Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer

Allen's Interview

Armstrong put these issues aside and notified the Vallejo Police Department. After some background investigation, it was agreed that detectives from both jurisdictions would contact Allen together and interview him as a suspect.

The interview took place at Allen's place of employment in early August, and was an almost humorous example of a suspect running circles around the detectives interrogating him. Allen displayed a great knowledge of the pop culture references used by the Zodiac as well as the media reports about the killer, but nothing about the crimes themselves. He denied the incriminating conversation that Cheney described, but did acknowledge reading "The Most Dangerous Game" and stated that it had made an impression on him. He offered an alibi for his whereabouts on the day of the Lake Berryessa attack in the form of a serviceman from Treasure Island - this may have been an oblique reference, lost on the investigators, to the 1933 film Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, in which the Chinese detective matches wits with a San Francisco villain named "Doctor Zodiac." He claimed to have spoken with his neighbor, Mr. White, upon returning home that afternoon - a possible reference to Ranger William White, who had appeared on television the day after the lakeside murder to discuss the crime scene. Allen also mentioned "the two knives I had in my car with blood on them" without any prompting from police: the blood, he said, "came from a chicken I killed". 1 There has been speculation that this is a reference to Brian Hartnell's words just before he was brutally stabbed by the Zodiac: according to Ranger White's statements, quoted liberally by the local media, Hartnell asked to be stabbed before his friend because he was chicken and couldn't bear to see her in pain. It has become clear with the declassification of Napa police reports that these were not Hartnell's words, and that they were attributed to him for the media's benefit. Finally, when asked for his whereabouts in October 1966, Allen responded, "You mean about the Riverside killing?" 2 Had this statement come any time before November of 1970, it may have carried weight as evidence, but the Riverside murder of Cheri Jo Bates had been linked to the Zodiac for almost a year, and made front page news around California when the story broke.

The detectives commented on Allen's wristwatch at some point during the interview. It was an expensive Sea Wolf model, made by the Swiss manufacturer Zodiac, whose logo is a crossed-circle. Allen responded that he received it as a gift in the summer of 1969. Allen's brother was later asked about it and said that his mother gave it to him for Christmas in 1967. In a parting shot at the detectives and police in general, Allen stated with doubtless irony that "he wished the time would come when police were no longer referred to as 'pigs'". 3  The Zodiac had used the epithet on occasion, notably in his seven-page letter of November 1969, and it was dutifully publicized by the San Francisco Chronicle on November 12, 13, and 26, garnering front page status twice.

In every case, Allen can be seen to exploit the media reports of the crimes and letters in an effort to tease his interviewers. While this behavior and the taunting letters that the Zodiac sent to the newspapers have been compared, Allen can just as easily be seen to speak from the comfortable knowledge that he would never be tied to the crimes because he was not the killer. Only the brand of Allen's wristwatch suggested knowledge of the Zodiac events before they took place, and even this item was assigned undue suspicion by Allen himself, who told police that he had received it just before the killer took his name. None of his remarks - or remarks attributed to him by any reliable source - betray knowledge of the crimes beyond the common understanding held by anyone who had followed the news accounts of the case. In 1971, the number of people with such understanding numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

 

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