Arthur Leigh Allen
The Zodiac Suspect
Arthur Leigh Allen
"I know the real name of Zodiac"
The identity of the Zodiac Killer is one of the most frustrating mysteries in the history of serial murder. A brutal and senseless series of attacks perpetrated by a clearly deranged killer, who played a cat and mouse game with the police through numerous letters that detailed his homicidal ramblings and threats to claim yet more victims. After a reign of terror across the Bay area, that claimed upwards of five confirmed dead, two wounded and possibly many more unaccounted for, the killer abruptly vanished. The San Francisco Police Department interviewed many suspects during the investigation, but none were considered as promising as Arthur Leigh Allen.
Interviewed during the early days of the investigation, he became the subject of several search warrants over a twenty-year period, none of which provided any evidence of his guilt. Despite the mostly circumstantial evidence against him, Allen has remained strongly associated with the Zodiac case and many veteran police detectives considered him to be the mosy likely suspect. Was Arthur Leigh Allen merely an innocent man thrust into the limelight by the suspicions of others, or a sophisticated criminal mastermind who attempted to match wits with police in an attempt to gain notoriety and infamy as the most cunning serial killer in American history.
The primary suspect in the Zodiac case was first revealed to the public in Robert Graysmith’s book on the unsolved serial murders committed by the Zodiac killer. Graysmith first published his book “Zodiac” in 1986, and those who found an interest in the case could now learn about one man Graysmith referred to as “Robert Hall Starr,” who was the SFPD’s chief suspect. However, those who were more familiar with the case would come to realise that the pseudonym “Starr” was based on Arthur Leigh Allen, a man who would go on to confound investigators and armchair sleuth’s to the present day.
Robert Hall Starr: Chief Suspect
Allen first came to the attention of detectives of the Vallejo Police Department in early October 1969, but exactly how he came to be a point of interest remains unclear. Hundreds, possibly thousands of names had been put forward to the authorities, the grounds for which had been on the smallest pretext, but resulted in placing those people under police suspicion. There was at the time a rumour that Allen had received a speeding ticket near Lake Berryessa on the night of Shepard’s murder, but this was later determined to be false.
He was simply one of many Vallejo residents for whom the finger of suspicion was directed, leading the police to conduct an interview to determine if Allen was the Zodiac. Detective John Lynch of the Vallejo Police Department was one of the officers assigned to investigate the attack at Blue Rock Springs, during which 22-year-old Darlene Ferrin was shot and killed, and was actively pursuing suspects in relation to this incident. For some inexplicable reason, Lynch attended Elmer Cave Elementary School on October 6, 1969, where he spoke with a suspect who was later identified as Arthur Leigh Allen.
Lynch questioned Allen on his whereabouts during the attack at Lake Berryessa, which occurred a week prior to the interview. In his report, Lynch states that Allen claimed he was skin diving on Salt Point Ranch on September 26, 1969, where he stayed overnight and then returned to Vallejo the following day, staying at home for the remainder of the day. Lynch described Allen as 35-years-old, 6’1″, 241 pounds, bald and of heavy build. His personal details were noted as born, 12/18/33, single and residing at 32 Fresno Street with his parents.
The brief report makes no mention of further questioning concerning Allen’s whereabouts on the dates of other known Zodiac murders. It would be only five days after this interview, that the Zodiac shot and killed cab-driver Paul Stine, in what would be the last known murder committed by the Zodiac. The events which then led to a deeper investigation of Allen began on July 15, 1971, when Santo Panzarella, a southern California businessman entered the Manhattan Beach Police Department to provide information he had about the Zodiac case.
Panzarella said that Allen once made incriminating remarks to Donald Cheney, who was Panzarella’s business partner, that alluded to the fact he was the killer. On this statement, the Manhattan PD sent two detectives to interview Panzarella and Cheney at their business premises where they were told a fascinating story. Cheney explained he had formed a friendship with Allen for several years before he moved to southern California, and recalled a conversation they had during December 1968 in Allen’s Fresno Street basement.
The topic they discussed was that of recreational hunting, however it soon took a sinister turn when Allen brought up his interest in Richard Connell’s classic short story “The Most Dangerous Game“, in which a crazed Count hunts shipwrecked travellers who become stranded on his private Island, and which had become a popular fictional story. Allen mentioned he had become fascinated with the story, citing it as one of his favourites, adding that he identified with the Count and his proclivity for hunting humans for sport.
Allen then went into more detail about his hypothetical plan for committing a series of murders of couples in lover’s lanes. Cheney explained that he went on to describe how he would perpetrate these murders, quoting Allen as saying he would, “use a revolver or pistol with a flashlight attached to some for illumination and an aiming device, (and) would walk up and shoot people… Allen also talked about shooting the tires of a school bus and picking off the ‘little darlings’ as they came bouncing off the bus”, and went on to say that he would send harassing notes to the police.
If this was not enough, Allen also allegedly stated that he would call himself “Zodiac.” Detectives noted the response in their report, Cheney replied, “Zodiac … why’s that, why not something else?”, Arthur Allen at this time became very emotional and stated, “I like the name ‘Zodiac’ and that’s the name I’m going to use”. Cheney’s account of this conversation, which apparently took place in December 1968, would make a strong case against Allen for being the Zodiac.
This was primarily because the information wouldn’t have been revealed until almost a full year, when the details of the first Zodiac attack at Lake Herman Road were described in the Zodiac’s first communication in August 1969. Similarly, the Zodiac’s threat to target a school bus was not made public until later in the year, October 1969. The most perplexing part of these revelations concerns Cheney’s timing in sharing these comments with the police almost two years later.
Cheney moved away to southern California in January 1969, and it is possible he did not hear about the circumstances of the second Zodiac attack at Vallejo, however the murder of Paul Stine in downtown San Francisco on October 11, 1969, received national press attention, and it is impossible that residents of southern California were not aware of the mysterious serial killer calling himself “the Zodiac” who targeted couples and lone victims, then wrote threatening letters to the newspapers detailing his crimes.
Both Cheney and Panzarella confirmed they read news articles in the Los Angeles Times about the Zodiac murders, but it was another series of murders which led to Cheney revealing all he knew on Allen. In 1971, Cheney read about a completely obscure and unrelated series of unsolved murders which occurred in Grass Valley, CA, a small town about 150 miles north of Vallejo and San Francisco. It was these recent killings which prompted Cheney’s suspicions about Allen to the forefront of his memory.
If this was the case, it seems odd that the reports on the Zodiac murders which detailed a killer identical to Allen’s description did not register with Cheney, but the series of unrelated murders managed to jog his memory. Almost as perplexing as Cheney’s apparent ignorance of the Zodiac’s subsequent crimes was the evidently careless disregard Allen had for keeping the planning of his crimes a secret, given how careful and precise the Zodiac had been in the execution of his murders.
A revealing detail in the MBPD report concerned a past incident in which Allen was found to have touched Cheney’s young daughter inappropriately during a camping trip years prior, for which Cheney had complained to Allen’s brother. It was believed this presented enough of a motive for Cheney to make allegations, however truthful, against Arthur Leigh Allen. This allegation would present some truth given that Allen had previously lost his job as an elementary school teacher in March 1968 due to similar allegations of sexual misconduct with students.
Arthur Leigh Allen
By most accounts Allen was generally well liked by those who knew him, however he was considered somewhat eccentric. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 18, 1933, he would have a somewhat strained relationship with his mother that would persist throughout his life. He grew up in Vallejo, California, and graduated from Vallejo High in 1950, and later attended Vallejo College where he majored in liberal arts, receiving his associate of arts degree in 1957. From 1951 to 1953, he worked a series of nautical themed jobs, first as a lifeguard and then as a sail maker at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo.
During that time, at the age of nineteen, he applied to the Vallejo Police Department, but was rejected for an unspecified reason. After enrolling for further education at Cal Poly State College, Allen enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1957, something that would cast further suspicion on him being the Zodiac, who it was suspected had a strong affinity with the military. Allen was arrested in June 1958 for disturbing the peace, however the charges were later dropped, and at the age of twenty-five he received an other than honourable discharge from the U.S. Navy.
Between 1959 and 1962, Allen attempted to gain his teaching credentials, and was hired by the Santa Rosa Elementary School in Atescadero, California. During that time he found an interest in the study of abnormal psychology and studied mental hygiene at Atascadero State Hospital, where he would later receive treatment for his paedophilic disorder. While working at Travis Elementary, at Travis Air Force Base, Allen was caught with a loaded weapon in his car on school grounds, and fired from his position.
Sometime in 1964-65, he suffered a motorcycle accident and was incapacitated with a severely lacerated leg wound. Finding employment at Valley Spring Elementary in Valley Springs, Allen continued with his teaching profession throughout 1966-1968. During the Zodiac investigation it was found that Allen had never been married or had a girlfriend, and possessed a strong hatred of women, as well as a less than healthy fixation on young children. While working at Valley Springs he was accused of molesting a child, which ended his teaching career in 1968.
It was the December of 1968 when Don Cheney claimed that Allen had revealed his plans to become the Zodiac, and also during this Christmas holiday that he received a Zodiac watch from his mother as a gift. By April 1969, Allen was living back home with his parents, and secured a part-time job at a gas station in Vallejo, he he worked for an approximately six month period. He was later fired, and his former employer would describe him in August 1971, as “undependable with a drinking problem”, and was also said to be “too interested in small girls”.
On July 4, 1969, the Zodiac attacked 22-year-old Darlene Ferrin and her friend 19-year-old Michael Mageau, while the two sat in Mageau’s car in Blue Rock Springs. A lone occupant drove up to the couple, got out of his vehicle and fired several shots at the young friends, seriously wounding Mageau and killing Ferrin. The subsequent police investigation worked on the assumption that Darlene Ferrin possibly knew her killer, and shortly after her murder, a relative informed investigators that Darlene had a relationship of some sort with a man named “Lee”.
At the time Allen had begun working part-time as a janitor at Elmer Cave Elementary School in Vallejo until 1970. During his time there, the Zodiac sent letters threatening to blow-up a school bus full of children. On October 6, 1969, Allen was questioned by Detective John Lynch of the Vallejo Police Department. Allen owned several handguns, one of which he allegedly always kept in his car and he apparently enjoyed the level of notoriety that came with his 1969 interview with Detective Lynch, and bragged openly that he was a Zodiac suspect.
