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The Zodiac Killer is one of the most famous serial killers. Authorities had several suspects in their sights including Arthur Leigh Allen. Here's why.

Inside the baffling case of the Zodiac Killer: Is Arthur Leigh Allen the one?

The Zodiac Killer is one of the most famous serial killers of the United States. He is known for having committed four confirmed murders, but boasting of having perpetrated as many as 37. Two of the Zodiac Killer’s victims survived. These victims were attacked on separate occasions and the women who were with them did not survive. 

The Zodiac Killer allegedly sent several taunting phone calls and letters to the Vallejo, California police. The letters included coded messages, goading, and the infamous Zodiac Killer Signature of a circle with two perpendicular lines over it. The signature clearly resembled the crosshairs you would use to aim a firearm. Most hauntingly, the Zodiac Killer was never caught.

Authorities had several suspects in their sights over the course of the case, but none fit as well as Arthur Leigh Allen. 

Who was Arthur Leigh Allen? 

Arthur Leigh Allen was a California schoolteacher sent to Atascadero State Hospital in 1975 for child molestation. Allen hated his mother. He was the kind of man who lived with his mom well into his middle-age, was supported by her and given things like boats and cars, but resented her all the same. Allen never married and was known for having a preoccupation with young children for years before he was finally institutionalized.

It’s unclear why Allen was first suspected of being the Zodiac Killer. Sergeant John Lynch from the Vallejo, California Police Department first started investigating Allen on October 6, 1969. Lynch visited Allen at the elementary school he worked at and began questioning him.

The Zodiac Killer’s Victims 

All but one of the people confirmed by the police to have been attacked by the Zodiac Killer were attacked in pairs. The first couple attacked by the Zodiac killer were teenagers David Arthur Faraday and Betty Lou Jenson. The two were shot and killed on December 20, 1968. 

The second pair of victims were Michael Renault Mageau and Darlene Elizabeth Farren. They were attacked on July 4, 1969. Mageau survived the gun attack, but Farren was dead on arrival at Kaiser Foundation Hospital. 

On September 27, 1969, Bryan Calvin Hartnell and Cecelia Ann Shepard were stabbed repeatedly. Hartnell survived the eight wounds to his back that he sustained, but Shepard died from her injuries two days later on September 29. 

The last confirmed Zodiac Killer murder was that of cab driver 29-year-old Paul Lee Stine. Stine was shot and killed on October 11. 1969. It’s believed by many that the Zodiac Killer attacked many more victims than these seven, but there is no evidence to substantially corroborate these theories. 

Arthur Leigh Allen’s first investigative interview

Lynch had questioned Arthur Leigh Allen about his whereabouts on the day that Hartnell and Shepard were attacked in 1969. Allen said he had gone freediving at Salt Point Ranch the day before and then driven back home on September 27 between two and four thirty pm. 

Allen said he couldn’t recall whether or not his parents had been home when he arrived so he had no one to support his alibi. Five days after Lynch’s interview the Zodiac killer murder Paul Lee Stine. Since Lynch didn’t have enough information to attach Allen to the case he left him alone for the time being, but still kept him on the suspect list. 

In autumn of 1970, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story that connected an unsolved Riverside, California murder to the Zodiac Killer. Four months later, the Zodiac Killer wrote in to commend them for having connected the dots on his supposed activity. 

Continued Suspicion of Arthur Leigh Allen

Arthur Leigh Allen was left alone until a former friend of his named Donald Cheney and Cheney’s business partner Santo Paul Panzarella came forward on July 15, 1971, and voiced suspicions they had that Allen was connected to the Zodiac killings. 

Panzarella said to police that he and Cheney had suspicions about “an Arthur Leigh Allen” for some time. Apparently Cheney and Allen used to go hunting together and Allen had said some strange things on several occasions that eventually made Cheney suspect him. Cheney said that once Allen had asked him, “Have you ever thought of hunting people?”

Allen then allegedly went on to talk about how he would go about doing it. He said that he could go to the well-known Lover Lane area in Vallejo and attach a flashlight to his revolver so he could aim better. He even remarked to Cheney how hard it would be for police to track him down because he would’ve done it with no motive. The most chilling and suspicious thing Allen mentioned was at the end of his reverie. Allen said he would sign any letters sent to police as the Zodiac Killer. 

Cheney and Panzarella went on to point out that Allen matched the description of the Zodiac Killer in the Los Angeles Times that had been printed the day before they came forward. 

A Detective Jack Mulanax was then assigned to gather more information on Arthur Leigh Allen. Mulanax spoke to one of Allen’s former employers who said although Allen was a good worker he had noticed Allen took much notice of young children. There had even been an incident where Allen had taken his daughter on his boat with the man’s permission and “made improper advances” toward her. 

Detective Mulanax then spoke to neighbors who described Allen as a good and devoted son. After some more data collection Mulanax, Inspector Bill Armstrong, and Inspector Dave Toschi of San Francisco homicide brought Allen in for questioning. Allen said that he heard of the Zodiac Killer when he first started killing but stopped following the story because it was “too morbid”. 

The police officers then went on to mention to Allen that he had been questioned after one of the murders took place. Allen cited a dead neighbor as a person who could confirm his whereabouts which he had never previously brought up. 

Mulanax wrote in his notes about the interview “. . . without any questioning regarding a knife, Allen made the following statement: ‘The two knives I had in my car with blood on them, the blood came from a chicken I had killed.’” 

Allen confessed to the police that he had an interest in guns, but only own .22 calibers. A later witness stated otherwise. To make matters worse for himself, Allen mentioned an interest in a story called “The Most Dangerous Game,” which was about one man being hunted by another on a deserted island. Cheney had mentioned the same story as one of things Allen had seemed strangely preoccupied with during one of their hunting trips.

