Ten Days of Count Marco - Conclusions

[For other entries in this series, please see: Ten Days of Count Marco]

There they are. Just over 2300 words written by the hand of Marc Spinelli, better known as Count Marco, on and around the Fourth of July in 1974. Almost certainly, some idea contained within this hard-to-take-too-seriously collection of words so offended the man who had been the Zodiac that he felt compelled to write to the San Francisco Chronicle for what was likely his last time.

Count Marco Letter

Letter mailed on July 8, 1974 by the man who likely had been the Zodiac

So, what exactly was it that Count Marco had done to invite the unwanted attention of the notorious Bay-Area serial killer? There are some intriguing possibilities. But, if we consider the question from a few different angles, there are multiple reasons to believe that the motivation came from one particular Count Marco column, namely the July 3 installment: Your Mirror Can Also See Inside You.

From the simplest perspective, Count Marco's column is about the subject of psychiatry and psychology and the killer's letter has multiple references to psychology. In this sense, the letter is very much an "in-your-face" type of response. Spinelli rails against psychology and the killer proclaims the Count has a "psychological disorder" and "suggests" he see a "shrink." This is very much in line with what we know of the killer through his other letters in that there is a definite element of taunting and also a bit of a sense of humor.

Another insightful question to consider is this: what, precisely, is the author's issue with Count Marco? Sure, the killer uses some insulting language, but the phrase that really indicates his problem with Spinelli is that he "...always needs to feel superior." As an aside, this is quite a statement for someone who once wrote: "The police shall never catch me because I have been too clever for them." I would say the letter writer knew a thing or two about needing to feel superior. But, I digress. Returning to the subject at hand, if we scan the Count Marco columns looking for specific instances of superiority and arrogance, there is one statement that sticks out like a sore thumb - from the same column:

You don’t need psychiatry. All you need is the Count Marco column.

Certainly, Spinelli made a living out of finding entertaining ways in which to enrage Bay-Area housewives, and more often than not doing so involved a substantial dose of immodesty. But even in this context, the above statement is a bit over the top. This is exactly the type of statement that would invite the criticism that the Count "always needs to feel superior."

Finally, in my estimation, the specific mention of "the Count Marco column" is significant. Spinelli writes "All you need is the Count Marco column," to which the killer responds: "cancel the Count Marco column." While one could argue that these words are a likely choice for somebody taking issue with Count Marco, I think it's more probable that the phrase is a direct response to the statement that motivated the killer to write.

Also worthy of note is that the timing of this scenario fits quite well. The "Mirror..." column was published on Thursday, July 3rd. The killer had Friday (the Fourth of July) and the weekend to craft his response, e.g. what he was going to say, how he was going to say it, how he would sign the letter and what approach he would use to attempt to disguise his handwriting. Under these circumstances, the letter was probably finished and possibly mailed during the weekend. This chain of events is perfectly consistent with the known Monday postmark.

Of course, all these observations beg the question: why did the killer take such offense at Spinelli denigrating the profession of psychology and psychiatry? But alas, that's a topic for another day...

Michael Cole


  1. Michael D. Kelleher 11 April, 2012 at 09:21 Reply

    Very nicely done, Mike. Your analysis makes good sense to me. Here is something else to consider. The feelings of superiority expressed by Marco were also a theme for Zodiac, as you mentioned. In other words, they were both forms of projection (in the psychological sense). It’s well known (in psychology) that this is a volatile combination of two competing behavioral patters bound to evoke a fairly predictable response. In other words, Zodiac would have felt threatened by Marco’s tone and approach, so often typical of his own.

    Also, Marco had a regular spotlight because of his column. Zodiac, who once thrived on front-page status, had long lost his own spotlight. The killer would have been outraged that an arrogant, pompous individual (so like himself), would be given valuable page space in a newspaper that he had once claimed as his own.

    And there’s more . . . but I’m sure all of this has crossed your mind.

    Really nice series, Mike. I truly enjoyed it.

    • Mike 11 April, 2012 at 18:51

      Thanks Mike.

      Your observations are very much in line with another thought I had about the letter which I didn’t go into too much here. Basically, the author creates significant parallelism between himself and Count Marco. There’s the whole superiority issue, which, of course, requires a bit of context to understand. But there’s also the very explicit “Since the Count can write anonymously, so can I.” Additionally, the way in which he wrote anonymously seems meaningful. He could have just left it unsigned, but instead he chose to use a pseudonym, completely analogous to the way Spinelli published his columns. The letter’s only about 50 words. That’s quite a bit of parallelism for such a short letter.

