One Week after Purporting the "Zodiac Case Solved" Handwriting Expert Appears to Have Inadvertently Accused a Baptist Minister of Being the Zodiac Killer
Gary Stewart/Susan Mustafa book
QDE Michael Wakshull book
“I am virtually certain that the writer of the marriage certificate between Earl Van Best Jr. and Judith Chandler is the same writer as the writer of the Zodiac letters.”
Michael N. Wakshull
Court certified Questioned Document Examiner
The Most Dangerous Animal of All (HarperCollins 2014)
Los Angeles, California
May 25, 2014
SKH Note- Though I have read the book, and am myself an author of a Zodiac investigation, MOST EVIL (Dutton 2008), I am not going to comment on this book’s merit or lack of, as some would claim, “I’ve got skin in the game and cannot be objective.” The following article is written not to denigrate or judge another’s investigation, but rather to underscore my own long-standing and frequently stated belief in the overall fallibility of handwriting analysis and its potential for misuse when introduced as “hard forensic evidence” in a criminal trial.
Just one week after publication, in a bizarre twist of the documentary evidence, the accusing finger that was originally pointed toward the father [Earl Van Earl Best Jr.] of a San Francisco Homicide Detective’s stepson, as being the Zodiac killer, has now turned, and if the book’s handwriting analysis by court-certified Questioned Document Expert, Michael Wakshull, is to be believed, would now accuse the Baptist minister that married the father—as being the Zodiac Killer.
The book, The Most Dangerous Animal of All, (Harper Collins 2014) authored by Gary L. Stewart with Susan Mustafa, hit bookshelves, and electronic distribution just last week with a flurry of excitement promoting the “Zodiac Case Solved.” This was quickly followed by author interviews on CNN, and numerous radio shows and articles appearing across the Internet informing the public that Gary Stewart, a Louisiana businessman and the author of the book, “claims he has solved the infamous Zodiac murder.” Stewart is also the stepson of Rotea Gilford, a San Francisco Homicide Detective who married his biological mother, Judy Chandler in 1974. Detective Gilford while still with SFPD actually worked on the original Zodiac investigation. Detective Gilford, after retiring from SFPD, became Deputy Mayor of San Francisco and good friends with politicos, Willie Brown and Diane Feinstein. The stepfather died in 1998, several years before the author began his hunt for the Zodiac killer.)
Stewart’s “solution” is primarily based on 1) Seeing a television show and noting the resemblance of his biological father’s to the original Zodiac composite, 2) his belief that his father’s name, “E.V. Best Jr.” is hidden in an unsolved Zodiac cryptogram, and most importantly, 3) QDE Michael Wakshull’s positive identification of the father’s handwriting comparison to that of the known Zodiac writings and his expert opinion, “to a virtual certainty”, that the author’s father wrote the Zodiac Letters.
The Handwriting Evidence
The author’s father E.V. Best Jr. died in 1984 without his son ever having met or spoken with him. (The son was abandoned in an apartment stairwell in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, immediately after birth and never met his father in life and only discovered the identity of and met his biological mother in 2002. Adopted, and due to a lack of connection to either of his parents the only major document the son found that contained his father, Earl V. Best Jr.’s handwriting with printing was a marriage certificate filed in , Washoe County, Nevada in 1962. See that document below:
1962 Earl V. Best Jr. Marriage Certificate author Gary Stewart identified as being his father’s handwriting/printing.
QDE Michael Wakshull identifies this document as being written by Zodiac and states in his formal report:
…”2. I am virtually certain that the writer of the marriage certificate between Earl Van Best Jr., and Judith Chandler is the same writer as the writer of the Zodiac letters.”
Tom Voigt’s “Zodiac Central” On the Case
In my book, MOST EVIL I acknowledge and give high praise to Zodiac researcher Tom Voigt and his group of “armchair detectives” from around the world, all of whom are dedicated to attempting to ferret out the truths and identify the serial-killer known as Zodiac. In my book, I refer to Tom’s website, www.zodiackiller.com as “Zodiac Central” and it was my main source of reference during my own Zodiac investigation.
Knowing that Tom and his “partners” would be quick to examine all aspects of the new “Case Solved” Zodiac book, and had already begun to dig into it on Tom’s Message Board, I sent Tom a short private Email the day after I speed read the new book. (Some of my personal observations have been redacted, however, the main point and reason for my email was to ask Tom, “Has the Marriage Certificate been vetted?” See my Email to Tom, below:
Tom responded five minutes later with the following Email:
Just six days later, veteran Zodiac researcher, Mike Rodelli, a regular at the Zodiackiller.com website, became proactive and made direct contact with Ms. Audrey Phelps, the Administrator at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Reno, Nevada. (The church where Earl V. Best Jr. and Judith Chandler were married in 1962) Ms. Phelps informed Rodelli that “the handwriting on the 1962 Best Marriage Certificate “is that of Rev. Edward Fliger, the minister who married the couple and filled out the entire document.”
