The Ecphorizer

Hunt the Hunters
Neal Wilgus

Issue #67 (June 1987)



There was an old man whose despair
Induced him to purchase a hare:
Whereon one fine day, he rode wholly away,
Which partly assuaged his despair.
Edward Lear, 1872

Having followed Gareth Penn's Zodiac articles in The Ecphorizer and Mensa Bulletin over the years, I was anxious to get the full story at last, so I plunked down the 17 bucks for his TIMES 17 and read it, along with Robert Graysmith's Zodiac, as soon as I could. TIMES 17 is fascinating stuff and very persuasive, if not completely convincing, but one nagging detail kept bothering me every time I leafed through the book and happened to notice it. I'm referring to the reproduction of the postcard which the Zodiac killer sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on March 22, 1971 — a postcard which shows an architect's sketch of the proposed Incline Village Unit 6 which the Boise Cascade Corporation wanted to build near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, but eventually abandoned.

In some ways, this card is a key link in Penn's argument that the Zodiac is a certain Harvard Ph.D. whose initials are MOH (read TIMES 17 if you want his full name, address, phone number, zip code, social security number — and much, much more.) MOH is an architect who worked for the Arthur D. Little Company, a Boise Cascade subcontractor, at the time of the Zodiac's crimes, and more specifically, he worked on the Incline Village Unit 6 project at precisely those times when the Zodiac was most active. Since MOH lives in the Cambridge, Mass., area and all (but one) of the Zodiac crimes took place in California, this Tahoe link is a very important one.

The picture in question, which the Zodiac pasted on the card along with several perplexing phrases apparently clipped from newspaper headlines, shows a snow-covered scene with a row of buildings and trees making a diagonal line from lower left to upper right, and three figures walking from left toward the right. Two of the figures appear to be carrying skis or poles over their shoulders, although the picture is too indistinct to be sure which. In the upper right corner, the Zodiac punched a single hole.

Penn's analysis of the Lake Tahoe card is limited to the most prominent phrase, "Sought victim 12," which he interprets to be the Zodiac's code for 02138, the zip code for Harvard University in West Cambridge. This is typical of Penn's method — translating a Zodiac "sentence," via various symbol systems such as binary numbers, Morse code, anagrams, etc., into "messages" which give the Zodiac's name, initials, phone number, social security number, etc., or the name or initials of his parents, (i.e., BM and UE). For the record, the other phrases pasted on the Tahoe card are: "Sierra Club" near the top left), "Peek through the pines" and "pass Lake Tahoe areas" (bottom, to the right of "Sought victim 12") and "around in the snow" (upside down in the bottom left of the picture.) The date 3-23-71 is written on the card, although it was postmarked 3-22-71.

The thing that struck me every time I saw the card, however, was not the pasted-on messages or the date, but the uncanny similarity between the picture on the card and a great painting by one of my favorite artists — "Hunters in the Snow" by Peter Bruegel the Elder (1520?-1569). "Hunters," painted in 1565 as part of a series of six on the months or seasons, depicts a snow covered scene with a row of buildings and trees making a diagonal from lower left to upper right, and three figures walking from left toward the right. The three hunters, returning from the hunt with their dogs, are carrying poles over their shoulders. Sound familiar?

Okay, so there's a general similarity between the two scenes, but how does that help link MOH and the Zodiac? Well, let's begin with those poles, since Penn shows that MOH seems obsessed with his mother and with the fact that she was born in Poland — that she is a Pole. In the Bruegel painting, all three hunters have poles on their shoulders, but in the Tahoe card, only two of the figures have shouldered poles while the third carries it down to one side — a hint perhaps, that in MOH's family, there are only two Poles, since his father is apparently Irish.

Penn demonstrates that the number 117 shows up repeatedly in the Zodiac literature (once translated), that 117 is the first part of MOH's social security number, and that it is also the number of the longitude (117 degrees west of Greenwich) which passes through Riverside, California, where the Zodiac's first murder took place. There is a river in the Bruegel painting, making the village depicted another "Riverside" — perhaps another reason the Zodiac chose the Lake Tahoe scene, even though it has no river itself. If this sounds farfetched, consider that one week before mailing the Tahoe card, the Zodiac had sent a letter to the Los Angeles Times, admitting for the first time that the Riverside murder was his work.

Since Penn's analysis of the Zodiac's supposed messages often involves numbers and letters translated via binary, Morse and other symbol systems, I tried looking at the numbers associated with "Hunters." The date, 1565, meant nothing to me, but the measurements of the painting did -117 x 162 centimeters. There's that pesky 117 (Riverside) again, but I could make nothing out of the 162, until I tried Penn's trick of translating it into letters of the alphabet. The first letter of the alphabet is A, the sixth is F and the second is B, so 162 equals AFB. As if to corroborate this, I noted that the card was mailed on the 81st day of the year (3/22) and that 81 x 2 equals 162. The next question is: what Air Force Base (162) is near Riverside (117)?
The answer is March Air Force Base, and in fact, Penn mentions it in passing when he's trying to determine the origin and meaning of the Zodiac's oft-used symbol, the crossed circle — a symbol with many meanings, one of which is as a target designation by the Strategic Air Command. As a matter of fact, March AFB is a SAC base, but since Penn's resume of MOH shows no military service, it seems more likely that March in Zodiacese refers to the month, rather than the place.

This thought is strengthened by the fact that the Tahoe card was postmarked March 22, while the date written on it was March 23 — and as Penn shows repeatedly, the Zodiac calls attention to key messages by making just such "mistakes." And while Bruegel's "Hunters" is considered by some art critics to represent January (MOH's birth month), the first painting in the series, all trace of which has been lost, apparently depicted "March" — which in the 16th century was the first month of the year.