From 1970 until 1974, Allen attended Sonoma State College, where he majored in biological sciences, with a minor in chemistry. Although he completed all the academic requirements in 1974, he did not receive his bachelor of science degree until after July 1981. During his time at the college, several girls and young women went missing and were later found dead, their bodies discovered in areas around Allen’s Santa Rosa trailer. Soon after the interview with Cheney and Panzarella, Detectives Langstaff and Amos of the Manhatten Beach Police conducted a background check to gather basic information on Allen.
It was then that they came across his 1958 arrest for disturbing the peace and the subsequent dismissal of those charges. Langstaff then made contact with Inspector McKenna of the SFPD Homicide Division and informed him of the details surrounding Cheney’s story. McKenna then suggested that Cheney should correspond with Allen so they could obtain a sample of his handwriting for comparison, and asked that Langstaff forward a report compiled by Chief Crumply to Inspector Dave Toschi, who was in charge of the Zodiac case. Toschi’s partner, SFPD Inspector William Armstrong went to speak with Cheney on July 26, 1971.
Their discussions lasted eleven days and Cheney displayed an amazing ability for accessing his past memories which presented an even more damning indictment of Allen’s guilt. Firstly, he now “remembered” that the conversation with Allen had taken place a full year earlier, making the date of the alleged confession as December 1967 instead of 1968. He then declared that Allen had enquired how a person could disguise their own handwriting, the subject of which Cheney claimed he even offered his advice.
In subsequent interviews he also recalled how the conversation with Allen had not been initiated by mention of “the Most Dangerous Game”, but rather with Allen declaring how his application to become a police officer was rejected, so instead he decided to pursue a criminal career, eluding detection by committing crimes with no motive. This story would change again, with Cheney telling investigators that Allen shrouded his murderous statements as part of plans to write a crime novel.
The Zodiac had not been definitively linked to the kidnapping of Kathleen Johns, and the victim had ruled Allen out as the man responsible for disabling her car and proceeding to take her on the terrifying ordeal she endured with her baby through rural San Joaquin County. Cheney weaved this incident into his story too, adding that Allen described how he had the idea to disable a woman’s car by removing the lug nuts from her wheels. Lastly, he declared to Armstrong it was not the news article about the Grass Valley murders which instigated his contacting police with his concerns, but a newspaper article about the Zodiac’s threat to kill school children.
This, he said, is why he remembered, because these words were similar to Allen’s own comments about picking off “little darlings”. Cheney’s account cannot be considered reliable because of his constant changing of the timeline and contortion of the facts to fit his own theory of Allen as the Zodiac killer. It is possible that over time, Cheney’s recollection of the conversations he had with Allen had become distorted, and ultimately melded with news accounts he had read, which then formed an all too convenient scapegoat in Arthur Leigh Allen.
Despite any reservations he might have had about Cheney’s selective memory, Detective Armstrong contacted Vallejo Police Chief Garlington, requesting assistance in the investigation, and eventually an agreement was made whereupon detectives from both jurisdictions would combine their efforts in conducting a new interview of Allen. Meanwhile Detective Jack Mulanax was tasked with gathering more background information on the suspect. He also came across Allen’s arrest for disturbing the peace and that the charges were dismissed, as well as several incident reports involving the suspect.
But in these, Allen was either the victim of a crime or a witness to a crime. Although Mulanax was able to obtain numerous samples of Allen’s handwriting from a source who wished to remain anonymous, he was unable to locate the report written by Sgt. Lynch almost two years previously. Detective Mulanax made contact with Allen’s former employer, who owned a service station in Vallejo. The owner described Allen as an honest and efficient worker, but who showed too much of an interest in small children, including one of the owner’s three daughters.
Mulanax learned from the man that Allen had recently taken his young daughter aboard his boat without her fathers knowledge or permission. Mulanax wrote in his report, “While on boat, Allen is alleged to have made improper advances towards the girl.” The owner did not report Allen’s behaviour to police and had not seen him since the incident, which he said occurred approximately six weeks earlier. On July 27, 1971, Mulanax met with Inspectors Toschi and Armstrong in Vallejo and there Armstrong shared his thoughts on Cheney, telling the others he believed the man’s story.
The group decided to gather more information on Allen before confronting him. Mulanax was tasked with contacting the other investigators when the time came to interview Allen. Seven days after their meeting, Mulanax reported the results of his discreet background investigation on Allen. He had conducted interviews with the suspects neighbours, all of whom said Allen had an excellent reputation with those who knew him, and most had known him since he was a small boy. He also learned that contrary to previous reports, Allen was very devoted to his mother and she to him.
The 1971 Interview
The following morning, Mulanax made a phone call to Allen’s employer at Union Oil in Pinole, California, where he worked as a junior chemist, and arranged an interview at the refinery. Mulanax also notified Toschi and Armstrong and on August 4, 1971, the three drove to the refinery and requested that supervisors call Allen to the personnel office. As was previously agreed, Armstrong was to lead the questioning. The detectives met with Allen and identified themselves, and Armstrong informed him that they had received information from an unnamed informant about certain statements he had allegedly made in January 1968.
Armstrong then described the alleged statements but did not divulge the source of the information, and Allen responded he did not recall having such conversations. During the interview Allen would prove he was extremely knowledgeable about the Zodiac case, and had humorously decided to run circles around the detectives interrogating him. He displayed a distinct understanding of the pop culture references used by the Zodiac, and although he had clearly been reading the media reports about the killer, he knew nothing about the actual crimes.
