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It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Gets Accused of Murder
May 29, 2009 8:33 AM   Subscribe

In the wake of recent news that a woman has come forward claiming her father was the Zodiac Killer, author Michael O' Hare tells his tale: In the early 80s, he began receiving cryptic postcards and letters using symbols he later discovered were also used by the Zodiac Killer. He naturally alerted the authorities. The result? "The [FBI] agent then explained that the mail was from an amateur sleuth in California named Gareth Penn, who had been trying for some time to interest the police in the idea that I was the Zodiac killer."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing (41 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow crazy people sure live up to the adjective.
posted by graventy at 8:44 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


huh. all this time I thought it was difficult to make someone's life a living hell. turns out all you need to do is tell the FBI they're a serial killer.

The decades since Penn fixed his sights on me have not been a living hell, much as that would spice up this story.

oh. never mind.
posted by shmegegge at 8:54 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, O'Hare takes a surprisingly good-humored take on Penn's mission. I don't know if I'd be able to see the lighter side of being accused of being a serial killer, to be honest.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:57 AM on May 29, 2009


Mark Kleiman: It is said that there is no regret in life as profound as the regret that comes from successfully resisting a temptation. When Mike O'Hare moved to Berkeley from the Kennedy School, I thought about trying to get some students there to decorate the doorway of the Berkeley public policy building with a banner reading, "Welcome back, Zodiac."
posted by maudlin at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are people still interested in this? You'll never find the Zodiac. He is too smart and handsome. Stop meddling.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:03 AM on May 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


So, for the record: I am not the Zodiac killer, had absolutely nothing to do with those (or any other) murders.

I wish all suspects were so forth-coming. That would make the process so much easier. None of this He-said/She-said, looking for witnesses and weapons and looking for viable DNA matches.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Crazy shopping cart lady down the street called me a filthy whore recently, but that doesn't make it so.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:10 AM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, I don't think Mr. O'Hare was ever a suspect, filthy light thief. He was just a fellow that one nut decided should be a suspect.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:10 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even today, I know little about the man, beyond the odd detail I’ve picked up here and there—like the fact that he is a librarian

Oh, great--ruin it for all the other librarians! Now no one will believe my theory that Stephen King was behind the grassy knoll at Dallas. (He was a precocious 16-year-old.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:17 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a terrible headline for the daughter story, the woman is obviously a kook, or at the very least, a publicity whore. She didn't "reveal" anything, she made outrageous claims and can't back them up.
posted by 2sheets at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2009


Give a human being a data set with n components, in which n > 1, and he or she will try to impose order on it, even if no actual schema exists. It's simultaneously one of our most noble and frustrating qualities, leading to both conspiracy theories and GUTs, racism and Copernican systems.

The larger n becomes, the more compelling and necessary the system - to some more than others, obviously. We're biological pattern recognition, and pattern imposing, machines.

That desire to make order out of random chaos is a fundamental function of life. So I don't feel anger towards O'Hare's stalker. I feel empathy, and pity.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Even today, I know little about the man [Gareth Penn] , beyond the odd detail I’ve picked up here and there—like the fact that he is a librarian and surveyor by trade, that he has (or had) a wonderful Jesus beard, and that he is a member of Mensa.

Of course he is.
posted by dersins at 9:37 AM on May 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


That's OK, a while back, right here in the blue, was a link suggesting that Gareth Penn was the Zodiac killer.

I'm not sure what Penn's logic was, but it couldn't have been any weirder than the twisty turny path this guy took us down to assure us that Gareth Penn done it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:43 AM on May 29, 2009


Ah, here it is. The Gareth Penn is the one wot done it post.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:46 AM on May 29, 2009


That's a terrible headline for the daughter story, the woman is obviously a kook, or at the very least, a publicity whore.

Aw, c'mon--it's just good ol' fashioned American entrepreneurial pluck at work, isn't it?

Staring the most severe economic downturn in a generation squarely in the face as we are, some of us are reduced to quivering cowards plagued by nameless anxieties about what the future will bring.

Others knuckle down and get creative, harnessing the awesome innovative powers of capitalism to discover yet another novel technique for landing a book deal!

