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Author provides compelling evidence that Zodiac Killer is his father – has Zodiac’s identity finally been revealed?

Cover of The Most Dangerous Animal of All - The Zodiac Killer

Identity of Zodiac Killer revealed in 2014 book

It has been kept secret for over a year but today, HarperCollins has released a potentially explosive new book in which its author, Gary L. Stewart, alleges that the infamous serial killer The Zodiac Killer is his father. According to the book’s author, during a twelve-year search for his paternal father, he made the chilling discovery that his father Clip of Earl Van Best on August 31, 1962 during his sentencing in San Francisco (for trying to run off with was one of the most notorious, and still at large, serial killers in American history.

Although the San Francisco Police (the Zodiac killings took place around San Francisco and most of the killer’s cryptic letters were sent from within the city) have yet to review the book, The Most Dangerous Animal of All was fully vetted by HarperCollins lawyers who told reporters they felt the book was “legally sound”. Neither the author nor book publisher reached out to the San Francisco Police before publication claiming that the police department “knew more than they’re willing to admit”.  The author, Gary l. Stewart is a vice president at the cleaning company Delta Tech Service in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

According to Stewart, the “father” that he discovered had a long criminal record and indeed, a mug shot he uncovered bore a shocking resemblance to sketches of the Zodiac Killer.  His name is Earl Van Best (he often went by the name “Van”) and he is now deceased (1984).  The pictures below show that indeed, Best bears an uncanny resemblance to an earlier sketch of The Zodiac Killer.

Photo of Earl Van Best bears a striking resemblence to a police sketch of the Zodiac KillerPolice sketch of the Zodiac Killer (1969)

According to Stewart, who was adopted as a baby, his search for his biological mother led him to Judith Gilford (Chandler) in 2002.  Gilford recounted how she had met his biological father, 27-year-old Earl Van Best Jr., when she was just 14 years old, and gave birth to Stewart at the age of 15 in New Orleans in 1963.  The couple spent a few years evading the authorities because Judith was underage.  Best was eventually arrested on charges of child stealing, raping a minor and fraud and sentenced to several years in a maximum-security facility for the criminally insane (Atascadero) followed by a stint in the San Quentin prison.

Interesting facts that further the claim that Earl Van Best was the Zodiac Killer

Clip of Earl Van Best on August 31, 1962 during his sentencing in San Francisco (for trying to run off with "13-year-old Judy Chandler")The book adds to several interesting and intriguing facts that lend credence to Stewart’s belief that Earl Van Best Jr. was the Zodiac Killer.  Check out the list below and decide for yourself – is this coincidence or has the identity of the Zodiac Killer finally been revealed?