He denied the conversation with Cheney which incriminated him in the first place, but did acknowledge reading “The Most Dangerous Games“, explaining how it had made an impression on him. Concerning his whereabouts on the day of the Lake Berryessa attack, Allen offered an alibi in the form of a serviceman from Treasure Island. This has been seen by some as an indirect nod to the 1939 film “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island”, in which the Chinese detective faces off against an adversary known as “Doctor Zodiac”, a reference which was lost on the detectives.
When he returned home that afternoon, Allen claims to have spoken to his neighbour, Mr. White, which was possibly another reference to Ranger William White, who had appeared on television the day after the lakeside murder to discuss the crime scene. Then without any prompting from the detectives, Allen made mention of “the two knives I had in my car with blood on them”, which he added “came from a chicken I killed”.
There is speculation about his choice of the word chicken, because local media stated erroneously that Brian Hartnell’s words just before he was brutally stabbed by the Zodiac were that he asked the masked stranger to stab him first because he was chicken and couldn’t care to see his friend in pain.
But with the declassification of Napa police reports, it has become clear these were not Hartnell’s words, but were embellished by an overzealous reporter. At one point during the interview the detectives commented on Allen’s wristwatch, which was an expensive Sea Wolf model, made by the Swiss manufacturer Zodiac, whose logo is a crossed-circle, the exact same as that used by the Zodiac.
Allen replied that he received it as a gift in the summer of 1969. Allen’s brother would later be asked about the watch and he claimed their mother gave it to Arthur as a Christmas gift in 1967. When asked about his whereabouts in October 1966, Allen replied, “You mean about the Riverside killing?”. Although this might seem like an admission, it should be noted that the Riverside Murder of Cheri Jo Bates had been discussed as a possible Zodiac crime for almost a year, and had made front page news throughout California when the story first broke. Had his interview taken place before November 1970, and he had made that statement, then it might have been considered as evidence.
At the end of the interview Allen declared to detectives, in an almost parting shot that, “he wished the time would come when police were no longer referred to as ‘pigs'”. The Zodiac had used the word ‘pigs’ in reference to police, most notably in his seven-page letter in November 1969 which had been published by the San Francisco Chronicle on November 12, 13 and 26, being displayed on the front page twice. Allen was seemingly able to use the media reports of the crimes and letters to his advantage when teasing the interviewers, and while he might share this trait with the Zodiac, who enjoyed taunting the police, it could be argued that Allen felt comfortable in his defiance due to the fact he would never be tied to the crimes because he was not the Zodiac.
The main sticking point which suggests Allen might have prior knowledge of the Zodiac name before the crimes, was the Sea Wolf brand of wristwatch in his possession. Allen presented detectives with this clue himself, explaining that he received it before the killer assumed his name, however, none of his remarks to investigators reveal any prior knowledge of the crimes themselves outside of printed newspaper articles, similar to many hundreds of thousands of people who were in possession of the facts surrounding the case in 1971. Indeed it was the suspicions of Allen’s onetime friend Don Cheney which prompted the investigation into his activities.
It could be argued that with his interest in guns, law enforcement and the workings of the criminal mind, Allen might simply have showed an interest in the brutal local murder and raised the topic one evening with Cheney. He may also have noticed the apparent lack of motive in the crime and offered his thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Game” to explain it as a case of man hunting man. At this stage in the investigation, they had few promising leads and both Vallejo and San Francisco detectives saw Allen as the most favourable of their Zodiac suspects.
The First Search Warrant
On September 14, 1972, a search warrant was issued for Allen’s Santa Rosa property, and officers began combing through his trailer, cars and possessions looking for clothing, firearms, ammunition, anything that might prove as evidence against him or link him to the crimes or letters. In particular they were searching for two 9-millimetre guns, plus any ammunition for them, and any expended 9-millimetre casings, as well as a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, plus any ammunition for it and any expended casings. They were especially interested in any pistol with a flashlight attached to it’s barrel.
Other items of interest the detectives were searching for included the identification and keys taken from slain Taxi cab driver Paul Stine, as well as the missing portion of his bloodstained shirt. Until recently the Zodiac had been sending bloody swathes of the shirt inside his letters, however the communications from the killer had abruptly ceased some eighteen months ago. Detectives were also looking for the distinctive square-topped, black executioners hood with a white circle and a cross emblazoned on it that the Zodiac had worn during the Lake Berryessa attack.
Size 10 and a half Wing Walker boots were added to the search warrant, along with a blue bloodstained windbreaker jacket and a large foot-long knife, one inch wide with a wooden handle with two brass rivets and tape around the handle. When officers arrived at 2963 Santa Rosa Avenue, they were told by Mrs. Reese, the trailer court manager that Allen had driven off moments before they arrived. He had been in such a hurry, the trailer door had been left standing open. Toschi suspected Allen had somehow been tipped off about their arrival, and believed it possible he had taken incriminating evidence with him.
Toschi and the others entered the trailer, and immediately noticed a map of Lake Berryessa taped to the wall. When Toschi moved Allen’s bed away from the wall, he discovered “the largest jar of Vaseline he had ever seen”, along with several large, uncleaned dildos that rolled out at his feet. They also found Sadomasochistic pornography in a box as well as male blow up dolls, along with bloodstained clothing that littered a table. This was explained away by the fact that Allen was a hunter, and when Toschi entered the small unkempt kitchen he pried open the freezer.
