ZODIAC KILLER SUSPECT ARTHUR LEIGH ALLEN
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Arthur Leigh Allen’s connections to the Zodiac killer began on Oct. 30, 1966, when Cheri Jo Bates was stabbed to death at Riverside City College (RCC) in Riverside, Calif. In late-November 1966, two anonymous, typewritten Bates-murder confession letters were mailed to the local police and newspaper. (The typewriter was identified as being a Royal model, with either Elite or Pica type.) Allen allegedly was in Riverside the weekend Bates was murdered. The information placing Allen in Riverside was developed in 1971 by the Vallejo Police Department (VPD) and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). Allen later hinted it was true, first claiming to have been “in the area” at the time, then telling people he was in nearby Pomona when he first heard of the Bates murder.
Employed as an elementary-school teacher in California’s Calaveras County at the time of the Bates murder, by the time his employment ended in late March 1968 Allen had used only one of 19 available sick days. Allen was absent on Nov. 1, 1966. (Initially, Allen attributed the absence to “school business.” He was later charged with a sick day.) Did Allen stay an extra day or two in Riverside, gathering second-hand information to use in the anonymous confessions? Or did Allen actually kill Bates, missing work on Nov. 1 because of facial wounds inflicted by his victim? (Modern FBI profiles on serial killers usually say that during periods of activity, the killer will behave erratically, exhibit moodiness, drink or smoke more than usual and miss work.) During the execution of a 1991 search warrant, VPD seized a Royal typewriter with Elite type from the home of Allen.
In late-April 1967, three anonymous letters referring to Bates were mailed. In 1970, Sherwood Morrill, head of the Questioned Documents Section of California’s Criminal Identification and Investigation Bureau, determined them to be the work of Zodiac. Each contained double the necessary postage, a Zodiac trademark. Two of the three letters were signed with an unusual symbol. Some believe the symbol resembles a sloppy “z,” others say it looks like a “32.” At the time Bates was killed, Allen was 32 years old, and his permanent residence was 32 Fresno St. in Vallejo, Calif. (In 1970, Zodiac would create a cipher that contained 32 symbols.)
At the approximate time the three letters were mailed, a desk was discovered on the RCC campus that had a morbid poem scratched into the surface, possibly referring to the Bates murder. In 1970, Morrill claimed the poem was definitely the work of Zodiac, although other experts believed the condition of the desk prevented authentication. The poem was signed “rh.” The president of RCC at the time Bates was murdered was RH Bradshaw, a detail a stranger to the area probably wouldn’t have known.
Interestingly, after establishing the moniker “Zodiac,” the only reference Zodiac ever made to the Bates murder came in a letter to the Los Angeles Times postmarked March 13, 1971. RCC, where Bates was a student, was founded on March 13, 1916. Timing his letters to be postmarked on a significant date was a Zodiac specialty and the Times reference to Bates is another example of this.
The Bates murder was initially merely local news, not likely to have gotten much exposure outside of the Riverside area. If Zodiac didn’t actually kill Bates, which is a strong possibility, he at least had enough knowledge of the crime to produce the anonymous confessions.
A strong case can be made that Zodiac had ties to the Riverside area. Allen certainly did.
**To date, even though it was an item it was looking for in the 1991 search, VPD has not attempted matching Allen’s typewriter to that of the anonymous confessions.
Zodiac name/cross-circle symbol/ciphers/etc.
According to his brother, Ron, Allen was given a Zodiac watch as a Christmas gift from their mother in 1967. (Allen’s estimation of when he received the watch was July or August 1969.) The logo for the Zodiac watch is a cross-circle symbol, the same as eventually used by the Zodiac killer.
According to police statements, within days of receiving the watch, Allen is alleged to have made these claims to his friend, Don Cheney:
(Allen used the premise of writing a novel to communicate this fantasy. Cheney estimates the conversation took place on Jan. 1, 1969.)
He would like to kill couples at random.
He would taunt the police with letters detailing his crimes.
He would sign the letters with the cross-circle symbol from his watch.
He would call himself “Zodiac.”
He would wear make-up to change his appearance.
