Law enforcement and structured journalism will often attempt to provoke a reaction from a criminal - in this case a murderer - so as to generate a response that somehow undermines their anonymity and in doing so aid their capture, whether the claim of the article bears any truth or not. In this case the delay between Paul Avery's article and the Halloween card arrival would suggest not, after all, the time difference is approximately one year. That is until we drill down into the Halloween card, not for complex answers or mathematical solutions, but for the sheer simplicity of it all.
'Skeleton in the closet', coined in the 19th century, is a colloquial phrase and idiom used to describe an undisclosed fact about someone which, if revealed, would have a negative impact on perceptions of that said individual - and since we are examining this card as a response to Paul Avery, in view of his "latent homosexual" remark in the San Francisco Chronicle, this phrase has some credence, bearing in mind the design of the Halloween card. Coming out of the closet is widely used by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (LGBT) as affirmation of their real, yet previously hidden or concealed sexual identity.
This brings us to the underlined LAV on the Halloween card envelope. This could easily have been a simple underscore, having no meaning whatsoever, but let us assume for a moment this was not the case and it did have an intentional hidden meaning in line with the rest of the correspondence. If the Zodiac Killer was of British origin or of theatrical leanings, what could the word LAV mean. The word lav is an abbreviation for lavatory or water closet, often used in British colloquialism, and could provide us with a link back to the homosexuality angle. On the outside of the envelope we have closet, within the envelope on the card we have skeletons, so effectively we have skeletons in the closet. Admittedly this is a reach, so let us examine further the contention that Zodiac may have been a latent homosexual, or for that matter, one who had already come out of the closet.
It has also been considered that Zodiac had a military connection, in part, because of the Wing Walker boot impressions discovered at Lake Berryessa on September 27th 1969. What we do know, is that homosexuality and the military did not go hand in glove, certainly not in the 1960s and 1970s - and beyond. The Zodiac Killer was indelibly linked to San Francisco, as most of his mailings were to the San Francisco Chronicle, along with his final confirmed murder, which displayed a marked deviation from his previous attacks on lone couples across the bay. Paul Stine was believed to have picked up his final passenger from the theater district, near the intersection of Mason and Geary, while some believe it may have been around the area of Nob Hill or the Tenderloin District. San Francisco in the 1960s had overseen a marked change, in particular the Castro District having been transformed from a working class area to a prominent symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movements. After World War II many military personnel courted the area, unwilling to return to a life incompatible with homosexuality and other forms of behavior, and areas like the Tenderloin and Castro Street became the home to many gay bars and sex clubs. The Mason and Geary Street intersection which bisects the Nob Hill and Tenderloin districts, combines both the LGBT and theater influences under one banner, and may place the Zodiac Killer integral to this area, as this was the only time he failed to use his own vehicle in the commission of a crime. The question remains though, where had he been earlier that night?
The Halloween festival, LGBT community, police and San Francisco Chronicle were inextricably linked in the 1960s and 1970s. Halloween in the Tenderloin grew in the early 1960s with the growing LGBT community and welcomed tourists – who many of the prostitutes and hustlers relied upon for income. By the late 1960s, a major celebration area during Halloween was along Grant Avenue in North Beach, on which there were many gay bars in the late 1960s between Broadway and Union. In the early years of San Francisco it was against the law for men to dress up in women's clothing, but an exception was made for one night only on Halloween, a pagan celebration that would become the adopted day for gay celebrations. Gay bars were often the targets of extortion by police and people were routinely rounded up and hauled before the courts. Raids on gay bars were routine, with everyone inside the raided bar taken into custody and charged with such crimes as being "inmates in a disorderly house". Although the charges were routinely dropped, the arrested patrons' names, addresses and workplaces were printed in the newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle.
Considering the military angle, persecution by the police and 'gay shaming' in the newspapers, could this all have come together, in part, to become the trigger for Zodiac's compulsion to fight back against a system he felt alienated by. As early as 1963, Castro Street opened its first gay bar, the 'Missouri Mule'. One such person, was gay activist and entertainer Jose Sarria, who himself had served in World War II, but continued to fight the police harassment against, not only gay people, but gay establishments as a whole, having performed in the 'Black Cat Bar' at 710 Montgomery Street, a north-south thoroughfare. 1228 Montgomery Street was the former residence of Melvin Belli, who also became embroiled in the Zodiac case, Melvin Belli, Jose Sarria and the San Francisco Chronicle became intertwined in respect to these police raids and just may have been the reason the Zodiac Killer turned to Melvin Belli in his December 20th 1969 communication, in conjunction with his appearance on the Jim Dunbar Show. The following explains their actions to thwart police oppression.
In consultation with attorney Melvin Belli, Sarria countered this tactic by distributing labels to his fellow drag queens (hand-made, in the shape of a black cat's head) that read "I am a boy". If confronted, the queen would simply display the tag to prove that there was no intent to deceive. Sarria's actions helped bring an end to Halloween police raids.
The Zodiac Killer made reference to counterculture buttons in the Dragon card and Button letter, stating "If you dont want me to have this blast you must do two things. Tell everyone about the bus bomb with all the details. I would like to see some nice Zodiac buttons wandering about town. Everyone else has these buttons like, black power, melvin eats bluber, etc. Well it would cheer me up considerably if I saw a lot of people wearing my buton. Please no nasty ones like melvin's". The reference to melvin eats bluber is based on the creation of buttons in the mid to late 60s by Irwin Weisfeld, in the form of a counter culture expressionism. The actual pin button says Melville Eats Blubber, which is in fact referring to Herman Melville, the creator of Moby Dick, published in 1851.
Melvin Belli was also well known for 'Elmer' the skeleton, which he would often used in his medical malpractice suits which, after winning a court case, he would invariably raise a Jolly Roger flag over his Montgomery Street office building in the Barbary Coast district of San Francisco.
Are any of the above in anyway responsible for the 'toilet humor' employed by the Zodiac Killer within the Halloween card, created as a direct result of his experiences of vilification and persecution by the police and San Francisco Chronicle in the anti-homosexual climate of fear he lived in, that ultimately drove him on his conquest of revenge and retribution? Is there any chance, however small, that the Zodiac Killer's name, address and workplace may be found in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper archives, as a result of the 'gay shaming' that occurred throughout the 1960s and 1970s? Is there a name we may recognize in print, or has the Zodiac Killer's identity once again slipped through our fingers.