Inside was small animal hearts, livers and the mutilated bodies of several rodents. Although he was still working towards his degree in biology, Allen had yet to request permission from the state to dissect and experiment on small animals. During this preliminary search, nothing was found. Forty-five minutes after speeding away, Allen returned and the detectives were outside to greet him. Toschi noted how dirty his car was, and they could see through the dirty back window that he had papers, books and clothes stacked on the backseat.
Toschi said, “Leigh, how are you – we’re San Francisco Police Inspectors”. They recalled how he appeared frightened by their presence, because he had never had police show up at his place of residence before. Unsure of what brought the police to his door with a warrant, Allen said “What’s this all about?”. “We want to talk to you Leigh,” Armstrong said, “We have a search warrant for your trailer and for your person. We have information that you are a very good suspect in the Zodiac murders.” Allen replied he thought the Zodiac had been arrested, and said he had already spoken with Vallejo P.D.
They then conducted a more extensive search, dragging furniture aside. Toschi once again pulled out the bed, as if for the first time and out rolled the dildos for a second time. Leigh said matter-of-factly, “I just sort of fool around.” He didn’t seem to be embarrassed by this, or by the sadistic pornography the detectives found. The detectives soon became aware, in the close quarters of the trailer, how physically imposing their suspect was. Toschi said “Allen was an awesome and frightening man, a beast.”
The inspector recalled, “He was so upset and angry at our being on his turf at Santa Rosa. Over the next hour we tore his place up pretty good. I remember for some reason he took an immediate dislike to me personally.” During the questioning Toschi did most of the talking and played the role of good cop. He noticed Allen was wearing a ring with a “Z” on it, along with his Zodiac watch he had for Christmas 1968. Officers took major case prints, which were impressions of his entire left hand, fingertip to palm, as were samples of his left and right-handed writing. They knew Allen was ambidextrous, but he showed some difficulty writing left-handed.
They had him write down several sentences, such as a phrase from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, which the Zodiac quoted in one of his letters, “All people who are shaking hands shake hands like that.” He also wrote down several Zodiac quotes, such as “I am no longer in control of myself”, and “This is the Zodiac Speaking”. Allen became concerned about what he was being asked to write down, asking, “What are you making me say? That I’m the Zodiac?” Toschi assured him that if the prints did not match, they would rule him out as a suspect.
Allen was described by Toschi as “Not a dumb man. A very wily man. I’ll never forget being in his presence. He mentioned Berryessa. He shook our hands. We left our cards.” The samples were sent to handwriting analysts for further examination, but returned an almost unanimous verdict that Allen’s handwriting was “definitely not that of the Zodiac Killer“. He was also asked to undertake a polygraph test, which he passed. Despite all the circumstantial evidence, Allen was ruled out and the investigators focused on other suspects.
The Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders
On December 14, 1972, the frozen remains of a young girl was found in a ravine approximately fifty feet off Calistoga Road, northeast of Rincon Valley in Santa Rosa. The body had been thrown at least thirty feet over an embankment, and the cause of death was a broken neck with compression and haemorrhage of the spinal cord. The victim had not been raped and likely died one to two weeks prior to discovery. She was identified as 13-year-old Lori Lee Kursa, a student of Lawrence Cook Middle School, who had been reported missing by her mother on November 11, 1972.
She had disappeared while they shopped at a U-Save and was last seen on November 20 or 21 in Santa Rosa while visiting friends, having deliberately run away. A possible witness to her abduction later came forward stating that on an evening somewhere between December 3 and 9, while on Parkhurst Drive, he saw two men push a girl fitting Kursa’s description into the back of a van driven by a Caucasian man with an Afro-type hairstyle. The vehicle then sped north on Calistoga Road.
Just over a week later, the bodies of two young girls were found on December 22, 1972, roughly 2.2 miles north of Porter Creek Road on Franz Valley Road, down a steep embankment that was approximately sixty-six feet off the east side of the roadway. Due to advanced decomposition, the cause of death could not be determined from the skeletal remains. All that was found at the scene was a single earring, orange beads and a 14-carat gold necklace with cross. The victims were identified as 12-year-old Maureen Louise Sterling and Yvonne Lisa Weber, two friends and Herbert Slater Middle School students.
The girls disappeared around 9:00 pm on February 4, 1972, after visiting the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and were last seen hitchhiking on Guerneville Road, northwest of Santa Rosa. The body of a 19-year-old woman had previously been found in March 1972, whilst the following month a 20-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student went missing, her body never found. The remains of two more young women were found in May and June 1973, along with a third found in July. On February 6, 1973, 14-year-old Carolyn Nadine Davis ran away from her home outside Anderson in Shasta County.
She disappeared on 15 July, after being dropped off by her grandmother at the Garberville Post Office, and was last seen hitchhiking that afternoon near the Highway 101 ramp, southbound, in Garberville. Her body was discovered on July 31, just three feet from where the remains of Sterling and Weber had been recovered seven months prior. The cause of death was deemed to be strychnine poisoning that occurred roughly 10–14 days before the discovery of her body, although it could not be determined if she had been raped.