Zodiacese for his "first and lost" crime?

These March links paled considerably, however, when another occurred to me which caused, as Penn describes it, "the hair on my arms (to) stand on end" — that is, the March Hare from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. The "hare raising" aspect will be clear only to those familiar with Penn's TIMES 17 and thus with MOH's full name, but it should be obvious that this link with Lewis Carroll's surreal logic is fully consistent with the rest of what we know and suspect about the Zodiac — especially since the Mad Tea-Party (MT being Zodiacese for "empty") with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter deals with Time (a Zodiac obsession) and the importance of words that start with M (such as Mike). The fact that the Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit" was popular at the time of the Zodiac crimes may only be coincidental...

Then there's that strange hole punched in the upper right corner of the Tahoe card, a hole that would correspond, roughly, to the high mountain peak in the upper right corner of "Hunters." Could the Zodiac's "around in the snow" mean "a round (hole) in the snow"? And could "Peek through the pines" actually mean "peak through the pines"? Very well, since Penn got started in his search for the Zodiac by placing a radian angle on Mount Diablo, I decided to place a radian angle (57.295779... degrees) on that snowy Bruegel peak and see where it pointed. To do so, I marked a line between 57 and 58 degrees on a transparent protractor, which I then placed on the painting with the center point of the protractor at the very tip of the peak and the straight edge of the protractor parallel to the top of the painting.

When Penn placed a similarly marked radian angle on a Bay Area map, with the angle centered on Mount Diablo and one leg running through the site of the Zodiac's Blue Rock Springs murder north of San Francisco, the other leg ran smack dab through Presidio Heights in San Francisco where the Zodiac had later murdered a taxi cab driver. Well, there are no taxi cabs in the Bruegel painting, but there is a figure just to the right of the center that appears to be a wagon drawn by two horses and led by a lone man. Guess what the line on my protractor, my radian, was pointing to?

Before we put that radian away, let's try it out on the hole in the corner of the Tahoe card, comparable to Bruegel's peak. As it turns out, a radian line this time points at the figure of a man, slightly right of center, at the bottom of the sketch — a man apparently bending over to shovel snow, a figure much like one tending a fire in the upper left part of "Hunters." Not particularly meaningful in itself, but it's surprising to discover a similar figure, prominently placed, in Bruegel's drawing for the lost "March" painting from the months/seasons series—and in an engraving by Pieter van der Hayden (1570), based on the Bruegel "March" drawing but with the entire scene reversed.

After all those hints about a March Hare, another Bruegel work caught my eye, an etching — his only surviving etching — called "The Hunt for Wild Hares" (1566). This scene is laid out on a diagonal line from lower left to upper right in very much the same way that both "Hunters" and the Tahoe card are, with two human figures in the lower right corner — a hunter pointing a crossbow at three rabbits and what might be a game warden holding a pike, watching him from behind a tree. In The Graphic Worlds Of Peter Bruegel The Elder (1963), H. Arthur Klein notes that prints from this etching are quite rare, but that there is one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston — the very museum for which MOH worked as a part-time consultant in 1971, when the Tahoe card was mailed.

Incidentally, a radian from the top right corner of the Pieter van der Hayden engraving of "March" points to that half-bent over figure which is so similar to the one in the Tahoe card. And a radian angle from the top of a high tower in the upper right corner of Bruegel's "March" drawing, points to a spot just in front of the comparable figure — to the business end of his shovel, in fact. Finally, in the Bruegel etching of "Wild Hares", there is a similar near miss, with a radian angle from the top right corner pointing just in front of the hunter or poacher — this figure too bearing a resemblance to the bent figure in the Tahoe card.

Obviously, the Zodiac had no way of causing all these radians and other recurring forms and themes I've pointed out. What he did have is the choice of what picture, numbers and words he would place on the card and it seems likely to me that he made his choices based on a deep familiarity — nay, obsession — with the works of Bruegel and the time of the March Hare. If Penn is right that the highly intelligent and well-educated suspect, MOH, is in fact the Zodiac, then it would be advisable to investigate further his artistic and literary interests.

I'm sorry to report that I can find nothing in all this that seems to refer to what Penn believes is the Zodiac's last murder (unacknowledged by the police) — the disappearance of an architectural graduate student in Boston in 1981. Well, almost nothing — Penn believes the body is buried near Concord, Mass., and in TIMES 17 he uses a USGS map which happens to include Walden Pond in his search for the exact location. So far the body is still missing and Thoreau's admonition that we "March" to the beat of a different drummer isn't really a clue, is it?

I have a number of ideas and speculations about all of the above, but this piece is already running long and at this point, those ideas consist mostly of what Penn scornfully calls psychobabble, so I'll bring this to an end. None of this is conclusive proof that MOH is the Zodiac, after all — it's only more fuel for Penn's fire. Nevertheless, I still can't look at that Lake Tahoe card without thinking of "Hunters in the Snow" — and everything it might conjure up.

Editor's Note [1987'/>: Neal sent an advance copy of this article, with a photo of Bruegel's painting, to Gareth. 

Contributor Profile

Neal Wilgus

Neal Wilgus was born in Jerome, Arizona. He has a degree in English from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, and moved to New Mexico while working for the US Forest Service in the early 60s. He is a prolific writer of poetry, science fiction, and satirical humor. His latest chapbooks are The Leakoids: Newsalizing the Nation, and Rhymed and Dangerous, a book of poems. Neal currently resides in Corrales, New Mexico, and works the night shift with his illustrator, Filo Martinez, who provided the sketch of Neal at right.




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