  2. G Gluckman 11 April, 2012 at 18:14 Reply

    Very nice post and very interesting analysis.

    Do you have any thoughts you could add on the reasons for considering the Count Marco letter among the canonical Zodiac letters?


    • Mike 11 April, 2012 at 19:28

      Thanks G Gluckman.

      In the July 10, 1974 San Francisco Chronicle article entitled “Zodiac’s Letters to The Editor,” Dave Toschi said:

      “There’s no doubt in my mind about either one. I took them to a documents expert and in less than five minutes he told me positively they were in fact written by the Zodiac.”

      Here he’s talking about the Citizen postcard and the Count Marco letter. I’m not sure who the document examiner was; Morrill retired in December of 1972. Also, it’s not clear how much weight we should assign to this given the whole authentication debacle that happened with the 1978 letter. Nonetheless, there is some reasonable support for believing that this letter was written by the killer.

      Additionally, there are a couple conflicting opinions regarding the letter in the FBI FOIA documents.

  3. ggluckman 16 August, 2013 at 18:49 Reply

    Hi Mike,

    Your Ten Days of Count Marco post has been on my mind recently.

    While I do not disagree with the hypothesis that some particular article may have set off the Red Phantom’s urge to write, the wording of the letter (note the use of the word “always”, for one thing) suggests to me that the rage was building over time.

    I was searching through the articles hoping I would spot a specific trigger for the volatility, and it did occur to me that the “mirror” article with the shrink reference might have been a likely candidate, but then it struck me that understanding the reasons for a slow buildup might be as telling, or more so, than the event that finally tripped the switch.

    (By analogy, if a piece of a plane breaks off in flight, we might focus on the reason why that particular part broke–was it especially faulty–but perhaps we should not ignore the long term question of how long term stress and general metal fatigue might have contributed to the outcome.)

    Perhaps it might be interesting to ask ourselves some other questions. Like, why was a big strapping man like Z reading Count Marco in the first place? And frequently enough to form an opinion of how Count Marco always behaves?

    And, what was it about Count Marco’s column in general that both held his attention and fanned the flames of his anger?

    Once again, many thanks for such a well presented article.


    • ggluckman 18 August, 2013 at 13:45

      As a partial answer to my own question, I tend to discount the notion that Z was simply a casual reader of Count Marco’s column who got incensed with a particular issue.

      Z’s having been merely an occasional Marco reader is not impossible–as I might casually read Dear Abby or Ann Landers, or the Corn Flakes box when nothing more interesting is at hand–but if that were true, I think it is less likely he would get so intensely angry, and that would probably not account for the extent of vitriol he expresses for Marco.

      The Badlands and Count Marco letters taken together–supposing we take simply them at face value (something I neglected to do, until recently)–seem to suggest that Z was going through some form of transformation. His long period of absence, his lack of reference to the Zodiac persona, and the subject matter of his messages, all seem to suggest a transformation and a change in his relationship to society–and by extension, to himself. What was the nature of this transformation?

      I am beginning to suspect that the Count Marco letter–if it truly is a from the person who once called himself the Zodiac–holds a clue to what that transformation was.

      Previous analysis by others has often suggested that sexuality issues were in some way a component of the Zodiac murders, but the sexual sadist label that fits so many serial killers seems to be contradicted by the fact that the Zodiac Killer did not show signs of raping or directly molesting his victims in an overtly sexual manner. If we allow the CJB Confession letter as a Z writing, and put it alongside the decrypted 408 cipher, we see clear indications that sexual issues were at play–but where are the overt acts of sexual depravity that should go along with those words?

      It has been commented that Z attacked the women with more fervor than the men. Also I have heard suggestions that the knife atttack on Cecelia Ann Shephard were substitutions for acts of penetration. Possibly, but I do not know.

      Additionally, some have said that his behavior towards men somehow indicates that Z was a latent homosexual.

      I would like to propose a slightly different possibility. We often think of the sixties as a time of sexual revolution. That is true, but they were just the beginning of the revolution. Ignorance was everywhere. Even the most forward minded were not so knowledgeable, at least among the laypeople, and probably among many of the so-called experts. Psychology, psychiatry and sexuality were becoming topics of discussion in everyman’s household, but distinctions that we might take for granted today were often blurred and muddied in those days.