Investigators surmised that her body had been thrown from the road as the hillside brush appeared undisturbed. Over the next year, another five young women would either go missing, or be found horribly murdered. These crimes are collectively known as the Sonoma Co-ed Murders, or more popularly as the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders, and have so far remained unsolved. There is much debate about how many victims were the work of a single killer, with six of whom aged nineteen years and older, while another six were aged fifteen and younger.
There is the possibility that there were two separate killers involved in these crimes, one of whom was a sexual sadist, who targeted mostly adult females, binding his victims with clothesline or venetian blind that is then used to strangle them. This first killer would have been suspected in the deaths of Kim Wendy Allen, Jeannette Kamahele, Rosa Vasquez, Nancy Gidley, Laura O’Dell, Theresa Walsh and the body of an unidentified Jane Doe. There was then a possible second killer who targets primarily female children, who does not rape his victims, and kills them in a variety of ways.
Although Arthur Leigh Allen was never considered a suspect in what became known as the Sonoma Co-ed Murders, there is circumstantial evidence that points to his possible involvement. During Allen’s time in Sonoma County, the Zodiac murders apparently ceased, just prior to the beginning of the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders. He was known to have an obsession with young girls, for which he had lost his position with several previous jobs, and some of the victims bodies had been thrown from the nearby embankment to where they were later found.
Allen’s hulking physical presence would allow him to accomplish this with little effort. Jim Silver, a retired special agent with the California Department of Justice has said that if you mapped where the Co-ed victims were last seen and where they were later found, Allen’s trailer would be located directly at the centre. Despite this, there is little evidence to connect Allen with these murders. But all Arthur Leigh Allen would be arrested for other crimes. On September 27, 1974, he was taken into custody at his Sonoma trailer when officers arrived under Deputy Haas, of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.
They had been notified of an incident that had occurred on September 23, when a complaint was lodged against Allen. Previously between July 11 and July 25, Allen had enticed two boys to his trailer bedroom. Afterwards he had paid them both by pressing two quarters into their hands. He was charged with “child molestation and exciting the lust of a minor under fourteen years old.” Allen told the deputy, “I know you don’t like it, but I’m just a nasty man.”
During his time in jail Allen thought about pleading guilty, and the next day he was released on $5,000 bail for each count of felony child molesting. When he went back to Vallejo, he told friends he had been arrested because he “was the Zodiac.” A Santa Rosa sergeant elaborated “In 1974, Leigh Allen molested a nine-year-old boy from the Fremont Elementary School in his trailer.” He continued, “Another eight-year-old was there too. Leigh had lured them inside to see some chipmunks and committed lewd acts involving oral copulation upon the two children.”
“The file says he worked part-time at Yaeger and Kirk’s Lumber Yard. And we have his traffic ticket here. He has a ‘D file’. On the file is a notation that I’ve never seen before: ‘RS-6’ [A CI&I high priority code] and this notation is marked yes.” The daughter of a woman Allen had know for many years related more about the incident. “As I understand his incarceration at Atascadero, it was for molesting the son of a female friend of his. The boy was maybe anywhere from eight to thirteen years old. The version he told my mother was the woman was just jealous of his relationship with her son. I believe he was dating the woman. He said that was why she had turned him in – jealousy.”
This would prove to be untrue, for the relationship was purely platonic, as was all of Allen’s relationships with women. On January 23, 1975, Allen was arrested. Officers were allowed into the house by his mother, and they found Allen in the basement shrieking, live chipmunks crawling all over him. “Squirrel shit was dripping from his shoulders,” one policeman said. He was sentenced to Atascaedro State Hospital for the Criminally Insane on March 13, 1975. Two years later, he was transferred to the Sonoma County jail, and by August 1977, he was released. During his time there, no Zodiac crimes were committed.
During the 1980’s, Allen began to suffer from a range of health issues, including him wrestling with weight, high blood pressure, flagging vision and alcohol problems, as well as diabetes and kidney deterioration. He still remained the favourite suspect of many law enforcement detectives. Others however, had they own theories on the Zodiac’s identity. On January 10, 1989, Allen’s mother Bernice died at the age of eighty-three.
Ralph Spinelli’s Confession
On December 14, 1990, career criminal Ralph Spinelli said he wanted to speak to investigators, claiming he had something important to tell them. He had previously been arrest in Oregon in 1972, and charged with a series of robberies for which he served two years of a ten year sentence. He had recently been arrest as a suspect in at least nine armed robberies of restaurants, and was facing a thirty year stretch. At the Santa Clara County jail he made contact with Jim Overstreet of the San Jose PD and began to talk, claiming, “I know the real name of Zodiac”.
Overstreet contacted Detective Bawart, and after speaking with Spinelli he said, “He wont’ divulge what information he has regarding Zodiac unless some kind of deal is made regarding the present charges against him.” Bawart was cautious not least because he had heard such claims from prison inmates before. Spinelli was known to the police, who suspected he had ties to organized crime, and Bawart and Vallejo Captain Roy Conway went to speak with him. Refusing to name the Zodiac unless his demands were met and all charges against him were dropped, Conway and Bawart told him they would not agree to such a deal.
