Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer


In order to fully understand the controversy that still surrounds this letter, we must take a look at its context.  At the time of its receipt at the Chronicle, Inspector Toschi, a 25-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department, was probably the most high-profile law enforcement agent in the Bay Area.  While the charismatic Toschi had many supporters in city government and the local media, he had also made his share of enemies, who felt that his flashy demeanor and his yen for publicity were unprofessional and could lead to a conflict of interest.  Further, rumor around City Hall had it that Supervisor Dianne Feinstein would tap him as Police Chief in her bid for the Mayor's seat, and this would certainly mark him as a threat to SFPD Chief Charles Gain and his deputy, Clem DeAmicis.

In the fall of 1976, local author and columnist Armistead Maupin had written a serial for the Chronicle about a fictitious SFPD detective chasing an unknown killer similar to the Zodiac.  The story's protagonist, Inspector Tandy, received advice and mentoring in the serial from none other than Toschi.   At about this time, Maupin received three notecards from what appeared to be private citizens complimentary to Toschi and urging that he appear more often in the story.  A good journalist, Maupin attempted to verify the notes and found that the names did not belong to San Francisco residents.  Toschi was well known for the short notes he sent to various reporters and politicians, and Maupin began to suspect that it was he who had sent the cards.  Seeing them as harmless, if not entirely honest, Maupin kept the notes under wraps until April 1978, when the only Zodiac letter to mention Toschi by name arrived at his newspaper, sparking suspicions that Toschi had graduated to something akin to fraud, counterfeiting a Zodiac letter.  Maupin and the agent he had hired to publicize an unrelated book approached Sergeant Jack O'Shea, head of the SFPD Intelligence Unit, with their suspicions.  O'Shea and Toschi's boss, Lieutenant Jack Jordan, head of the Homicide Bureau, determined that Toschi had written the fan letters.  Both men would eventually be disciplined, O'Shea more severely, for not reporting this knowledge immediately.

Chief Gain has said that he was not told of Toschi's phony letters until late June 1978, but the late April transfer of two detectives from Special Investigations and the Gang Task Force to the Zodiac case may have been a sign that Toschi was already under suspicion as the author of the latest letter.  Exactly what transpired within the Hall of Justice is unknown, but on July 10, Chief Gain held a press conference to announce two nominally disparate events: the discovery that the Zodiac letter might be a forgery, and the transfer of Toschi to the Pawnshop Detail in light of the phony fan letters to Maupin.  At no time was it explicitly stated that Toschi was suspected of writing the Zodiac letter, but the implication could not be missed, especially when it was announced that two handwriting experts were checking Toschi's hand against not just the questioned April document but also the heretofore accepted "Exorcist" letter of January 1974.  The official rationale for announcing Toschi's embarrassing transfer was to "counter and negate" 1 Maupin's claims -- as Toschi put it, "not to put the department on the defense, they would go on the offense"2 -- but despite a brief revival of state and federal interest, no convincing negation was ever launched.


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