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The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father…and Finding the Zodiac Killer | [Gary L. Stewart, Susan Mustafa]

The Most Dangerous Animal of All: Searching for My Father…and Finding the Zodiac Killer

Soon after his birthmother contacted him for the first time at the age of thirty-nine, adoptee Gary L. Stewart decided to search for his biological father. His quest would lead him to a horrifying truth and force him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about himself and his world. Written with award-winning author and journalist Susan Mustafa, The Most Dangerous Animal of All tells the story of Stewart’s decade-long hunt. While combing through government records and news reports and tracking down relatives and friends, Stewart turns up a host of clues—including forensic evidence—that conclusively identify his father as the Zodiac Killer, one of the most notorious and elusive serial murderers in history.
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Publisher's Summary

Soon after his birthmother contacted him for the first time at the age of thirty-nine, adoptee Gary L. Stewart decided to search for his biological father. His quest would lead him to a horrifying truth and force him to reconsider everything he thought he knew about himself and his world.

Written with award-winning author and journalist Susan Mustafa, The Most Dangerous Animal of All tells the story of Stewart’s decade-long hunt. While combing through government records and news reports and tracking down relatives and friends, Stewart turns up a host of clues—including forensic evidence—that conclusively identify his father as the Zodiac Killer, one of the most notorious and elusive serial murderers in history.

For decades, the Zodiac Killer has captivated America’s imagination. His ability to evade capture while taunting authorities made him infamous. The vicious specificity of his crimes terrified Californians before the Manson murders and after, and shocked a culture enamored with the ideals of the dawning Age of Aquarius. To this day, his ciphers have baffled detectives and amateur sleuths, and his identity remains one of the twentieth century’s great unsolved mysteries.

The Most Dangerous Animal of All reveals the name of the Zodiac for the very first time. Mustafa and Stewart construct a chilling psychological profile of Stewart’s father: as a boy with disturbing fixations, a frustrated intellectual with pretensions to high culture, and an inappropriate suitor and then jilted lover unable to process his rage. At last, all the questions that have surrounded the case for almost fifty years are answered in this riveting narrative. The result is a singular work of true crime at its finest—a compelling, unbelievable true story told with the pacing of a page-turning novel—as well as a sensational and powerful memoir.

©2014 Gary L. Stewart and Susan Mustafa (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (115 )
5 star
 (34)
4 star
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3 star
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3.8 (109 )
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Story
3.5 (106 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    W. Perry Hall 05-19-14 Member Since 2015

    I've been member since 2011 (not 2015), but, in protest of AU's refusal on a few returns, I canceled my membership for a week.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Zodiac behind Big Blue Wall; the IRONY of it all"

    I found the book compelling, not only for revelations about the identity of the Zodiac, but for the interplay of SF politics on a murder investigation and later, a coverup. I think the author has nailed it, when I consider the credibility of the presenter and the publisher (HarperCollins), the support of a qualified handwriting expert of a definitive forensic handwriting match of a few documents written and signed by Van Earl Best, Jr. and those written by the Zodiac, Best's name is embedded in two (2) of the Zodiac ciphers, the fact that both the Zodiac and VE Best, Jr. had identical scars on the same index finger. The motive, means and opportunity also support the finding but aren't needed. The only thing missing for a slamdunk beyond a reasonable doubt finding is DNA. And, Mr. Stewart and his biological mother have offered DNA to an expert who now has the markers to match to the DNA of the Zodiac.

    BUT, the Blue Wall of the SF Police Dept stalled it all and closed the investigation in 2004, the week the author began making inquiries for the Best file. Above all else, they must protect their own: a black police detective who married the Zodiac's former wife (the author's biological mother) and who was somewhat of a bit player in the whole investigation behind Toschi and Armstrong.

    To hell with the public's interest and the families of the victims.

    This book and the author's narration made me want to continue listening.

    Can I find something to criticize? Yes. Some of the investigation part repeats what was already in the life story of Van Earl Best, Jr. and I thought there was much too lengthy a discussion of the relationship between the bio mother and her husband Rotea (the detective), presumably to bend over backward to appear that no one is pointing the finger at him.

    A definite 5 STAR book.

    I just hope to hell this puts continued pressure on the higher-ups in the SFPD to get off their ASS and stop looking out for numero uno!

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lauren Lanning 06-15-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Interesting take on the Zodiac Killer"
    Would you listen to The Most Dangerous Animal of All again? Why?

    This isn't so much a tale about the Zodiac as it is about a man trying desperately to find his real father. He does make a compelling case that his father was the Zodiac, but it almost seems like he has become so invested in the chase, he needs it to be true. I think this book would be interesting even if it weren't about the Zodiac - the story of this guy's parents is nuts! There's a lot of self-reflection and the book drags in some places - I wouldn't read it again, but I do suggest it as an interesting book about adoption, birth parents, etc.


    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gregg Smyrna, GA, United States 05-15-14
    Gregg Smyrna, GA, United States 05-15-14 Member Since 2013

    Nearly 1200 titles.

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    "Interesting story, passionately read"

    An interesting story, a bit laborious at times. Mostly it is a story of one man's dogged determination of personal discovery. Is Gary Stewarts' father really the Zodiac killer? Maybe.

    Few authors ought to read their own books, with few notable exceptions, and honestly in the beginning Gary's reading annoying. But after awhile Gary's reading grew on me.

    This is a deeply personal story and he conveys as much emotion with tone as does the words. By the end, I rather liked the addition.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maude Lebowski Texas 06-26-14
    Maude Lebowski Texas 06-26-14 Member Since 2013

    maudelebowski

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    "Very heavy on emotion, light on fact"
    What would have made The Most Dangerous Animal of All better?

    This is not a true crime story. It is a story of a man searching for some kind of meaning through the parents that abandoned him. The author is so emotional and overblown about his "mom" and "dad" that he cannot disconnect enough to realize he is literally destroying the lives of everyone around him with this unfounded Zodiac connection. There are no facts here. Only hand-wringing, and scenes of "tears were streaming down my face."


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Most Dangerous Animal of All?

    I would have cut out everything involving his biological family tree, and imagined stories and conversations about those people. It was not relevant to the story, and was entirely too long.


    Any additional comments?

    Although I am sad for Gary, and I'm sure he is a nice guy at heart, I wish he was able to let this go. Was his "father" a pedophile, kidnapper and document forger? Seems so. Was he the Zodiac? Highly unlikely. Stop bothering the SFPD. There are people being murdered RIGHT NOW that need their attention. Leave them alone. And his poor biological mother. She looks for her son in order to make amends and have some closure on the most difficult part of her life, and her son embroils her in some drama about the Zodiac - complete with midnight phone calls, angry emails, and demands about information. Give this woman some peace. I've read a lot of true crime books, and many made me angry - but this was the first that made me angry at the author.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lindsey Castillo 05-27-14

    Lindsey Castillo

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    "Wow!"
    If you could sum up The Most Dangerous Animal of All in three words, what would they be?

    Fascinating story!


    Any additional comments?

    I thought this book was amazing. I loved the dry yet emotional voice of Gary, as he went over the story and facts. I got completely hooked and was fascinated the entire way through. I'd read about the Zodiac years ago and saw the Hollywood movie. This is by far the most convincing story I've heard.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John-Michael Nashville 06-13-14
    John-Michael Nashville 06-13-14 Member Since 2014

    Searching and discovering books in the slimmest demographic: adult males.

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    "The Final Part Will Leave You Speechless"
    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Most Dangerous Animal of All?

    Hearing Author Gary L. Stewart's voice breaking as he fought back tears in a few sections of his memoir.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    Read a little smoother.


    Did The Most Dangerous Animal of All inspire you to do anything?

    Buy my dad a decent Father's Day gift


    Any additional comments?

    I think the Zodiac killings are fascinating and was exciting to download the newest in the serial killers' saga. I found myself disenchanted with this book until the final part. If you are a fan of true crime and/or the Zodiac killer, stick it out until the final pages of the book and you won't be disappointed.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    B Oak Lawn, IL, United States 06-13-14
    B Oak Lawn, IL, United States 06-13-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Compelling Personal Story, Not Entirely Convincing"

