Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer

A Tip

In the years since Robert Graysmith's seminal book ZODIAC touted "Robert Hall Starr" as the top suspect in the unsolved murders of five San Francisco Bay Area residents, it has become increasingly difficult to discuss the Zodiac case without also discussing Arthur Leigh Allen. Allen, the Vallejo resident and convicted child molester who served as the inspiration for the pseudonymous "Starr," died in 1992 under a cloud of speculation that he was the notorious serial killer who put five bullets in the back of a teenage girl as she ran for her life. He was never charged for those murders, however, and despite the best efforts of some investigators, not a single piece of evidence was ever developed that could tie him to the Zodiac crimes. In fact, Allen's alleged links to the case have been found time and again to be false, coincidental, or attributable to Allen's deviant personality.

Arthur Allen first came to the attention of the Vallejo Police Department in early October 1969, though the circumstances of his candidacy are unclear. Detective John Lynch's first and only report on Allen does not mention how Allen became a possible suspect, but a cursory look at VPD reports from the time shows that even the shakiest accusations were considered grounds for a police interview in conjunction with the murders of Betty Lou Jensen, David Faraday, Darlene Ferrin, and Cecelia Shepard. For a time, rumor held that Allen had received a speeding ticket near Lake Berryessa on the night of Shepard's murder, but it was later determined that this event never occurred. Whatever lead instigated Lynch's interview, it can safely be assumed that it was not accompanied by any significant evidence, as the conversation was quite brief and the detective was not particularly aggressive. 1 In all likelihood, Arthur Leigh Allen was simply one of dozens of Vallejo locals who had been fingered by a friend, an enemy, an acquaintance, or a relative based on little more than a hunch. Too tall and too bald to match the Zodiac's decription, he was quickly forgotten.2

The tip that launched Allen to the top tier of possible Zodiac suspects came almost two years later. On July 15, 1971, southern California businessman Santo Panzarella approached the Manhattan Beach Police Department with the information that Allen had made incriminating statements to Donald Cheney, Panzarella's partner, that would seem to indicate that Allen was the Zodiac killer. Intrigued, two MBPD detectives visited Cheney and Panzarella at their place of business, and were told a remarkable story.


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