Happy Birthday, Bob

Zodiac - Robert GraysmithIn September 2012, Robert Graysmith will turn 70 years old. By any account, he has led an interesting and sometimes difficult life. To turn 70 and have experienced what he has experienced in his life should give us all pause to consider what he has done for those of us who are even passingly familiar with the Zodiac case.

For years, Graysmith has been the target of vicious and unrelenting attacks across the Zodiac amateur community. Poking fun at Graysmith and his original book is a particularly favorite hobby for those who consider themselves “experts” on this cold case. They point out his flaws, his inconsistencies, his failed theories, and his mistakes. In fact, whatever you can imagine that he did wrong, someone is quick to tag him as the cause. Some of this criticism is deserved and well-presented. Much of it is nothing more than thinly-veiled personal attack rants offered without regard to balance or objectivity.

Of course, few of these critics would ever openly admit that their introduction to the Zodiac case was Graysmith’s original book. It is much easier to tackle him from behind than get out front and carry the ball, as he did. In the electronic world of remote and often anonymous assault tactics, it is a simple thing to become a critic and a much more difficult task to work through the difficulties that Graysmith faced over decades. In fact, none of his critics has done so. Whatever you may think of him, whatever flaws you find (or think you find), it was Graysmith who first put pen to paper, who did the grunt work, who spent the countless hours of research, and who paid such a high price because he believed in his journey. All of us followed in his wake, even those who cannot find a decent word to say about him.

When I first wrote my book, I differed with Graysmith in several key areas. The most obvious point of contention is that I dismissed his favorite suspect by name in a single sentence. I suspect that did not please the original Zodiac author, but it was my point of view and I felt compelled to voice it. However, I also tried to give Graysmith as much credit as possible by including references and footnotes where they were appropriate. Predictably, I was well-spanked for giving him credit where I could legitimately do so. Once again, the criticisms were leveled by individuals who had never made the effort to research, organize, and publish a major work on this cold case. I quickly learned that Graysmith had been treated with disdain for making mistakes that were, at the time he wrote his first book, at least somewhat understandable. To compound matters, there was also one more factor in play – case blindness.

Graysmith was sure that he had solved the Zodiac case. He was so convinced about his suspect that he reached too far to make the solution stick. Ironically, the Internet is now filled with individuals who behave in this same way and still find lots of room to attack Graysmith. I suppose it’s easier to find fault in another than in oneself. I took the easy way out when I wrote my book. I never intended to solve the case, so naming a suspect and working out a solution was unnecessary. Once again, regardless of what you think about Graysmith, he did all the heavy lifting. No one else has done so since.

So, let me repeat what I have said in other public statements. I have no doubt that it will cause the same furor as it has in the past, but I feel the need to repeat it again. Graysmith has done more for that Zodiac case than any other private citizen, despite his mistakes and misadventures. Without Graysmith, this case could easily have slipped into obscurity. No one who came after him has provided the same kind of impetus to one of our biggest unsolved mysteries.

So, Happy Birthday, Bob Graysmith. I appreciate what you have accomplished and (hopefully) understand the price you paid for your efforts. You have left a legacy that will carry on well after your critics have long disappeared from the scene.