The story of what came to be known as the Zodiac murders began on December 20, 1968, though no one knew at the time how significant that particular shooting was to become. There’s no agreed upon date when the murders ended because the Zodiac—a moniker the killer gave himself—has never been identified. His shadow stretches until it just reaches into 1970, though attacks beyond 1969 have never been substantiated. For a period of just a bit more than a year, the Bay Area was paralyzed by the randomness and viciousness of these crimes. And that viral fear was spreading. Down in Los Angeles, the Tate and LaBianca murders committed by the Manson family were essentially contemporaneous with later Zodiac attacks. Californians at both ends of the state were sleepwalking through a new reality.
This is the context in which the editorial cartoonist Robert Graysmith began a job at the San Francisco Chronicle in the summer of 1969. And though the timeline of the Zodiac murders is a relatively compact one, it’s a thread Graysmith, who became a central part of the narrative, continues to chase. The story depicted in David Fincher’s 2007 film, based on Graysmith’s bestselling 1986 book by the same title, begins and ends with Graysmith. Ten years on, the film that tells his story continues to transfix viewers, and getting caught up in its snare still feels all too easy.