by Alison Flood)
A new book in which an engineer claims to have identified the Zodiac serial killer as his father is causing a storm in America, shooting up bestseller charts and prompting a re-examination of the notoriously unsolved murders.
The murderer who became known as the Zodiac killer was linked to five deaths in California in the late 1960s. He taunted police and newspapers with letters boasting about the deaths, as well as encrypted messages he said contained clues about who he really was. Although he was never found, a series of claims over the years have been made about his true identity, with the latest coming on Tuesday from Gary L Stewart in a book which publisher HarperCollins had kept under close wraps for months.
The Most Dangerous Animal of All, out this week in the US and next week in the UK, sees Stewart, an electrical engineer and vice president of Delta Tech Service of Louisiana, write of how he came to the conclusion that his biological father was the Zodiac killer. Stewart, who was adopted, names the late rare book dealer Earl Van Best Jr as the killer in an interview with People magazine, claiming that the victims resemble his mother, that there is a link between Van Best's fingerprints and one at one of the crime scenes, and that the Zodiac and his father had "virtually" the same handwriting.
"Years of research led Gary to the conclusion, after he launched a search for his biological father shortly after his birth mother made contact with him. He also says he unearthed forensic evidence among the clues he found," said HarperCollins' spokesperson Laura Lees, who added that Stewart had shared the information with the police.
HarperCollins says the book, co-written with the journalist Susan Mustafa, sees the pair "construct a chilling psychological profile of Stewart's father: as a boy with disturbing fixations, a frustrated intellectual with pretensions to high culture, and an inappropriate suitor and then jilted lover unable to process his rage". It has shot up Amazon's charts since details were leaked in New York magazine. The publication was told by HarperCollins that its lawyers felt the title was "legally sound", and that "if you look at Gary's photo next to the sketch of the Zodiac next to his father's mug shot, you can see that there is very clearly more than just a passing resemblance … They look alike."
"This is the last thing I wanted to find out, believe me," Stewart told People magazine, adding: "I'm really hoping this will bring some closure to the families of my father's victims".
San Francisco police spokesman Albie Esparza told CNN that the claim was "certainly something our homicide investigators will take a look at". Captain Steve Blower of the Napa County Sheriff's Office added: "We have talked to many people over the years. We've gotten reports over the years from people who don't pan out. This case is still open, and we still do accept tips or leads that may have bearing on the case."