They asked him how they he knew the Zodiac’s identity. “He threatened me several days before the killing of Paul Stine, the San Francisco cabdriver. He wanted to show me how tough he was. He told me he was going to San Francisco and kill a cabbie for me,” Spinelli said. “The next day or so a cabdriver was killed in San Francisco and the Zodiac took credit for it.” Eventually Spinelli agreed to provide Zodiac’s name to his lawyer Craig Kennedy, who said that no further information would be forthcoming unless a deal was made. The investigators again refused all demands made by Spinelli.
By January 31, 1991, Spinelli’s lawyer agreed to provide the name of the Zodiac to police. He said “It’s Leigh Allen, Arthur Leigh Allen.” Bawart immediately contacted Armstrong who confirmed that Allen had been a suspect in the Zodiac murders during the 1970’s, and that his name had never been revealed to the press. The only people who knew his name were those involved with the investigation, or those Allen had bragged to, such as medical personnel at Atascadero or his co-workers at an auto parts shop in Sonoma. When detectives did some research, they discovered that Allen and Spinelli were acquaintances a long time ago.
Allen had apparently approached Spinelli and said he wanted to be an enforcer for him. At that time, Spinelli owned a topless bar and Allen admitted he was the Zodiac Killer, and said to him, “To show you, I’m going to go to San Francisco and kill a guy.” This was shortly before the Stine killing, and he supposedly came back and said “I’m responsible for the Stine killing.” Because of his criminal past investigators were unsure if they could trust his admission about Allen, and there was every possibility he had invented the story to gain his freedom.
They also wondered how he knew to divulge Allen’s name in the first place, especially if it had never been leaked to the press, meaning he would have had to have known Allen on a personal level. A police report confirmed Spinelli and Allen had had fights in the past, and during one such altercation, shortly after the Stine murder, Allen had shown up at his house, kicked his door in, and beat him up a second time. Police suspected his motivation was to secure a lighter sentence. Eventually, Ralph Spinelli would refuse to co-operate with police and was reportedly incarcerate some 290 miles north of San Francisco on the Oregon border.
The Second Search Warrant
In February 1991, Detective George Bawart and Conway secured a warrant to search Allen’s Fresno residence that might show Allen had committed a crime, but it was possible they were too late to secure any physical evidence. They would be searching for weapons, specifically any .22 calibre semiautomatic pistols or any .22 calibre ammo, live and expended. They were hoping this weapon could be linked to the deaths of the Lake Herman Road victims. Detectives also wanted to find the Wing-Walker type boots worn by the Zodiac, as well as any portions existing of Paul Stine’s grey and white stripped sports shirt.
They were counting on the fact that some serial killers kept souvenirs and trophies from their victims, so they might relive the moment. Similarly they were searching for an firearm that could show evidence of having a flashlight attached to it, as well as any 9mm pistol or 9mm ammo, live or expended that could be linked to the Paul Stine murder. As with the first search, they hoped to find the distinctive executioners hood worn by the killer at Lake Berryessa, along with any knives a foot long with a one-inch blade with rivets on the handle.
On February 14, 1991, detectives arrived at Allen’s Freso home to execute the warrant. Inside they could see he had a Sharp television, a Sharp video recorder, as well as another video recorder and many, many tapes. They noted he had a lot of pet equipment. In the kitchen there were also many cookbooks, in which he misspelled many words. Investigators would learn that he printed out these cookbooks for friends, and often purposefully misspelled words, just to a laugh out of people.
But the detectives were most interested in what he kept within the basement, where he had more or less exiled himself after his mothers death. They described it as “almost museum-like,” and they hoped to find some Zodiac relics. There they came across something disturbing. Unearthing four boxes of video tapes, they played some for several seconds. They then showed them for Allen, and as they did, recorded screams of pain were heard. When the video player was switched off, there was a long pause.
“That’s me,” Allen said. “Doing what?,” he was asked. “Spanking a young boy.” He went on to claim that the young boy was feigning pain, explaining without embarrassment “I find it sexually stimulating. I admit to being a sexual deviant. I do get pleasure, cruel pleasure, from sadistic pornography.” Other tapes had similarly disturbing footage. It was clear that Allen had been committing crimes for which he would be sent back to Atascadero. “If I was Zodiac,” he said, “I’d want to get it off my chest. Zodiac would be judged crazy… Zodiac doesn’t like to kill,” he said.
“I’d rather be dead than go back to Atascadero. I can’t be there. I hated the lack of freedom at Atascadero – the crazy people. They play mind games with you there.” During the search, they came across newspaper clippings Allen had kept from criminal cases where an insanity defence had been used by the defendant. Conway would later say that Allen talked a lot during their search, but came across as a compulsive liar, who would distort the truth about the smallest of details. “There’s so many lies I caught him in,” Conway said.
Allen denied any involvement in the Zodiac murders, and he appeared calm during the search. At one point, investigators brought up a treasure trove of weapons from the basement, including; A Ruger .22 Blackhawk with six live rounds, a Ruger .22 revolver with six live rounds, a .22 revolver, a Colt .32 automatic and seven rounds, a Remington .22 short caliber rifle, a Winchester Model 50 20-gauge automatic shotgun, a Stevens movel 835 12-gauge double barrel shotgun, Winchester Super, and a variety of assorted ammunition.
