Signed "Z" by Edwin Baird
Thanks to Mike Morford for letting me post over here.
Let me begin by giving credit to a poster on Ned Dehan’s Black Box Online Radio You Tube Comments section, Wildfire_99, who responded to Ned’s Quick Reference guide with the following reply:
That’s a pretty good observation comparing Charlie Chan at the Treasure Island to The Zodiac. However you should look into the story” Z” by edwin baird. It is my opinion that the story Z is the inspiration for the zodiac sending letters to Paul Avery and it is possible that he sent letters to Richard Gaikowski but Richard is never told the police cuz he didn’t like the police.
Tom Voigt has since informed me that a reference to the Baird story appeared in a video from May 9, 2017 on the Zodiac Killer Identified You Tube channel, though the video doesn’t say much about the story itself.
I watched Charlie Chan at Treasure Island back in the 1960s when a local TV station in Pittsburgh was running Charlie Chan movies on Saturday nights. In other words, I saw the movie before I ever heard of the Zodiac Killer.
However, I’d never heard of the Edwin Baird story before Labor Day 2022. I was able to purchase the Kindle edition for 99¢ on Amazon.
Signed “Z” by Edwin Baird first appeared in Detective Story Magazine on August 27, 1921. In other words, the story significantly predates Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), the Lipstick Killer (1945), the Texarkana Phantom (1946), and other stories and real life homicides which are presumed to have served as models for the Zodiac Killer to emulate.
I’m stretching Fair Use to the absolute limit, but here are some passages from Signed “Z” in the order in which they appear in the story:
“Somebody phoned my office,” Sloan declared, still breathing hard. “Said old Reeves had been croaked. Wasn’t more than ten minutes ago. What’d you know about that?” “I know this much,” said Shumway, nodding toward the marble steps that led to the bank floor, “the same message has been telephoned to every newspaper office in town.”
It came to him that the banker undoubtedly was still alive when the mysterious Z had telephoned to The Standard. This, of course, brought him back to the important question of who this anonymous person was, and that bred other baffling questions which Shumway quickly classified thus: First, assuming the unknown Z had murdered Reeves, what was his motive? Second, if he had committed the murder, why had he telephoned the newspapers about it? Third, if he hadn’t committed the murder how had he known of it before the banker was dead?
[The phone call, as it happened, came from a public phone booth in a drug store.]
But Shumway’s eyes went first of all to the right hand of the dead man. It was empty. “There was a bit of red paper in his right hand, Tom,” he said casually to the coroner. “You got it, I suppose?” The coroner, kneeling beside the body, looked up over his shoulder. “Oh, hello, Shumway! Yes, I found the paper. It’s on the table there. I can’t make anything of it.” Shumway’s eyes, darting instantly to the table, beheld the ragged piece of paper, and involuntarily he gasped with amazement. Surely this was carrying the thing too far! Zigzagging crazily across the red surface, its heavy black lines, was the crude, gigantic letter Z.
Shumway’s brain was working hard on a plan to trap the mysterious Z. It was only a nebulous plan as yet, but suddenly he rose and, with a hasty apology, went to the nearest telephone booth and called the city editor of The Morning Sun. “Hello, McLaughlin? Shumway talking. Want to ask a small favor. just for my own information, would you mind telling me exactly what this anonymous bird, known as Z, said to you over the phone this afternoon?” “As nearly as I can remember,” McLaughlin answered, “he said: ‘This is Z speaking. We just killed Reeves of the Second National.'”
Further interrogation failing to elicit anything more definite, Shumway called The Morning Post. Randall, night city editor, possessed a better memory. “I recall his words perfectly,” said Randall. “‘This is Z calling,’ he said to me. ‘Iwe just killed Reeves of the Second National.
The Reeves story, of course, had been “played up” heavily in both morning papers, and was liberally embellished with pictures of the slain banker and members of his family, photographs of the bank, more photographs of the coroner and detectives “searching for clues,” and a diagram of the directors’ room, with a large cross indicating the spot where the body was found. A perusal of the text, however, failed to disclose anything beyond what Shumway already knew. At least one important thing, and this only contributed to the mystery, had been definitely established: Robbery was not the motive. Several hundred dollars in currency had been found on the dead man’s body, and his costly gold watch, a pearl scarf pin, and other objects of considerable value were found intact.
