5 Other Times We Learned the Zodiac Killer's 'True' Identity

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The now-infamous police sketch of the Zodiac Killer.

Yesterday morning, an investigative group calling themselves the Case Breakers announced that they'd found the true identity of the Zodiac Killer. The group, comprised of of 40 former police officers, journalists, and military intelligence personnel, assert that the notorious Bay Area serial killer was, in fact, a man named Gary Francis Poste. Poste apparently shared certain identifying marks with the Zodiac—forehead scars and a shoe size—and one witness that spoke to the team said that he saw Poste burying weapons in the woods.

The Case Breakers also report that one former neighbor of Poste's is now convinced that he was the serial killer, and recalls him being controlling and abusive to his wife. "He lived a double life," the neighbor said. "As I'm an adult thinking back, it all kind of makes sense now. At the time when I was a teenager, I didn't put two and two together until I got older. It hit me full-blown that Gary's the Zodiac."

Much of the investigative team's claims hinge on DNA found at the site of Cheri Jo Bates' 1966 murder, in Riverside. The Case Breakers say that the DNA matches Poste's, but police maintain that Bates wasn't a victim of the Zodiac. Only five murders are considered confirmed Zodiac slayings—those of David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen, Cecelia Ann Shepard, Paul Lee Stine, and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin.

Announcements like yesterday's are not new. Due to ongoing public fascination with the true identity of the Zodiac, home sleuths, family members of suspects, and investigative groups have been coming forward with pointed fingers for years. The Zodiac Killer Wiki page alone lists 21 potential suspects (not including Ted Cruz).

Here, then, are five men who were accused of being the Zodiac Killer before Gary Francis Poste, and who in many ways make even more convincing Zodiac Killers than he does.

Jack Tarrance

A side-by-side of the famous Zodiac Killer police sketch and Jack Tarrance.

In 2007, a man named Dennis Kaufman accused his stepfather, Jack Tarrance, of being the Zodiac Killer. He handed over several of his stepdad's belongings to the FBI, including writing samples, a bloody knife, a black hood with the Zodiac's symbol on it, and camera rolls. Sacramento's CBS 13 featured a news report at the time that described the images from one of the rolls as "gruesome."

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Kaufman asserted that Tarrance had also killed his wife, Kaufman's mother. He also shared a phone conversation he'd recorded, in which he said to Tarrance, "If I wrote a book and said 'I think my stepdad is the Zodiac Killer,' they wouldn't fucking believe me anyway." In response, Tarrance laughed and replied, "Why would you put that 'I think' on there?"

Tarrance, who died in 2006, had served in the Air Force and Navy and was trained in the kinds of cryptograms and codes used by the Zodiac in his letters to the press. One forensic expert, Nanette Barto, believed Tarrance and the Zodiac's handwriting to be a match.

In 2019, the FBI compared Tarrance's DNA with that of the Zodiac Killer, but results were inconclusive.

Guy Ward Hendrickson

In 2015, Hendrickson's daughter Deborah Perez claimed that she had assisted her stepfather in writing the Zodiac's infamous letters, including cypher letters to the San Francisco Chronicle. She also said she sewed one of the masks the killer wore. Perez's assertions were backed by a lawyer named Kevin McLean, who'd investigated her claims about her dad. Hendrickson, McLean concluded, "was a Jekyll and Hyde. He was nuts. He set out to kill people. Some of these killings were not random."

Perez's sister Janice Hendrickson strongly refuted the allegations, telling the Chronicle, "My father was real bullheaded, and he did have a temper, and he did hit me... slapped the crap out of me. But did he kill people? I don't believe he did."

Arthur Leigh Allen

Most famously implicated in David Fincher's 2007 movie Zodiac, and in Robert Graysmith's 1986 book of the same name, Allen is perhaps the best known of all Zodiac Killer suspects. Allen was a problem child who, relatives say, killed animals for fun, and who grew up to be a convicted child molester. He was dishonorably discharged from the Navy in 1958. Not only was Allen positively identified by Mike Mageau, who survived an attack by the Zodiac, he had a voice and appearance that another survivor, Bryan Hartnell, said were similar to the killer. Allen also shared the same glove and shoe size as the murderer.

Allen was in the vicinity of several of the murders when they took place, and the only day off from work he took in 1966 was the day after Cheri Jo Bates had been killed. Allen also owned a typewriter of the same brand that the Zodiac used, and a car he regularly drove was similar to one spotted at the scene of the Darlene Ferrin murder. An associate of Allen's, Ralph Spinelli, claimed Allen had admitted being the Zodiac. Another friend, Donald Cheney, told police that Allen had spoken of a desire to kill people.

Allen was interviewed by police, but ultimately cleared as a suspect through a combination of DNA samples and other forensic evidence. His fingerprints, palm prints, and handwriting did not match the Zodiac's. Despite this, some of the police officers working the case remained convinced Allen was their man. Allen died in 1992 of a heart attack at home in Vallejo.

Earl Van Best Jr.

In 2014, a man named Gary Stewart released a book—co-written by Susan D. Mustafa—titled The Most Dangerous Animal of All. It asserted that his biological father, Earl Van Best Jr., was the Zodiac Killer. Stewart, who was raised by adoptive parents, reached his conclusion after being contacted by his birth mother and researching his birth father. In addition to having similar handwriting and facial scars, Van Best bore a resemblance to the police sketch of the Zodiac. Stewart also resolutely believes he's successfully cracked the Zodiac's cypher, and that Earl Van Best's name is hidden within it. Stewart further claims that a DNA test comparing the Zodiac to Van Best was unable to exclude Van Best as a suspect.

In 2020, FX adapted the book into a four-part documentary series of the same name. In it, Stewart's mother details getting involved with Van Best when she was 14 and he was 27. She says Van Best was abusive. Stewart initially makes some convincing arguments about his father, but by the end of the series, there are holes quite thoroughly poked in all of them.

Joseph "Giuseppe" Bevilacqua

Bevilacqua is alleged to have confessed to a journalist to being both the Zodiac Killer and the Monster of Florence, who murdered 14 people in Italy between 1974 and 1985, targeting couples in particular. However, Bevilacqua quickly recanted those statements. Bevilacqua was born in New Jersey, spent 20 years in the Army, and is said to have worked as a CID agent in San Francisco in the late 1960s. He moved to Florence in 1974—the same year that the Zodiac sent his final letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, and the same year the first Monster of Florence killing occurred in Italy.

Bevilacqua's handwriting is said to bear a resemblance to that of the Zodiac's, and one translation of the Zodiac's cypher found the word "Bevilacqua" within it. Some true crime sleuths have also taken the Zodiac's reference to water in his final letter to the Chronicle—the "billowy wave"—as a nod to the "acqua" in Bevilacqua's last name.

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The Florence Public Prosecutor's Office acquired Bevilacqua's DNA in late 2020—meaning that there may be yet another "Zodiac Killer" named soon.