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The Zodiac Continued - The David Toschi Scandal

The Unsolved Case Cost People Their Lives and Some Their Careers


March 17, 1971

A letter was sent to the Los Angeles Times because as the writer put it, "they don't bury me on the back pages."

In the letter the Zodiac gave the police credit for making the Bates connection, but added that the police were still only finding the "easy ones" and that there were plenty more "out there." The letter included the score, "SFPD-0 (crossed-circle)-17+."

This was the only letter ever sent to the Los Angeles Times and the only one postmarked outside of San Francisco.

March 22, 1971

Chronicle reporter Paul Avery received a postcard thought to be from the Zodiac in which he took credit for the case of a missing nurse, Donna Lass, from the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Lass was never seen again after treating her last patient at 1:40 a.m. on September 6, 1970. The following day her uniform and shoes, marked with dirt, were discovered in a paper bag in her office. Two calls were made, one to her employer and one to her landlord, by an unidentified caller who said Lass had a family emergency and had left town.

The postcard that Avery received included a collage made up of lettering cut from newspapers and magazines and contained a picture of an ad of the condominium complex known as Forest Pines. The words

    "Sierra Club", "Sought Victim 12", "peek through the pines", "pass Lake Tahoe areas, "round in the snow"
hinted at the location of where Lass' body could be found. A search in the area turned up only a pair of sunglasses.

Some believe the postcard was a forgery, perhaps the attempt of the real killer to make the authorities believe Lass was a Zodiac victim. However certain similarities such as the misspelling of Paul Avery's name ("Averly") and the use of a hole-punch had both become traits found in letters known to be from the Zodiac.

Although it did not appear that kidnapping was a pattern of the Zodiac, but rather spontaneous random murders, if in fact he was responsible for Johns' abduction then possibly Donna Lass could also be a victim of the Zodiac.

The mystery surrounding the case of Donna Lass was never solved, nor was her body ever located.

The Pines postcard was the last communication received from the Zodiac for three years. In 1974 he resurfaced although this time he dropped his opening line, "This is the Zodiac speaking" and the cross-circle symbol signature from the letters.

January 29, 1974

The Zodiac sent the Chronicle a letter describing the movie The Exorcist as "the best saterical comidy that I have ever seen." It also included a part of a verse from "The Mikado," a hieroglyph-type drawing and a threat that the letter had to be published or he would "do something nasty." His signature score changed to read "Me-37 SFPD-0".

May 8, 1974

The Chronicle received a letter from a "concerned citizen" complaining about the movie Badlands and asking the paper to stop advertising it. Although the Zodiac did not identify himself as the author of the letter, some felt the similarities of the tone and handwriting was unmistakably that of the Zodiac.

July 8, 1974

A complaint letter regarding the conservative Chronicle columnist, Marco Spinelli who used the pen name, "Count Marco" was received at the newspaper and ended the letter with:
    "Since the Count can write anonymously, so can I -- signed "the Red Phantom (red with rage)."
Some believe the Zodiac sent the letter, others do not. Doubting that the letters were really authored by the Zodiac, police detective David Toschi sent them to the FBI Laboratory who responded that the letters were probably prepared by the writer of the Zodiac letters. No other communication was received from the Zodiac for another four years.

April 24, 1978

A letter was sent to the Chronicle and given to reporter Duffy Jennings, Paul Avery's replacement after he went to work at the San Francisco Examiner. Duffy contacted Detective David Toschi, who had worked on the Zodiac case since the Stine murder and was the only remaining San Francisco Police Department (SFDP) investigator working the case.

Toschi turned the letters over to John Shimoda of the U.S. Postal Service crime laboratory to verify if the letters were authored by the Zodiac instead of giving them to the chief examiner for the Questioned Documents division of the SFPD. Why he made that decision is unknown, however Shimoda did verify that the letter was authored by the Zodiac. Four experts three months later declared the letter a hoax.

At that time Toschi was in the middle of a political battle and looking at possibly replacing the current chief of police. For all of those who adored Toschi, many just wanted him to go away. When it became known that the letters were a hoax, many pointed the finger at Toschi, believing he had forged the letter.

The suspicions about Toschi forging the Zodiac letter was based on an earlier incident involving columnist Armistead Maupin, who was writing a series for the Chronicle called, "Tales of the City,". He received a lot fan mail for the series and in an effort to verify that the letters were legitimate he became suspicious that Toschi had written some of them under fake names.

Maupin made the decision to do nothing about it at the time, but when the forged Zodiac letter surfaced, Maupin thought it was possible Toschi was responsible and reported the fake fan letters and his suspicions to Toschi's superiors. Toschi eventually admitted to writing the fan letters, but always denied the implications that he forged the Zodiac letter and insisted the rumors were politically motivated.

The Toschi incident is just one example of the many bizarre twists the Zodiac investigation has taken over the years. More than 2,500 suspects have been investigated without anyone ever being charged. Detectives continue to receive telephone calls weekly with tips, theories and speculation.

The case remains open in some jurisdictions, but the San Francisco Police Department has designated it unsolved and inactive.

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