The Zodiac Killer Theory That Would Change Everything

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Between December 1968 and October 1969, a string of murders in Northern California would lead to one of the greatest unsolved cases in history involving a serial killer calling himself the Zodiac. We know his name through letters he sent to the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers and later through myriad books, documentaries, fictionalized films, and online sites dedicated to the mysterious killer who claimed he murdered at least five people and wounded two more, per Mel. But what if the Zodiac was a hoax and the murders weren't even connected?

That's the stance of Thomas Henry Horan, a writing professor, and author who claims that the Zodiac never existed except in the twisted minds of letter writers and crank callers — trolls before there was even an internet, according to the author's website. Additionally, Horan alleges that another true-crime author, Robert Graysmith, whose best-selling 1986 book "Zodiac" had an outsized influence not just on the public perception of the case, but even on police investigators, had altered the facts of the cases. "Graysmith lied about the 'evidence' that supposedly linked these murders," Horan wrote in his book, "The Myth of the Zodiac Killer: A Literary Investigation." "And most stunningly of all, Graysmith lied about the authenticity of the 'Zodiac Killer' letters."

The crimes

In Benicia, California, on December 20, 1968, someone murdered two teenagers — David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen — who were sitting in their car in a secluded spot while on a date by shooting them at point-blank range with a .22 caliber pistol, per History. The next murder linked to the Zodiac happened the following summer. A man attacked another couple sitting in a car, this time in Vallejo. On July 5, 1969, Mike Magau, 19, survived being shot three times, but 22-year-old Darleen Ferrin died from her wounds, according to Biography. These were the first two murders claimed by the same person in both a phone call to the Vallejo Police Department and three weeks later in a series of letters to several newspapers, according to In neither the phone call nor this first batch of letters did the person identify themselves by the name Zodiac.

The most bizarre attack followed in September 1969, when a man wearing a strange hood with a symbol featuring a cross within a circle stabbed Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard multiple times as they sat on the shore of a lake near Napa. Hartnell survived but Shepard died, per Biography. The killer wrote a message on the side of Hartnell's car with the same cryptic symbol and the names and dates of the two previous crimes and the date, time, and weapon of the third attack. A man also called the Napa police and claimed he'd committed the stabbings, per

Is Zodiac a hoax?

The final murder took place in San Francisco when a man shot a cab driver named Paul Stine in the head on October 11, 1969, before making his escape on foot, per History. The San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac, who had been calling himself by that name in his letters since August, claiming the kill as his own and including a piece of Stine's bloody shirt. By this time he had already sent the series of infamous cryptograms.

When Thomas Henry Horan began digging into the case in 2009, he found that there really wasn't much evidence linking these crimes, besides the letters and phone calls. "The ballistics don't match," Horan said in an interview for "Myth of the Zodiac Killer" (via YouTube). "The fingerprints don't match. The witness descriptions and survivor descriptions of the killer don't match." Horan believes there were two different letter writers, a Napa County Deputy, and then, beginning in October 1969, Robert Graysmith, the author of "Zodiac" who worked at the Chronicle during that time, according to Mel. As for his naysayers, and there are many, Horan claims that for them "finding out there's no Zodiac would be like finding out there's no Santa Claus."