Ten Days of Count Marco

Marc Spinelli - aka Count Marco

Count Marco as pictured on the inside cover of his 1960 book "Beauty and the Beast."

The last time the Zodiac killer wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle under the persona of the Zodiac was the "Exorcist" letter which he sent on January 29, 1974. In the months that followed, the same man is believed to have sent three additional letters to the Chronicle. Many people believe the last of these letters, the Count Marco letter, represents the final authentic communication from the killer.

In this short letter, the author, using the pen name "the Red Phantom," took issue with long-time advice (sexploitation, really...) columnist Marc Spinelli, better known as Count Marco. The letter writer must have been pleased with his results; Count Marco, upon learning he may well have been threatened by the Zodiac killer, decided his fifteen-year career as a columnist was adequate and consequently called it quits.

It's never been clear what exactly it was in the Count Marco columns that motivated the killer - assuming it was him - to write the letter. To consider this question more thoroughly, I've collected many of the Count Marco columns from the time frame of the letter. In the interest of striking a balance between thoroughness and brevity, I'm going to post the ten columns that preceded the mailing of the Count Marco letter, one every couple days or so. In all probability, whatever it was that offended the killer to the point of action is contained within this subset of the columns.

The letter was mailed on July 8, 1974. The ten columns leading to that day are as follows:

Also be sure to check out the conclusions post.

Michael Cole


    • Mike 16 March, 2012 at 07:11

      Thanks Mike. I think this avenue of investigation yields some interesting possibilities in the articles that are closer to the letter. It’s also enlightening to get a sense of Count Marco for those of us who never had any exposure to him. He’s quite a character. It’s easy to see why the women of the Bay Area loved to hate this guy.

      It’s also interesting to note that Count Marco is definitely a persona created by Marc Spinelli, just like the Zodiac was a persona created by the killer. And in 1974, the man who was the Zodiac managed to kill off both personas.

    • Michael D. Kelleher 16 March, 2012 at 07:56

      You’re right, Mike. I remember his articles from back then and, again, when I was doing some early research on the book. I always found him arrogant and self-absorbed, just like Zodiac. I’m looking forward to re-reading his articles, especially the last two. Since Zodiac was so preoccupied with the media, I’m sure there are triggers buried among Marco’s words.

      Looking forward to the rest of the series.

    • SwmpGrl 23 March, 2016 at 00:31

      Zodiac targeted couples- his rage appearing to be more toward the women. Count Marco targeted couples in his columns- his “rage” targeted more toward the woman. Hmmm you would tend to believe that Zodiac would be agreeing with the Count. But, he doesn’t.
      The July 3rd letter discusses couples, the mother, psychiatry and just needing to look in the mirror.
      Was Count Marco getting too close so- to- speak in psycho-analyzing Zodiac (although he of course didn’t realize he was doing this) ?
      Makes me wonder if Zodiac was divorced?
      makes me wonder if Zodiac truly loved women (or his woman) which made the Count’s columns hard to take?
      Ah just brings up more questions. This is very intriguing!

    • Michael Cole
      Michael Cole 23 March, 2016 at 06:41

      Thanks SwmpGrl. You’re right. As is too often true with this case, new insight raises more questions than it answers; nevertheless it’s all interesting.

  1. HereAndNow 19 February, 2014 at 09:11 Reply

    Chronicle readers during that time will no doubt recall that Count Marco essentially earned his salary by being controversial and was a lightening rod for wide-spread criticism. Misogynistic and elitist, he earned the ire of *most* of the Bay Area, not just the Zodiac.

    Context is everything in understanding history and, in CM’s case, it extends beyond the words in his columns and into his general reputation. More broadly, however, we can speculate that what *really* earned him the Zodiac’s wrath was his notoriety rather than his misogyny or elitism. Quite simply, Z disliked him because he was famous and it was a jealousy thing; much like Z’s reaction to Melvin Belli.

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