Monday, December 31, 2012

Zodiac Hunter: An Interview with Tom Hanson


Zodiac Hunter:
An Interview with Tom Hanson

by
Chris Poggiali

If someone were to ask me to name my favorite American movie of the last 10 years, my answer, without hesitation, would be David Fincher’s ZODIAC (2007). This brilliant adaptation of Robert Graysmith’s 1986 non-fiction bestseller not only concerns itself with research and legwork -- topics near and dear to my heart -- but it also explores themes of obsession and miscommunication within the context of a real-life, still unsolved murder investigation. Beautifully directed by Fincher from James Vanderbilt’s smart and meticulous screenplay, and blessed with a terrific, Oscar-worthy performance by Mark Ruffalo as San Francisco homicide detective Dave Toschi, ZODIAC appeared on many film critics’ “Top 10” lists in 2007 but was a box-office failure and earned not a single Academy Award or even Golden Globe nomination.

Thirty-six years earlier, another film titled ZODIAC failed to secure any Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. Unlike the Fincher movie, which cost $65 million and opened nationwide on 2,378 screens, this ZODIAC -- later known as THE ZODIAC KILLER -- was filmed on the cheap and in a hurry by Los Angeles restaurateur and sometime-actor Tom Hanson, who held the world premiere in a San Francisco theater less than a month after two honest-to-goodness “This is the Zodiac speaking” letters arrived at the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle. Nowadays, when studios cancel previews and reschedule movie openings out of respect for the victims of violent crimes, it wouldn't be acceptable to rush a quickie exploitation movie about a real-life crime spree into the same area where the spree is taking place -- but that’s exactly what Hanson did in April 1971.

Tom Hanson as Paul, a victim of THE ZODIAC KILLER.

A little backstory: I had seen THE ZODIAC KILLER and knew a little bit about its San Francisco opening through word-of-mouth and the brief description in Graysmith's book, but I didn't become a full-blown Hanson fan until his second and final feature, A TON OF GRASS GOES TO POT (1972), was introduced to me by two enthusiastic Temple of Schlock contributors, Marc Morris and Mike MacCollum, in early 2009. Several days after my generally positive review of that film appeared here, I received a cryptic email titled "Tom Hanson - The Real Story," which contained only a telephone number with a Los Angeles area code. Upon receiving a second email as confirmation from Jim Hanson, Tom's son, I called the number and -- within a few minutes -- learned the real story behind Tom Hanson's ZODIAC...

"The real story is, I was trying to make films and I knew getting into the business was gonna be tough, and I knew when you make low-budget movies they’re usually junk, because it’s hard to get above that," Hanson explained to me on that day back in March 2010. "So I thought I’d take a shortcut. I shot ZODIAC for about 13 grand. Nobody got paid anything. I shot it with the intention of bringing it up to San Francisco and four-walling a theater, which I did, with six guys to set a trap and catch that son of a bitch. I was gonna catch him and use that for the end of the film, and I thought that would then launch me into making other films with a few more bucks and doing it right. When you’re trying to break through and get something done, and you’ve got no money, and it’s not exactly GONE WITH THE WIND, you’ve gotta try and do something, y’know?" He let out a laugh before adding, "Anyway, I thought you should know that my intention was to catch the Zodiac."



Making a $13,000 horror movie about a killer on the loose is nothing special, and to premiere it in the monster's backyard -- well, that's exploitation. But to actually use the movie as bait to catch the monster? Now that's genius. Hanson's ZODIAC is a half-baked hodgepodge of actual events and bizarre conjecture that, despite its obvious technical and budgetary limitations, still succeeds as a cheapo drive-in thriller and a fascinating historical document of its time (It beat DIRTY HARRY and that film's "Scorpio" killer to theaters by at least six months). When I asked about the Zodiac's portrayal in the movie, especially the stuff about his pet rabbits and Satanic basement altar, Hanson's blunt response was "That's just made-up shit," pretty much confirming his claim that ZODIAC was thrown together primarily as bait to bag a killer; 44 minutes and 59 seconds into the movie, you can actually hear the filmmaker yell "Cut!" at the end of a scene.

The following Q&A was compiled from several interviews I conducted with Tom beginning in March 2010 and ending on November 17, 2012.