Police also questioned a G.V.R.D General supervisor named Philip Tucker. Tucker said that he and his wife had had an encounter with Allen that had left a lasting impression. They had gone to his house on one occasion and Allen had shown them a strange paper that he kept in a grey metal box. Allen emphasized how special it was that he was showing this to them because he only showed it to “very certain people.” 

The note was an account of a person who had been sent to Atascadero State Hospital for child molestation. It went on and on about how the person had been betrayed by their attorney, but most importantly, it contained various symbols that looked a lot like the ones used in the Zodiac Killers letter to the police. 

Was Allen Leigh Allen pinned as the Zodiac Killer? 

Although authorities had all these interesting leads on Allen, they had no conclusive evidence he was the Zodiac Killer. It became apparent to them that they would have to search Allen’s property if they were to have any hope of finding any concrete evidence. Allen had acquired two trailers by then that police searched. 

During one of their searches, Allen caught them snooping around. They requested Allen copy one of the Zodiac Killer’s letters in the handwriting of both his left and right hand since he was ambidextrous. Then they took fingerprint samples from him. 

Allen asserted he hadn’t killed anyone, and apart from some dead squirrel carcasses in Allen’s freezer that he had gotten permission from the state to experiment on, authorities gathered no evidence of Allen’s guilt or disturbing nature. Both the handwriting analysis and Allen’s fingerprints did not match the fingerprint they had found on one of the crime scenes.

Police still suspected Allen of being the Zodiac Killer because they already had speculated the print might not have even belonged to the perpetrator. Unfortunately for their investigation, it had come to a dead end. They never found evidence that Arthur Leigh Allen was definitively the Zodiac Killer. Allen died from a heart attack on August 26, 1992.

The Zodiac Killer inspired the 1971 movie Dirty Harry which features Clint Eastwood. The 2007 film Zodiac is also based on the murders of the Zodiac Killer.

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  • What if the Zodiac is not only one person, but a team? One writer, one executioner?

    July 29, 2020
    • That’s a good point. I guess we never will know who actually did it. It could be one of those cold cases that eventually gets solved though.

      September 15, 2020
  • What puzzles me more than any dumb cypher is how could the police just let it dry.
    Very disturbing accounts from those who knew Allen and from the interview and this is all the police back then were capable of. Nothing, basically. Allen did left breadcrumbs to pick and they didn’t pick anything and if they did they drop it. Negligent. Both killer and police strike me as negligent. Good combination for lasting mysteries if you ask me. Lmao

    December 15, 2020
  • Even more convince it was ALA with a new finding no one seem to be talking about.
    3/13/1971 Arthur Leigh Allen is pulled over by the cops in San Francisco for a traffic violation… That same day…
    3/13/1971 A letter is mailed from the Zodiac but not from San Francisco (which he ALWAYS did) but from Pleasanton, CA, and not to the Chronicle but to the LA Times (This is the first and last time he would ever do this) Pleasanton is about an hour away from San Francisco…

    Now I’m 90% sure Arthur Leigh Allen was Zodiac.

    May 8, 2021
  • You mentioned that there were only four confirmed Zodiac murders? Then you list Betty Lou and David Dec.201968, next was Darlene Ferrin July 4th, 1969, next was Cecelia Shepard Sept 27th, and last Paul Stine Oct 11, 1969, = 5, perhaps you made a typo mistake?

    Mike Mageau first described the shooter as being short about 5ft 8. light brown curly hair to champagne-colored, combed back straight hair! Do you know how many times he changed that description from July 5th to July 10th, 1969, three times! Over the years and many medications later he changed again to a 6ft balding man who was Art Allen. I trust what he told the police on July 5th and nothing after. have not seen proof of Art Allen receiving a traffic ticket on 3-13-71 in San Francisco?

    June 19, 2021
    • I think Mighty few people know you will be one of the first ones unless you’ve already seen it in the late 80s Arthur Leigh Allen was seen with the young girl that right after he was seen with her she turned up dead and the woman said she was 100% positive the man she was with was Arthur Leigh Allen. Believe me before I would have agreed with you because Donna last and Tahoe the boyfriend identified Lawrence came who always thought was the Zodiac Killer but if Arthur Leigh Allen was with the young girl that turned up dead then he has to be prime suspect number one for the Zodiac as a matter of fact it’s quite compelling

      October 4, 2021
  • What about the story I heard on YouTube that a young woman turned up dead and Arthur Leigh Allen was the last man seen with her right before her death of a young woman. The woman that serve them food said she was 100% certain the man she was with was Arthur Leigh Allen and what makes it even more compelling if she even remembers that the girl had a toothache I was just wondering if anyone else has heard any stories I only found one of them on YouTube about that and if that’s true then Arthur Leigh Allen is almost certainly the zodiac

    October 4, 2021
  • The article neglects to mention the Swindle murders in the San Diego area, the Ray Davis murder in Oceanside (another cabbie), and the Dominguez-Edwards murders in Lompoc. All in California in the 1960s near bodies of water.

    August 20, 2022
  • The one day of work that ALA missed was the day after the murder of Cheri Jo Bates.

    The authorities tested DNA from an envelope (s) sent by the Zodiac and it didn’t match Arthur Lee Allen. But the letters could’ve been inserted in envelopes that someone else sealed that ALA asked to seal.

    August 20, 2022
  • There were other similar murders in California in the 1960s near bodies of water. The murder of taxi cab driver Ray Davis in Oceanside. The murder of honeymooners, the Swindles, staying at the ocean in San Diego, and the Dominguez-Edwards murders in Lompoc.

    August 20, 2022

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