The Real And Totally Bonkers Plot To Catch The Zodiac Killer
Some directors make movies for fame, some for fortune, and some make them specifically to catch the Zodiac Killer while he's still active. Granted, only Tom Hanson falls into that last category, and "director" might be a strong word here.
Hanson was the owner of a successful chain of pizza restaurants called Pizza Man in California during the 1960s. He was well on his way to a fast-food-fueled fortune, until his underwriter went broke in 1971. Rather than bemoan his bad luck, Hanson decided to risk everything he had left on catching the Zodiac ... through the magic of cinema. And also through laying a trap and jumping on the infamous serial killer with a bunch of other guys.
You see, Hanson had pals in the film industry, and even acted in a couple of B-movies, so he decided to use the $13,000 he had in savings to finance a film called Zodiac (soon renamed The Zodiac Killer, presumably after legal threats from an 11-year-old Fincher). Hanson figured that if he premiered the movie in San Francisco, where the Zodiac was still sending creepy letters to cops and journalists, the killer would feel like he had to go see it. Which kinda makes sense, since this was the '70s, when he couldn't simply read a Wikipedia summary or wait for a pirated version with Korean subtitles to find out what they were saying about him.
So Hanson shot a low-budget, standard exploitation film that mostly tried to recreate the events as they happened. He even met with Paul Avery (the journalist played by Robert Downey Jr. in Fincher's movie) to get the details right, although the onscreen murders still ended up looking like this:
Since Hanson had no clue who the Zodiac was or why he killed, he took a few liberties. In the movie, he's a postman who consults his room full of rabbits about his murderous plans and worships in a satanic temple in his basement.
Note that some scenes end with random close-ups of the Zodiac's face, like he's the Adam West Batman symbol.
Then the big day came. Hanson rented out the RKO Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco, where he and six strategically placed friends would carry out their plot to nab the Zodiac. Each theatergoer was encouraged to fill out a sweepstakes card for a Kawasaki motorcycle that began "The Zodiac kills because ..." One of Hanson's friends hid in the card deposit box to compare the handwriting on them to the Zodiac's letters. Once he found a match, or anything sufficiently creepy, the man in the box would flip a switch alerting a different team member hiding in a nearby freezer to pounce. Then the rest of Zodiac Team 6, stationed in the lobby and projectionist room, would usher the killer into an office, where they would hold him until police arrived.
The box guy's job was made significantly easier when someone dropped a card straight up saying "I was here, the Zodiac." Unfortunately, there was no one in the freezer at that time, since one of Hanson's friends had almost suffocated to death in there and no one else wanted to take that spot. But Hanson insists that he did see the Zodiac's face that day ... and, uh, other parts of him. While taking a leak during their stakeout, Hanson claims a fellow pee-er started bitching about the unrealistic way the blood flowed out of the bodies in the movie. Hanson said that when he zipped up, he turned around to see this face:
Hanson let out a little "Eep!" and rushed out of the restroom (hope he still stopped to wash his hands), but later he and his cohorts were able to locate the man. They threw him into the office, where the gang proceeded to ... completely fall in love with the guy after chewing the fat with him for a while. He seemed pretty charismatic, and also strangely cool with the fact that some strangers had kidnapped him. They liked him so much that they just let him go, as Hanson slapped his own forehead so hard that he probably triggered a minor aneurysm.
That would have been the end of the story in a normal universe, but Hanson continued to believe the urinal man was the Zodiac. He renewed his crusade in 1974 after recouping his finances, and hired a private investigator to track down the mystery leaker. He then dispatched his henchman to deliver a prize, on the pretense that this potential Zodiac had won a sweepstakes, which the P.I. was supposed to promptly take back in an effort to obtain fingerprints. This didn't work, presumably because all serial killers knew to distrust sweepstakes by then.
On another occasion, Hanson and his P.I. called the bank where their suspect worked to try to get his personnel files. When the bank asked why, the highly professional investigator blurted out that they thought he was the Zodiac Killer. They later found out that the bank had fired urinal man after this, so he got another job. As a postman, of all things.
Although Hanson won't publicly divulge the suspect's name, he says he's still keeping tabs on his former restroom companion today, almost 50 years later. Come on, man. At least tell us if it rhymes with "Red Bruz" (although the "charismatic" part doesn't add up).
For more, check out How To Become A Famous Serial Killer - Tales To Get Scared To:
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