On topic: after reading O'Hare's account, I'm left wondering just what it was that ever brought him to Penn's attention in the first place? Was Penn once a student at UC Berkley? Did Penn just pick O'Hare out of the telephone book? By O'Hare's account, Penn's fixation on him seems so completely random and--well, not just irrational, but merely dumb.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't think Mr. O'Hare was ever a suspect, filthy light thief. He was just a fellow that one nut decided should be a suspect.

One man's nut is another man's Charlie Chaplin Sherlock Holmes. Or something of that sort.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2009


Penn was on the right track with all that stuff about water, but he screwed up when he focused on all that HOH nonsense. It is obvious to anyone that the real killer must be Jaques Cousteau, who had a love/hate relationship with water ever since he got the bends while diving and spent much of the late 60's zipping around in those nifty Zodiac boats, which would make excellent get-away vehicles, as many a commando knows. Unfortunately no one in law enforcement or the media has looked into this, despite my tireless efforts to publicize this theory ever since I came up with it about 5 minutes ago.
posted by TedW at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


Crazy shopping cart lady down the street called me a filthy whore recently, but that doesn't make it so.

That's not what I heard.
posted by chillmost at 10:20 AM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately no one in law enforcement or the media has looked into this, despite my tireless efforts to publicize this theory ever since I came up with it about 5 minutes ago.

Just hire a publicist and issue an official-looking press release that describes you as a "Distinguished Citizen Journalist and America's preeminent authority on the Zodiac Killer." You'll be on the talk-show circuit in no time!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


dersins: Of course he is.

Even better, he published his crazy theories in MENSA's newsletter.
posted by Kattullus at 10:24 AM on May 29, 2009


I hadn't really seen any indication of how seriously police were taking Deborah Perez' claims. But the google tells me that investigators (including George Balwart) are very skeptical.

Oh yeah, and last year she told people that she was JFK's illegitimate child, and was with Robert and Rose Kennedy the day before RFK was murdered.
posted by msalt at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a great theory, TedW, and when it becomes famous, we can live vicariously through you with a "Mefi's Own" post.
posted by misha at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


One man's nut is another man's Charlie Chaplin Sherlock Holmes. Or something of that sort.

And one man's Sherlock Holmes is another man's nut...or something of that sort.
posted by Verdant at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2009


And one nut's Sherlock Holmes is another man's man.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2009


Halloween Jack wrote: Oh, great--ruin it for all the other librarians! Now no one will believe my theory that Stephen King was behind the grassy knoll at Dallas. (He was a precocious 16-year-old.)


Now, that link is some DAMN FINE crazy. I <3 the internet!
posted by parilous at 12:24 PM on May 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


And one man's Robert Anton Wilson is another man's Robert Anton Wilson.
posted by msalt at 12:28 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is anyone on this thread willing to admit they're a member of Mensa? Anyone?
posted by staggering termagant at 12:57 PM on May 29, 2009


Is anyone on this thread willing to admit they're a member of Mensa?

Nah, I'm too smart for that.
posted by msalt at 1:19 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Is anyone on this thread willing to admit they're a member of Mensa? Anyone?

Took one of their just-for-fun qualifying tests once when I was still a teenager; the results said I was a good candidate and should take the real test. (Don't you have to pay for that privilege? I can't recall.)

Then I started asking friends of mine who were in the gifted program at school what they thought about Mensa, had they joined or considered joining, etc. It quickly became obvious that, in general, those who either already belonged or who seemed to take it seriously enough to consider belonging were the most socially maladapted ones in the bunch.

So I took that as a bad sign, and forgot the whole thing. Over the years I've never regretted that decision.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:38 PM on May 29, 2009


You can qualify for Mensa on the basis of SAT or ACT scores, previous IQ tests, and so forth. They're all well-understood in terms of mean, standard deviation, and the like. Now that the SAT has been renormed and the ACT restructured, I'm sure the numbers have changed. If memory serves, 1280 SAT was the cutoff in the olden days.

I know people who have put their Mensa membership on their resumes. *wince* On the other hand, they offered some sweet insurance deals, back in the day.

I'd lay a few dollars on the mean IQ of the active membership of Metafilter being high enough to qualify for Mensa.
posted by adipocere at 1:47 PM on May 29, 2009


This is all too painful when a dear friend has convinced himself of something similar.
posted by mkb at 2:21 PM on May 29, 2009


Oh, great--ruin it for all the other librarians! Now no one will believe my theory that Stephen King was behind the grassy knoll at Dallas. (He was a precocious 16-year-old.)

