Special Case File
The Zodiac Suspect
Rick Marshall Zodiac Killer?
"I must have a double floating around"
With the release of Robert Graysmith’s 1986 book Zodiac, the public became aware of two potential suspects who had been investigated as part of the hunt for the mysterious serial killer. The names of these suspects, Robert Hall Starr and Donald Jeff Andrews, were however pseudonyms, used to protect the identity of these innocent citizens, Arthur Leigh Allen and Rick Marshall, both of whom had yet to be charged with any crimes connected with the Zodiac case.
Starr would later be revealed to be Arthur Leigh Allen, one of the more promising suspects for whom there was a startling amount of evidence pointing to his guilt. In contrast, Andrews, who was unmasked as Richard Reed Marshall, was an avid cinema enthusiast and projectionist who would be connected largely through circumstantial evidence, and who would become a reluctant but albeit permanent suspect in the unsolved serial murder case.
Despite numerous connections with the Zodiac case, Rick Marshall would prove to be somewhat of a disappointing suspect. The information contained in Graysmith’s 1986 book was revealed to be an embellished mix of fact and fiction about the suspect known as Donald Jeff Andrews, which would only serve to contribute to the confusion surrounding Marshall. Although there are many facts in the case that point towards his guilt, most of those are considered tenuous at best.
Retired Zodiac investigator Ken Narlow has commented about the man who was often cited as his “favourite” suspect, saying that “Marshall makes good reading but [is] not a very good suspect in my estimation”. With passage of time, the possibility that Marshall/Andrews could be the notorious Zodiac killer has diminished, so that many amateur Zodiac investigators consider the evidence against him mostly coincidental or speculative, but he has and most likely always will continue to remain on the list of potential suspects.
While Charlie Chan is traveling to San Francisco by plane, a friend of Charlie, novelist Paul Essex, dies aboard the aircraft after receiving a radiogram warning him not to ignore “Zodiac”. This sends Charlie Chan, played by Sidney Toler, into another puzzling mystery set on San Francisco’s Treasure Island during the Golden Gate International Exposition. It is possible the killer took his inspriation for the Zodiac name from this movie, wishing to portray himself as a mysterious villain who outsmarts police detectives.
However, the old movie connections may have begun with the 1932 RKO production of The Most Dangerous Game, based upon the 1924 short story by Richard Connell. The book and film told the story of General Zaroff, a man who would hunt humans for sport on a deserted island. When the Zodiac Killer began his campaign of terror against the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area in July and August of 1969, he mailed a three-part cryptogram to three Bay Area newspapers.
The basic design comprises a circle with a cross centred in the middle, much like the design of a shooting target. A radio ham enthusiast with a knowledge of electrics, Marshall would keep in contact with other radio aficionados, even inviting some listeners to his home. Those who accepted his invitation thought his behaviour odd and owing to suspicious comments made over his ham radio, some suspected he might be the Bay Area killer.
Rick Marshall the anonymous informant
Indeed, much of the incriminating evidence against Marshall comes from a police report compiled in 1976 from the testimony of a suspicious informant, but was mostly based on erroneous information about the crimes and hearsay. He was apparently ambidextrous, something many believed Zodiac to be, and according to the report, he would often use a black felt tip pen, much like the Zodiac. However, the Zodiac used a blue felt tip pen to write most of his letters, information that many casual readers might not have been familiar with.
He allegedly once told an acquaintance he had found something, “much more exciting than sex”, and was known to possess a collection of pornographic literature. Another link to Marshall is based on hearsay, specifically that he allegedly owned a Royal Typewriter, the same that was used to type two carbon copies of the “Confession” letter which detailed the murder of Cheri-Jo Bates, one of which was sent to the Riverside Enterprise, the other to the Riverside Police on November 29, 1966.
Based on some of these rumours, Marshall agreed to be interviewed by Zodiac investigating detective Ken Narlow, but he strongly denied being the Zodiac killer. Despite this, speculation over his involvement would continue to circulate in certain quarters that Rick Marshall may have had an accomplice in the Zodiac crimes, which included Richard Gaikowski, who also enjoyed a passion for classic films, and his running of the Roxie Theatre in the Bay area.
Officer Donald Fouke, who observed the suspect hardly three minutes later on Jackson Street, described an individual between 35 and 45 years of age. Then just two further minutes later, eyewitnesses overlooking the Julius Khan playground (probably from the houses in Spruce Street) stated the man was “about forty”. All of these eyewitnesses gave almost identical descriptions of clothing, weight, hair color, style, and the wearing of glasses.
His birthdate of March 13, 1926, would make him around 43-years-of-age in 1969, and the average age of 40 given by witnesses matches closely with the age of Richard Marshall at that time. By the early-1970’s, Marshall was working as an engineer for San Francisco Bay area radio station KTIM. The ‘Exorcist’ Letter, widely believed to be the last authenticated correspondence from the Zodiac Killer, was mailed on January 29, 1974 after a three year hiatus by the killer.
