SFPD dismisses claims on Zodiac killer's ID

San Francisco Examiner

Oct. 1, 2003
By Alison Soltau

The identity of the notorious Zodiac killer remains as elusive as ever after the San Francisco Police Department dismissed evidence provided by a New York tabloid implicating a California prisoner.

The New York Post two months ago presented the San Francisco District Attorney's office with a dossier on William Mentzer, 54, a convicted murderer serving a stretch at a state prison in Lancaster.

The Zodiac has been a morbid fascination in the public's imagination since he killed five people and wounded two others around the Bay Area in the late 1960s.

The killer, who shot strangers in their cars and threatened to blow up children on a school bus, led police on a fruitless chase with a series of cryptic letters sent to San Francisco newspapers and phone calls to the department detailing his crimes.

Despite initial startling parallels between events in Mentzer's life and the serial killer's cold-blooded spree, homicide investigators said Monday that they had discarded physical evidence presented to them.

"It's a non starter," San Francisco Police Homicide Inspector Kelly Carroll said.

"There does not seem to be, on the face of it, any compelling evidence; the physical evidence has been discounted to this point in terms of making a connection," he added.

"It appears not to support any reasonable suspicion of probable cause that the suspect is our Zodiac."

Carroll declined to elaborate on the nature of the physical evidence but said that the circumstantial evidence provided by The Post was no more compelling than the hundreds of dud leads offered to police throughout the past 35 years.

The Post claimed to have unearthed around 24 similarities between Mentzer and the presumed background of the Zodiac. These included both sharing a military background and Mentzer living in California at the time of the killings.

In September 1969, the Zodiac stabbed two victims with a bayonet-like knife contained in a sheaf fastened with rivets, and the Post pointed out that Mentzer was making rivets at an aerospace company around the time of the attacks.

The Zodiac claimed responsibility for a 1966 Riverside killing and The Post points out that the killing took place before Mentzer left for Vietnam. The Zodiac did not commit any further murders until Mentzer returned to California two years later.

In taunting letters to police at the time of the killings, the Zodiac threatened to blow up a school bus. Mentzer had a job driving the bus and experience working with demolition and plastic explosives, The Post said.

According to the newspaper, a survivor of a Zodiac attack described his speech pattern as a "slow monotone with a slight drawl." The newspaper claims Mentzer has a similar speech pattern.

Mentzer himself has remained an enigma, initially strenuously denying the charge, and pointing the newspaper to another potential suspect, then making corrections to a document drawing links between himself and California's famed killer.

But Carroll said that over the years police had received thousands of tip-offs of potential suspects with backgrounds in the military and training with explosives.

"Many of them were very unsavory characters capable of committing heinous crimes, but there's a big difference between a very bad guy and the actual bad guy that did those terrible crimes," he said.

Carroll added that many tips about possible suspects have included "interesting circumstances in their background, like a background in the military, familiarity with code breaking ... but they don't come close to reaching the level of probable cause."