Half a century after those unsolved crimes that terrorized millions of Americans 50 years ago were committed, a documentary investigates the theory of Gary L. Stewart, a Louisiana neighbor who claimed that the famous psychopath was his biological father.
In May 2007, on the occasion of the premiere of ” Zodiac “, the film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. about the considered greatest serial killer in history, director David Fincher recalled his childhood in San Francisco on ABC . «I have the scene etched in my memory, going to school on the bus with police cars in front and behind. I didn’t really understand what was going on and I still didn’t know it until many years later. It was the first time that a single man managed to terrorize an entire nation.
What has kept the legend of the “zodiac killer” alive after more than three decades? Certainly the fact that he was never caught. This is how legends are made, when you can’t put a face on them. It is as if you are fighting against absolute evil. In addition, it is not known for sure how many people he murdered or what crimes were his work, since he claimed some, but it could never be shown that there were no imitators or that they were all the work of the same hand, “explained Fincher to this newspaper .
Now, half a century after the crimes that haunted millions of Americans were committed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new FX documentary series investigates the memoirs of Gary L. Stewart , the owner of a maintenance business. of Louisiana buildings claiming that the famous murderer was his biological father in 1984, without anyone ever questioning him.
The seven victims
But the most important thing is that the hypothesis that Stewart defended is considered today as one of the most credible of all how many have spread since then. And they are not few. Every so often a new one appears that tries to answer the big question: who was the zodiac killer? One of the most unpopular is that of Thomas Henry Horan, a former St. Louis professor who published “The Myth of the Zodiac Killer” two years ago. (The myth of the murderer of the zodiac), in which he tries to dismantle the existence of said criminal.
In the late 1960s, ABC reported extensively on his crimes , focusing on the different lines of investigation and the state of psychosis he caused in San Francisco. “A letter has alerted the City Police about the intentions of the Zodiac Killer, who threatens to kill children in the Bay Area. A detail that confirms the filmmaker’s memories. And on the inside pages, the news was included that “A two-year-old girl becomes the new victim of the psychopath”. “She has been stabbed in the neck twelve times […]. When it became known that the body had been found in a vineyard, the terror of the population reached its peak, “he later stressed.
Although in a letter allegedly his, the psychopath confessed to having killed 37 people, the truth is that only seven attacks could be confirmed. David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen , shot to death on Lake Herman Road (Benicia), on December 20, 1968. Michael Mageau and Darlene Ferrin , shot on a golf course in Blue Rock Springs (Vallejo), on December 4, July 1969. Only Ferrin died, Mageau survived. Bryan Hartnell and Cecilia Shepard , stabbed in Lake Berryessa (Napa) on September 27, 1969, although Hartnell also managed to save his life. And Paul Lee Stine , shot to death on October 11, 1969.
What can they do to me?
As this newspaper reported on October 24 of that year, American television broadcast a conversation held by the Zodiac – that is how we simply named him in Spain – with Melvin Belli, the lawyer of Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s murderer, who in turn he had been charged with Kennedy’s death. There were a total of 13 calls. In the longest, the alleged murderer asked, ‘What can they do to me? I don’t want to be sent to the gas chamber. I have headaches and impulses to kill again. And shortly after, in a letter addressed to the newspaper “Chronicle” and also collected by ABC on November 13, he acknowledged: “Until the end of October I have killed seven people.” Although he did not mention the name of the victims or the place where he had killed them, the authorities did not doubt that the letter was his, since “his writing is identical to the ones he previously sent.”
Stewart’s theory about the identity of the zodiac killer is not the first to spread, but the truth is that none has had as much echo as his. In part, due to his father’s resemblance to the robotic portrait released by San Francisco authorities after the October 1969 murder of a taxi driver by the Golden Gate. According to investigators, this was the last he committed. And even so, he continued to send coded messages with references to opera and astrology, threatening to sow the schools with corpses and confessing that, in other cities of the country, he had committed many more homicides than attributed to him.
The news began to develop hypotheses about the identity of the mysterious murderer, implicating criminals who were in jail or who had died, but the Police never confirmed a single of these theories. Stewart, for his part, began to dig into the details of the case when his biological mother, Jude Chandler , wanted to meet him in the spring of 2002. At that time he was 40 years old and worked as an electrical engineer in an oil company in Louisiana, where he he had raised with his adoptive parents. Until, in June, he decided to fly to San Francisco, together with his son Zach, because “I wanted to meet my father, love him and even forgive him.
When he had his mother in front of him, he asked who his biological father was and his mother explained that his name was Earl Van Best. That he was 28 when he first saw her getting off a school bus in San Francisco. She was 13 years old. That shortly after he courted her in an ice cream parlor and, a year later, they began an illegal romance that led them to run away, since she was a minor. That that relationship made the headlines of newspapers across the country and that they ended up getting married in Reno. When she turned 15, she became pregnant and they made their way to New Orleans, where Stewart was born. But since neither of them wanted to assume that responsibility, the father caught a train to Baton Rouge and abandoned the three-month-old baby in a church. Soon after, the marriage was annulled by the authorities, Van Best was tried in San Francisco for corruption of minors and sent to jail.
Within two years of his trip to San Francisco, Steward began to piece together the dots little by little and to suspect that his father could be the killer of the zodiac. However, he didn’t have enough evidence to confirm it, so he kept looking for new ones. One of them focused on the scar that he had on his fingerprints, which matched the killer’s. Also that the robot portrait of this matched the photograph of his father, that the signature of both was almost identical and that the name of his father appeared in one of the cryptograms that the murderer sent to the San Francisco Police at the end of the 60.
I felt that my responsibility was to share these truths that I had learned in a way that left no doubt about the identity of the murderer. The Police promised to examine his book and the conclusions are still awaiting.