  • In addition to being rather odd and eccentric, Best was known to have a violent streak, especially towards animals and women.  Stewart wrote that on several occasions, Gilford (Chandler) caught Best locking his young toddler son (Stewart) in a small wooden trunk (nearly suffocating him) and that she herself, was terrified of him.
  • Best was paroled from prison on July 12, 1965, two days before his thirty-first birthday.  With pressure from her family and the police, his true-love, Judith Chandler, cut off all ties with him.  Less than one year later, the first suspected Zodiac murder occurred.
  • The Zodiac Killer’s female victims all bear a close resemblance to Best’s shunted lover, Judith Gilford.
  • Earl Van Best bears a striking resemblance to sketches of the Zodiac Killer.
  • Both Zodiac’s and Best’s fingerprints featured the same diagonal scars (a fingerprint match could not be made because of blood on the print).
  • Best’s ability to evade police is easily explainable – he studied forensics in college.
  • Best’s friends recalled him having an unusual, and sometimes creepy, interest in the occult and noted that he often joked about sending “slaves” into the afterlife (a claim Zodiac often made in his letters to the police).
  • Best had more than a passing relationship with Anton Lavey (founder of the Church of Satan) and even ensured his second marriage took place on 6/6/66 (known by Satanists as Year One of the Age of Satan).  At one point, LaVey contacted SFPD telling them that he believed one of his “parishioners” might be the Zodiac killer.  To date, the police detective has refused to divulge the name LaVey gave him.
  • Best likely had a keen interest in serial killers.  He once used the false name ‘Henry Lee” [Lucas] on a fraudulent check.
  • After the final Zodiac letter was sent (and about the time that SFPD Detective Rotea began a courtship with Best’s ex-wife Judy Chandler), Van left the country, travelling and spending time in both Austria and Mexico.
  • After Earl Van Best Jr. returned to the United States from Mexico, he was arrested several times for drunk driving and is believed to have slipped into a alcoholism.  This could be interpreted as Zodiac shifting from serial killing to a life of drunken stupor.
  • Darlene Ferrin (victim of the July 5, 1969 shooting) told friends that a menacing stranger had been following her and gave her gifts he had purchased in Mexico.  Her friend, Linda told investigators that the man bought the presents from Tia Juanna and said that the man had a short name, like “Lee”.  Van made frequent visits to Mexico, purchasing books and historical documents that he brought back to America for resale.
  • SFPD closed the Zodiac case on April 6, 2004, the same day that the author’s mother visited friends (police detectives) at SFPD asking for help in locating the author’s birth father (Earl Van Best Jr.).
  • One of the Zodiac’s favorite symbols was a “dotted V”, potentially indicating the nickname that Best often went by: Van.  In another letter, the signature at the bottom is the combination of an inverted E and a sideways V, a “thinly disguised symbol for “Earl Van”.
  • Van’s best friend recalled Van’s obsession with The Mikado.  As children, they learned every word of the comedic opera.  Zodiac used lines from The Mikado in his letters and ciphers.
  • During the Zodiac murders, Zodiac targeted San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery with a taunting letter campaign.  Unknown until now, Paul Avery had interviewed Best seven years before the Zodiac murders in an article about Best’s love affair with 14-year-old Judith Gilford (Chandler) titled, “He Found Love in Ice Cream Parlor“.  According to Stewart, Avery’s account of the affair greatly upset Best.
  • Judy Chandler went on to marry one of the lead homicide investigators on the Zodiac case, Rotea Gilford. Stewart suggests this connection could have embarrassed the San Francisco Police Department and caused them to “shut down” the investigation.
  • A handwriting expert, Michael N. Wakshull (author of Line by Line), matched writing from Zodiac’s letters to Best’s signature from his marriage certificate.  In a sixty-five-page report, he concluded that he was virtually certain that the person who filed out Best’s marriage certificate was the writer of the Zodiac letters.
  • According to friends and family, when the home of noted Zodiac Killer suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, was searched by police, documents with identical symbols used in Zodiac’s ciphers were found.  According to Allen, he had been given the symbols by “someone in Atascadero State Hospital.  Best served time at Atascadero, a maximum-security facility in California. [see the Zodiac article for more details]
  • Best’s father was an expert military cryptographer in the Army.  He taught Best cryptography and they often worked ciphers together as part of a childhood game. Cryptic ciphers were often included in Zodiac’s communications to police and the press.  Many of the ciphers have never been solved.
  • Earl Van Best Jr.’s name (with purposeful misspellings, a common trait in the Zodiac’s ciphers) is found hidden in at least two of the Zodiac’s cryptograms and his partial name is found in several of the ciphers and cipher keys.  In the July 31, 1969 cipher sent to the San Francisco Examiner, his name appears in the cipher and cipher key no less than eight times.
  • The count of letters in “Earl Van Best Jr” matches the count of the as-yet-unsolved “My name is: “ Zodiac cryptogram. [see possible solution below]

Secret Zodiac ciphers contain Earl Van Best’s name

Below are some of the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers which reveal Best’s name (and variants of his name) several times in the cipher key and decoded message. “Van”, the name Best often went by, is most prominent in the decoded ciphers.

