Still a suspect

Vallejo Times-Herald

Oct. 16, 2002
By Matthias Gafni, Times-Herald staff writer

Advanced DNA testing by a San Francisco Police Department crime lab has cast doubts on an investigation that pinned a deceased Vallejo man as the Zodiac killer three decades ago. But investigators said Tuesday, Arthur Leigh Allen has not been eliminated as a suspect in the bizarre serial killings. Allen, who died in 1992 at age 58, was named the suspect by Vallejo Police in at least five killings that struck fear throughout the Bay Area in 1968 and 1969. Three slayings took place in Vallejo by the Zodiac, who sent cryptograms and mysterious letters to various newspapers, including the Times-Herald, announcing his crimes.

DNA collected from a stamp on an authentic Zodiac letter is not from Allen, SFPD homicide investigator Michael Maloney said Tuesday. "It's 100 percent certain that his DNA was not on the letter that was tested," Maloney said. But Maloney added he's not convinced that Allen is free from involvement in the Zodiac killings. "I think, if you look at the entire case, Allen, although not linked to the letter, should be looked at . . . I'm not saying he's the Zodiac," Maloney said. "It's premature to drop Allen out. Finding DNA that's not his could mean other people . . . it does mean other people are involved in the case," he said.

As for the Vallejo Police Department, Allen remains its prime, and only, suspect. "All it indicates is that the DNA on the stamp and envelope are not his. It doesn't eliminate him as a suspect. It doesn't say he's not responsible for it," Lt. Dave Jackson said Tuesday. Capt. Tony Pearsall said he disagreed with Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle article, which states the DNA evidence cleared Allen. "It's quick to draw such a conclusion on one minuscule piece of evidence," Pearsall said. "They're assuming a lot from just the fact that the DNA is not Allen's."

The Chronicle article was fueled by an interview with Inspector Kelly Carroll, who, Maloney said, does not share all of his views about Allen. Maloney said his partner doesn't think Allen could have written the letters. Carroll did not return phone calls Tuesday.

The DNA evidence is not complete, but the partial genetic blueprint rules out Allen, Maloney said. Investigators hope to have a complete genetic fingerprint of the letter writer by getting more DNA from other messages, or to at least get a racial make-up. "There's not enough to submit it to the database. But we can get more information from the other samples," Maloney said.

Maloney and Carroll took on the cold case in 2000. They discovered other evidence that cannot be attributed to Allen. A writer's palm print on a Zodiac letter is not Allen's, Maloney said. A bloody fingerprint found in the taxi of the Zodiac's final known murder victim, San Francisco cabbie Paul Stine, did not match Allen's print, Maloney said. DNA and print analysis was performed during a 1992 autopsy of Allen, a teacher and Vallejo trailer park resident. "We've got to be careful to make assumptions on this evidence," Maloney said. "Who knows who the print was from?"

Who else may be involved could be answered if the entire DNA fingerprint is eventually pieced together. Maybe the stamp was moistened by a sponge? No, Maloney said. He explained that the first sample taken from the stamp is tested for a human enzyme present in saliva. Scientists found the enzyme, which meant there was human DNA on the stamp, Maloney said. "What I'd like to do is take more DNA from other letters and see if more than one person licked the letters," Maloney said. DNA testing was done at the SFPD Crime Lab by Dr. Cynde Holt.

There's not much time to work on old cases, Maloney said. "The Zodiac case is 32 years old. We have fresh homicide cases that need to be done because they are going to court," he said. Maloney said the department announced Tuesday that it's soliciting funds for increased DNA testing. Six years ago, the Zodiac evidence was DNA tested but turned up nothing. Genetic testing has progressed since then. The latest DNA technology allows scientists to take a small amount of DNA evidence, copy it and produce a large amount of DNA providing a clearer genetic make-up, Maloney said.

SFPD recently received three new letters, held by other law enforcement agencies, which could provide more DNA, Maloney said. The new evidence has been forwarded to the crime lab.

