For six decades, the identity of the Zodiac Killer has remained an unsolved mystery.
The serial killer was active in California in the 1960s and 1970s and was connected to at least five murders and two attempted murders - although he claimed to be responsible for up to 37 deaths, in a series of letters to newspapers.
The Guardian has described him as the US version of Jack the Ripper, noting that “he struck briefly and brutally, taunted the police and media and then vanished”.
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The case “continues to fascinate and beguile never-ending swaths of armchair sleuths”, adds entertainment news site Paste, and inspired a 2007 film, Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.
Now, a new four-part television series, The Most Dangerous Animal of All, focuses on the claims of a vice president of a Louisiana cleaning company who has written a book of the same name that allegedly solves the mystery.
Gary Stewart, who was adopted at birth, believes his biological father, late rare book seller Earl Van Best Jr, was the infamous killer.
“The wanted sketch [of the Zodiac Killer] just made my heart stop for an instant, because I had seen that face before and it looked just like my father,” says Stewart, who grew up and still lives in Baton Rouge.
Stewart began investigating Van Best after being contacted by his birth mother, Judy Chandler, in 2002. Van Best and Chandler met in the early 1960s, when he was 27 and she was just 14, “and ran off together in what became a nationally-reported story of the ‘ice cream romance’”, says Paste.
“It was anything but, of course, and Best was arrested multiple times and considered a paedophile,” the site continues. “He was also abusive to his child bride and their baby (Stewart), who he would close up in a footlocker when he cried.”
Stewart was ultimately abandoned and adopted, but later began a “quest to uncover the truth about his parents - which culminated in him believing his father was the Zodiac killer”.
Van Best, who died in 1984 in Mexico, was charged with a range of offences including fraud, rape and child abuse during his life.
And Stewart says his investigations strongly suggest his father was also the elusive killer.
“One of the cornerstones of Stewart’s evidence is analysis he had done on a marriage certificate allegedly filled out by Van Best. He asked a handwriting expert to compare it to samples of the Zodiac’s handwriting and the expert declared it a likely match,” says SF Gate.
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But the San Francisco-based news site argues that Stewart’s evidence is “scant and very circumstantial”, and concludes that Van Best is “one of the weakest suspects in the infamous case”.
The makers of the new documentary clearly disagree, however.
Stewart says making the docuseries helped him find some measure of closure, reports the New York Post.
“Every time I’ve reached a milestone in my search for my father, even now knowing he’s deceased, I always try to tell other people in hopes of convincing myself that I’ve got closure,” he says.
“I think my book ended [by saying] ‘My father abandoned me so many years ago, maybe now I can abandon him and walk away.’ And that was six years ago. And I have not abandoned him. We spent the last year and a half filming this documentary… but this time, I’m over it.
“I’m done with it.”
The Most Dangerous Animal of All is available now on FX and Hulu
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