Parts of Earl Van Best name in Zodiac ciphers
Parts of Earl Van Best name in Zodiac ciphers

Zodiac’s 340 Cipher

The 340 Cipher was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle on November 8th, 1969.  It uses 63 symbols to represent (up to) 26 letters in the alphabet, plus possibly “space”, “period” or other characters/numbers. Despite countless attempts to decode the 340-character Zodiac cipher, to date it remains unsolved.  Is it possible that the cipher was not an encrypted message at all?  In addition to the obvious occurrence of a misspelled “Zodiac” in the cipher (see last row of the cipher below), the name “Earl Van Best Junior” can be found, unencrypted, in a nearly complete form by working through the columns backwards – with one letter from his name in each column of the cipher (the cipher contains 17 columns, the exact number of letters in the name “Earl Van Best Junior”).  If this seems like a coincidence to you, try to form another name that fits perfectly within the columns.

Note: the “shaded triangle” was used for the letter “A” in Zodiac’s previous ciphers.  Also, the symbol “+” was used in previous ciphers for the letter “E”.


The infamous (and unsolved) “My name is” cipher decoded

A letter postmarked April 20, 1970, sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, included the clue “my name is” followed by a 13-character cipher presumably hiding the killer’s true identity. To date, the cipher is unsolved – but we may have the answer.

Below is the Zodiac Killer’s “my name is” cipher with my solution revealing the decoded message: “Earl Van Best Jr” (actually a reversed “Earl Best” prefaced with a slightly scrambled “Van” and “Jr”).  You’ll note that Earl Van Best’s name contains 10 unique characters while the cipher contains 8 unique characters – the reason for the discrepancy could be an ingenious cipher trick.

The first line shows the solved name with the total character count below each respective letter (e.g., “E” is found two times in Best’s full name).  The second line shows the encoded message with “XX” and “OO” substituted for symbols included in the message.  Using the character count located beneath each letter, you can easily see the “patterns” in both Best’s name and the encrypted message.  For instance, the pattern for “EARL” is 2-2-2-1.  You will find that same pattern, backwards, at the end of the encrypted message.  The last line in the graphic reveals the solved cipher.

The odd “x in a circle” symbol appears three times in the encrypted message and is key to solving the puzzle.  A dead giveaway is the perfectly symmetrical placement of the symbol within the encoded message which hints that the enigmatic character should be given different treatment from the rest of the encoded text.  Indeed, six of the eight unique characters in Earl Van Best’s name are represented by six unique alphabetical cipher codes while the mysterious “x in a circle” symbol represents three different characters in Best’s name. In other words, all of the normal alphabetical letters in the cipher are decoded as you would expect while the three seemingly out-of-place characters are treated uniquely.  With such a short cipher, and without knowing Best’s name beforehand, the cipher would be practically impossible to crack.

Possible solution to Zodiac "my name is" cipher: Earl Van Best Jr
Zodiac Killer

Coincidence or Pareidolia (seeing what we want to see)?

An important question is, are we simply seeing what we want to see in the ciphers?  After all, to truly decrypt a cipher, we must know the key and of course, Zodiac did not supply us with a key.  As such, it’s a tough question to answer.  In most instances we “fudged” using letters to replace symbols in order to provide the cipher solution.  Then again, by definition, which is exactly the way a cipher works.  Plus, we know from decrypted Zodiac ciphers that symbolism was a normal pattern of usage in all the Zodiac ciphers – along with misspellings, that’s the way he did it.  And it’s certainly not a stretch to surmise that Zodiac would embed his true identity within the text of his ciphers –on more than one occasion he explicitly told police that if they solved the cipher, they “would know who I am”, implying that his identity was hidden within the code.

It will be up to the readers to decide for themselves, but I’ll leave you with this – try to find any other name that fits the “my name is” cipher or that fits perfectly within each column of the 340 cipher.  It’s extremely difficult to do (I could find none) which makes me believe we should not be so quick to dismiss Stewart’s findings.

Quick notes about Zodiac’s ciphers

When examining the above ciphers and decrypted contents, important information can potentially be gleaned from Zodiac’s previously solved ciphers.  For instance, it is believed when his first cipher (408 cipher) was decoded within three months (it was a simple homophonic simple substitution cipher with a few oddities thrown in), Zodiac made subsequent ciphers much more difficult.