The pair of investigators began looking at the case in 2000 after it gathered dust for years. "It was held by a lieutenant in fraud because he was interested in the case and he asked to be the custodian," Maloney said. "Kelly and I decided with the new DNA technology, we solved an old case already . . . so why not give a crack at the Zodiac case."

The pair of inspectors solved the grisly 1979 Maria Talaveras murder case, where police found her legs, lung and uterus discarded on a box in the street. Using modern DNA equipment, the investigators easily were able to name Luis Rivas as the prime suspect, but Maloney said, if alive, Rivas would be 93 and probably in South America.

The big question in the Zodiac case now, with the new DNA evidence, is could the killer have purposely used another person's DNA on the letters? "The theory is no one is able to foresee DNA testing (in the late 1960s) - it was in the realm of science fiction at the time - but he would know that fingerprints could be faked," Maloney said. "The Zodiac is certainly capable of being misleading."

Without an Allen DNA match, why should he still be looked at? "There's information that I can't go into. We've found affidavits from search warrants that have listed reasons why Allen was a suspect," Maloney said. "Allen could be involved in it or just the fall guy people wanted to point . . . he could be a red herring," he said. Maloney also has tracked down an Irish code-breaker, who believes he can find Allen's name in the cryptograms. "It's good looking enough to warrant future looking into," said Maloney, adding he has limited code-breaking knowledge, which makes it difficult to understand any deciphering.

The Zodiac's confirmed killings began Dec. 20, 1968, when he killed David Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, on Lake Herman Road. On July 4, 1969, the Zodiac killed Darlene Ferrin, 22, in the Blue Rock Springs area of Vallejo. The Zodiac then killed Cecelia Shepard, 22, at Lake Berryessa on Sept. 27, 1969. Finally, cabbie Paul Stine was killed Oct. 11, 1969 in Presidio Heights, San Francisco.

Pearsall worked as a Vallejo patrol officer during the Zodiac murders. "People were extremely afraid of being the next victim. I was on patrol and one of the Zodiac's last threats was he was going to shoot a child coming off a school bus. We had to follow school buses to school for weeks, if not months," he recalled. "We got constant updates on sketches of what he looked like. We had the sketches in our cars and we'd check remote areas."

The Zodiac sent a letter taunting police about their murder investigation. The letter began, "This is the Zodiac speaking. I am the murder (sic) of the taxi driver over by Washington Street and Maple Street last night and to prove this here is a blood stained piece of his shirt." The letter, postmarked Oct. 13, 1969, continued: "The S.F. police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motorcycles seeing who could make the most noise."

One of the Zodiac's cryptograms was thought to read: "I like killing people because it is so much fun." It continues: "When I die I will be reborn in paradice (sic) and all the (sic) I have killed will become my slaves..."

Media have alluded to the Zodiac killings while reporting on the recent sniper shootings in Virginia after a tarot card was found at a shooting scene with "Mr. Policeman" and "I am God" scrawled on it. The randomness of both criminals is also similar, Maloney said, which leads to the public interest and fear. "I think (the Zodiac is) a mystery. It's comparable to Jack the Ripper. I'm not the kind of person interested in Jack the Ripper, but a lot of people are," Maloney said. "It's like the sniper back east. They don't know who did it. They don't know much. He's like the Boogey Man. The Zodiac is a good Boogey Man. He attacks people for no reason. "It's a threat from the unknown," he said.

Maloney hopes renewed publicity will help garner more clues. "The next step is to try and push for more testing and to work on the code. To publicize and ask people to send information if they think they have anything," Maloney said. He said he receives each day he receives hundreds of e-mails, with many people announcing new suspects. "All over the world, people are contacting us every day. It seems to come in waves when a story runs," Maloney said. "Most of the contacts are convinced their father, mother or uncle is the Zodiac. People devote their lives to it and it's very difficult to work with them."

With a shadow of doubt cast toward Allen as a suspect, could the Zodiac killer still be alive? "It's possible. I think he'd be in his mid-60s, perhaps younger or older," Maloney said. "It's possible he's still alive."