An In-Depth Analysis Of ‘Zodiac’ The Film Vs The Real Zodiac Killer Case

A new book by Gary L. Stewart claims that his Father was the Zodiac killer. This happens every once in a while. Someone comes forward and says they know who it was and, oh yeah, they have a new book coming out. It’s the California version of the Jimmy Hoffa case, where I’m compelled to tune in to the news for a week straight to watch the FBI dig up some guy’s backyard and nothing is found. It gets annoying, but I can’t avert my eyes from the helicopter view. The same with any Zodiac news. I’m fascinated by the case and have read many books, and have watched Zodiac by David Fincher — based on the book by Robert Graysmith — at least a dozen times.

Was the movie good? Hell yeah it was. But did it get a lot wrong versus what happened in the real case? Also yes. No matter how many times you read, “Based on a True Story” or “Inspired by True Events,” the fictionalized portions of the film are the parts that stick with you. So, let’s delve deep into the mounds and mounds of books, paperwork, witness accounts, and all of that stuff to see how much the movie actually got right…

1. The Taxi Driver Murder

In The Film: Paul Stine, a San Francisco taxi driver, is doing his job when he pulls up to an intersection where a man dressed in all blue and those recognizable black rimmed glasses. The man gets in and puts his gun to Stine’s head, pulls the trigger, and blood sprays all over the cab. We listen to the female voiceover of a call to the police as the suspect adjusts the body of the man, exits the cab, walks around to the driver’s side, reaches in, shuts off the headlights, and then scurries off.

Fincher devised a theory that the killer actually took Stine’s glasses after he killed him, and that sketch of the killer wearing glasses was just the killer in his victim’s eyewear. When Stine stops at the intersection in the film you can see him wearing the glasses.

In Real Life: The glasses part is a good theory, but evidence suggests that Stine was found with his glasses still on. The top of this forum has an image of the scene that has a NSFW picture of the body, so you can check it out yourself.

According to official reports, the cab stopped a block before its original destination. Stine was then shot with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol at point blank range. His wallet and keys were taken, and a large part of his bloody shirt was ripped off. Also found were bloody finger prints, and a pair of size 7 black gloves. The three witnesses also said they watched the suspect wipe down the cab. The witnesses gave the description of the suspect (first sketch and adjusted sketch) to the police before the description was botched by the dispatcher. For the most part, the movie got it right. This leads us to that whole dispatcher issue…

2. What Killer Would Leave Gloves At The Scene Of A Taxi Murder?

In the Film: A big thing in the film is the gloves found in the cab of the murdered driver Paul Stine. The gloves are always called the Zodiac’s gloves so as you watch you get it in your head they were his gloves and no one elses. But then there’s the fact that there were bloody prints in the cab that weren’t Stines. We’re led to believe they might belong to the Zodiac, but he was wearing gloves, right?

In Real Life: What Graysmith learned — and what he put in his book — was that Inspector Toschi found out that the gloves belonged to a female who had left the gloves in the cab earlier that day with a different driver on call. Some allege that he invented that information so the Zodiac would come out and confirm the gloves. A report by the Dept. of Justice stated that the gloves, a men’s size 7, were the smallest size available and the witness statements say the gloves were too small for the suspect to be wearing them.

3. Did Robert Graysmith’s Marriage Get Ruined By His Obsession With The Case?

In The Film: During the film, Graysmith (Gyllenhaal) meets a nice young woman (Chloë Sevigny), and even on the first date he let’s the case get in the way by having to call Paul Avery. This case kept intruding on his personal life until his wife was fed up and left, even though she still cared about him.

In Real Life: According to Graysmith himself, when asked if his involvement with whether the case did ruin his marriage. It did.

“It affected my life in one bad way because I got divorced but on the other hand I have the greatest kids … As far as the personal relationship [with my children] that was not good. Zodiac was number one, that just took over.” “In the end, it wasn’t all bad. I think, had I to do it over again, I probably would do it. Probably would. But it does grip you. It takes over your life.” (Via)

Never let a serial killer come between you and your wife. 4. Did The Zodiac Killer Really Call Into That Show?

In The Film: A man claiming to be the Zodiac killer calls the police and states he’s going to call into The Jim Dunbar Show and wants to talk to Melvin Belli. He gets through when Belli specifically comes in to talk to him. He screams like a madman, says he wants to kill kids, blames it on his headaches, and so on. He sets up a meeting at the Fairmount Hotel, but later, when they go to the meeting spot, he never shows.

They eventually trace the call, and it turns out he was just a mental patient and had nothing to do with the Zodiac.

In Real Life: Yes, someone called, but it wasn’t the Zodiac. The last time Belli was on the show, a man claiming to be Zodiac tried calling in 12 times but didn’t get through. He then called the police and told them he was the Zodiac and said he was going to call into the show at a certain time. This finally made the police, Belli, and the show setup a sting to track where the man was calling from when he eventually called.

The film differs a bit. For example, you don’t hear the man on the phone scream really loudly and blame it on his headaches. If you remember seeing TV spots for the film, that scream of insanity was a major selling point for people to come out and see the film. It made it look like, “Holy crap, the Zodiac called into a show?! THAT’S CRAZY!”

That never really happened, but the interview was still chilling. Check out the real version of when the man called in to the show:

There’s another extended version of the tape where you can also hear the phone calls (to the police to get them to set up the interview) they took and put into the film’s interview scene.

5. The Arthur Lee Allen Interview

In The Film: Remember that scene where the two lead detectives and detective Jack Mulanax go to Arthur Lee Allen’s places of work and they basically list off evidence one by one and Allen looks completely guilty?

  • He was wearing a Zodiac watch.
  • The same Wind Walker boots worn by the Zodiac at the murder near Lake Berryessa.
  • He mentioned the book The Most Dangerous Game.
  • He has bloody knives on his car seat to kill chickens he ate, as witnessed by neighbor Bill White (who died shortly after, which adds to speculation that Allen may have killed him because he was a witness).

Basically, Allen was handing the detectives (and the audience) things they suspected with evidence they had pointing to the killer, and even more incriminating evidence they didn’t even ask for (bloody knives on the car seat). Not to mention the noodle-scratching moment where Allen bluntly says , “I am not the Zodiac, and if I was, I wouldn’t tell you.” That’s a “Based on a True Story” if there ever was one.

In Real Life: Yeah, Arthur Lee Allen never said any of that in the real interview. He gave information about Bill White possibly seeing him with the bloody knives, and White said in a statement to Vallejo police that he possibly saw Allen use the knives to kill chickens. However, no one else besides Graysmith in his book really claims that happened.

What about wearing Allen wearing the Wind Walker boots during the interview? Nope. Didn’t happen. That would be a major clue in the case, but there’s no evidence to support he ever wore or owned them a pair of Wind Walker’s. All of this in the film gives heavy evidence that points toward Arthur Lee Allen being the killer. If all of this stuff actually happened in reality, he might as well of just walked into the interview scene with the Zodiac suit on with bloody Wind Walker boot prints following behind him.

6. Paul Avery and Robert Graysmith’s Friendship In The Movie: They start with no real relationship other than Avery being annoyed by Graysmith’s persistence with the case. They eventually have a drink at a bar and you know the rest.

In Real Life: They didn’t meet until after they both left the Chronicle. Which means EVERY SCENE in the film where they’re interacting is fictional.

They actually did meet twice after the case was history, and Graysmith wrote the book (which Avery didn’t like), so, imagine someone editing out all the scenes where Gyllenhaal and Downey Jr. talked to each other. Makes the film very weird, right? Yeah.

(Via IMDB, Zodiac Killer Facts, Chasing the Frog)