      The average Joe often assumed that homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestitism, trannsexuality, transgenderism, effeminacy (in males) or masculinity (in females) and pedophilism were essentially variations on the same things. And those things were typically all seen either as deviant behaviors, as medical illnesses, or both.

      Even as late as the mid 70’s, Anita Bryant went on an anti-homosexual campaign that was partly predicated on the notion that homosexuals were deviants not to be distinguished from pedophiles, who should not be allowed to teach lest they turn our children into fags and queers. For that matter, the world today seems somewhat more enlightened, but there are still huge swaths of the public living in the dark ages of sexuality, and one does not have to visit the Kremlin to find them.

      Anyway, I am taking the long way around to make my point. One of the most overused buzzwords of that time was the expression “latent homosexual”. I haven’t seen any real indication that Z was homosexual. But he likely did have isues around his sexuality. And, still those did not manifest themselves in the “usual” serial killer forms of rape and sexual sadism. (I quote the word usual to acknowledge there is no real usual in such situations”).

      I would like to propose that Z may have been experiencing issues related to transgenderism, and that reading the Count Marco column was related to a period of transformation that Z was going through at that time. Reading Count Marco, even if Z felt a strong antipathy towards Count Marco, was about Z’s attraction to themes of gender roles and behavior. I suspect Z may have also been beginning to express a new sense of social consciousness around gender expectations. As if Z was gaining a new sense of gender identity and was trying to understand more about society’s expectations.

      It is important to walk carefully with this idea. Transgenderism (if that is the right word) encompasses a variety of subgroups. It is not the same thing as homosexuality, nor is it necessarily the same as transsexuality, but can include categories like gender neutral and gender alternating.

      People who are transgendered may have a difficult time fitting society’s gender categories and behavioral, even to a greater extent than lesbians, bi’s and transsexuals. These individuals at least, tend to end up with a clearly defined gender roles, whether approved or not. Some transgendered tend to fall outside of all definitions.

      In the end, I do not dare to suggest that Z’s transgenderism can be proved, or that I could even suggest that I know what particular form it might have taken, but I do think it is a better explanation for what underlay Z’s sexual issues than the latent homosexual label that has been put forth from time to time.

      As a point of interest, the Compton’s Cafetria riot of August 1966 is listed as one of the key moments of Gay history. From what I understand, however, the Comptons was less about gays and more about cross dressers and transgendered types. In general, at that time, gays had their own clubs and the cross dresser and transsexuals were not particularly welcome as the police tended to target them, so they gays didn’t welcome them to their clubs. Comptons Cafeteria, in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco (not so far from where Paul Sine picked up his fatal fare, from what I can tell) was one place where the cross dressers and transsexuals and outliers could gather. I am not sure if there was general animosity between these groups at that time, but it seems to me that gay, lesbian and transgender unity was something that came later.

      I cannot claim any evidence that Z was around Compton’s at the time, but–if my transgendered conjecture has any substance to it–it is interesting that that event occurred within a month or two of the CJB murder.

      Could there be a link? I mention it as a curiosity. The truth is anybody’s guess.



    • Zodiac Revisited 19 August, 2013 at 16:48

      Hi ggluckman,

      It’s nice to hear from you. I appreciate you taking the time to write such thoughtful comments.

      There’s a lot to say about the topics you raise. However, I think I’ll take on the Zodiac-Count-Marco relationship first. I suspect the killer read Count Marco on a regular basis. I believe this for a couple of reasons.

      First, newspapers were the primary mechanism of information dissemination back in the day. If you wanted to be well informed, your choices were read newspapers and/or watch the news (both local and national). Of course, newspapers could cover more material in greater depth and people could read them at their convenience. Therefore, newspapers were the option of choice for many.

      Additionally, some of the wording in the Zodiac’s letters suggests to me that he was referring to stories in the San Francisco Examiner, even when he was writing to the Chronicle. If true, it further suggests that he was reading both newspapers. Now, people could argue that he was reading them because of his situation, i.e. he was hoping to read about himself in both newspapers. I can’t disprove that possibility. However, when combined with other things we know about the killer, I suspect he regularly read one, if not more, newspapers every day. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if he read them, effectively, from cover to cover (so to speak).

