I’ve long been fascinated by unsolved crimes. So the other night I watched “Zodiac,” about the serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area beginning in 1969 and was never caught.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr., the film didn’t do all that well at the box office — maybe because the murders attributed to the Zodiac seem too few (only five confirmed) and too pedestrian compared to the atrocities we’ve seen nearly 40 years on. Maybe it also has to do with the film’s length — two hours and 20 minutes may be on the outside edge of most attention spans.
It’s worth renting though. As near as I can tell, it stays fairly true to the facts of the case, and those facts haven’t gotten any less eerie with the passage of four decades. What elevates the Zodiac killer from his deadlier brethren since are the taunting letters and cryptograms he sent newspapers and police during his brief reign of terror. Since he was never caught, those communiques today seem to confirm the mythic status the killer craved. That’s too bad, since publicity often seemed more of a motive for Zodiac than any particular compulsion to kill.
The movie made me curious about the case. In the course of looking around online, I came across crimelibrary.com, which offers a factual, unbiased overview of this and several other unsolved crimes. It’s compelling reading. If you haven’t seen this well-written site, check it out. There are entries on a host of famous cases, including JonBenet Ramsey, O.J. Simpson — even Lizzie Borden.