He would attach a flashlight to the barrel of his gun in order to shoot at night.
He would fool women into stopping their cars in rural areas by claiming they had problems with their tires, then loosen their lug nuts and eventually take them captive.
Don eventually took this information to the police and, in 1972, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) was able to secure a search warrant against Allen as the Zodiac killer. Unfortunately, SFPD elected to search a trailer that Allen frequented in nearby Santa Rosa instead of searching his home at 32 Fresno St. in Vallejo. Nothing incriminating was found.
According to a police statement, in an early-1968 conversation with his friend, Philip, Allen is alleged to have been fascinated with the concept of hunting people. According to Allen, people would be more challenging to hunt than animals, since they “have intelligence.”
On July 31, 1969, Zodiac mailed a cipher to the news media. Within days it was solved and stated that killing man was “(sic) more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangeroue anamal of all to kill.” Additionally, during a 1971 police interrogation, Allen offered the fact that, as a youth, he had read a book that had made a lasting impression on him. The book was called The Most Dangerous Game and was about hunting a man “like an animal.”
On June 15, 1958, Allen was arrested by VPD and charged with disturbing the peace, the result of an altercation with acquaintance Ralph Spinelli. The charges were dismissed on July 8, 1958. Zodiac would later taunt San Francisco Chronicle columnist Marco Spinelli in a letter postmarked July 8, 1974.
According to statements to police by family and friends, prior to the publication of Zodiac’s codes, Allen had possession of codes featuring identical symbols. Additionally, Allen was known to use the same unusual spelling and phrasing as Zodiac later used, such as spelling “Mery Xmass” instead of Merry Xmas and saying “trigger mech” instead of trigger mechanism. Allen would intentionally misspell words to be funny.
In a 1969 letter, Zodiac used the term “bussy work,” which is jargon used by elementary-school teachers. (“Busy work” is a technique used to keep children busy and therefore happy, by assigning them menial tasks.) Prior to his termination in March 1968, Allen had almost 10 years of experience as an elementary-school teacher.
**Despite its negative ramifications on his life, Allen continued to wear his Zodiac watch until it was seized during the execution of VPD’s search warrant in 1991.
Lake Herman Road
In late-March 1968, Allen was fired from his job as an elementary-school teacher for molesting a student. (This was Allen’s second career failure, as in 1958 he was less-than-honorably discharged from the Navy after two years of service.) With no source of income, Allen moved back home with his mother and father at 32 Fresno St. in Vallejo. According to friends and family, Allen hated his mother and felt inferior around his father, Ethan. (Ethan was a very successful military man.) Certainly, being a child molester didn’t help Arthur’s status around the house. Allen began gaining weight and drinking heavily, eventually taking a part-time job as a service-station attendant. By winter, Allen was in a downward spiral of depression and alcohol abuse, most probably amplified by two major stressors: his birthday and Christmas. The apparently motiveless Lake Herman Road murders occured on Dec. 20, 1968, just between Allen’s Dec. 18 birthday and Christmas, Dec. 25.
Profiles indicate serial killers are always active in areas they are very familiar with. Allen was living only about seven minutes from the Lake Herman Road crime scene. He had an explosive temper, was known to park and drink alcohol in rural settings such as Lake Herman Road and always carried weapons in his automobile.
**In 1991, the search warrant executed by VPD revealed Allen owned the same type of ammunition used to kill the victims of Zodiac’s Lake Herman Road attack.
Blue Rock Springs
Zodiac’s Blue Rock Springs attack of July 4, 1969 was the second within seven months to occur on the eastern outskirts of Vallejo. This time, Zodiac was only about four minutes from Allen’s home. Major holidays can bring out ugly behavior in people and Allen was already dealing with unemployment and alcohol abuse. The male victim, Mike Mageau, survived the attack and gave police a description of Zodiac’s car: brown in color, possibly a Corvair. At the time, Allen had a friend, Philip, who was trying to sell his brown Corvair. According to a police statement, Philip’s Corvair was parked in front of a service station in Vallejo where Allen had recently been employed and the key was inside the office. Philip had occasionally allowed Allen to drive the Corvair. The possibility exists that Allen either had a key to the car or to the service station where it was parked.
