Review of The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father . . . and Finding the Zodiac Killer, by Gary Stewart and Susan Mustafa


I am a true crime author and write about cold cases.  Often times I won’t write reviews about true crime books I don’t like because I respect the work that went into them, even if I disagree with their conclusions.  In the last few years we have had a rash of books where people claim family members are DB Cooper or the Zodiac or some other famous case. A part of me always fears that this is people capitalizing on famous cases for a quick buck.

I went into this book hoping to read a theory of a truly viable suspect in the heinous Zodiac murders.  In reality, the Zodiac portion of this book is about 1/4 of the content – and even there, it offers nothing substantially new.  The author added in his father’s name, attributing him to being the Zodiac.

This is more of the story of the author who tracks down his birth father, who is a low-life character.  This is more than validated. He claims his father was a big fan of the Mikado, potentially into devil worship, liked cyphers, and had access to the same style shoe as Zodiac.  I do not doubt that his researched unearthed these bits of his father’s personality. His birth father also lived in the area and had a reason to have a grudge against Paul Avery at the San Francisco Chronicle.  Digging through the cyphers, he found his father’s name…but much like a game of Scrabble, a number of names can be created from letters found there.  Again, kudos to the author on his research, but I cringe at the conclusions.

Circumstantially it seems like he might, stress might, be a candidate for consideration as a suspect.  I, however, needed more than this, and in The Most Dangerous Animal, it just isn’t there.  There is no smoking gun, no tangible piece of evidence that links his estranged father to these crimes.  Coincidences, yes – absolutely.  Speculation doesn’t make it so.

The parts of the book where the Zodiac is covered, he has written his father into the role of the killer. I struggled with these chapters of the book most of all.  It just feels like a huge leap.  That, and the dialogue he attributes to his father throughout his life seems contrived.  There is no way for him to have reconstructed that dialogue, even from witnesses, all of these decades later.  It feels highly speculative, if not, utterly fictitious. The book has an agenda and attempts to dovetail the evidence to fit that agenda.

What the author does provide us with is a potential suspect that has not been on our collective radar.  I applaud that effort, but let’s not make this more than what it is.

The book is well written and organized, which made me read all of it, despite the flaws in the research.  The author’s story of what he found out about his father is compelling on its own and does not need a flimsy Zodiac connection to resonate with readers.

If you are purchasing this book because you have tracked the Zodiac case, I advise caution. While this is a gripping story of a man searching for his roots and discovering dark secrets – he fails to make a case that his father is the Zodiac killer.  If you are a Zodiac reader, you will pick this up regardless of my words.

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