Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Zodiac Killer

The Case Against Arthur Allen

Arthur Allen, by most accounts, was something of an eccentric. Described as "anti-establishment", 1 he was rejected as a VPD applicant at age 19 and received a discharge other than honorable from the US Navy at 25. He owned several handguns and allegedly kept one in his car at all times. He was also a pedophile, and had lost jobs, alienated friends, and would be committed to Atascadero State Hospital because of this disorder. Cheney was not the only person to whom he had spoken about the Zodiac murders: Allen made no secret of his 1969 interview with Det. John Lynch, and bragged openly that he was a Zodiac suspect. He also appeared to have an interest in abnormal psychology, studying Mental Hygiene and working at Atascadero before his incarceration there. It is not too great a stretch of the imagination to think that Allen, with his interest in guns, law enforcement, and the criminal mind, might simply have been interested in the shocking local murder and brought the topic up one night with Cheney. He may even have recognized the apparent lack of motive in the case, and commented on "The Most Dangerous Game" to explain it as sport.

The Chief of Manhattan Beach Police contacted the San Francisco Police Department soon after the interview, and SFPD Inspector William Armstrong spoke to Cheney on July 26. During the eleven intervening days, Cheney began what has become an interesting trait of recovering memories that are increasingly elaborate in their indictment of Arthur Allen. He began by backdating the conversation by one year, telling Armstrong that it took place in December 1967, rather than 1968. 2 He then remembered that Allen had asked about how one could disguise one's own handwriting, and claims to have offered Allen advice on that subject. 3 In subsequent interviews, Cheney has also remembered that Allen had not initiated the conversation by bringing up Connell's short story, but by declaring that he was looking to change careers, and would like to become a police officer. In the event that this plan fell through, Cheney said, Allen allegedly stated that he could become a criminal instead, and would elude detection by committing murders that had no motive. 4 This story was changed yet again when Cheney stated that Allen couched his statements in plans to write a crime novel. 5 Then he added Allen's alleged idea to disable a woman's car by removing the lug nuts from one of her wheels. 6 (This story is an obvious allusion to the abduction of Kathleen Johns in March 1970, which has not been confirmed as a genuine Zodiac incident. Johns has positively ruled Allen out as the man who disabled her car and took her on a frightening ride through rural San Joaquin County. 7) Finally, Cheney has said that his inspiration to notify the police came not from the Grass Valley murders as previously stated, but from reading a newspaper article about the Zodiac's threat to kill "little darlings" - not even the Zodiac's actual phrase - which he linked with Allen's similar words. 8 It has become clear over time that Cheney's account cannot be relied upon for accuracy. A number of likely explanations come to mind, not the least of which is that his memory of events had simply become mixed up over the years, incorporating one or more genuine conversations with news accounts he had read or heard. The one explanation that does not seem credible is the one offered by Cheney himself.