I Am Not Avery

zodiac killer
Zodiac: Threats & Grim Humor

from Reporter’s Note Book by Duffy Jennings, to be published June 2019.


Two months after the Marin shootout, on October 28, 1970, Zodiac threatened Chronicle reporter Paul Avery directly in a Halloween card, the first time the killer targeted a specific victim.

“From your secret pal,” taunted the dancing skeleton on the front of the spooky card that the cryptic murderer addressed personally to Avery, although he misspelled it as “Averly.”

On the front of the card was a verse that began:

“I feel it in my bones,
You ache to know my name.
And so I’ll clue you in…”

Inside, the poem concluded:

“But then why spoil our game! BOO! Happy Halloween!”

Elsewhere on the inside panel, Zodiac printed neatly in felt-tip marker:

“Peek-a-boo! You are doomed!”

We gathered around Paul for a closer look at this brazen new message, cracking jokes about his life expectancy. In the relative safety of the city room, we scoffed at the threat, not only because it was so rare for journalists to be killed on duty in those days but because threatening a specific person was a radical departure from Zodiac’s otherwise random choice of victims.

Seizing on the opportunity for some typical macabre newsroom levity, someone quickly produced campaign-style buttons with black block letters on a white background proclaiming, “I Am Not Avery,” and we all wore them on our lapels. Herb Caen mentioned it in a funny item that brought TV news crews scrambling to our newsroom.

Still, I had to wonder. If Zodiac was serious about whacking Avery, no silly buttons would throw him off, and he might just as easily take out one of us at the same time. Whenever I left the building with Paul, I couldn’t help being more keenly aware of our surroundings. I looked much more carefully around corners, behind us, in parked cars and into the eyes of passing strangers.

Paul went along with the gag and wore an “I Am Not Avery” button on the front of his own jacket. But inside his coat he started to wear something else—a .38-caliber revolver. A former Vietnam War correspondent and a licensed private eye, Paul was not easily intimidated, so he took out a concealed-weapon permit, approved by Police Chief Al Nelder. “Are you really worried?” I asked Paul. “Nah,” he shrugged, shaking his head. “It’s just a lot of talk. But I’m not taking any chances.”


© 2019 by Duffy Jennings. All Rights Reserved.

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If Zodiac was serious about whacking Avery, no silly buttons would throw him off, and he might just as easily take out one of us at the same time.