As he did in his taunting letters to the police, Zodiac always included misspellings in his ciphers (and often used the letter “Z” to throw a curve ball into the mix).  Below are examples of words that Zodiac had purposely misspelled.

booboos, closeing, comidy, darck, idenity, pepermint, raceing, shakeing, srounded, symbionese, twiched, victom, waveing, xmass, averly, butons, circut, efective, unspoiling, woeman, accid, bluber, runnig, figgure, fryst, intersting, teritory, triger, truley, aprox, brunett, posibly, twich, dificult, dungen, experence, pleass, provences, thoes, rubed, wateing, nineth, lyeing, hapen, buton, noze, useing, fireing, frunt, efect, christmass, committ, toschi, anamal, paradice, howers, allways, roat, cene, abot, extreamly, evere, oute, mery, doo, bussy, complet, som, abnormily, anilating, cicles, claif, commic, consternt, controol, coupples, crackproof, cruzeing, cyipher, dangeroue, descise, disconect, entirle, epasode, hummerest, idiout, impriest, inthusastic, meannie, meannies, motorcicles, nucences, orginast, origionaly, paterned, pestulentual, phomphit, phraises, positivily, saterical, seranader, shabbly, silowets, singurly, sloi, swiches, thashing, thingmebob, unnoticible, ventalate, wachmacallit, whashisname, whrite, wipeing

Zodiac’s ciphers often used complex keys, multiple letters keyed to each individual symbol, anagrams, and quite likely, many more methods to make decoding of the ciphers difficult (or impossible).

It is believed that ciphers that could potentially lead to his capture were only meant to be solved under very specific circumstances (e.g., “my name is” could only be deciphered if you knew the solution beforehand – in other words, it is unsolvable).

Buying the book

The Most Dangerous Animal of All may be purchased on Amazon.

5 thoughts on “Author provides compelling evidence that Zodiac Killer is his father – has Zodiac’s identity finally been revealed?

  1. I looked on line for book reviews and found in several the same snippet, no fact checking “because the police new more than they were telling” or something to that affect, that is a tip off for me. I love all this kind of stuff but once I read (after a million os so times) the same kind of dodge about someone knowing more than the say, it just kills it. That is the worlds biggest literary cop out. No fact checking = no story.

  2. your decoding is hilarious, your odd x in a circle could be aswell a white space … also the scheme could fit hundreds of combinations. Ex.


    could work aswell.

    1. Well, I don’t know about hilarious – comedy was not the intent 🙂 Just given that the cipher is so short, I agree that there could be many possible combinations and without knowing the solution beforehand, it would be near impossible to decode. Not so sure about the symbols representing spaces though. That would mean the name has four parts (excluding prefixes and suffixes) which is highly unusual in the U.S. Also, it would dictate that the name be perfectly symmetrical (four letters in both the first and last name) which also would be highly unusual. I believe the symbols do represent something “different” or unique in the cipher, just don’t agree that they are spaces though. The other thing I like about this potential decoded solution is the mixed up “van” and “jr” at the beginning. Zodiac did that in other ciphers – followed one construct throughout the cipher and then mixed up letters at the end (or beginning). Plus the solution presents the first name and last name together – eerily perfect – in fact, when I began solving and those two names fell perfectly in line, I just about fell out of my chair. This was compounded by the fact that the first and last names share several of the same letters and all positions match perfectly. If Earl Van Best Jr. is the guy, this sure lends credence to that theory.

  3. There are many problems with the cipher claims in the book. Here is my analysis:

  4. the cipher was not what sold me on the identity of the zodiac being Earl Van Best Jr the mug shot, the fingerprint, the dates and the history of Van Best is what sold me. I read the book and the fact that he was taught to make ciphers, the Mikado, the timeline, even the fact that his former lover married a detective all fits too well tied in with a eyewitness seeing Van in the diner saying he spoke to him all too coincidental for me.

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