Additionally, there are potential connections between Blue Rock Springs victim Darlene Ferrin and Allen. In 1966-67, Ferrin worked as a waitress at the International House of Pancakes on Tennessee Street in Vallejo, less than 1/10 of a mile from Allen’s home at 32 Fresno St. About that time, Allen is alleged to have told Don Cheney that he was fond of a waitress from that restaurant. Also, according to a police report, an unidentified male named “Lee” was known to associate occasionally with Darlene. (Allen was known by his middle name, spelling it “Lee.”) Until “Lee” is identified, the possibility exists that victim Ferrin might have known Allen. Finally, in 1971 Allen’s father, Ethan, died. The date was March 17…Darlene’s birthday. It was yet another occasion when someone close to Allen died on a significant Zodiac date.
**According to a police report, in mid-1992 surviving Blue Rock Springs victim Mageau picked Allen out of a VPD police lineup, saying “That’s him! He’s the man that shot me!”
On Sept. 27, 1969, Zodiac used a foot-long knife with a sheath and rivets to attack a young couple at Lake Berryessa in Napa County, just north of Vallejo. Allen, an outdoorsman, frequented recreational areas such as Berryessa often, trapping game, scuba-diving and camping. Allen was familiar with the Berryessa area and even told VPD’s Sgt. Lynch, in an Oct. 6, 1969 interview, that the day of the attack he “was going to go to Berryessa, but went up the coast instead.” Allen first used a mysterious couple from Treasure Island as an alibi, but could never produce their names or phone number. (A 1930s film, Charlie Chan At Treasure Island, featured a villain named “Dr. Zodiac,” who wrote taunting letters about his San Francisco crimes.) Later, Allen attempted to use a deceased elderly neighbor as an alibi, claiming this neighbor, William White, had seen Allen the afternoon of the Berryessa attack and that the two had a conversation. (At this time another William White, a ranger from Napa County, was all over the news as a spokesman on the Berryessa attack.) Neighbor White died within a couple of weeks of this alleged encounter. His birthday was Dec. 20.
During a 1971 police interrogation, Allen admitted to having possession of bloody knives the day of the Berryessa attack, claiming he used the knives to “kill a chicken.”
Allen’s physical appearance and voice were the same as Zodiac’s, according to surviving Berryessa victim Bryan Hartnell. Hartnell had been taken to see Allen at his place of employment by a DOJ representative in the mid-1970s.
Zodiac left size 10.5 footprints at the crime scene. According to a police report, Allen wore size 10.5.
**In 1991, the search warrant executed by VPD revealed Allen owned a foot-long knife with a sheath and rivets. To date, even though it was an item it was looking for, VPD has not attempted matching Allen’s knife to the wounds of the Berryessa victims.
When Zodiac hailed Paul Stine’s cab in San Francisco on Oct. 11, 1969, his original destination was Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights, an intersection featuring a school crosswalk. (Amazingly, the address Stine was headed when he encountered Zodiac was 500 9th Ave., the Allen Arms Apartments.) On Oct. 13, two days after killing Stine, Zodiac mailed a letter threatening school children. Exactly one week earlier, Allen had been interviewed by VPD’s Lynch at the elementary school where Allen worked as a janitor. If Lynch had asked to see Allen’s driver’s license, he might have noticed that the issue date was Oct. 13.
According to a police report, in 1991 Allen’s old nemesis Ralph Spinelli came forward to VPD claiming that just prior to the Stine murder, Allen had admitted he was Zodiac and would “prove it by going to San Francisco and killing a cabbie.” After killing Stine, Zodiac took his wallet, car keys and a portion of his shirt. In no other attack did Zodiac take items from his victims. It is a matter of fact that Zodiac did, indeed, prove he was Stine’s killer and he did so by including scraps of Stine’s bloody shirt in his subsequent taunting letters to the news media.