Pierce was conferring with the makeup editor, and for the moment his desk was left in charge of Barker, his assistant. Barker was handling a steady stream of copy, which flowed from the machines of three rewrite men and five reporters, and trying to answer two telephones at once. He nodded toward the third phone, as Shumway stopped beside the desk. “Answer that, will you, Shumway?” Shumway picked up the telephone and placed the receiver to his ear. “Hello?” “This is Z calling,” said a deep masculine voice. “We just killed Ashfield of the Western Trust. Look for the apple seeds.” Shumway’s strong fingers spasmodically gripped the telephone instrument, and, for a breathless instant, he listened tensely, the receiver glued to his ear, every sense quiveringly alive. Then, as no further sound came, he said clearly and distinctly in a tone of stern authority: “I don’t believe a word you say. I think you’re lying to us.” But it was no use. The telephone connection had been broken. Instantly, for he realized the value of every second, he got The Standard switchboard operator on the wire. “Trace that call!” he said sharply. “The last call you got for the city desk. Drop everything else and trace it! It’s of the utmost importance.” Then he whirled round to Pierce, who was still talking with the make-up man, quite unaware of what had happened. “L. D. Ashfield, president of the Western Trust, has just been murdered!” he said. Heedless of the quick excitement that seized all within sound of his voice, and the babble of questions that were shot at him, he went on: “Better call up every public telephone booth within two blocks of the bank. I’d put at least five men on it, Pierce. Then call up the bank and ask for Harris, first vice president. We’ve got to work fast! Every second is precious. We … ” “Is this another Z killing?” Pierce demanded. “Yes! Just got his message over the phone. Miss Mandel is tracing the call.
The coroner had arrived when he returned to the bank, and he learned that Ashfield’s death was caused by a severed jugular vein, that nothing had been stolen from him or from his office, and that the sheet of red paper, found in his hand, bore a crude black letter Z.
Upon entering the office of The Standard, however, these plans received an unexpected jolt. Pierce, visibly excited, hurried him into Carmody’s office and gave him a long envelope of bright red hue, addressed in angular handwriting to “City Editors, Herald.” “It came in this morning’s mail,” said Pierce. “Read it.” · Shumway drew from the envelope a sheet of red paper which he instantly recognized as Z’s calling card. On one side was printed a huge black Z, on the other this message was written: Frank W. Eggleston, President of the Merchants’ Bank will be killed at one forty-five p. m. on the clay you receive this message. “Every paper in town,” Pierce went on, “got one of those things in the mail this morning. I tried to get you on the phone at home, but they said you’d left. What d’you think of it, Shumway?” Shumway, examining the missive by the light at the window, saw that the Z was the same as those he had seen before; that the superscription was jerkily written with black ink and the message with a soft black lead pencil, the handwriting of both being the same, and that the communication was correctly spelled and punctuated. The postmark revealed that the letter had been mailed at the main post office at five o’clock yesterday afternoon. “It seems genuine enough,” he said, handing it back to Pierce. “Of course, it may only be the work of a harmless crank, but I think not.” “You think, then, it was written by the person who killed Reeves and Ashfield?” Shumway nodded affirmatively. ‘It’s the same as his other calling cards, same sort of paper and same black crayon. I’ve no doubt he’ll try to kill Eggleston today, just as he says he will! Where’s Carmody?” “Attending a publishers’ meeting.” “Gosh! At this hour?” “It’s an emergency session, called twenty minutes ago by all the papers when it became known that all had received that message. They’re considering the question of suppressing it. This thing’s getting slightly serious, Shumway.” “Right! The police… ” ”The chief of police,” Pierce interrupted, “got one, too! So did Captain Grimm of the detective bureau, and so did Eggleston. He apparently over looked nobody.”
Beside the open window stood a 0.45 caliber rifle, mute evidence of the tragedy that had just been enacted here. From the litter on the floor he plucked a half-eaten Baldwin apple, and nearby he found a rifle case; but of more immediate interest to him was the sheet of red paper attached to the barrel of the rifle. Scrawled across this ruby-colored sheet, which bore the fatal letter Z in the angular handwriting he had seen that morning, were four brief words forming a grim, ironical sentence: “I told you so!”
Shumway, with his feet propped on a steam radiator, sat reading the papers and smoking cigarettes until a boy came in with the morning mail. Then he walked to the desk where the boy was sorting the letters. One stood out from all the rest and riveted his attention. He drew it forth, a long red envelope, addressed in angular handwriting to “City Editor, Herald.” After an involuntary hesitation he tore it open and extracted the sheet of red paper within. On one side of the sheet was a huge black Z, on the other side this message was written: Walter E. Hubbell, president of the Midland Trust & Savings Bank, will die before four p. m. today, Friday, and J. D. Hoyt, president of the State Bank of Oakdale, will die at nine fifteen a. m. tomorrow, Saturday. Z.
