Leave it to American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy to cast Lena Dunham as the Zodiac Killer. The real Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who murdered at least 5 people (and maybe dozens more) in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Zodiac was never caught or identified, even after he sent dozens of taunting letters to local newspapers, and speculation about his identity continues to this day. Zodiac Killer theories range from the believable to the totally absurd.
But only on AHS would the Zodiac be reimagined as Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who was jailed for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, the same year the Zodiac began his (or her!) killing spree. In Cult, Lena Dunham plays Solanas, with a twist. Instead of a lone, disturbed woman, Solanas is now the leader of a bicoastal misandrist murder cult bent on eliminating all men.
Could there by any truth to this wild theory? Was more than one person the Zodiac Killer? Could the Zodiac Killer have been a woman (or women)? Might they have been a political protestor or infamous cult leader? If nothing else, the AHS Zodiac Killer theory provides an entryway into the weird world of Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas, SCUM, and even L. Ron Hubbard.
In Cult, The Zodiac Killer Was A Group Of Radical Feminists
Out in the real world, the Zodiac Killer's identity remains a mystery, but not in the AHS universe. In Cult episode 7, it's revealed that the Zodiac Murders were committed not by one man, but by several women. Lena Dunham plays Valerie Solanas, a real-life radical feminist and Andy Warhol collaborator who attempted to assassinate the artist in 1968. As far as anyone knows, that failed assassination attempt ended Solanas's life of crime. She served a three-year prison sentence and continued to work on her anti-male SCUM Manifesto until she died in 1988.
Dunham's Solanas, by contrast, was just getting started. While the real SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) existed solely in Solanas's mind (and she was later diagnosed as schizophrenic), in AHS, SCUM was a real cult of radical women who committed a series of murders that were later blamed on the Zodiac Killer, ironically attributing their grand feminist gesture to a man.
In the AHS timeline, SCUM mayhem continues in the present day because Solanas's former girlfriend, Bebe Babbitt (Frances Conroy) is now bent on a feminist overthrow of Kai's increasingly misogynistic cult.
It's just the sort of extra we've come to expect from Ryan Murphy.
The Real Zodiac Killer Was Never Caught
The real Zodiac Killer (or killers) was never caught, though dozens of theories have been proposed through the years, identifying the Zodiac as anyone from a police offer to Senator Ted Cruz. Operating out of Northern California between 1968 and 1972, he is believed to have murdered 5 people (two other victims survived), though it may be many more. He targeted couples parked alone at isolated "makeout spots" (shades of Twisty from Cult episode 1?). He also sent cryptic coded letters to local newspapers, daring police and the public to crack the code and reveal his identity.
However, almost every part of this story is disputed, including which murders should be attributed to the killer, how many murders occurred, and whether the Zodiac was one killer or multiple killers.
The Zodiac Killer May Have Been More Than One Person
Some evidence suggests the elusive Zodiac Killer may have been the Zodiac Killers, with two or more individuals either working together or separately. (Believe it or not, there's also a theory that the Zodiac was one killer with multiple personalities.)
Some experts believe the handwriting doesn't match between all the Zodiac letters, though others dispute this claim. JFK assassination researcher Edward J. Epstein suggested that leading suspect Arthur Leigh Allen attacked the first two couples (Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday, and Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau), but that later crimes were committed by a copycat or copycats. He also claimed that the mysterious coded letters were written by yet another person, likely a journalist or police officer who had access to confidential information about the case. However, Epstein's conclusions are controversial.
The Main Suspect Fit Every Piece Of Evidence - Except DNA
Arthur Leigh Allen was first brought in for questioning in October 1969 because he was in the vicinity of Lake Beryessa the night Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard were attacked by the Zodiac. He provided an alibi, but in 1971 he was brought in again after his friend told police that Allen "had spoken of his desire to kill people, use the name Zodiac, and secure a flashlight to a firearm for visibility at night."
Other evidence against Allen included: A letter sent to the Riverside Police Department from Bates' killer was typed with a Royal typewriter with an Elite type, the same brand found during the February 1991 search of Allen's residence. He owned and wore a Zodiac brand wristwatch. Allen lived in Vallejo and worked minutes away from where one of the first victims (Ferrin) lived and where one of the killings took place.
The problem? He wasn't a DNA match. Nor was his handwriting a match with any of the Zodiac letters, according to the police expert. That has led many people to suspect he had either a partner or a copycat.