    This is really more of a story of self-discovery than it is an investigation. The story begins when a very ordinary everyman in his early middle age is contacted by his birth mother for the first time in his life. This starts the narrator down the road of tracing his roots and learning where he came from. A majority of the book is spent retelling the story of his father's life, as the narrator had pieced it together. His father, Earl Van Best Jr. (there's your first clue, so many serial killers go by their middle name), has a story that is itself very eccentric and weird. In a bizarre way, it kinda reminded me of Forrest Gump because you see an unknowing character weave through the modern history we in the present are all familiar with (and there are a surprising number of big, recognizable people whose lives intercepted Earl Van Best Jr.). There were also a bunch of odd diversions from the story. The author spends time discussing other crime events in 70's California (Charles Manson family, the zebra murders, the "Black Doodler") and the backstory of some inconsequential characters. The suspect does have the odd tertiary connection or two to some of those crimes and I didn't quite mind reading about them, but they seemed like odd things to include. I am fascinated with the Zodiac case, so I was a little impatient for the author to get to the actual Zodiac case. It seems I'm not alone in this respect; most of the 1 star reviews on here are from people upset with how long it took to get to the crimes and/or skipped ahead. However, this story soon had me hooked. Regardless of any final verdict, Earl Van Best was a disturbed and morbidly fascinating individual.

    Now, as for the evidence...
    Stewart peppers in a handful of interesting details as he recounts his father's life that will jump out to people familiar with the Zodiac case. At some point the story morphs into speculation though, where he just portrays the Zodiac Killer as his father. Granted, he has done such a good job at painting a portrait of his father as a sociopath, that it doesn't feel like a huge leap in logic at the time. It isn't until the book's final third where it follows the author connecting the dots. Almost all of the evidence is circumstantial, but it is compelling. Then it isn't until the very, very end when the author starts to come up with some real evidence (handwriting analysis, fingerprints, possible cipher solutions). The author basically says his inquiries were stonewalled by the San Francisco Police Department, so it ends on a bit of a question mark.

    If you follow the book, he makes a case that can be very convincing. But, it should be noted, that he isn't the first person to come forward with a good argument on who Zodiac is (he's not even the first to make the case that they were the son of the Zodiac, not even the second or third actually...). The cipher solutions are interesting, for sure, but the degree in certainty he has in his answer seems a bit much. There are enough symbols and potential permutations in the cipher to see whatever you want.

    Overall, the book is very compelling and worth reading, but be aware that it is mostly a personal narrative. If you just want to read a thorough investigation into Zodiac in obsessive detail, read Robert Graysmith's book "Zodiac" if you haven't yet. It became the basis for the excellent 2007 David Fincher movie of the same name. Either way, this book would make a great pairing to read after Graysmith's.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Karen L Doherty 05-21-14
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    "Very Compelling Story and Evidence"
    Would you listen to The Most Dangerous Animal of All again? Why?

    I am re-listening to the book already after just finishing it.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The compelling story and evidence.


    Any additional comments?

    I just finished the audio version of Gary’s and Susan’s book. They did a fantastic job of telling Gary’s life and research. The evidence is extremely compelling. Please seriously consider buying this book for your library as it will undoubtedly not only become a game changer of this long-standing mystery but a template of how to honestly research and present such important revelations. Kudos to the authors and for Gary to publicly reveal these difficult, personal truths.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    james clifton barker 07-15-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Flimsy argument, at best"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    A more convincing case for EVB as the Zodiac.


    What was most disappointing about Gary L. Stewart and Susan Mustafa ’s story?

    Very weak argument that went largely unsubstantiated.


    How could the performance have been better?

    Just hire a voice actor, come on Gary--stick to engineering.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    The actual facts put forth through documentation were interesting, namely the timeline created before all the zodiac nonsense.


    Any additional comments?

    I can only imagine Moustafa grimacing as she wrote about the Riverside killing with absolutely no evidence to back it up. Likewise, the lack of any reason why Van would be in Vallejo on July 4th, or any explanation for the sophisticated way the couple was herded out the passenger side. No reason for the ritualistic elements of the Zodiac except for a brief tie to Anton LaVey.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeremy Hogan 07-03-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Weak"
    Any additional comments?

    This book is more about the author's feelings and story. He claims that the Zodiac is his father without really showing too much evidence to support this. He then goes off on how he felt about what the Zodiac did to him personally, which was simply abandon him. This book isn't about the Zodiac as much. The author simply tells the summary of the Zodiac killings and then explains what he did during these times. If you're interested in the Zodiac, read the Robert Graysmith book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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