A killer who gave
himself the nickname "Zodiac " is believed
responsible for series of murders in Northern California during the 1960's
and '70's; however, police could never find enough evidence to identify
the suspect and, officially, the cases remain unsolved. One man's
obsession to unravel the mystery led to a best-selling book which is now
adapted into the latest film by director David Fincher. Alan Silverman has
a look at Zodiac.
The murder spree begins in 1968 with several seemingly unrelated
killings in suburban communities around San Francisco Bay. What ties them
together are letters, apparently written by the killer, sent to San
Francisco newspapers with demands that they be published or he will kill
Accompanying the letters are ciphers - coded messages - that the killer
says contain clues to his identity. Robert Graysmith, a political
cartoonist at one of the papers (the San Francisco Chronicle) and an
amateur cryptologist becomes fascinated ...no, obsessed ...with solving
The film is based on Graysmith's books in which he deduces the Zodiac
killer's identity, but the circumstantial evidence never gave police
enough facts to make a solid case. On top of that, the author believes
that the killer purposely chose to commit the crimes in different
jurisdictions because he knew that back then police rarely shared clues
with their counterparts even in neighboring communities.
took 10 years. I took 10 years to write it," he explains. "You would go to
the police station and they would not share the information with anyone,
not even with San Francisco or Napa or any of those people. Just for (the)
Lake Herman (murders) you had four different departments ...plus a horde
of reporters, all of which took all that information home and never shared
it. So basically what I did was went and talked to each of them,
consolidated it and just kept building from that center. If today they
were doing that, they would have a task force. It would be over. They
would simply consolidate their information and run it through a computer;
and, of course, they have all this new technology.
co-stars in the film as the lead San Francisco homicide detective on the case and says his
best source for research proved to be the actual person.
"I spent a lot of time with Dave Toschi, the guy I was playing, and he
knew the dates, where he was, what he was wearing ...such beautiful
recall, even now ...and he really hasn't talked about this case in years
and years," Ruffalo says.
Ruffalo adds that the film's director, who grew up in the San Francisco
Bay area at the time of the Zodiac murders, also shared his
near-encyclopedic knowledge of the cases with the cast.
"David Fincher is equally obsessed with this and was able to, because
of who he is and because we were making a movie, get information that most
of the police who worked on the investigation couldn't get from so many
different sources," he says. "So we had all of that at our fingertips. I
was also privy to the real
press conferences, interviews, the murder book ...I had every report on
every investigation, every murder that they thought may have been
connected to the serial
killer, all the letters, the pictures ...I had
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Robert Graysmith and says he
came to understand the obsession with the specific cases and the general
"What's great about those stories is that we all have inside of us
those ideas - that weird, unconscious idea," Gyllenhaal says. "The idea of
a serial killer fascinates us and you can experience it in your everyday
It cost Graysmith his marriage, but the author admits that, like the
police detectives involved, he became focused on solving the crimes.
"You don't realize it at the time. You just get swept away and, believe
me, there are still people who get swept away," he notes. "I get people
calling me all the time who begin by saying '...if you knew anything about
Zodiac ...' It's too tantalizing. There's never been a case that you can
puzzle over and has so much."
Robert Graysmith did track down the man he believes committed the
murders and did, for a brief moment, look him in the eye.
Zodiac, directed by David Fincher, also features Robert Downey Jr.,
Anthony Edwards and Brian Cox. Several scenes were filmed in the actual
locations where the murders occurred more than 30 years