Decades after the Zodiac Killer first struck northern California, making a name for himself by using the mark of a Zodiac sign and sending a series of cryptic and arrogant letters to police and local newspapers following his kills, we’re still fascinated with — and terrified by — the serial murderer who was never identified or captured. Though many books about the Zodiac Killer have been released, the identity of the killer remains unknown. It doesn’t help un-muddy the investigative waters any that over the course of a most absurd presidential election, Republican Senator and former-candidate Ted Cruz was, for just a brief moment in the Twitter-sphere, speculated to be the killer himself (despite the fact that as the killings took place, Cruz had only just been born.) Cruz’s resemblance to Zodiac Killer police sketches, however, is unarguably remarkable — leading a whole new generation of conspiracy theorists to Google: who was the Zodiac Killer? The only true answer out there is: we still don’t know.
Throughout the span of his killing spree, which lasted from approximately December 1968 to October 1969, the Zodiac Killer claimed to have personally murdered 37 victims. Although law enforcement, to-date, has only officially confirmed that seven of the 37 suspected victims (two of whom survived) were attacked by the Zodiac Killer, the killer and his cases still remain open. And while using true crime as entertainment presents a moral dilemma for tons of readers (these were real victims, after all) there is something in particular about unsolved cases that leads to an insatiable desire to fill in the blanks. Perhaps the numbered films and books about the Zodiac Killer are less a source of entertainment, and more a desperate, human desire to understand that which cannot be explained, and to answer the un-answerable.
Well, one thing is for certain: none of these books mention Ted Cruz.
Here are seven books about the Zodiac Killer. Read responsibly.
1. "This Is the Zodiac Speaking": Into the Mind of a Serial Killer by Michael D. Kelleher and David Van Nuys
One of the primary reasons readers dive headfirst into true crime stories in the first place is to try and understand the inexplicable mind of a killer, right? In "This Is the Zodiac Speaking": Into the Mind of a Serial Killer violence expert Michael Kelleher and psychologist David Van Nuys attempt to do just that, reconstructing crime scenes, reading through police records, and analyzing the Zodiac Killer’s handwritten letters to police and newspapers, hoping to offer some insight into the violent and cryptic killer’s mind. They come to a conclusion — but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
2. Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
Published in 1986, Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac was the first, and now most well-known, book on the Zodiac Killer, and is also the book that informed the film Zodiac . This is so well-researched and detailed that its lead some readers to speculate whether or not Graysmith himself might be the Zodiac Killer — a seriously disturbing thought. But let’s leave the sleuthing to the experts for now, and just assume Graysmith is an expert of his craft — the craft of writing, that is.
3. This Is Zodiac Speaking: An Essay from Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
This essay from Chuck Klosterman’s collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs is now available as a stand-alone e-book, and as part of the largely comedic collection of essays, This Is Zodiac Speaking offers a fresh take on the identity of a serial killer. The essay is derived from interviews Klosterman conducted with three people who have met and/or known serial killers, and investigates what it means to know — or even care about — someone who turns out to be a serial killer.
4. Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed by Robert Graysmith
A second title by Robert Graysmith to make the list, Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America’s Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed comes just 20 years after Graysmith’s first book on the murderer, and claims to have reexamined the research in order to come to a conclusion about who the Zodiac Killer is. While Graysmith’s evidence is well-chronicled and compelling, this book still might leave you with more questions about the killer’s identity than answers.
5. Most Evil: Avenger, Zodiac, and the Further Serial Murders of Dr. George Hill Hodel by Steve Hodel
Talk about setting the stage for some serious daddy issues. As an LAPD homicide detective, Steve Hodel discovered that his late father not only knew the victim of the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, he was also law enforcement’s prime suspect in the case. This discovery led Hodel to dig deeper into his father’s past, ultimately coming to the conclusion that George Hodel was not only the Black Dahlia killer and the Zodiac Killer, but at his core a deeply disturbed man who viewed murder as a form of art. Yikes.
6. The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery by Brenda Haugen
You don’t often see nonfiction, young adult books on serial killers, which is evidence of pervasive nature of the Zodiac Killer mystery. Brenda Haugen’s The Zodiac Killer: Terror and Mystery breaks down the facts — and the mysteries — in this slim book for teens and young adults. If you don’t want your young’uns diving headfirst into Graysmith’s sea of intimate details, this title is probably the way to go.
7. The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father… and Finding the Zodiac Killer by Gary L. Stewart
Another story — the latest, and perhaps the most well-argued — that makes the case for the Zodiac Killer being the writer’s father. Gary L. Stewart’s The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father… and Finding the Zodiac Killer reexamines old and new evidence, arguing that his father — a man the adopted writer never knew — was one of the most infamous and mysterious killers in American history. Steward pieces together a disturbingly dark psychological profile of his father, while weaving together a memoir of what it’s like to live beneath the genetic shadow of a serial killer.
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