An adopted Louisiana engineer’s search for his biological roots results in a shocking, highly controversial connection to the Zodiac Killer.
With its details legally vetted and enshrouded in pre-publication secrecy, Stewart’s head-turning memoir, skillfully co-written by veteran true-crime journalist Mustafa, explores how the search for personal truth can sometimes unearth unexpected results. Though his adoptive parents loved him unconditionally, the author still felt “discarded,” plagued by crippling feelings of insecurity and abandonment. At 39, Stewart writes of being contacted by his birth mother, Judy Gilford, a runaway who became pregnant by an older, seductive man. The author, ecstatic at their reunion, began journaling his experience, which soon included an intensive, obsessive search for his father, who he believes to be Earl Van Best Jr., a statutory rapist Stewart would soon discover had abandoned him in a Baton Rouge apartment building stairwell—and who he believes went on to become a notorious murderer. The narrative begins to build suspenseful momentum only after early sections that re-create Best’s fractured childhood and early adulthood (heavily influenced, claims Stewart, by notorious Satanist Anton LaVey). Then the author chronicles the ensuing killing spree, encrypted communications and police-taunting media spectacle that immortalized him as the Zodiac Killer. The author painstakingly pieces together over a decade’s worth of personal research and verbatim interviews with family, friends and law enforcement, then goes further to scrutinize and compare handwriting samples, police sketches and photographs, all bearing uncanny resemblances to recorded documentation from the Zodiac files. Stewart soberingly remarks that while the burden of DNA proof remains elusive, the closure he has received with his personal investigation has satisfactorily provided the “truth about my life.”
High-minded speculation and documented assumptions are the building blocks of Stewart’s convincing memoir; whether perceived as the byproduct of shrewd spadework or a fertile imagination, the author’s family history offers chilling and credible correlations.