The communication would yet again finish with a veiled threat, that included strange oriental style characters at the foot of the correspondence, said to marry up closely to ones used on KTIM call letters. There is a tentative link between the Exorcist letter, and Marshall’s alternate name he was born under and often used. The Exorcist letter contains the phrase, “Signed, yours truley: He plunged him self into the billowy wave and an echo arose from the sucides grave tit willo tit willo tit willo”.
It has been considered that the paraphrasing of The Mikado verse Tit-Willow after the author “signed, yours truley”, was indicative of an author who was pointing out that his identity was contained within the verse. The verse is about a Dicky-bird singing Willow, titwillow, titwillow… even containing the line “Now I feel just as sure as I’m sure that my name isn’t Willow, titwillow, titwillow”. Richard Marshall was born Joe Don Dickey.
On June 19, 1970, Sgt. Richard Radetich was gunned down by three shots from a .38 caliber revolver a point blank range through the driver side window of his vehicle, while in the process of writing out a parking ticket. He was sat in his patrol car near 643 Waller Street, San Francisco, in the Lower Haight District, located just 450 feet from the home of Rick Marshall at 143 Scott Street.
The Zodiac Killer would later claim this murder on June 26, 1970, when he mailed the ‘Button’ letter to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. He also occupied a residence at 2821 Bush Street, less than one mile from the site of the murder of Paul Stine. Marshall would later move to Front Street, San Rafael in Marin County, and had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 20 years, between 1969 and 1989.
Rick Marshall & Bob Vaugn
The poster had been designed either by Marshall or his close associate Bob Vaughn. In the 2007 movie Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, the authorship of this poster is brought up in conversation with Vaughn played by Charles Fleischer, who confesses it was his handwriting that adorned the poster. This particular scene provides one of the films most memorably tense moments when Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, realises he could possibly be alone inside the killers home.
This is later played to great effect when Graysmith/Gyllenhaal ventures alone with Vaughn into his basement on the pretext of finding some old files, and hears what sound like unsettling footsteps in the apparent empty house above. Vaughn reassures him they were alone, before Graysmith makes his escape. Robert Graysmith claims this encounter with Bob Vaughn did actually take place as depicted in the Zodiac movie.
Vaughn was a professional organist who played in silent movie theatres, turning up at the San Bruno Avenue Theatre in 1968, as well as playing at the Port Theatre where Rick Marshall worked in 1974, along with the Roxie Theater in San Francisco. Born in San Francisco on February 8, 1911, was a theater organist from an early age, having played at many venues including the Avenue Theatre at 2650 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco, situated just off US Route 101, approximately 4 miles south of the Mason and Geary Street intersection, and a 7 mile drive to the Washington and Cherry Street intersection.
He was the accompaniment to many movies in the silent film era, dating back as early as 1927, before the work eventually dried up, precipitated by the inevitable arrival of the ‘talking film’. He was subsequently forced into a career change, working for the Immigration and Naturalization Service for thirty years, which dealt with checking and evaluating people at an official port of entry, as well as assessing applications for permanent residency.
By the early-1960’s, he had moved back to San Francisco, working alongside Rick Marshall, a projectionist at the Avenue Theatre, where Bob Vaughn excelled as a pipe organist. When the Avenue Theatre ceased operating in 1984 Bob Vaughn would continue, performing at the Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street, the UC Theatre at 2036 University Avenue and the Towne Theatre at 1433 The Alameda, San Jose, where he stayed until 1999. Vaughn died at the age of 90 in Bakersfield, California on January 4, 2002.
He would briefly be considered a Zodiac suspect, however there is little evidence that connects him with the crimes. When the first murders occurred on December 20, 1968 at Lake Herman Road, Bob Vaughn would have been 57 years-of-age, too old to be the Zodiac Killer based on eyewitness testimony, and as a result, he was never regarded as a credible suspect by law enforcement. Yet his name would still appear on many Zodiac discussion boards based on his association with Rick Marshall.
Ken Narlow, one of the lead Zodiac detectives, investigated Rick Marshall on account of the apparent fascination the Zodiac Killer had with The Mikado and the silent movie connection, but ultimately concluded that Rick Marshall was not a viable suspect. Marshall would also be the subject of an FBI investigation, but his records were expunged in 1993, and nothing remains from the case files. His handwriting although a close match, was not enough to warrant charges.
If some of the fingerprints held on file are the actual prints of the killer, such as the bloody partial fingerprint retrieved from the left dividing panel on Paul Stine’s taxicab, then Rick Marshall was correctly discounted as a suspect after his fingerprints failed to match. Although other suspects in the Zodiac case are more promising than Rick Marshall, he has remained a potential candidate because of the many similarities between the brutal serial killer and this mild-mannered silent movie connoisseur.