Graysmith, Robert 1942-
GRAYSMITH, Robert 1942-
PERSONAL: Born Robert Gray Smith, September 17, 1942, in Pensacola, FL; name legally changed, 1976; son of Robert Gray (a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force) and Frances Jane (Scott) Smith; married Margaret Ann Womack (a nurse), November 8, 1963 (divorced, June, 1973); married Melanie Krakower, November 26, 1975 (divorced, September, 1980); children: David Martin, Aaron Vincent, Margot Alexandra. Education: California College of Arts and Crafts, B.F.A., 1965. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting comic books and antique toys.
ADDRESSES: Home—1015 Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA 94122. Office—San Francisco Chronicle, 901 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103-2905. Agent—Dan Strone, William Morris Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA, political cartoonist, 1964-65; Stockton Record, Stockton, CA, staff artist, 1965-68; San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, editorial cartoonist, 1968-80, illustrator, 1980-83; freelance illustrator and writer, 1983—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Foreign Press Club second place award, 1973, for cartoons; World Population Contest award, 1976, for "The Five Horsemen"; Pulitzer Prize nominee.
NONFICTION, EXCEPT AS NOTED; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Zodiac, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.
The Sleeping Lady: The Trailside Murders above the Golden Gate, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
The Murder of Bob Crane, Crown (New York, NY), 1992, published as Autofocus: The Murder of Bob Crane, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Unabomber: A Desire to Kill, Regnery Publishing (Washington, DC), 1997, revised edition, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1998.
The Bell Tower: The Mystery of Jack the Ripper Finally Solved, Regnery Publishing (Washington, DC), 1999.
Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed, Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Amerithrax: The Hunt for the Anthrax Killer, Berkeley Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Illustrator of children's book I Didn't Know What to Get You by Penny Wallace, 1993; Zodiac has been translated into several languages.
ADAPTATIONS: Autofocus: The Murder of Bob Crane was adapted for film by Sony Classics and released as Autofocus in 2002; Zodiac has been adapted for film by Columbia TriStar.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Melville and Gericault: Polished Shield, Dark Helmet, the story of two great works of art and literature inspired by a shipwreck on the Equator; Cape Disappointment, a mystery novel; Gluck, a retelling of John Ruskin's King of the Golden River for children; Torch Boys; Mocha Dick: The Man Who Painted Himself to Death; The Way-Car; The Vandeleur Moth; and Life in the Ghost Fleet.
SIDELIGHTS: "After Jack the Ripper and before the Green River Killer came the Zodiac, one of the most deadly, elusive, and mysterious mass murderers in U.S. history," journalist Robert Graysmith once told CA. His popular first book, Zodiac, is an account of the numerous murders which haunted San Francisco during the late 1960s and early 1970s and was perpetrated by a person who called himself "Zodiac." "Like a political cartoon, I wanted this book to accomplish something, to effect a change," continued Graysmith. "Witchcraft, death threats, cryptograms, a hooded killer in consume, dedicated investigators, and a mysterious man in a white Chevy who is seen by all and known by no one are all parts of the Zodiac story—the scariest story I know. Slowly each arcane symbol and cipher broke away and I learned how the killer wrote the untraceable Zodiac letters (printed in their entirety for the first time in this book), why he killed when he did, and even the inspiration for his crossed-circle symbol and his executioner's costume."
"From my perspective as political cartoonist for the largest paper in northern California, the San Francisco Chronicle, I was there from the beginning as each cryptic letter, each coded message, each bloody swatch of victim's shirt came across the wood-grained editorial desk," recalled Graysmith. "At first the visual qualities of the Zodiac symbols drew me, but gradually a resolve grew within me to unravel the killer's clues and discover his true identity—and, failing that, to present every scrap of evidence available to ensure that someone, somewhere, might recognize the Zodiac and provide the missing piece to the puzzle."
