Sunday, November 17, 2013

True crime author defends serial killer in little-known essay about Zodiac case
A Unabomber-style manifesto for the Zodiac Killer

SEATTLE, 11/17/13 (Weekly Scientist) -- To stop bombing attacks that killed three people and injured over a dozen others between 1978-95, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski famously demanded the New York Times and other periodicals publish a 35,000-word essay -- dubbed the "Unabomber manifesto" -- that laid out his case for killing.

Now, a similarly-themed, 3,500 word "manifesto" has turned up in a hard-to-find book about California's infamous Zodiac serial killings. Both the Zodiac and Unabomber manifestoes blame society to justify the homicides, while praising the criminals.

"The failure of law enforcement to deal with this criminal isn't due to his manifestly superior intelligence," insists Zodiac Manifesto author Gareth Penn.  "It is due to major failings of our society."

An appendix, the Zodiac Manifesto starts on pg. 347 of Penn's nearly 400-page book, a densely-written analysis of the Zodiac murders entitled Times 17.   It's been hiding in plain sight since the book's publication nearly 30 years ago.

Best known for ciphers, mathematical puzzles, and literary clues he used to taunt police and local newspapers, the Zodiac Killer is blamed for at least 5 murders in the Vallejo-San Francisco area.  The case remains unsolved 45 years later.

Considered the second most well-known book on the Zodiac case -- next to Robert Graysmith's Zodiac -- Times 17 is also among the least read.  Penn, 72, a retired NOAA librarian and Seattle resident, self-published the book in the mid-1980's, printing copies he distributed mostly by mail order.   At the time, he lived in Napa, Calif.

Times 17 has become an underground "cult" favorite, partly because it is the only book that pins the murders on a living person by name, a UC Berkeley public policy professor named Michael Henry O'Hare.   Today, copies are so rare they fetch as much as $200 on eBay and Amazon.

The Zodiac Manifesto -- which Penn titled "What Went Wrong" -- departs remarkably from the rest of the book, much of which is notoriously hard to follow.   Clear and pointed, the manifesto praises the killer while chastising enemies he attacked in his own letters, including law enforcement officials and the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.

Society's "first major defect is a widespread and profound contempt for humanistic education, particularly prominent in law enforcement," Penn writes.  Dumb cops, he says, couldn't solve the case because they knew nothing about literature, while "nearly all the evidence in the Zodiac case is literary."

The Zodiac's famous letters referenced literary classics such as The Mikado, a comic opera, and The Most Dangerous Game, a short story.

Penn has even harsher words for the media, which he calls society's "second major

"The function of the free press is supposed to be rooting out corruption.  But how can it perform this task when it is fundamentally corrupt itself?    In the interest of keeping hefty revenues flowing, newspapers, magazines, and electronic media pander to the lowest common denominator."

The Zodiac Killer famously sparred with Chronicle editors and reporters, for which the Zodiac Manifesto reserves its harshest criticism.

"In the particular case of the Zodiac, false reporting...has characterized media coverage, especially that of the San Francisco Chronicle, which is surely one of the ethically and intellectually most corrupt newspapers in the world," Penn writes.

"The Zodiac was perfectly aware of the Chronicle's penchant for sensationalism...And so he played the newspaper the way Yizhak Perlman plays the fiddle."

"I, meanwhile, have suggested that the most important evidence related to the detection of the Zodiac's identity is his literary legacy," the Times 17 author explains in the manifesto. "How can that legacy be evaluated intelligently when it has been trivialized and bowdlerized by the Chronicle?  How can anyone form an intelligent opinion about the facts when the Chronicle consistently reports them wrong?"

Publication of the Unabomber's manifesto ultimately led to his identification and capture.  So is Gareth Penn the Zodiac Killer?   His suggestive writings and long-time relationship with the case -- which he describes at length in Times 17 -- have led some armchair gumshoes to that conclusion.

1 comment:

doranchak said...

Anyone who's interested can read all of Times 17 online here: