(Jeezus, everyone and their cousins want their 15 minutes of fame...)
Woman: Dad was the Zodiac, and I can prove it
Deborah Perez (left) says she was the daughter of the Zodiac killer. She and her attorney Kevin McLean (right) held a news conference in front of the Chronicle building in San Francisco on Wednesday. (Liz Hafalia / The Chronicle)
(04-29) 15:15 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- With a flourish of bravado and drama, an Orange County woman proclaimed to a raucous crowd of reporters and self-proclaimed sleuths today that her late father was the Zodiac killer who terrorized the Bay Area 40 years ago.
Deborah Perez, a 47-year-old real estate agent in Orange County, said she accompanied her father on at least two of the Zodiac slayings, wrote the killer's letter to San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli, and has a pair of glasses she said her father snatched as a trophy from his last known victim.
Her dad's name: Guy Ward Hendrickson, a carpenter living in Southern California in 1968 and 1969, when the Zodiac killed his five known victims before seemingly dropping from the face of the earth. Hendrickson has been dead for 26 years, Perez said.
"I was a child and just thought I was helping my father," Perez said at a press conference outside The Chronicle's Mission Street headquarters, where about 30 reporters and 20 Zodiac buffs competed to make their questions heard over the roar of each other and city traffic.
"Guilty! Guilty!" some of the buffs screamed as Perez spoke. "Bull—! Bull—!" screamed another.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence Perez mentioned was a pair of brown, horn-rimmed eyeglasses she says her father took from Paul Stine, a cabbie shot on Oct. 11, 1969, in San Francisco. She said she is turning them over to the San Francisco Police Department, and that if the prescription fits Stine's or is linked to the Zodiac in any other way - such as through a DNA match - it will help prove her case. According to accounts of the crime, Stine's body was missing his eyeglasses when he was found.
She also said she hopes authorities can find DNA on the stamps of letters that the Zodiac sent and match them to herself or her father.
Of particular interest will be the letter written in December 1969 to Belli, who died in 1996. The letter, filled with erratic punctuation and misspellings, begins, "Dear Melvin This is the Zodiac speaking I wish you a happy Christmass. ... please help me."
Perez said she wrote the letter at age 7 in an effort to get help for her father.
Investigators working the Zodiac case said they weren't aware of anything they've received from Perez, but they will look into her story.
"I have not heard of her before today," said San Francisco police Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, a spokeswoman for the department. "We definitely will look into any statements made to us. This is an open investigation."
Privately, some investigators wondered if the timing of Perez's announcement had something to do with a documentary on her story that she is hoping to finish soon.
Perez's attorneys, however, said she came forward to help solve the crimes and to refute the claims of others, including one from a man in Pollock Pines (El Dorado County) who says his late stepfather was the Zodiac.
Perez said her father took her along on murder jaunts because they were unusually close. She was a young girl, unaware of exactly what her dad was allegedly doing, she said. Her father explained to her that the gunshots she heard as she sat in the family car nearby were "just firecrackers."
Her father died at age 68 in 1983, she said. Her mother and five siblings had no idea of what was going on, she said - and indeed she said she had no inkling that Hendrickson might be the Zodiac until she saw a composite sketch of the killer on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" in August 2007.
"I recognized the individual as my father," she said. "I researched the Zodiac killer, and to my surprise I found cards and letters that were in police custody that were written by my father or myself." Perez did not provide a photo of her father for comparison purposes.
Perez said it never occurred to her to call police until she saw the TV show because she didn't pay attention to crime issues and had not heard of the Zodiac before then. She did not elaborate why she didn't report the Belli letter before - but one of her attorneys mentioned that she has "recovered memories" about the times, and that may have had something to do with it.
At one point, Perez's lips quivered, and she paused, appearing to be filled with emotion. One of her attorneys, San Francisco lawyer Kevin McLean - a former associate of the flamboyant Belli - laid a hand on her arm and jumped in to say he is convinced the Zodiac mystery is now over.
As for Hendrickson's motive? "He was nuts," McLean said.
Perez believes that her father was "a Jekyll and Hyde," McLean said. "She wrote that letter to Melvin Belli to try to get him some help."
He added, "Melvin Belli is reaching from the grave to solve this crime."
Regaining her composure, Perez said her father "told me he was sick, and all I wanted to do was help my dad. He told me he killed many people."
McLean said he was skeptical when Perez approached him two years ago to help her prove her story. But after having Perez examined by a forensics psychologist, and having a handwriting analysis done of writings by her, her father and the Zodiac, "I became convinced there is something here," he said.
That hundreds of other people, including at least a dozen each year who contact The Chronicle, also claim to know who the Zodiac was seemed not to deter Perez or the attorney in the slightest.
"Our evidence is good," McLean said.