Aging Lawyer Claims to Know Zodiac's Identity

Tells of a chilling 1970s encounter with infamous serial killer

Yet another suspect has emerged as the notorious Zodiac killer, a well-traveled merchant seaman who confided in a San Francisco lawyer more than 30 years ago.

Robert Tarbox, an 82-year-old retiree living in Las Vegas, said he believes a man who came into his San Francisco office in the early 1970s and paid $50 for a consultation for a shipboard injury claim, spent an hour telling the lawyer he was responsible for the Zodiac crime spree - five murders in Vallejo and San Francisco that remain unsolved today, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

His confession was "not in detail, but it was comprehensive," Tarbox told the Chronicle. The seaman's monologue was both persuasive and deeply disturbing, and left him with "little doubt" he was talking to the serial killer.

Tarbox said the seaman seemed genuinely to want to stop his "opportunistic" murder spree and make amends.

"He wanted some idea of what the consequences would be if he turned himself in," Tarbox recalled. "And I explained to him that, in personal terms, the effects on him would be catastrophic" -- with life in prison or the death penalty the probable outcome.

Soon after that, he said, the seaman left the office and disappeared. Tarbox said he never discussed the creepy encounter because he felt bound by attorney-client privilege.

But over the years, he said, he became increasingly troubled because recurring news reports about the old case - and then the 2007 film "Zodiac" - identified "the wrong man" as the likely suspect: the late Arthur Leigh Allen, a former Vallejo school teacher and mental patient. Allen died in 1992.

Tarbox refused to name the seaman he believes is the Zodiac killer. He said he spoke up to clear Allen's name.

"I want to do this for Allen's family, and for people who knew him," he said. "They deserved to know that he wasn't a serial killer."

Tarbox's account is the latest twist in the case of the Zodiac, a publicity-mad gunman who in 1968 and 1969 killed three young women, a teenage boy and a cabdriver in Vallejo and San Francisco. During the crime spree, the killer wrote a series of taunting letters to The Chronicle challenging police to stop him from killing again.

Tarbox's account rings true, according to Robert Graysmith, auuthor of two best-selling books on the Zodiac killer. For one, Tarbox seems to be motivated only by a desire to clear the name of Allen, a man he never met. He took out a full-page ad in the Vallejo Times Herald newspaper in 2007 to assure "family, relatives and friends" of Allen that he was innocent of the Zodiac murders.

Also, Graysmith said, there have been reports that the killer was a merchant seaman, and he said it was "absolutely plausible" that the killer sought legal advice in the way Tarbox described.

Tarbox says he has never heard from the seaman again.

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