There are few mysteries as intriguing as the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who had multiple killings in Northern California in the 1960s and 1970s. The killer taunted police with cryptograms that have puzzled code-crackers for years, but now the most abiding mystery – the killer’s identity – may be revealed in a new book. Gary L. Stewart, a Louisiana man, has released his book The Most Dangerous Animal of All with HarperCollins today in which he claims that his biological father is the famed and mysterious serial killer. The book has received little advance marketing, but with this kind of subject it will probably need very little. Any new book that claims to reveal the Zodiac Killer will no doubt sell just fine due to its titillating subject matter.
Stewart is the vice-president of a Baton Rouge cleaning company, a reputable businessman. He was adopted as a baby and was contacted by his birth mother in 2002. At this point, he began searching for his biological father, a poignant familial quest that he says ultimately led him to the identity of the murderer known only as Zodiac. It took the now 51-year-old Louisiana resident 10 years to come to this conclusion and only 15 months for his book to be published. He co-wrote the text with the crime write Susan Mustafa, who also co-wrote the book Dismembered, another chilling story of a real-life serial killer.
Mustafa and Stewart are hardly the first people to claim they know the identity of one of America’s most famous serial killers. Five years ago, Deborah Perez claimed that her father was the killer and that she herself had written some of the letters taunting police officers conducting the investigation. She offered up a pair of glasses to investigators, claiming that they belonged to one of the victims. Her claim was not substantiated and her half-sister later came out against her, denying her story completely, and threatening to sue for defamation of character. Perez herself was not considered a credible source, especially since she once claimed to be the daughter of John F. Kennedy.
Besides Perez, there have been many other people who claim to know who the Zodiac killer is and some of them have also had book deals like this latest one. Steve Hodel has written a few books on the subject and has claimed that it is actually his father who committed the murders. Unlike the dubious witness of Perez, Hodel is a former Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective and he has offered up handwriting samples from his deceased father to compare to those of the Zodiac. Nevertheless, his claims have not been taken seriously either and the LA Times called his book a joke, probably because Hodel claims that his father was the Zodiac killer, the Black Dahlia murderer, the Lipstick Killer, as well as the Jigsaw Murderer, who was actively killing in the Philippines. While Steve Hodel looks like more of a credible person, his claims have not enjoyed the same reputation.
There have been so many people claiming to know who the Zodiac killer is or claiming to be the killer that The Onion, a parody news website, wrote a humorous story in which Dick Van Dyke, one of America’s most beloved entertainers, claims to be Zodiac and to still be active. The fake news story has Van Dyke claiming that “it was all me” and that he “never got credit” for the murders. Claims regarding the Zodiac killer are so numerous that The Onion considered them parody-worthy.
However, there are still some people out there with a serious interest in the case. A San Francisco police spokesman told CNN that the case was still open and active. Authorities have been baffled by the case for many years, but they seem to have not given up hope on someday figuring out who the Zodiac killer is or was. They are not the only ones. Tom Voigt is the owner and operator of Zodiackiller.com, a website where people can leave tips, try to figure out the cyphers, or exchange theories on who they think committed the murders. His explanation for why the Zodiac killer story pops up in the media every few years is that the internet has led to a decline in professional journalism. Anyone can get anything published on the internet these days, including Voigt apparently.
Back in 2007, Hollywood produced a movie about the Zodiac killer starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. Zodiac was just one take on the case designed to sell tickets and make the film industry more money. Today, HarperCollins is putting out The Most Dangerous Animal of All in its own version of conspiracy theorizing. Stewart and Mustafa have a popular story to work with and if the writing is any good, the book could be an exciting, enjoyable ride through a gruesome, haunting mystery. Whether or not it should be taken as a serious explanation is a completely different story. The Zodiac killer probably is not revealed in this new book, but that does not mean it will not be a fun read anyway.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury