The Zodiac Killer continues to loom large, half a century after his murders terrorized Northern California: Every year, it seems, some internet sleuth comes up with a new suspect.
Author Jarett Kobek is different from the rest. On a recent episode of the Bret Easton Ellis Podcast, he spelled out the argument from his new book, How to Find Zodiac, that the Zodiac Killer may have been a previously unnamed suspect, an obsessive comic-book and science fiction fan named Paul Doerr who was born in Pennsylvania and later moved to the Bay Area.
An important caveat: Doerr is no longer here to defend himself. He died in 2007, the same year that David Fincher’s film Zodiac was released. And no one has been charged in the Zodiac crimes, despite decades of investigation.
Who Was the Zodiac Killer?
Kobek argues that the Zodiac letters to police and newspapers included several pop culture references from the time of his crimes that were so obscure and specific as to dramatically narrow down the list of possible Zodiac suspects. For example, he noted that a “Halloween card” that Zodiac sent on Oct. 27, 1970 included the curious phrase, “By Fire, By Gun, By Knife, By Rope” — four ways the Zodiac planned to kill his victims, in order to make them his slaves in the afterlife.
“In the background, on the cover, there was a ‘wheel of death,’ and on the wheel of death is says ‘by knife, by rope, by gun, by fire.’ That is a clear quotation. It’s never existed anywhere else,” Kobek explained to the American Psycho author.
He also told Ellis that with this clue, he was able to narrow down the list of potential suspects.
“In 1970 when that letter was written, comic book collecting didn’t existed. There were about 2,500 people who collected back issues of comic books,” Kobek said. “For someone to have that comic book in 1970 really clearly delineates them as something else.”
From that possible clue, Kobek started looking into comic-book collectors in Northern California. He also suspected the Zodiac lived in Vallejo, where one of the killings occurred, so he Googled Vallejo fanzines. One of the first results — here it is — includes a letter from someone named Paul Doerr looking to meet other fans: “Several tries have been made at an International SF organization and I hope one succeeds. I’d like to join,” Doerr writes.
“And the letter sounds a lot like Zodiac,” Kobek told Ellis on the podcast.
What Jarett Kobek Considers Further Evidence That Paul Doerr May Have Been the Zodiac Killer
After finding the letter, Kobek says, he uncovered many other Doerr writings, and compared them to the Zodiac letters. He says they have similar writing styles, and even abbreviations. He found that Doerr shared the Zodiac’s unusual fondness for cypher messages. And that Doerr was on the mailing list for a group that put on renaissance fairs near Lake Berryessa around the time of a Zodiac attack there in September 1969.
In the attack — as horrifically shown in Fincher’s film — the killer wears a Medieval hood.
Kobek reasons that the easiest way to get such a hood, at that time, might have been through an affiliation with groups that enjoyed dressing up in Medieval clothes for fun.
He also argues that Doerr resembles a police sketch of a Zodiac suspect, and — most amazingly — once published what Kobek describes as a “murder confession” in a fanzine called Green Egg.
Kobek says Doerr wrote a letter to Green Egg in 1974 in response to a father who said his daughter was under the influence of a commune. Doerr, Kobek says, told the father he should kill the leader of the commune, and that he could tell him how to do it.
“He says something like, ‘I can teach you personally the techniques to do this.’ And then the next paragraph begins with being like… ‘You probably shouldn’t run this part of the letter, but I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago and now there’s a lot of people who aren’t here because of it.”
The passage concludes ominously: “The only good enemy…”
Another possible connection: “Zodiac in one of his letters writes about making a bomb. He does it in two letters, but the first letter from 1969 is much more of an actual bomb,” Kobek told Ellis. “What he’s suggesting building is an ANFO bomb, which is ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. I find in one of Doerr’s fanzines he’s published a very similar thing to what Zodiac has written — he uses the same language, he uses the same abbreviations.”
Was Arthur Leigh Allen the Zodiac Killer?
Fincher’s film examines the suspicion that a convicted pedophile named Arthur Leigh Allen was the Zodiac Killer. But there is exculpatory evidence against Allen being the Zodiac Killer, Kobek says — and no such exculpatory evidence for Doerr.
“You can go through everything Arthur Leigh Allen owns,” Kobek told Ellis. “You ain’t gonna find a murder confession, let alone one that’s in print.”