The Zodiac, the hooded serial killer who menaced the Bay Area 40 years ago, has so fascinated the public that major motion pictures, books and blogs have been devoted to sifting through clues for his identity.
Just when you thought every angle had been covered, along comes Deborah Perez, who announced at a raucous sidewalk news conference in San Francisco that the Zodiac was her dad and she rode in his car when he went out to kill.
Perez, 47, a real estate agent who lives in Corona, has, by one estimate, joined about 1,200 people who have boasted of knowing the identity of the man who stalked lovers lanes and taunted the police with letters to the media.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Perez said she had come forward to assuage her own conscience.
"I am not a wacko," she said. "I am not looking for 15 minutes of fame. This is not about that. This is about getting the truth out and telling the truth for these families."
She said she had gone to the FBI and the police, but was disappointed by their reaction.
"They all dragged their feet," she said. "This is my life that is on hold. This is my childhood. My life. My conscience does not allow me to not" come forward.
Perez, the mother of five boys, said her father was a "Jekyll and Hyde" character who did not abuse her. She said she was born in Mexico, as was her mother, and grew up in Santa Ana and Orange. Her father, Guy Ward Hendrickson, was born in North Dakota and died in 1983.
She said the killings were not all random. The Zodiac killer is blamed for at least five slayings. "Some were methodically planned by my father," she said, adding that he knew some of his victims. She also said she accompanied him as a 7-year-old on a few killings and wrote the Zodiac letter that was sent to Melvin Belli, the late flamboyant trial lawyer.
At a news conference Wednesday outside the San Francisco Chronicle, Perez said her father was the killer who terrified the city in 1968 and 1969. He was a nut, she and her spokesman explained. They also handed out video trailers of a documentary that is being made about her monster father.
Perez is making her public disclosure with help from Kevin McLean, a disbarred lawyer who for years worked as Belli's law partner. He said he is now a business manager.
McLean accompanied Perez to the news conference and said he is assisting her without pay. During the 20-minute meeting with reporters and Zodiac buffs, Perez appeared somber and sad, as befitting someone who had discovered her beloved father was a serial killer.
McLean appeared delighted.
"We have what we believe are [the murder victim's] glasses!" he exclaimed gleefully.
McLean said Thursday he was helping Perez because "it's part of history that we are solving the Zodiac murder, and so I can get my bald head on the TV and on the Internet forever. I kind of like that."
The San Francisco event was arranged by Ed Lozzi, a publicist who says he dated the late starlets Lana Clarkson and Anna Nicole Smith. Lozzi said he warned Perez that if she came forward, her life would change, but that she told him it didn't matter. "She needs to get it out," he said.
San Francisco police said Thursday that they were still waiting for Perez to produce a pair of glasses that she said her father took as a souvenir from a cab driver he killed. Police believe the Zodiac shot a San Francisco taxi driver named Paul Stine on Oct. 11, 1969. Reports of the crime say that Stine's glasses were missing.
"Once you make complaints to a police department, you are required by law to provide the evidence to a police agency, and there is no reason to believe she is not going to do that," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Lyn Tomioka.
Asked whether police were taking her claims seriously, Tomioka said: "We take any new leads or any new information or evidence and look at it seriously, and then we follow up to see if there is any legitimacy to the statements.
"Obviously, in the past, a number of people have come forward with very similar claims."
Perez said she realized her father was the Zodiac killer when she saw a police drawing of the suspect on television in 2007. The drawing looked just like her father, she said. She did not have a photograph of him at the news conference.
McLean, who said he lost his license to practice law because he was "accused of borrowing a client's money without their permission," said a news conference probably would be held in Los Angeles and a photograph produced.
Robert Graysmith, the author of two books about the Zodiac, one of which was made into a movie, said he was not impressed with Perez's disclosures.
"I am a Southern gentleman, and I never contradict a woman in public," said Graysmith, who was working as a cartoonist at the Chronicle when Zodiac letters started arriving. "But it is the lowest, saddest point in the incredible story that was the Zodiac."
On the other hand, Graysmith said he was never quick to dismiss claims from people who say the Zodiac was their dad.
"You never know," he said. "This is just the kind of case that takes so many turns."
Times researcher Vicki Gallay contributed to this report.