime, famed JFK assassination researcher Edward J. Epstein wrote that the lack of any matching evidence at the Zodiac crime scenes or in the letters proved that one person could not have been responsible for all four of the Zodiac crimes and the Zodiac letters. According to Epstein, Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen could have been responsible for the first two attacks but a copycat or copycats were responsible for the stabbing at Lake Berryessa and the murder of a cab driver in San Francisco. Epstein further stated that one or more persons had committed the Zodiac crimes while a different person wrote the Zodiac letters. According to Epstein, the letter writer was a journalist or a police officer who had to have access to police files and information about the crimes.
Epstein’s theory worked backward from the pre-conceived notion that Arthur Leigh Allen must have been the Zodiac and then discarded and dismissed evidence which conflicted with his assumptions. Epstein’s certainty of Allen’s guilt appeared to be based on an eyewitness identification of the suspect.
On the night of July 4, 1969, Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin were sitting in a car at Blue Rock Springs Park when a man appeared and flashed a bright light into their vehicle. Shots rang out and Michael and Darlene were both wounded. Mageau told police that he did not get a good look at the shooter and only caught a brief, profile-view glimpse as the man was walking away. Vallejo detective Ed Rust interviewed Mageau at the hospital three days after the shooting, and he did not believe that Mageau could identify the killer.
More than two decades later, retired Vallejo police detective George Bawart met with surviving victim Michael Mageau at the Ontario airport on August 16, 1991. Bawart displayed a collection of photographs featuring several men, including Zodiac suspect Arthur Leigh Allen. Mageau pointed to Allen’s picture and said, “That’s him. That’s the man who shot me.” When asked if he was sure, Mageau pointed to a photograph of another man and said, “He had a face like him.” Mageau essentially told Bawart that Allen committed the crime while wearing another person’s face. Police did not believe that Mageau’s identification was reliable or accurate. In 1969, Mageau provided a description of the killer which did not match Allen or his appearance at that time. In a 2007 interview, Mageau said that he hoped the killer would someday be identified, although he had already identified Allen as the killer and Allen had died in 1992.
The evidence did not indicate that Allen was responsible for the Zodiac crimes or the Zodiac letters. Handwriting experts concluded that Allen did not write the letters, a fingerprint believed to be the Zodiac’s did not match Allen, Allen did not match descriptions provided by eyewitnesses, Allen’s DNA did not match DNA found on the envelopes used by the Zodiac, and a palm print found on a Zodiac letter did not match Allen. A police officer who reportedly saw the Zodiac near a crime scene stated that the man was not Allen.
Epstein’s theory that the third and fourth Zodiac attacks were the work of copycats was not supported by evidence and relied on many implausible scenarios. The theory that the Zodiac letters were forged by a journalist or someone working in law enforcement ignored important facts about the crimes.
Several handwriting experts had concluded that one person was responsible for the original Zodiac letters. In the third Zodiac attack, the killer left a handwritten message on the victim’s car and a handwriting expert concluded that writer of the Zodiac letters was responsible for the car message. The boot prints of the killer led from the crime scene to the message on the car door. After the fourth Zodiac attack, the killer mailed a letter accompanied by a piece of the victim’s bloodstained shirt. Handwriting experts concluded that the letter was written by the author of the Zodiac letters. The handwriting was directly linked to the killer, and Epstein did not present any credible evidence implicating any journalist or investigator in the forgery of Zodiac letters.
The facts indicated that the most logical and plausible explanation was that one man was responsible for the crimes and the letters. Other scenarios required many coincidences, conspiracies, and copycat killers.
In the first issue of True Crime Magazine, Michael Butterfield, a recognized Zodiac Killer expert, who served as a consultant for news articles, television documentaries, and director David Fincher’s major motion picture Zodiac, debunks 10 most popular myths surrounding the mysterious case.
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