Internet Sleuths Decide On New Zodiac Killer Suspect, Many Sites Take the Bait

by 24USATVOct. 6, 2021, 10 p.m. 16
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It must be a slow news week because dozens of news sites — including, ahem, Fox News and TMZ — clamored to publish a press release today from a group of internet sleuths claiming to have "solved" the 53-year-old mystery of the Zodiac Killer. Their suspect, Gary Francis Poste, died in 2018, and maybe resembles one of the composite sketches.

Internet sleuthing has been all the rage lately, especially after the HBO series based on Michell McNamara's book about the Golden State Killer, I'll Be Gone in the Dark, and the Netflix series Don't F**k With Cats. But not all sleuths are created equal, and some may be more interested in attention for themselves than actual crime-solving.

This group, calling themselves The Case Breakers, claimed in 2018 to have solved the infamous DB Cooper hijacking case, another confounding cold case that over the decades has produced a parade of possible suspects, and which tends to bubble up in the news every few years whenever someone else decides they've solved it. In that case, one of the Case Breakers involved, Rick Sherwood, claimed to have a personal connection to the suspect they fingered — Sherwood said he served in Vietnam with longtime DB Cooper suspect Robert Rackstraw, a San Diego man who was eliminated as a suspect by the FBI in 1971. He died in 2019 after saying for that the Case Breakers had ruined his life.

The FBI still considers the Cooper case unsolved.

The 40+ member team of Case Breakers includes a number of individuals calling themselves private investigators and trying to sound important on Twitter, and indeed their PR skills have gotten their work onto the pages of Wikipedia and TMZ, so that's something.

In the Zodiac case, they are pointing to Gary Francis Poste, an Air Force Veteran who died in 2018. The evidence they're using to make this claim includes comparisons of photographs to composite sketches of Zodiac, pointing to somewhat similar forehead creases that they say include a distinctive scar; and some seriously spurious claims of an anonymous "whistleblower" living in the Sierra, a man claiming to have been part of a criminal "posse" with Poste, and who claims to have seen post burying weapons somewhere but no one has found those yet.

Oh, also there's something about the letters of Poste's full name being hidden in one of the Zodiac's cyphers?

The other thing the Case Breakers claim, that they have "proof" that the Zodiac also killed a woman in Riverside, Cheri Jo Bates, in 1966, and that's been debunked by the Riverside PD. "Is there a chance that [Poste] killed Cheri Jo Bates? No," says Riverside Police Officer Ryan Railsback, speaking to the Chronicle today. “If you read what they [the Case Breakers] put out, it’s all circumstantial evidence. It’s not a whole lot."

The Zodiac Killer is one of the enduring, creepy mysteries of the Bay Area, and inspired an excellent 2007 film by David Fincher starring Marc Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal. Over the years, SFist has picked up on some of the theories that have been floated about his identity — including the 2012 true crime book by California Highway Patrol officer Lyndon Lafferty that claimed Zodiac was alive and well and living in Solano County, but he refused to name the man who he said was 92 years old and married.

Late last year, the Chronicle published the big headline that the Zodiac's 340 cypher had been cracked by codebreakers after 51 years. It contained the unremarkable message, "I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. ... I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice (sic) all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me."

Just a tip, if you want to get on Fox News or TMZ, just pick a popular cold case, declare certainty that you have solved it, put out an overly complicated press release, and wait.

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