There was also a Marlin .22 rifle with a scope and an Inland .30-claiber rifle, and since Allen was an ex-con, possession of these weapons was illegal. The next find was even bigger, when the searchers uncovered four pipe bombs, a primer cord and seven impact devices. Other items included black power, fuses, blasting caps, galvanized pipes, and bottled of potassium nitrate. These items were almost identical to those found years later in the possession of the Unabomber suspect Ted Kaczynski at his remote cabin. Allen denied knowing anything about the bombs in his basement, but was they had his fingerprints on them.
“No you don’t,” Allen said. He then explained the bombs were left there a decade ago by an ex-con. When queried about the fingerprints by his colleagues, Conway said that first Allen had denied any knowledge of bombs in his basement, but when told about the fingerprints, he came up with an explanation that he moved them when cleaning his basement. The ex-con was later traced, and denied having left any explosive devices in Allen’s Fresno home. They also found a how-to for making bombs, but Allen denied having seen the piece of paper it was written on. They had hoped to locate any diaries, journals or photographs Allen might have kept that linked him to the crimes, but nothing incriminating was found.
He was wearing another Zodiac Sea Wolf watch, which was taken by the detectives as part of the search. Among his possessions was found a letter from the Justice Department signed by Jon Silver which stated Allen was not the Zodiac. Police learned that this was a forgery, made by Allen himself while working at the print shop at Atascadero. During this search, a Royal typewriter was found, similar to the one used to type out the letter sent to the Riverside Police Department in 1966, which claimed to be from the killer, and which police strongly suspect was the Zodiac.
On the second day of the search, officers dug up the back garden, and also searched through the garage at the rear of the property. There were also no hidden areas of the home where Allen could have kept his trophies. Ultimately, no evidence was found linking Arthur Leigh Allen to the Zodiac murders. Searches were also made of his boat and trailer, but again nothing incriminating was found. The Valentines Day search was not entirely without success, as the detectives learned more about their main suspect, including his potential insanity defence strategy if he were ever to stand before a courtroom facing charges.
On May 21, 1991, Allen gave his first interview to the Times-Herald, in which he complained about the latest search of his property. He also made mention of Ralph Spinelli as the informant who told police about him, leading detectives to understand that Allen himself had kept a close watch on Spinelli. The next day the Vallejo Times-Herald ran a story about the Zodiac suspect and the search of his property. But police were quoted as saying that an arrest in the case was not imminent. Later that same month, it became known that Allen had visited a psychologist in Vallejo.
This man said he was afraid of Allen, who he thought might want to kill him. Apparently several tapes were in the possession of people in Los Angeles who wanted to sell them. These same people attempted to sell the tapes to Unsolved Mysteries, who refused. It is unknown what became of the tapes from Allen therapy sessions. In July 1991, Allen participated in a television interview for the Ten O’clock News, in which he denied being the infamous Zodiac Killer. By that time, the 58-year-old was diabetic and had recently undergone kidney dialysis. He also featured on KPIX, Channel 5, in which he stated, “I’m not the Zodiac, I’ve never killed anyone.”
In July 1992, survivor Mike Mageau picked Allen out of a police line-up as the man he believed attacked him, saying “That’s him! That’s the man who shot me.” Mageau had previously described to detectives a brown Coravir he saw at Blue Rock Springs on the night he was shot. Allen’s friend Philip owned such a car, and Allen was allowed to use it. Meanwhile, surviving victim Bryan Hartnell also identified Allen’s voice and physical appearance as being similar to that of the Zodiac Killer.
The Legacy of Arthur Leigh Allen
On August 26, 1992, George Bawart was contacted by a beat cop who asked him if he was still investigating Arthur Leigh Allen, “Yeah,” Bawart said. “Well I’m in his house and he laying on the floor.” Bawart questioned, “What’s he doing on the floor?,” to which the cop said “Well, he’s dead and he’s lying there with a great big bump on his forehead.” Allen’s body had been found by a female boarder living above him, and it was determined he had died from arteriosclerotic heart failure. Two days after his death, Vallejo police served another warrant at his property and seized items.
During the search after his death, detectives looked around Allen’s new computer, and noticed there were numerous floppy disks labelled “Zodiac”. Bawart also noticed a videotape on a bookshelf that was marked with the letter “Z”. Thinking it might contain something incriminating, they secured a warrant to view it. As soon as they were able, they played it, but found it only showed Allen mooning the police, cursing them, and complaining about the Zodiac case.
When police searched Arthur Leigh Allen’s homes, he was in possession with everything the expert investigators thought the Zodiac would have, a portable typewriter, an arsenal of guns, bombs and knives. As per the Zodiac profile, Allen was sexually interested in children, and had developed a hatred for women. Allen had always been a viable suspect for the Zodiac murders, he fit the profile, and it was for this reason he was revisited time and again by law enforcement. In 2002, the SFPD developed a partial DNA profile from the saliva taken from the stamps and envelopes of the Zodiac’s letters.
This was compared to the DNA of Allen, as well as Don Cheney, Allen’s one-time friend who cam forward with information that Allen was Zodiac. Neither test result indicated a match, and as such both Allen and Cheney were excluded as contributors of the DNA on the stamps and envelopes. However, this still doesn’t rule out Allen as the Zodiac, it only excludes him as being the person who licked the stamps on Zodiac’s letters. Unless further evidence emerges exonerating Allen, he will remain a prime suspect in the Zodiac slayings.