Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Zodiac killer theories

Xymphora directs our attention to Steve Huff's fascinating new theory concerning the Zodiac killer, the "onlie begettor" of history's second-most baffling series of unsolved murders. (Saucy Jack maintains his hammerlock on the #1 position.)

Zodiac may have been a man who called himself Joseph Newton Chandler III, who committed suicide in Eastlake, Ohio in June of 2002. The man's real name remains unknown; investigators discovered that he had filched the identity of a boy killed in an accident in 1945. Chandler arrived in Eastlake in 1978, not too long after the Zodiac killer stopped sending taunting communications to the San Francisco media. Before moving to Ohio, "Chandler" apparently had been in California -- and, like the Zodiac killer, he may have had connections to the Navy.

Xymphora's most intriguing contribution to this scenario is his suggestion that "Chandler" may also have committed another series of killings which took place in Ohio between 1978 and 1982 -- murders similar in many respects to the Zodiac crimes.

The healthy (or maybe not so healthy) subculture of Zodiac researchers has offered a number of competing theories, some of which are rather bizarre. The best-known suspect is the late Arthur Leigh Allen, the subject of Robert Graysmith's second book, Zodiac Unmasked. Allen is not a universally popular candidate, and the evidence presented by Graysmith is badly-organized and less than convincing.

The more outre speculators try to tie the Zodiac crimes to the extended Manson family. In this light, I would note that the horn-rim glasses which became something of a Zodiac trademark also make an appearance in Manson lore.

Yes, yes, I know: That "connection" may be a bit of a stretch. Still, keep it in mind as you read on.

I'd like to mention a scenario so unusual, so outlandish -- and, to be frank, so speculative -- that no-one, so far as I know, has yet committed it to print, although buffs have kicked the idea around in private conversation. This theory holds that the Zodiac killer (or rather, his puppetmaster) was actually another cult leader known to be lurking around San Francisco in the 1960s:

L. Ron Hubbard.

The evidence centers on Zodiac victim Darlene Ferrin, the Laura Palmer-esque young lady who seems to have known her killer before she met her fate. The details can be found here. The killer, some allege, was a stocky man wearing horn-rimmed glasses who showed up at a "painting party" held by Ferrin. As her sister Linda later noted:

"At the painting party," Linda later said, "(Darlene) was so scared. This guy at the party had no business being at her house and she told me to stay away from him. He was the only one dressed neat. Everyone else had old jeans on and was painting . . . She didn't expect him to show up. I can see him sitting there in the chair. The dark-rim glasses, the hair curly, wavy, an older-type man, he did have the dark-rim glasses like Superman wears. Overweight . . . he was five feet eight inches tall or so. Of course he was sitting down most of the time. I remember going in a little bedroom with Darlene and I asked, 'Darlene, what's wrong with you?' She was so nervous. This guy was scaring the heck out of her. She wasn't being the Darlene I knew."

Pam, Darlene's younger sister, arrived at the painting party shortly after Linda left and recognized the stocky man as the same man who had been leaving packages on Darlene's doorstep. "He was a very well-dressed guy with glasses," she recalled. "He had dark hair. He had a wart on his thumb. For some reason, I think Darlene met this man in the Virgin Islands. She mentioned a little bit about drugs."

Some of the guests at the party had heard the well-dressed man badgering Darlene about her sources of income. The stranger had a common, short nickname. Pam thought it was "Bob." (This name has been changed.)

Sunday, June 22, 1969

Linda walked into Terry's restaurant and saw the man from the party sitting in there watching Darlene constantly. The stranger gave Linda a "cold stare" and then went over to Darlene, said something to her, and left. Pam also saw the man. "He wore a leather jacket," she said. "He always smelled of leather, even the time he came to the house to deliver that package . . . I was there for two and one half hours sitting at that counter and he sat there the whole time eating strawberry shortcake.
Few men are so fond of strawberry shortcake that they would spend two and a half hours eating the stuff. But Hubbard was crazy about strawberry shortcake. (So, at least, I have been told by former Scientologists. Readers may know of printed confirmation.)

Hubbard's hair was wavy and red (at least in his younger days), but dye might have taken care of that. He was, by the 1960s, a voracious drug user. His ship could have taken him to the Virgin Islands. Hubbard's mania for all things nautical could explain the Zodiac/Navy linkage.

