A new article by Randall Clemons documents the tragedy of Paul Stine’s death; it’s entitled: The Story of Paul Stine and San Francisco’s Zodiac Killer Told in Pictures.
The collection of images, some which are styled and colorized, is impressive. The pictures and the writing really help to convey a simple truth that is often lost when we talk abstractly about the Zodiac’s victims. These were real people who were living real lives. They had hopes, dreams, family, friends, and the promise of a bright future. Of particular note, Paul was on the verge of earning a Ph.D. in English. First and foremost, the stories of the killer’s victims are tales of tragic loss.
The content of the story is mostly accurate. There is one obvious flaw: the path which the author identifies as the one the Zodiac followed upon leaving the Stine crime scene is incorrect. The killer went North on Cherry, turned East on Jackson, and then turned North again, entering the Presidio in the vicinity of the Julius Kahn Playground. Nonetheless, the article is worthy of your attention.
I intend no criticism of the artist’s motivation or graphic skills linked here, but I do have a concern which earnest researchers and all Zodiac Killer case site operators ought to share.
Recall the confusion that the 2007 “Zodiac” film props caused insofar as determining the authenticity and provenance of some photo evidence? Think specifically of images of the 408 cipher sections and “Halloween” card; recent web topic threads involving seasoned amateurs demonstrate these questions and debates are ongoing. Imagine researchers – amateurs like us – say, 50 years from now, working with Web 25.0 and trying to make head or tail of all the publicly available files. That is, especially, if the case remains unsolved. 😉
Starting today, do we not owe it to these future researchers to provide as much clarity as possible when we introduce hypothetical, “enhanced” graphics – regardless of the purpose they serve or the practical help they may offer? Let me propose a simple, commonsense Standard Uploading Procedure that we ought to follow:
Any alteration to a case image*, whether crop, zoom levels, brightness, colorization, etc., must be acknowledged with some form of watermark or pixilated line of subscript physically adjoining said image, e.g., “Original photo zoomed-in 50% & colorized by John Hancock, 2015.”
I don’t think this is too much to ask if the image is worthy of being uploaded/posted in the first place. Furthermore, the artist would receive the due credit he or she may well deserve. It would not be enough to rely on the filename or original embedded context, since these easily and negligently fall by the wayside. Neither would this Standard Uploading Procedure be foolproof, but it could help reduce spuriousness in what is already an overly complex and puzzling true crime cold case.
My suggestion moving forward for site operators is to require that contributors follow such a community standard or refuse to embed, link, circulate, or otherwise promote visibly un-tagged alterations to evidence.
* [Here, I’m not referring to school yearbooks, family albums, etc.; however, in those cases, I do recommend first seeking approval from surviving family of the victim(s).]
Thanks, Huru Guru, for your thoughtful comments. I understand and appreciate your concern.
In a perfect world, we would have an audit trail starting at every image and going back to its original source, a trail that documented any and all transformations that happened along the way. But from a practical perspective, I just don’t think it’s viable.
For starters, what’s an original? All of these images began life as a digital scan somewhere (since digital photography wasn’t around at the time the originals were taken). There are a plethora of options available to the person who did the original scan which could well be as important as some of the things you identify. Add to this the automatic manipulations that frameworks such as WordPress perform; a single image will get scaled and sometimes autocropped multiple times when it’s processed by WordPress. One would be forced to either not use basic WordPress functionality or modify WordPress. What about the impact of lossy-compression file formats? The issue of annotating a growing list of edits and changes as they accumulate over time would likely become unworkable. Finally, unless everyone is going to commit to this course of action, the benefits would be minimal. I know you acknowledged it wouldn’t solve every problem, but, from my perspective, there are just too many issues.
A good infrastructure for doing this might involve incorporating such information in the meta data associated with the images and also providing some mechanism to verify the authenticity of the image, a sort of image-based “chain of custody.” But support for such an infrastructure would be nontrivial.
Deciding not to link or otherwise reference any such material might seem like the way to go. However, this involves an opportunity cost as well. From my perspective, the more we keep the case in the public’s eye, the better. Given all of the Zodiac-related garbage that’s out there, serious and thoughtful discussion of the case is a good thing, in whatever form it takes. Therefore, in my judgment, I would rather reference such material and talk about it rather than not reference it and remain silent.
Our later selves, 50 years on, will have to figure it all out…
I agree, Huru. It is superficial, totally unnecessary manipulations like the following which further sidetrack the research of true crime:
Quote: “I first would like to apologize for any misinformation in my recent posts. I always mistakenly considered this to be a true and genuine photograph of the crime scene and based several articles on my site using this image, which I have had to delete. Now I have realized it is not only a photoshop composite, but totally incorrect also.”
The first link won’t work for long because as Tahoe27 has decreed: “Also a good reason for someone not to create such a photo. We will let this stand for a little while, then, we will go ahead and remove any posts with the incorrect information.” — I imagine “for a little while” will be a bit less than the time Internet Archive requires to log it for posterity. Yes, indeed… to the Memory Hole with our own site’s mistakes… and let no one be the wiser! ;-|
CORRECTION: “pixilated line” should read “pixelated line” – Crazy, confused spellcheckers!
It’s happened again! This time on international TV coverage: History Channel “Hunt for the Zodiac Killer…” (2017)
. . . and yet again (!) with online amateurs now confused about the Bates case “official” photos:
Where will it all end?
. . . probably with Zodiac in a fuchsia hood.