That guy used to park his van outside the bookstore I worked at in the late '80s. He would play guitar and yell crazy things at passersby. My favorite was. "American women just aren't sexy anymore! American women just aren't sexy anymore! Their tails are hanging out below their miniskirts!"
posted by echolalia67 at 2:41 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd lay a few dollars on the mean IQ of the active membership of Metafilter being high enough to qualify for Mensa.

Lately, I'd say metafilter's IQ of meaness is through the roof. The average Time 'Till Delmoi (TTD) is now around 5 comments/20 minutes.
posted by srboisvert at 3:21 PM on May 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


If she is telling the truth, and was technically an accessory to the killings, doesn't that mean she can't retain any profit from any books, films or interviews related to the crime? I'd think the survivors would be lining up the lawsuits to force her to pay up or recant.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:36 PM on May 29, 2009


These guys think Penn did it. They are nuttier still
posted by A189Nut at 4:10 PM on May 29, 2009


Or even these guys
posted by A189Nut at 4:11 PM on May 29, 2009


"On topic: after reading O'Hare's account, I'm left wondering just what it was that ever brought him to Penn's attention in the first place? Was Penn once a student at UC Berkley? Did Penn just pick O'Hare out of the telephone book?"

Pretty much. According to the second link:

"...According to Penn, he believed that the giant radian angle over the Bay Area indicated that the Zodiac was an artist of some sort, and therefore he consulted biographical directories of artists in the reference section of the Napa City and County Library. In search of a name that could allude to the elemental equation for water, H20, he discovered not an artist, but the son of an artist. The man’s initials could be rearranged to meet the requirements of Penn’s water theory, and the amateur sleuth set out to learn more about his new suspect, MrO."

So yeah, he did pick O'Hare out of a book, apparently because the man's intials were HOH. It's funny how Penn fixated on some parts of his pattern as being vitally important, but then discarded others when they didn't fit his preferred conclusion. And what's even stranger is that he would hold on to this obsession for so many years, never wavering in his belief that HOH is the killer. It's like he was looking for something to dedicate his life to, and this particular quixoticism fit the bill. If things had gone a little differently, Penn might have become one of those people photographing chemtrails or yelling about how flouride is poisoning the water supply.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've met numerologists who are convinced they have found the secret mathematical route to absolute truth. They can be pretty relentless, arbitrary in choosing data, and impossible to convince otherwise. Penn is totally reminding me of these guys, and he seems pretty number-focused himself.
posted by msalt at 5:18 PM on May 29, 2009


It's funny how Penn fixated on some parts of his pattern as being vitally important, but then discarded others when they didn't fit his preferred conclusion. And what's even stranger is that he would hold on to this obsession for so many years, never wavering in his belief that HOH is the killer. It's like he was looking for something to dedicate his life to, and this particular quixoticism fit the bill. If things had gone a little differently, Penn might have become one of those people photographing chemtrails or yelling about how flouride is poisoning the water supply.

The Bay Area is a tough market for developing a unique hero-complex.
posted by fshgrl at 6:16 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Based on the evidence available to the public, in combination with the solutions I have provided to the ciphers and codes found in that evidence, which I have presented in this report, there is but one logical conclusion:

Gareth Penn is the Zodiac Killer. (pdf)
posted by andryeevna at 2:57 PM on May 30, 2009


I'd lay a few dollars on the mean IQ of the active membership of Metafilter being high enough to qualify for Mensa.

I was in Mensa for a short time. In my case, I took a qualification exam, just an I.Q. test, with a few others and a proctor at a local library. I took the exam mostly out of curiosity. I thought it might be fun just to see if I qualified, that it would be a good way to socialize, etc.

In the end, it wasn't worth the dues to stay an active member. In my area, the local Mensa chapter used to plan their meetings around--I swear I am not making this up--shooting some rounds at a gun range and then eating Chinese food.

I have no doubt that most Mefites would qualify for Mensa. Almost every day, on almost every topic, someone shows up to remind me how little I know in comparison.
posted by misha at 7:12 PM on May 30, 2009


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