The identity of the Zodiac Killer remains one of the most notorious unsolved cases in history, as evidenced by the number of theories that are still under study decades later. The new FX documentary mini-series The most dangerous animal of all explores claims by Gary Stewart, who believes his biological father, Earl Van Best Jr., was the notorious killer. In 2014 Stewart, who was raised by his adoptive parents, released The most dangerous animal of all with journalist Susan Mustafa. The book described his claims that his biological father was the man who terrorized San Francisco in the late 1960s, but is there tangible evidence that Van Best was the Zodiac Killer? It seems to depend on who you ask.
After establishing a relationship with his biological mother, Judith Gilford, in 2002, Stewart learned of disturbing information about his father. Van Best was 27 when he met Gilford, then 14, in 1962 in a glacier in San Francisco. He then married her and was arrested for rape San Francisco Chronicle. The marriage was canceled, but Gilford was already pregnant with Stewart, and while Van Best was on bail, he took Gilford and fled to Louisiana, where Stewart was born. A month later, in 1963, Van Best abandoned the baby in the stairwell of an apartment building and he was arrested again.
Years later, Stewart discovered not only the disturbing story behind the reunion of his parents, but also that Van Best had a long list of crimes in his name. In addition to the charges he incurred for his relationship with a minor, he was arrested for fraud, rape and impaired driving, according to the the Chronicle. He was released on parole in 1965, and the first murder of the zodiac took place in 1968, according to People. While Stewart discovered these disturbing facts about his biological father, he found it curious that Gilford claimed to have few memories of his time with Van Best. He also noticed a resemblance between his father and the famous police sketch of the Zodiac Killer which led him to believe that the two men were one and the same person.
During his investigation, Stewart had an analysis of the handwriting on the marriage license that his biological father allegedly signed, which turned out to be an almost perfect match for the handwriting in the letters written by the Zodiac Killer to taunt the San Francisco police. In addition, his father loved cryptograms, like the killer, and one of the murders took place just two blocks from Van Best’s apartment in San Francisco, as reported The Guardian. In another twist, Gilford married Rotea Gilford, a San Francisco police officer who worked on the Zodiac case.
While Stewart seems convinced that he discovered the identity of the Zodiac Killer, for now, the evidence remains circumstantial at best. Zodiac theorists take a special shade with the analysis of handwriting, as there is some doubt as to whether it was completed by Van Best. It seems that the priest of the church generally took care of all the documents. “It’s not father’s handwriting, I’m sure,” said Audrey Phelps, administrator at St. Paul United Methodist Church. the Chronicle. “It was the Reverend Edward Fliger (the priest who signed the certificate). He always filled them. I laughed when I saw it in this book.
The similarities between Van Best and the Zodiac Killer are compelling, but unless the documentary reveals details that weren’t included in the book, there is no conclusive evidence that the identity of the Zodiac has been cracked.