One such letter was postmarked Nov. 9, 1969 and contained a bomb diagram. Ingredients for the bomb included ammonium nitrate, fertilizer and gravel. Zodiac claimed in the letter that the bomb was being stored in his basement and that his “killing tools” were acquired through “mail order outfits.” In 1991, the search warrant executed by VPD revealed Allen had, in his basement, handwritten diagrams for bombs comprised of ammonium nitrate, fertilizer and gravel. Also found were mail-order catalogs for bombs, guns and booby traps.
**Allen and Stine had much in common. Both were students, both had the middle name “Lee” (spelled “Leigh” by Allen) and both were born on Dec. 18. Perhaps Dec. 18 was the most significant Zodiac date of them all.
-Arthur Leigh Allen Timeline-
This timeline is based on official police reports, Social Security records, employment applications, motor vehicle records and testimony from friends and law-enforcement officials.
(Most of the information about this suspect found elsewhere is grossly inaccurate):
- Dec. 18, 1933: Arthur Leigh Allen was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
- Allen was reared in Vallejo, Calif., and was graduated from Vallejo High in 1950. (It is suspected that Zodiac had very close ties to Vallejo, most likely as a resident.)
- 1948-57: Allen attended Vallejo College, majoring in liberal arts. He received his associate of arts degree in 1957.
- 1951-52: Allen worked as a lifeguard at the Plunge in Vallejo.
- 1953: Allen worked as a sailmaker at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, Calif.
- 1954-1960: Allen attended Cal Poly State College in San Luis Obispo, Calif., majoring in elementary education. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1960.
- 1957: Allen enlisted in the U.S. Navy. (Zodiac was thought to have an affiliation with the military, most likely the Navy.)
- June 15, 1958: Allen was arrested by the Vallejo Police Department for disturbing the peace as the result of an altercation with acquaintance Ralph Spinelli. The charges were dismissed on July 8, 1958. (Zodiac demonstrated animosity toward the police. It could have stemmed from perceived mistreatment.)
- December 1958: Allen was discharged from the Navy.
- 1959-1962: Allen, attempting to gain his teaching credential, was hired by Santa Rosa Elementary in Atascadero, Calif.
- 1961-1962: Allen worked two summers as a psychiatric technician at Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, Calif.
- 1962-1963: Allen taught at Travis Elementary, Travis Air Force Base, Calif. He was eventually fired for having a loaded weapon in his car on school grounds.
- 1964-1965: Allen was incapacitated with a “severely lacerated leg,” allegedly the result of a motorcycle accident.
- 1966-1968: Allen taught at Valley Springs Elementary in Valley Springs, Calif. His teaching career ended when he was fired for molesting a student.
- December 1968: Allen’s mother, Bernice, gave him a Zodiac watch as a gift. (According to Allen’s brother, Ron, the watch was received in December 1967.)
- January 1969: Allen allegedly confided in Don Cheney that he intended to kill couples at random, threaten school children in taunting letters to the police and call himself “Zodiac.”
- April 4, 1969: Living back at home with his parents, Allen was terminated from his part-time job at a gas station in Vallejo where he had worked for approximately six months. In August 1971, Allen was described by this former employer as being “undependable with a drinking problem.” In addition, Allen was said to be “too interested in small girls.”
- July 1969: Shortly after the murder of Darlene Ferrin, a relative of the victim informed investigators that Darlene had a relationship of some sort with a man named “Lee”.
- During the 1969-70 school year, Allen was employed part-time as a janitor at Elmer Cave Elementary School in Vallejo. (During Allen’s stint at Cave, Zodiac wrote letters threatening school children.)
- Oct. 6, 1969: Allen was questioned by Detective John Lynch of VPD regarding the murder of Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa. It is unknown who turned Allen in as a suspect or why. (Allen later admitted that when asked by Lynch where he was on Sept. 27, 1969, Allen had said “I was going to go to Lake Berryessa, but I went up the coast instead.”)
- Oct. 10, 1969: Allen supposedly told Ralph Spinelli he would soon be “going to San Francisco to kill a cabbie.” (Zodiac would later taunt San Francisco Chronicle columnist Marco Spinelli in a letter postmarked July 8, 1974.)
