Watching Zodiac (2007), I was struck by the collection of evidence and codes surrounding the Zodiac Killer case that went cold until Robert Graysmith began actively investigating the details himself. The first note is decoded by codebreaking enthusiasts after being published in the Chronicle and other San Francisco Bay Area newspapers upon the Zodiac’s instruction. Authority figures and the media work together at first to collect and analyze evidence sent to the Chronicle. However as the investigation continues, the police detectives increasingly protect their findings and become gatekeepers (archons) of what the public is allowed to know. On the other hand, journalist Paul Avery (with the help of Graysmith) becomes a representative of the public’s need for details of the Zodiac Killer, both eventually foregoing their health and neglecting relationships.

A huge connection from the course that I made to the film was our readings of Codex and Fun Home, which are reliant on details of time, geography, and social climate that provide context to the narrative. In the film, the clues found in the cold case files point to the identity and psychology of the killer but it takes Graysmith to bring all of the collected details together to discover who the Zodiac may be. Also, the film points out the added problem of limited technological capabilities of the time. For instance, one scene details Toschi’s and Armstrong’s efforts to coordinate with the other detectives in other counties and towns nearby, who both proclaim that they don’t have a fax machine to send over the photos and handwriting samples. There were no emails or smartphones to glance at. Also, racial bias of the time most likely played a part in not apprehending the Zodiac KIller– two police officers passed by a likely suspect to instead search for a Black man for a short, but critical period of time.

To this day, the case is still open and even advanced technology, particularly DNA evidence, have not been able to link him concretely to the murders. Even in the film, Graysmith was briefly led to a different suspect because the handwriting expert advised him that the sample from the movie poster was close to the handwriting from the Zodiac’s notes. Zodiac also depicted the public’s fascination with who he is, such as the hundreds of “witnesses”, false confessions for media attention, and the theatrical release of Dirty Harry after Avery’s investigation was published. Today, we are obsessed with crime as entertainment, proven with the rise of police procedural dramas and investigational profiles; a quick Google search for “Zodiac Killer” pulls 441,000 results (including a recent conspiracy that he is presidential candidate Ted Cruz).

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