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Crime News Peacock

Why One Professor Believes the Zodiac Killer Is a Hoax

Professor Thomas Henry Horan lays out his theory that the serial killer is a hoax in The Myth of the Zodiac.

By Cydney Contreras

One man has an outlandish theory that might explain why the Zodiac Killer has yet to be caught.

In the Peacock docuseries Myth of the Zodiac Killer, Professor Thomas Henry Horan posits that the Zodiac Killer was nothing more than a hoax.

It’s a controversial idea, but it's one that Horan and documentarian Andrew Nock set out to investigate in the two-part series. Together, the pair will revisit the sites of the murders, analyze the letters the Zodiac Killer allegedly wrote, and speak with those who knew the purported victims of the Zodiac Killer.

RELATED: Here’s What We Know About the Victims of the Still-Unidentified Zodiac Killer

Along the way, Nock will speak to Horan's detractors, some of whom have their own theories about the series of killings that frightened Bay Area citizens in the 1960s.

Who is Thomas Henry Horan?

The figure at the center of the series is best described as an eccentric man of many talents.
"I originally started out as an insurance investigator, but I got tired of seeing people get away with fraud and even murder," Horan explains in the two-part series. "So I got into educational publishing and then eventually went back to school and got all my degrees and became an English professor and author." 

Horan has additionally worked as a journalist and in banks, expanding on his knowledge of investigative tactics. What's more, he's the host of the The Stones Unturned Podcast.

Using these skills, Horan began studying the Zodiac killings, leading him to hypothesize that the Zodiac is a fake. As he told the cameras, "He's a literary invention." 

A man speaking

Multiple people have questioned Horan’s hypothesis, including former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Duffy Jennings, who told Nock that he had "never heard" about it until participating in the documentary.

Meanwhile, Michael Butterfield, the writer of ZodiacKillerFacts.com, said that he'd rather "debate a ham sandwich" than engage with Horan. 

Why does Horan think there's no real Zodiac Killer?

Horan explains that his theory is largely based on the lack of evidence linking the murders to each other. He said, "The only evidence police had that there was a single person committing these murders was the Zodiac Killer letters."

He continued, "The more I studied these letters and compared them to the actual facts in each case, I made a very surprising discovery. It wasn't just that the story we are all familiar with about the Zodiac Killer was wrong, it's the truth about the Zodiac Killer case is more bizarre and more interesting than anybody every suspected ... The Zodiac Killer is a fictional character, he's a literary invention."

Horan thinks that all of the murders were likely committed by someone other than the letter writer.

When it comes to the July 4, 1969 shooting of Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau, Horan theorizes that Ferrin, then a married mother of one, was targeted by her ex-husband Jim Crabtree or another scorned lover. 

Her husband, Dean Ferrin, told Nock that he'd heard rumors that Ferrin had cheated on him, but he didn't believe it. Likewise, Ferrin's sister, Kris Chambers, described her sister as being a "wonderful" mother and wife.

A man speaks

Regarding Crabtree, Horan thinks he's the most likely suspect for Ferrin's murder. 

However, Nock tracked down Crabtree, who had an interesting alibi for the night of the murder: "I was taking an acid trip when she was shot," he said.

His alibi was reportedly confirmed by his wife at the time, according to a police report shown in Myth of the Zodiac.

The attack at Lake Berryesa on September 27, 1969 — which left Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, seriously injured and resulted in the death of Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22 — and the October 11, 1969 killing of cabbie Paul Lee Stine are crucial to Horan's theory, as there were witnesses who claimed to have seen the Zodiac Killer. The witness descriptions of each attacker were vastly different, supporting Horan's theory that there were multiple killers.

Horan also points out that the Lake Berryessa attacker used a knife, tied up his victims, and was supposedly dressed in an executioner's hood, none of which was done in the previous killings. 

Does this evidence indicate that the Zodiac Killer is a hoax? Watch Myth of the Zodiac on Peacock to decide for yourself.