- 1970-74: Allen attended Sonoma State College, majoring in biological sciences with a minor in chemistry. He completed all academic requirements in 1974 but did not receive his bachelor’s of science degree until after July 1981. (During Allen’s stint at Sonoma State, the Zodiac murders apparently ceased. However, the Sonoma coed killings began. According to retired special agent Jim Silver of the California Department of Justice, if you mapped where the coeds were last seen and where they were later found dead, Allen’s trailer would be directly in the center. Eventually, many other murders were suspected of being the work of Zodiac. One investigator theorized that Zodiac was choosing crime scenes to form a giant Z.)
- March 17, 1971: Allen’s father, Ethan, died at age 67. Ethan was a retired, highly decorated naval commander. (Ethan Allen died on what would have been Darlene Ferrin’s 24th birthday. When Allen became a suspect, this was looked at with suspicion.)
- Summer 1971: Allen was employed as a junior chemist at an oil refinery in Pinole, Calif.
- July 15, 1971: The Manhattan Beach (Calif.) Police Department (MBPD) was contacted by Allen’s former friend, to whom Allen allegedly made the incriminating statements in January 1968. (See above.)
- July 19, 1971: A report was prepared by MBPD for Inspector Toschi of the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD).
- July 27, 1971: SFPD inspectors Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong, along with Special Agent Mel Nicolai from CII, traveled to Vallejo to meet with Sgt. Jack Mulanax of VPD regarding Allen. It was decided that more background information on Allen would be obtained before any contact would be made with him. Mulanax immediately began investigating Allen.
- Aug. 4, 1971: Mulanax, Toschi, and Armstrong interviewed Allen at his place of employment in Pinole, Calif. (The last authenticated Zodiac letter had been mailed in March 1971, just a few months earlier. However, after Allen’s interview by police, it would be two-and-a-half years before Zodiac would write again.)
- Sept. 14, 1972: SFPD obtained a search warrant against Allen and made him submit handwriting samples. Detectives found several bizarre items during the search, but nothing that would incriminate Allen in the Zodiac crimes.
- Sept. 27, 1974: Allen was arrested by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department on a charge of child molesting. (Zodiac had written several times in 1974, breaking a two-and-a-half-year silence. However, no authenticated Zodiac letter was ever received again after Allen’s arrest.)
- March 14, 1975: After pleading guilty, Allen began serving his sentence at Atascadero (Calif.) State Hospital.
- Aug. 31, 1977: Allen completed his sentence and was released from Atascadero.
- Jan. 3, 1978: Allen was hired as a fleet mechanic by Benicia Import Auto Service in Benicia, Calif. This employment ended on Mar. 3, 1978, apparently due to a slowdown in business.
- June 25, 1978, through 1987: Allen found sporadic employment in Vallejo, including a stint as an aide to senior citizens. Allen also worked at Ace Hardware on Tennessee Street for several years, as a buyer for the tool and garden departments.
- Jan. 10, 1989: Bernice Allen died at age 83.
- Feb. 14, 1991: VPD executed a search warrant against Allen and found a huge cache of weapons. (Allen’s probation terms didn’t disallow owning weapons.) Enraged at the search, Allen began granting interviews with the news media to proclaim his innocence and blast the police. (There was a huge amount of circumstantial evidence against Allen, including Ralph Spinelli coming forward with Allen’s incriminating statements of Oct. 10, 1969.)
- Aug. 1, 1991: Allen gave an interview to the Fairfield (Calif.) The Daily Republic in which he claimed to have consulted with attorney Melvin Belli. (Zodiac had written a letter to Belli in December 1969.
- NOTE: The letter can be found at the Zodiac Letters page.)
- July 1992: Definite Zodiac victim Mike Mageau picked Allen out of a police photo lineup, saying “That’s him! He’s the man who shot me!”
- Aug. 26, 1992: Arthur Leigh Allen died of natural causes at age 58. He had been suffering from diabetes and heart problems.
*Aug. 28, 1992: VPD obtained a search warrant against Allen and found many interesting items.
(VPD has been extremely secretive about the results of this search. The objective was to seize a videotape Allen had in his possession that was labeled with a “Z.” The exact contents of the video have never been revealed, although VPD has said there was no confession.)