Strap yourselves in. It's a wild ride!


TOM HANSON: I had a chain of pizza stores called Pizza Man. I went into that thing on a wing and a prayer. It was a good little franchise, too. I was advertising on TV. I had 60 or 70 of those goddamn places, and I was supposed to get just under eight million dollars from the underwriter in New York, a guy named Graham Loving, but everything went down the toilet ‘cause he went broke and I lost everything. I should’ve known something was wrong when you’ve got a head stock guy with a patch over one fuckin’ eye. Anyway, it tanked and I had to hang it up.

TEMPLE OF SCHLOCK: So you were the founder of ‘Pizza Man,’ and that was your silhouette on the Pizza Man logo?


HANSON: Yeah. You know those machines that you can go in and it’ll take your picture for a quarter? I did that, and then I blacked out the picture.

TOS: And they still use that as their logo.

HANSON: They’ve adjusted [the head] because I think they thought I would go after them, but I don’t do that.

TOS: You had already managed a number of fast food restaurants by that time, including A&W and Chicken Delight.

HANSON: I had a lot of background in delivery, how to get [the business] going, how to keep it going and all that shit. I had perfected a lot of things, because I’d already had the top five Chicken Delights in the nation. I had put pizza into Chicken Delight, which they didn’t have when they got started, and I also put ribs into Chicken Delight. Anyway, the point of all this is, I was going down the tubes with Pizza Man and I thought, well, on the way down, I’ll make a couple of pictures.

TOS: You had been an actor prior to starting Pizza Man, so you weren’t new to the movie business when you made ZODIAC.


HANSON: I’d worked on half a dozen low-budget films, which is where I learned what you’ve gotta do to finish the damn things. That’s where I learned “Just keep shooting!” [Laughs] One of my buddies, Tony Cardoza, had done a few films I had worked on, like NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNDO FINE, which was about the Bay of Pigs invasion. We shot a couple of biker films after that. HELLCATS was one of them. I was in that, I played Mongoose, one of the bikers. Hell, we’d be shooting in some canyon while Jack Nicholson and those other guys would be shooting in the next canyon over.


TOS: The other biker movie you did was OUTLAW RIDERS?

HANSON: Could be. I know there were a couple of them. Tony liked to have me around on those things, because nobody could control the bikers but me. You get forty Galloping Gooses, twenty-five Hells Angels, twenty-five Satan’s Slaves and I forget the rest of those crumb bums together and try and control those guys. I’d always talk to their head guy, who was usually out on parole, but whatever, I was the only guy who could handle them. Tony was scared to death of all that. We did a scene in a burial ground, y’know, for the funeral of one of the bikers – I forget for which of his bikers films it was – but these guys were doing wheelies! People are burying their mothers and fathers and these fuckers are doing wheelies over their graves!


TOS: Tony Cardoza also made BIGFOOT (1970).

HANSON: [Laughs] He shot part of that in Griffith Park and I could see the Roosevelt writing on the cement where Bigfoot was supposed to come down and break water. I said “Tony, couldn’t you see the goddamn writing on the cement?!” He said, “Nah, it got by us!” Y’know, you’re dealing with shit like that when you’ve got no money. We were in Griffith Park with no permit, or else I made a phony permit for him. I used to do that. I’d just make it up, y’know? “I grant permission to shoot here” -- some bullshit. You’re not worried about a lawsuit, you’re worried about can I get this damn thing done?


TOS: Since you had the connections, did you ever think about making your own biker movie?

HANSON: I had a script called REVOLT OF THE MAMAS that I wanted to do, which was about a female biker gang. I was gonna have them kick the shit out of another biker gang, because I got to know a lot of those gangs doing Tony’s movies. I had an office over at that old studio where they used to shoot the Charlie Chaplin films. I forget what the hell it was called. Raquel Welch had the office next to mine, so I got to know her a little bit. I would run casting calls for gals with bikes. I’d have them do a couple of spin-arounds in the lot. One of the gals who came in had DEEP THROAT on her resume. I was a little naïve at the time, so the film must not have been out yet -- I said, “Oh, you did a medical film?” She said, “Oh yeah, right.” [Laughs] I thought, at least she has some background. She couldn’t ride worth a shit!

