It may turn out to be a box office dud, but the fictional drama thriller Awakening the Zodiac premiers this week. It's a story about a young couple, played by actors Shane West and Leslie Bibb, who stumble upon old film footage that shows the Zodiac Killer in the act of murdering some of his victims. Playing detectives, they decide to hunt down a solid connection between the footage and the infamous crime but end up getting hunted instead . . .considering the fascination over this unsolved murder mystery has never died down, we'll see how Awakening plays out in theaters.
The Zodiac Killer terrorized the northern California region in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Five murders were directly linked to him, although he claimed to have killed up to 37 people. Along with his famous mocking letters to the local press, the Zodiac Killer included four cryptograms, of which authorities have only been able to solve one. “I like killing people because it is so much fun,” the decoded message stated. “It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.” The Zodiac's correspondence suddenly stopped for a period of three years, only to pick up again on January 29, 1974. Writing the San Francisco Chronicle, he commented on the movie The Exorcist, calling it "the best saterical comidy [sic] that I have ever seen." He ended the letter with something of a scorecard: "Me = 37, SFPD = 0."
Although many suspects have come and gone throughout the decades, no definitive evidence has emerged to identify the Zodiac Killer. Still, new leads and conspiracy theories abound. Here are just some of the latest happenings in recent years.
- Although cited as inactive in 2004, the San Francisco Police Department's case on the Zodiac Killer was reopened sometime prior to March 2007. The cases in Napa Valley and Riverside are also open.
- In February 2011 America's Most Wanted featured a recently discovered photo of one of the Zodiac Killer's victims, Darlene Ferrin, standing next to a man, who has a striking resemblance to the composite sketch of the Zodiac Killer. (The photo is considered to have been taken in 1966 or 1967, right before the murders began.)
- In February 2014 a report came out that a man named Louie Myers admitted to being the Zodiac Killer. Dying of cirrhosis of the liver, Myers confessed he was the infamous serial murderer to his friend Randy Kenney in 2001 and told him to tell the police after he died. After Myers' death in 2002, Kenney followed on up his request but had a hard time convincing authorities to investigate the claims. However, it ends up Myers and the Zodiac Killer case had some substantial connections: Myers went to the same high schools as victims David Farraday and Betty Lou Jense, he and victim Darlene Ferrin worked at the same restaurant, and he was on military leave overseas during the three years that the Zodiac Killer's correspondence had suddenly stopped. His claims are currently being investigated.
- In May 2014 a man named Gary Stewart published a book, The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father. . .and Finding the Zodiac Killer, claiming his late biological father, Earl Van Best, Jr. — who gave Stewart up for adoption as a newborn — was in fact, the Zodiac Killer. Besides Van Best Jr. looking a great deal like the Zodiac Killer composite sketch, Stewart has no confirmed evidence to back his claims. However, among his arguments he asserts that his father and the Zodiac's handwriting are nearly identical, the Zodiac's victims look like his mother, and that Van Best's name appears in one of the Zodiac's cryptograms. Like many others before Stewart who have claimed "their guy" was without a doubt the Zodiac Killer, his claims have been picked apart by skeptics. However, what makes Stewart exceptional is the amount of publicity he's gotten over his assertions.
- Filmmaker Jeff Broadsheet has announced he's in the midst of making a documentary (due out this fall) about director Tim Hanson who made his own film, The Zodiac Killer, in 1971, in the hopes of luring the real Zodiac Killer to the theaters to capture him. Broadsheet's doc is aptly titled Zodiac Man: The True Story of the Man Who Made a Movie to Catch a Killer.