Rodelli then contacted San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Kevin Fagan, and provided him with the information which resulted in the following article, published on Thursday, May 22.
Zodiac Killer sex scandal shocks cops
Rodelli’s follow-up investigation resulted in the Reno church Administrator, Audrey Phelps, providing him with several pages of Rev. Edward Fliger’s handwriting samples from the early 1960s for comparison. Rodelli then posted these samples on the Zodiac Killer Message Board.
Questioning the Questioned Document
1961-62 Handwriting/printing samples purported to be those of Rev. Edward Fliger, the Baptist Minister who married Earl V. Best Jr. and Judith Chandler in January, 1962 . Documents posted by Mike Rodelli on Tom Voigt’s Message Board.
Based on 1) the positive identification of the handwriting by the church administrator, 2) the fact that it is SOP that the marriage certificate would normally be filled out by the official performing the marriage (Rev. Fliger) and not the groom and 3) my own lay examination and comparison of the above documents, to the Earl V Best Jr. Marriage Certificate, I would have to say that it appears that the QDE Michael Wakshull has identified to a “virtual certainty” as Zodiac’s is instead, the handwriting of Rev. Edward Fliger.
Keep in mind that the HW expert Wakshull is not identifying the HW as being Earl Best Jr.’s. Rather, he has declared that the HW found on the marriage certificate was in his expert opinion, written by Zodiac.
While Mr. Wakshull also claims he used four (4) separate document samples containing Earl Best Jr.’s handwriting for comparisons and analysis, we know that the other three documents only contained Best’s cursive signature, with NO PRINTING.
Simultaneous to the publication of the HarperCollins book authored by Gary Stewart and Susan Mustafa, their handwriting expert, Michael Wakshull published his own e-book, The End of the Zodiac Mystery: How Forensic Science Helped Solve One of the Most Infamous Serial Killer Cases of the Century. I quote Mr. Wakshull on his use of “applied forensic science”:
“In conducting my analysis, bit by bit, it became clear that Earl Van Best Jr. had, in fact, written the Zodiac letters—my conclusion is virtually certain that the two men who wrote the documents are one and the same person.
In this book, The End of the Zodiac Mystery, How Forensic Science Helped Solve One of the Most Infamous Serial Killer Cases of the Century, you will follow my research step-by-step to understand how I applied forensic science to unravel this intriguing serial murder case.”
Handwriting Analysis – Solid Forensics or Junk Science?
I remain skeptical and highly ambivalent when it comes to the use of handwriting in criminal prosecutions and the courtroom.
In my opinion, it, (much like the polygraph) is too subjective and when considered by a judge or jury as a standalone, can easily result in a wrongful conviction.
In almost every criminal case where questioned documents and authorship are a part of the evidence dueling experts will be used by the prosecution and defense. Both sides will present court-certified “experts” that confirm or deny, “To a virtual certainty” that the handwriting on a questioned document was, or was not, written by the defendant. That is not science!
In three of my own books (BDA, MOST EVIL and BDA II) handwriting has been a critical part and major factor in my criminal investigations. In both my Black Dahlia and Zodiac investigations a massive amount of handwriting has been submitted for examination. Many of the Dahlia and Zodiac documents have, according to my QDE been found to be authored by my father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, “to a virtual certainty.” QDE’s from the California Department of Justice have also examined my father’s handwriting (26 documents) and compared them to the Zodiac letters and to date, “Are unable to eliminate George Hodel as the writer.”
Not one QDE has come forward to go on record to say my expert is wrong and the writings were not authored by George Hodel. However, my expert’s findings cannot and should not stand alone and are presented only as circumstantial corroboration to be considered with the rest of the evidence.
What is undeniable about handwriting is that each of us has many seemingly unique “characteristics” which en-masse can be considered. Some are highly distinct while others are relatively rare, but still can be found in the writings of others. The interpretations remain subjective and oftentimes the examiner (lay or professional) will tend to seek out and find the common identical characteristics and tend to ignore the differences.
In the instant case before us, where based on the new information and documents, it appears that Mr. Wakshull has potentially misidentified the handwriting of the marrying minister as being that of one of the world’s most infamous serial killers.
However, all the facts are not yet in, and we need to wait for further confirmation on Rev. Fliger’s handwriting, before rendering judgment.
