The dogged detective who hunted the Zodiac serial killer
Dave Toschi never did get his man. For nine years, the San Francisco detective led the hunt for the so-called Zodiac serial killer, who murdered at least five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. The case was never solved, but Toschi still made his mark. Known for his colorful bow ties, loud sports coats, and upside-down shoulder holster, he helped inspire two of cinema’s most famous detectives: Steve McQueen’s Frank Bullitt and Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty” Harry Callahan. Unlike those fictional characters, Toschi was no renegade. But he did share their dogged determination. “When a life is taken,” he said, “there must be justice.”
Born in San Francisco, Toschi joined the city’s police force in 1953 after serving in the Army during the Korean War, said The Washington Post. He rose through the ranks, and took on the Zodiac case on Oct. 11, 1969, when taxi driver Paul Stine was shot in the head at point-blank range by an unknown passenger—the serial killer’s last confirmed homicide. As the murderer tormented police with taunting letters and cryptograms, Toschi and his colleagues chased down every lead they could find, interviewing more than 5,000 people.
In an investigation full of twists and turns, Toschi “became one of those twists himself,” said The New York Times: He was taken off the case in 1978 after admitting to “praising his own work” in letters sent to a newspaper under a false name. Toschi continued as a detective until his retirement in 1985. But he never got over his failure to catch the Zodiac killer, visiting the site of Stine’s shooting every Oct. 11. “Why didn’t we get this guy?” he said in 2009. “It still haunts me. It always will.”