The popularity of Zodiac pushed it on to national bestseller lists and ran it into thirteen printings and a French translation. Unfortunately, its popularity extended beyond mere readers. Graysmith told CA that in 1990 Zodiac again made the bestseller list after New York City officials announced that a mass-murderer dubbed "Zodiac" appeared to be "going by the book" that described the details of the killings that had once terrorized San Francisco. Investigators on the New York City Zodiac task force believed the gunman stalking their city had possibly copied methods outlined in Graysmith's book. "Zodiac was referred to as a 'handbook for death' and a 'blueprint for the killer's astrological shootings,'" Graysmith noted. "I spent a week in New York telling what I knew about the original case. The East Coast killer was undoubtedly a copycat and since he knew the birth signs of his victims, all strangers, before he shot them, I suspected he was a census taker."
In 2002 Graysmith published a follow-up to Zodiac titled Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed. Here the author is able to positively identify the Zodiac killer, Arthur Leigh Allen. Allen, who died in 1992, had been near the top of a list of suspects during the investigation, but detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong were never able to build a convincing case for two main reasons: lack of sophisticated tools at the time, such as DNA testing, and because the police departments in San Francisco and Vallejo, California, where Allen lived, refused to cooperate with each other. Although this sequel offers readers a detailed account of the investigation, some reviewers noted that, other than revealing the killer's true name, not much new information is provided. San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Bill Wallace commented that Zodiac Unmasked "is simply not as good as Graysmith's first effort, even though it is even longer and more detailed."
In addition to his books on the Zodiac killer, Graysmith has written several other true crime books, including works about Jack the Ripper, Theodore Kaczynski (also known as the Unabomber), and the murder of Bob Crane. The Murder of Bob Crane is a study of the mysterious unsolved murder of the star of the popular television series Hogan's Heroes. "I have always been enormously lucky in obtaining confidential documents and exclusive photos for my books," said Graysmith, "and the Crane book is no exception. I returned from Scottsdale, Arizona, where Bob was murdered, with over a thousand pages of police and D.A.'s documents." With a talent for both illustration and cartooning, Graysmith has provided the illustrations for each of his works of nonfiction. "Crane has twenty-nine illustrations and maps that I drew—it is my favorite part of the work," the author commented.
In The Bell Tower: The Mystery of Jack the Ripper Finally Solved, Goldsmith puts forth a theory that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Rev. Jack Gibson, a Canadian minister who was in England about the same time as the Jack the Ripper murders and who became a pastor in San Francisco just before two women were murdered in his parish. Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that the author "makes a persuasive argument" that Gibson was the only one with the opportunity to kill the women, other critics of the book felt that Goldsmith does not present his case well. Michael Rogers, for one, wrote in Library Journal that Graysmith does not show "a single shred of hard evidence" that Gibson was the killer. In fact, another man was later tried and hanged for the crime. Rogers and the Publishers Weekly critic also both complained that very little of The Bell Tower is actually concerned with the Jack the Ripper case, instead wandering through other tangents, such as biographies of the journalists who covered the story. Nevertheless, a Booklist contributor praised Graysmith's "rat-a-tat, driving style," which makes for a compelling crime narrative.
Graysmith has also worked on a couple of books unrelated to true crime stories. Gluck, a work in progress, is a retelling of the Victorian classic, King of theGolden River, by John Ruskin. And he has also illustrated I Didn't Know What to Get You by children's author Penny Wallace. These projects have provided Graysmith with yet another outlet for his talent. As he once told CA, "Children's book illustration is something I have dreamed of doing my entire life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1999, Jay Freeman, review of The Bell Tower: The Mystery of Jack the Ripper Finally Solved, p. 1902.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1999, review of The Bell Tower, p. 937.
Library Journal, March 1, 1986, p. 104; April 15, 1990, p. 108; June 15, 1999, Michael Rogers, review of The Bell Tower, p. 92; May 15, 2002, Michael Sawyer, review of Zodiac Unmasked: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed, p. 112.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, review of The Bell Tower, p. 65; March 25, 2002, review of Zodiac Unmasked, p. 52.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 12, 2002, Bill Wallace, "The Murder Mystery That Wouldn't Die: Graysmith's Second Book on the Zodiac Reveals the Killer's Identity—but That's Not Really News," p. 6.