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Yesterday’s Crimes: The Zodiac Killer DNA Profile That Never Was - March 21, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Yesterday’s Crimes: The Zodiac Killer DNA Profile That Never Was

A police sketch of the Zodiac killer, and Arthur Leigh Allen

The hulking figure of Arthur Leigh Allen casts a long shadow over the Zodiac Killer case. A mountain of circumstantial evidence once made this dead Vallejo pedophile the best suspect for the still-unsolved murders that terrorized the greater Bay Area in 1968-69. Author Robert Graysmith even went so far as to devote his second book on the case, Zodiac Unmasked, to naming Allen as the serial killer.

But just as Graysmith’s book was hitting the shelves, DNA tests conducted by Dr. Cydne Holt of San Francisco’s crime lab for ABC News appeared to clear Allen as a suspect. 

In an email sent last week, however, Tom Voigt of ZodiacKiller.com says that Allen “is back in the mix” as a Zodiac suspect.

“The partial DNA profile that was obtained back in 2002 by Dr. Cydne Holt for the ABC television show Primetime Thursday was collected from the outside of the stamp,” Voigt elaborates in a forum post. “No genetic material was obtained from behind the stamp, or the seal of the envelope, or anywhere else that would have most certainly belonged to the Zodiac.”

Voigt writes that this information comes from an unnamed retired San Francisco Police Department inspector and was confirmed by Holt. Holt has not returned SF Weekly’s requests for further confirmation. Holt is now chief scientific officer of Verogen, a forensic science startup.

While the husky Allen does not resemble the famous police sketch depicting a thin-faced Zodiac, Allen is the only publicly-known suspect with ties to so many of the sites where the Zodiac murders took place. He was a longtime resident of Vallejo, where the murders started. Allen also lived around the corner from the restaurant where Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin worked and was said to have stalked her.

In addition, he often went to Lake Berryessa in Napa County, where Zodiac showed up on Sept. 29, 1969 and stabbed college student Cecilia Shepard to death, nearly killing her boyfriend Bryan Hartnell. Allen even told police investigators that he planned on going to Lake Berryessa on the day of the stabbings but went up the coast instead. He also dismissed the bloody knives that he was seen with at the time as being used to slaughter chickens. 

Allen may have even been in Riverside, Calif. the same weekend that 18-year-old Cheri Jo Bates was stabbed to death at Riverside Community College on Oct. 30, 1966. As with the later Zodiac murders, taunting letters were sent to local newspapers leading Riverside police to consider that this slaying could have been carried out by the same killer who called himself Zodiac two years later.

Let’s not even go down the Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders rabbit hole. Allen had a squirrel-filled trailer not far from where the bodies of several young girls were found in the early 1970s, making him a kind of suspect zero in the Bay Area’s most horrible unsolved crimes.

If all that wasn’t enough, Allen wore a Zodiac-brand watch with the same crosshair symbol on it that the Zodiac Killer often signed his letters with and wore on his chest like Superman when he committed the Lake Berryessa stabbings. He wore the same Wingwalker shoes worn by Zodiac – a somewhat uncommon brand that was sold at Travis Air Force Base where Allen worked in 1963.

Last but not least, he even confessed to a friend that he was going to murder people and call himself Zodiac. When Vallejo police searched Allen’s home before his death in 1992, they found pipe bombs and other illegal weapons. And in 1991, Zodiac survivor Mike Mageau picked Allen out of a photo lineup as the man who shot him on the outskirts of Vallejo in 1969.

With so many coincidences linking Allen to the crimes, news that the 2002 DNA test cleared him undid any closure Graysmith attempted to bring to the legions of amateur sleuths obsessed with the enduring mystery.

The recent History Channel series, The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer, steered away from Allen and focused its investigation on suspects Lawrence Kane and Ross Sullivan. While Kane has also been identified as the man who stalked victim Darlene Ferrin, Sullivan’s strongest ties are to the Bates murder in Riverside – a crime that might not be the work of Zodiac at all.

But now Allen is “back in the mix,” adding back one more suspect to a list that was once 1,000-people long.