The mystery of the Zodiac killer — named for the cryptic and taunting codes he'd send the media and police — has plagued both professional investigators and amateur sleuths for decades. There were five confirmed murders committed from the late 1960s to the early 1970s that are attributed to the Zodiac, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, but the killer claimed to have murdered 37 people. The History Channel is taking on the story once more in The Hunt For The Zodiac Killer, a series that will investigate the infamous code the killer used and attempt to solve the case once and for all. And there's one burning question most viewers have: Is the Zodiac killer still alive?
No one truly knows, of course, as the killer was never caught, but the case is so old now that the likelihood of the culprit still roaming the streets is slim to none. Let’s say that when the first widely agreed-upon Zodiac murder occurred in 1968, according to the Chronicle, the culprit was about 30 years old. The killer would be about 80 years old now, and 30 could even be a young estimate for how old he was when the murders took place. Even if the guilty party is still living, he's most likely an elderly man by now, and it’s not likely that he poses any kind of real threat to the public.
Of course, there have been suspects that police investigated, but just were never able to nail down with solid evidence. According to another San Francisco Chronicle report, Arthur Leigh Allen has typically been the suspect most closely associated to the real killer. The article states that despite the speculation, Allen’s DNA didn’t match that associated with the cryptic letters and puzzles the real Zodiac sent police and the media. There are, of course, ways he could have worked around leaving his DNA, like working alongside an accomplice of some kind, but we may never know. Allen died in 1992, according to Newsweek, but one investigator who worked on the case remains convinced that he was truly the one.
Robert Graysmith, who worked as a cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle when the murders were going on, said he doesn't think it's likely that anyone but Allen was responsible. “It turns out it rang some bells with [investigators in other cities] who all independently end up on Arthur Leigh Allen's doorstep,” he told Newsweek in 2007. “There are too many good detectives who all came to the same conclusion.” Graysmith — portrayed in the 2007 David Fincher film Zodiac by Jake Gyllenhaal — has written multiple best-selling books about his investigation of the anonymous killer. He added in the same Newsweek interview that he believes the DNA samples taken from the letters could have been compromised or tampered with in some way during the years they'd been held, which could've been the reason they didn't end up matching Allen's sample.
San Francisco police closed the case over a decade ago, citing an unmanageable workload, according to CBS News. "The case is being placed inactive," San Francisco police Lt. John Hennessey, head of the department's homicide unit at the time, told CBS in 2004. "Given the pressure of our existing caseload and the amount of cases that remain open at this time, we need to be most efficient at using our resources." Police said in the report that the case would be reopened if a “promising lead” ever came in. There have been many people who have claimed to know who the Zodiac killer is, but none have ever produced a compelling enough case for a solid answer to come to light.
The case has become almost like an urban legend — it's something we've all heard of and seen references to in pop culture and media. It's become something so otherworldly and strange that it's almost ingrained into American culture as a tall tale or a myth, and though we may not know for sure whether the Zodiac killer is still living, speculation will surely endure for years to come.