Finally, my congratulations to all of the Team Zodiac participants at Tom Voigt’s website Message Board and commend all of you (with special kudos to Mike Rodelli) for your persistence and determination as relates to the ongoing Zodiac investigation.
UPDATE- MARCH 25, 2014
One does not need to be a Questioned Document Expert to observe individual HW “characteristics”. After all, the jury, charged with deciding the defendant’s guilt or innocence are all lay individuals when it comes to handwriting. Here are just two lay examples from a cursory examination of the Marriage Certificate Questioned Document:
Here we are comparing the handwriting printing in the QD Marriage Certificate purported to be written by Earl Van Best Jr. to KNOWN handwriting of Rev. Edward Fliger, which the church administrator claims was the actual author of the writings. Note how identical each letter appears to be in the word “Methodist.” 2) Note how the word “Reno” was written. To my lay eye, this is what I would consider a distinct “characteristic”. In both writings the letter “R” is open at the top and after a space the writer switches to a cursive style and connected, “eno”.
This rarity in HW style is unique to both Rev. Fliger and the writing on the marriage certificate. These are only two samples, and obviously many more would need to be documented by a court certified expert, before submitting it to a judge or jury.
Certainly, two separate writers could have both of these HW characteristics in common, however, what are the odds that the groom and his marrying minister would by chance have them? I’d say, not impossible, but QUITE LONG.
June 9, 2014 UPDATE:
Here is just received HW from Earl Van Best Jr. SSA Application as compared to the marriage application. I have redacted his SS No. You be the judge.
hw marriage certf to van best jr SSA appl Click for enlarged PDF of comparison
I first became aware of The Most Dangerous Animal of All book while channel surfing and accidentally hitting FOX News and seeing a headline about the Zodiac killer case being solved. I continued to watch the channel and was amazed, as the reporters were hedgy about this book that was released on Harper Collins. Not only did the author not appear on it, but they gave vague scenarios about his tome. A day or two later I saw a piece on Inside Edition, where the author was present for an interview, and gave perfunctory facts about his “case solving” book. It all seemed very hinkey to me; like a piece that would have appeared on TMZ, i.e., tabloid fodder.
Since I have not read the book, and would only buy it on Remainder, I remain skeptical. But I have read Mr. Hodel’s works since the first publication of The Back Dahlia Avenger on Arcade books.
Mr. Hodel presents cases that reveal his background as a homicide detective/homicide supervisor in clear, concise terms – with time lines and his own invention, thoughtprints. His writing is professional and perfectly logical, and sews the threads together with, in my opinion, great accuracy.
We live in a tabloid world, where we are expected to believe knee-jerk conclusions, and tabloid reporting, as credible journalism. It is not.
Once again, Mr. Hodel has unraveled this fugazi approach, and presented logical alternatives to someone’s rich fantasy life.
If we are to learn from history, then the reporting of history must be accurate, and not influenced by sensationalism. Mr. Hodel’s rendering of history does just that.
As I say, I may purchase this book on Remainder. Whether I will read the entire volume is questionable, but it might end up as cat litter box liner.
Since I can remember, I have been very interested in the Zodiac case. So I am just going to say this..no matter who’s right or who’s wrong, I pray one of you figures out who he is so the world can put a face to the sob that got away with murder and let it rest. He got (and heaven forbid) and is still getting their fame from murdering innocent people.
I thank you all for working so hard to find this person. Keep up the good work and nail the jerk.
It’s people like you who help the rest of us sleep at night.
Erin: Thanks much appreciated. Stay tuned some breaking news very soon. Best, Steve
Everyone’s father is the Zodiac Killer, but Steve is the only one to make this claim and provide good, solid proof.
Hi Lee. Thanks for your support. Always appreciated. Steve
I have been in communication with Mr Wakshull, both by email and on his own Amazon page. My impression so far is that he was simply misled by “someone” who fed him a less than complete collection of the available materials. For example, he was quite surprised to learn that hi-res, full-color scans of many of the Zodiac letters are now available for public inspection—suggesting, naturally, that he hadn’t seen them before. He also didn’t seem to know about the hi-res copies of the fingerprints from Stine’s cab that clearly do NOT match Mr Best’s fingerprints. Scar, or no scar.
I sent him a complete set of all known copies of not only hi-res scans of the Zodiac letters and fingerprints, but also, of course, the exemplars and comparison of the person I accuse of writing the first three Zodiac letters. It’s only been 10 days, so let’s give Mr Wakshull at least a couple more weeks to respond. His preliminary responses were based on assumptions made without seeing these materials, so let’s see if he sees what I see.
