Zodiac Killer Hunting Detective Dies at 86

David Toschi, whose real life exploits hunting the Zodiac Killer inspired Bullitt and Dirty Harry, has died.

Dave Toschi, the SFPD homicide inspector who spent years chasing the notorious Zodiac Killer, has died. He was 86 years old. 

A San Francisco native, Toschi joined the SFPD after returning from combat in the Korean War. While he found acclaim as part of a team of investigators who tracked down the racially motivated team of Zebra killers, it was his time chasing the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco that earned him his place in history.

The Zodiac Killer was known for attacking young victims in lover’s lanes and sending taunting letters to police and media. When cab driver Paul Stine was murdered on a quiet residential street on October 11, 1969, the Zodiac Killer found himself in Toschi’s jurisdiction, and the inspector spent the next few years pursuing the killer. Stine is one of only seven confirmed Zodiac victims (including survivors), although the serial killer is suspected in at least four other attacks (although in letters to the police, he boasted of a number as high as 37).

Toschi’s distinctive personal style, with central casting detective trench coats, bow ties, and a distinctive upside down quick draw holster made him an appealing figure in the media. Steve McQueen is said to have based his Bullitt character on Toschi, and Toschi’s time as the public face of the Zodiac Killer investigation helped inspire Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry (which features an absolutely brilliant Zodiac-inspired villain in Scorpio). Mark Ruffalo portrayed Toschi in David Fincher’s masterful 2007 film, Zodiac, which features a line nodding to the real Toschi’s cinematic influence, when another character jokingly refers to him as “Bullitt.” 

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And yes, Luke Skywalker wanting to “go down to Toschi Station to pick up some power converters” was George Lucas’ way of paying tribute to the larger-than-life homicide inspector.

The identity of the Zodiac Killer remains a mystery. According to a friend of Toschi’s (via The San Francisco Chronicle), the former Inspector “still went every year on Oct. 11 to the Paul Stine murder scene to look around and try to figure out why they couldn’t catch the guy.”

St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is accepting donations in Mr. Toschi’s name.

(photo credit: Susan Ehmer/AP)