“But what really brought you here,” she went on, opening her reticule, “is this.” She gave him a sheet of red notepaper. He opened it and read in the angular scrawl that had become familiar to him: “Twenty-four hours after you receive this you will be fatherless.” “It came in the mail this morning after papa left home.” she told him. “I loathe anonymous notes. There’s something peculiarly cowardly about anything? I suppose I shouldn’t worry about it, but do you think it really means anything?”
About four o’clock he went out and telephoned his office. He was told that Walter Hubbell has died twenty minutes ago. “Poison,” said Pierce succinctly. “A new type of sanitary drinking cup was sent to him in the mail, apparently a sample from a manufacturer. Hubbell took it to the water cooler. In half an hour he was dead. His guards were with him, but they might have well be in China.”
“How will you kill Hoyt?” Shumway softly interrupted. “Artistically. When he enters his automobile tomorrow morning a time bomb in the seat ”It’ll explode and blow him to atoms.”
In the Baird story, there are four separate murders, just as in the Zodiac Killer case there are four canonical murder events. Just as in the Zodiac case, the first two murder events are similar, almost interchangeable, and the last two are a departure.
The difference between Signed “Z” and the many other examples is that the Baird story presents not just a name reference like Charlie Chan or even a near-verbatim quotation like the Tim Holt comic, but a method of operating that amounts to a public presentation. This isn’t some Sad Little Man whose subjective obsessions have come to light because he leaves dead bodies in his wake. This is a deliberate drama staged for general effect, not for psychological gratification.
Another way of putting this is that the Zodiac Killer isn’t a serial killer; he’s a construct, a Frankenstein monster put together piece by piece of previous crimes and cultural connotations. He’s a counterfeit, a kind of collage made up of bits from earlier events. In modern musical terms, he’s a song made up entirely of samples.
I will cite the innumerable examples of this collage effect in follow-up posts, if there is any further discussion.
Thanks for the interesting post, Ray. This all has an odd feeling of a strange phenomena we think is modern and it turns out has been around for hundreds of years. Waiting for the cave drawings now. Crazy! Thanks.
Thanks for the comment. Obviously, a lot of content in books, paintings, music, movies, and other media is made up of elements from previous artistic efforts. Shakespeare was a big borrower of stories from earlier sources—if I remember correctly, his only original play was The Tempest.
What’s different about the Zodiac Killer is how specific the sampling was. I got to the passage above that reads, “This is Z speaking,” and, as Dave Oranchak would say, I jumped out of my chair and yelled, “Holy sh*t!” As I said in the article, it’s not like the Charlie Chan movie where the connection is mostly the name ‘Zodiac’, which is typed on various messages and associated with a homicide. In the Baird story, the entire method of operation strongly resembles that of the Zodiac Killer. He/they had to have read that story and based his/their modus operandi on it.
Other examples of very specific copy-and-pasting on the Zodiac’s part are the Tim Holt comic book (the Halloween Card), the quote from the Smidgens cartoon—THE PACE ISN’T ANY SLOWER! IN FACT IT’S JUST ONE BIG—(The Hole Punch Card of October 5, 1970), the Lipstick Killer note vs. the Belli letter (“Please help me I can not remain in control for much longer.”), and copying the Domingos/Edwards killer’s use of pre-cut clothesline and tying the victims up. There’s probably a Ph.D. dissertation there for someone who wants to cite every time the Zodiac was not just being influenced by earlier events, but was clearly and blatantly copying them. It seems clear that the killer(s) wanted us to notice that the crimes and letters were constructed from previous material.
It seems to me that you would only do that if you wanted to make the point that your actions were not spontaneous and random, that they were very carefully thought-out and orchestrated in advance. I made that point in my own solution to Z340 on Morf’s private board back in 2013:
“Me – 37” isn’t a victim count; it means he’s struck 37 times. It’s 20 gunshots (BY GUN) and 17 stab wounds (by knife). The message of Z340 is in the 20 x 17 grid, and it means the murders were staged right down to how many shots were fired and stab wounds were produced. That tells us a lot more about the Zodiac Killer than the plaintext that Dave found underneath the cipher text transposition.