As I finish my Santa Barbara tasting of barrel samples, my thoughts are drifting from Grenache and Syrah to an entirely different subject. I’m thinking about the Zodiac. This is not a new wine or an inflatable boat or even an attempt to link wine to astrological forecasts or biodynamic farming.
This is the tale of the notorious serial killer (dubbed the Zodiac) who terrorized Bay Area residents and taunted police and newspapers with threatening cryptograms in the late 1960s. Though he claimed to have dozens of victims, including two Napa residents who were brutally stabbed, one to death, he was never caught. Tonight a movie about the Zodiac opens in theaters, and having followed the case intimately for decades, it’s something I’ve looked forward to for a long time.
Aside from being captivated by the chilling case, and its elusive intricacies in my youth, I crossed paths with the story ever so briefly in 1981 as a reporter for the Vallejo Times-Herald. I found and interviewed a man, Gareth Penn, who claimed he knew the Zodiac’s identity. It was an exciting lead—the case had gone cold by then and police believed the killer was still residing in the Bay Area.
Penn had studied the Zodiac's letters and cryptograms and thought he had cracked the code. At one point, police considered Penn a possible suspect because he knew so much about the killer's secret writing, and Penn became obsessed with the case. I hoped Penn had deciphered the Zodiac’s code and that the killer would be arrested. I wanted to cover the trial, which promised to be intriguing, with a tangled web of evidence leading to the conviction of a very clever and demented killer.
This blog’s link to wine is this: As a crime beat reporter who covered many homicides and courtroom trials, I was always amazed by how many people could witness the same event and come away with completely different perspectives and observations. Sometimes I get the same feeling about wine. Many of us can taste the same wine yet have amazingly different points of view, and all be right—from our own perspective.