Perhaps that short nickname was actually "Ron"?

Hubbard was a sociopath. One can easily imagine him engineering a killing spree -- replete with taunting letters and ciphers and odd, quasi-occult symbols -- just to prove that he could get away with such a thing. Fanatically loyal followers could have carried out the actual crimes (surviving witnesses described a man younger than Hubbard), or aided Hubbard in doing so. Some have made fairly persuasive arguments that the sobriquet "Zodiac killer" may be a misnomer; perhaps we should be thinking in terms of Killers -- plural.

Interestingly, this timeline of Scientology history includes the following entry for 1975:

A Scientology memo summarizes the contents of some "LA Intel Files," including information about Scientology links to the Process, references to the "Scientology murders" (Doreen Gaul and James Sharp, teenage Scientologists who were murdered, possibly by the Zodiac killer or someone associated with Charles Manson), an allusion to LRH being arrested in 1968 for counterfeiting, and FBI information on Scientology.
(Emphasis added by me.) This site indicates that Doreen Gaul was deeply involved with Scientology but had become disillusioned at the time of her murder.

Charlie Manson himself had subterranean links to the Hubbardian sect. One author has suggested that Manson follower Bruce Davis -- also linked to Scientology -- may have been the Zodiac killer. This idea brings us parlously close to what may be termed a "unified field theory" of 60s-era California weirdness.

Were Gaul and Sharp killed because they knew too much about something Hubbard preferred to keep secret? Over the years, many have suspected as much, but no-one has offered proof. I'll have to confess that I've met other former Scientology "insiders" who remained among the living after leaving the cult (although they do describe serious harassment). However, their defections occurred after Hubbard's death.

I must also confess that the evidence favoring the Ron-as-Zodiac theory remains thinner than pencil lead. Even so...admit it. The idea is fascinating, isn't it?

As Ed Sanders might have put it: "Oooo-EEEE-Ooooooo..."


Anonymous said...

And who (not Zodiac, dates are wrong) killed talented young sculptress and graphic artist Jenny Read in the warehouse office above her studio at 4 15th Street, San Francisco, May 18, 1976?

Her murder is still unsolved. The stabbing ended one of the city's most promising artistic careers. There always seemed something odd about this, something not just the usual. Could it tie in with any of what you mention? Or even if it a separate tangent, it's a great mystery.


Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia, Hubbard was in Europe in the 60s. Also, a police identikent of the killer -
after a murder in '69 describes the Zodiac killer as 35-45. In '69 Hubbard would have been 58.

Anonymous said...

I figured I'd check wikipedia for some of the names mentioned, there are two James Sharps, the second is particularly ironic: --
“Sharp later represented Jeb Stuart Magruder, the deputy director of Richard Nixon's re-election campaign, involved in the Watergate scandal. He was charged with obstruction of justice and was sentenced to four years in prison, although he served less than a year.
Sharp's other high-profile clients have included […] Major General Richard V. Secord, indicted on six felony charges in the Iran-Contra scandal; Senator Daniel Brewster, accused of bribery in a landmark case; Fabian C. Ver, a Filipino general accused of assassination; and Kenneth Lay, the politically well-connected CEO of Enron.
President Bush has announced that he intends to hire Sharp if he is questioned in the investigation regarding the leak of Valerie Plame's name.”
How's THAT for synchronicity, especially the last part.

Anonymous said...

While I LOVE your theory involving Hubbard, being the paranoiac I am where Scientology is concerned, I stick with 'Joe Chandler' for the nonce. Besides, I don't want them crazy ass folk leaving rattlesnakes in my mailbox and suchlike. Enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

Well, as far as im concerned all of you need to do some research and quit talking out the side od your(s) neck(s) the real killer was a very skillful and intelligent man holla

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Unknown said...

One other thing I've come across about Zodica was the Arthur Leigh Allen theory. When police spoke to him, he described how he might kill someone, the exact same way it is thought that Zodiac did. Also, his obsession with attacking a school bus ties in with some Zodiac letters. If it was him, Zodiac is dead. However, I doubt this is the case. It just doesn't sit right with me. Any other thoughts on this?