      Second, on the surface, Count Marco is not the kind of columnist we might imagine the killer reading. However, keep in mind that Count Marco himself was a caricature, flamboyant persona whose reason for existence was to infuriate Bay-Area housewives. Given that the killer was reading most if not all of the newspaper anyway, I would not be surprised if he regularly read the column, just to see what the Count had to say. Even when I was researching the articles, I found myself curious to see where the Count was going to take his column. It’s a bit like a sociological car wreck that you cannot help but look at.

  4. ggluckman 19 August, 2013 at 19:27 Reply

    Hi Mike,

    As I re-read and re-read–and re-read again–the original articles along with your analysis, I am increasingly persuaded of your hypothesis that the “Mirror” installment was the most likely trigger for the letter. I admire your reasoning. At this point, it seems to me almost beyond question.

    As to whether Z read the newspaper cover to cover. I am willing to believe that–it is completely consistent with my view of him–though I do not see substantial evidence either way. What’s more, reading the paper this way is by no means an uncommon habit–or at least it was not uncommon prior to the online age.

    But these possibilities aside, I think you made the most important point of all with the last words of your article:

    “Of course, all these observations beg the question: why did the killer take such offense at Spinelli denigrating the profession of psychology and psychiatry? But alas, that’s a topic for another day…”

    This is the question that we need to answer now.

    Many thanks for replying,


  5. ggluckman 7 September, 2013 at 09:13 Reply

    Hi Mike,

    What do the Exorcist, SLA, Badlands and Count Marco letters have in common?

    This question came up in a discussion on Morf’s board (zodiackillersite.com) a short while back. What follows is a modified version of my response to that question.

    It dawned on me that each subject puts the focus on a female (or females, in general) as the central character. And the subtext–if that is the right word–is about the transformation that these women undergo.

    1) The Exorcist centered on an innocent young girl child who had been transformed into a horrifying demonic creature after having been possessed by a devil. The demon is eventually exorcised and is transformed back into her original innocent self.
    2) The SLA issue was a real life drama involving Patty Hearst, a young heiress to a newspaper fortune, who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Her captivity led her to be transformed into “Tania”–a direct participant in the SLA’s deeds. Finally she was rescued and returned to society, where she was transformed back into Patty Hearst, heiress.
    3) Badlands is narrated by one of the two main characters: an (initially) innocent young girl named Holly who is transformed into a murder participant through her association with her boyfriend Kit. I have not actually seen the movie, so I will leave it at that–other than to note that Kit and Holly’s story is largely based on the true Starkweather-Fugate murders.
    4) Count Marco wrote a column that centered on the everywoman of his day. Women who, supposedly need a man’s advice on how to be a woman. Marco provided advice on how women should behave, dress, etc. In other words, his column purported to supply the transformational wisdom that the average women supposedly lacked.

    Taken together, these letters seem to me to suggest that Zodiac–or the serial killer formerly known as the Zodiac–was devoting attention to themes around the transformation and reshaping of women.

    At the same time, it is clear that the author is undergoing a transformation in parallel. There is the obvious transformation of identity that is happening, as evidenced by the echoing of the Zodiac “kill score” at the bottom of the Exorcist letter (yet no greeting as the Zodiac), followed by the rapid cycling through new identities: friend, Citizen and, finally, Red Phantom.

    I very much agree with the conclusion that the “Mirror” article was the one that prompted Z to write his Count Marco letter. at the same time, it seems to me the evidence suggests that Z was drawn to the Count Marco column in large part because the transformational theme was deeply relevant to him. The fact that he reacted so angrily to the (then) modern day Henry Higgins only emphasizes how significant such themes were to him.

    And this brings me back once again to your words:

    “Of course, all these observations beg the question: why did the killer take such offense at Spinelli denigrating the profession of psychology and psychiatry? But alas, that’s a topic for another day…”

    I would very much like to know.



  6. Grunhilde 22 February, 2016 at 22:47 Reply

    I look at the Count Marco letters, and all I can think is: SCREAMING QUEEN. Yes, he should have named himself Queen Marco. I have met fashion designers and hairstylists like him. Trust me, if he was married, his wife was his beard. He’s just so catty and bitchy that it’s hard for me to take him serious enough to be angry about his column. He was probably a blast to have at a party, and knew all the fun people. And was probably a big gossip as well, (as am I). Was Zodiac a latent homosexual? I’m thinking other gay guys would know that Count Marco was gay.

    • Michael Cole
      Michael Cole 23 February, 2016 at 00:17

      He was quite a character, that’s for sure. Like you say, it’s hard to take him too seriously much of the time.

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