But from what I’ve learned so far, I’m pretty sure he’s as much a victim of deceit as the rest of us.
Anyone interested in learning more of what I’m talking about, can start here:
Hello Mr. Horan,
I am surprised by your statements, “I have been in communication with Mr Wakshull, both by email and on his own Amazon page” and “I sent him a complete set of all known copies of not only hi-res scans of the Zodiac letters.”
I do not recall receiving images from you. You did send a link to a site that compares some unstated source Zodiac characters with those of an unknown (to me) person. The characters do not comport.
As for the comments on Amazon, only Tommy Jonq has offered comments. I gladly responded to his comments.
I have asked Audry Phelps to send the documents to me for examination.
I would appreciate hearing your expert opinion regarding the comparison of Reverend Edward Fliger’s known handwriting and the handwriting on the marriage certificate purported to have been filled out by Earl Van Best. Also I would love to hear your opinion on the comparison of the EV Best social security application and its comparison to both the confirmed Zodiac letters and the writing on the marriage certificate. To the layman’s eye it really appears that Rev Fliger filled out the marriage certificate and that EVB’s writing on the SSA does not match either the marriage certificate nor the zodiac letters. If the marriage certificate can be excluded as an exemplar of EVB’s writing then what is left that can be considered Van Best’s actual printing?
I read the recent book to come out (haven’t read others regarding the Zodiac case) and it was interesting circumstantially but there wasn’t definitive proof of anything. This marriage license thing is very interesting though.. to me the SSA doesn’t look like the same writing as the marriage license at all – and the marriage license looks similar to the letters, which is creepy. I also noted that Fliger’s signature on the marriage license.. his name that he copies down has 13 letters. Just an interesting note there.
It would be a very twisted tale if the book Stewart wrote actually did name the Zodiac but not Earl Van Best, JR, but the priest that married them..
April: The SSA I obtained shows clearly that Van Best Jr. did not write the marriage application which now is also confirmed by the QDE Wakshull. For him to now try and claim the marrying minister might be Zodiac (rather than just say he was wrong) is simply –Desperation City.
I just now noticed your reply (I’ve been in the hospital recently.) I myself am surprised that you claim I never sent you the handwriting analysis that I definitely emailed to you at the end of May, 2014. To an email address you had used to email me earlier in the month (the one at Q9.) But, after I sent those pdfs to you, I never heard from you again,
And you still haven’t answered the question: “Why didn’t you notice that the 4 exemplars Mr Stewart gave you (that he claimed were his father’s) were written by two different people?” We understand that you thought the minister’s handwriting matched Zodiac’s until, of course, you found out that it wasn’t Earl Best’s handwriting. I think we can all understand a simple case of wishful seeing. What we don’t understand is, why you didn’t notice that the exemplars you were examining so closely were written by two completely different people.
Maybe his old employer on Post would have some records on him in 1949. It also may prove interesting if there are State records that were archived from Atascadero from his stay there. After he was convicted was when this “rage” seemed to begin so he may have letters or a diary that was kept by the Warden and prison officials. If these exist they would corroberate his intent upon release. This would be the necessary link to connect him.
Is there a photo of Rev. Edward Fliger that I can see? Because if there is… “I” can tell you if it is him….. the Zodiac. “I” know his face…. because “I” saw him directly in 1969
K: Not aware of any photograph however, let me put this as simply and direct as possible.
Minister Fliger is NOT ZODIAC. He had no connection whatsoever to the original investigation. Period.
His handwriting samples sure do look similar to Zodiac’s…
Has anybody with the necessary leverage pressured SFPD to reveal whether they developed Gary Stewart’s DNA profile and compared it with the Zodiac sample as purportedly requested by Lt. John Hennessey on 6-1-05 (SFPD case number 041 238 785)? Or, did Lt. Hennessey simply seek to appease Gary Stewart by providing him with a copy of an incomplete Laboratory Examination Request, perhaps never intending to submit it. Note that the identities of the requesting person, approving person and reason for the request at the bottom of the form were left blank. It’s apparent that Lt. Hennessey didn’t want images of that form circulating with his name on it.
In a time when the word “transparency” is overworked, SFPD has the ability and resources to lay this question to rest, one was or the other.
BW: To my knowledge, no confirmed DNA sample exists on Zodiac. Three markers were obtained, but they could belong to anyone. (SF Chronicle employee, mailman, detective, etc.) Even if they were Zodiac’s three markers is insufficient to make a positive ID of anyone. So, it is a moot point until LE obtains confirmed DNA on Zodiac.