TOS: How did you cast ZODIAC? You used a couple of the actors, like Hal Reed and Arnie Koslow, in both of your movies.


HANSON: Arnie was a referee for boxing matches. He had gone to L.A. City College when I did. I had gone to L.A. City College taking acting. Hal Reed, I ran into and I thought, shit, you could play this guy [the Zodiac]. I thought he might be going somewhere.


In both films I did this: to use a coffee shop, I would put the guy that had the coffee shop, or his girlfriend, or somebody into the damn thing. I would take people off the street, y’know? “I want you to be in this film, to play a part” -- almost anybody. It was never the same thing from one day to the next. It was day by day, trying to keep it together, keep it going. We were using short ends of film to finish it.

TOS: You decided to premiere ZODIAC in San Francisco, the site of the Paul Stine murder and also the Zodiac’s threats against the schoolchildren.

HANSON: When I went up there to show it, there’d been a letter every 17 days for about 6 months. That’s why I knew he was still there, still operating, and that’s why I thought he’d come to that theater to see it. He’d have to, with that sicko twisted mind. So that’s why I set the trap there.

TOS: You opened the movie on April 7, 1971.


HANSON: At the Golden Gate Theater, right near Market Street. There were two screens -- one upstairs and one downstairs. We had to take the upstairs screen, being what we were and who we were. [Laughs]

TOS: This was before you got a distribution deal?

HANSON: I did the thing at the Golden Gate on my own. I can’t remember what it cost to four-wall it, or what we worked out. I think the deal was that they got 80% of the money, or maybe 90%.

TOS: Besides a couple of paragraphs in Robert Graysmith’s book Zodiac, there hasn’t been much written about your trap. What little I know is that you used a contest drawing for a free motorcycle to check for handwriting samples.


HANSON: I talked Kawasaki into giving us a motorcycle. Everyone who bought a ticket [to see the movie] got a little yellow card they would fill out that said “I think the Zodiac kills because…” In the lobby on the second floor, I had a display built that didn’t look like there could be anybody underneath it. The motorcycle was on top of that, and the box was there to drop yellow cards in, “I think the Zodiac kills because..."

TOS: So the person under the display would compare the handwriting on the cards to the Zodiac’s handwriting?

HANSON: Well, if a card came through that had some significance, he was supposed to push a button that would alert all of us. I also had a guy in a freezer, one guy across the street, one guy in the theater, and one guy in the office, and we just kept more or less alert.

TOS: You had a way to trace the cards and the tickets?

HANSON: Yeah, they all had serial numbers: 0001, 0002, 0003, and so on. Everyone got one card only, and I told those girls [in the box-office] every night, “Never, never, never give anybody more than one card! You must promise me that!”

TOS: You mentioned a freezer...

HANSON: It was an ice cream freezer. When the manager of the Golden Gate wasn’t there, I brought in a freezer, which we had hollowed out so a guy could lay in there, kind of cramped up, but he could look through the vent. The idea was that if a card came through the box, the guy [under the display] could beep if it was something significant so the guy in the freezer could see who dropped it in. You follow me?

TOS: I’d hate to be the guy inside the ice cream freezer!

HANSON: We rotated from under the box to the freezer to the office to across the street to within the theater, so everyone took their turn at each post -- well, until one of the guys almost died because the goddamn vent wasn’t working right and we left him in there too long...

TOS: The management didn’t care that a man was suffocating inside a freezer in the middle of their lobby?

HANSON: The theater manager wanted to know why we brought in that freezer to begin with. I forgot what the hell I told him, but it was some bullshit to try and cover why we really brought it in there.

TOS: Wait a minute -– you mean you didn’t tell the manager that you were planning to trap the Zodiac Killer in his theater?

HANSON: He knew we were up to something, but he didn’t know what. I think he just hoped that no shooting was going to go on in his theater! [Laughs] It was kind of touchy! All I know is the guy was suspicious of what the hell we were doing because of bringing in the freezer.


TOS: In his second book about the case, Zodiac Unmasked, Graysmith wrote that the trap at the Golden Gate was a police sting.

HANSON: Noooooooo. These were all my guys. Bob Jones, who was the baldheaded guy who died in the pool in the ZODIAC film...Hal Reed, who played the Zodiac...My brother-in-law, Art Porrine...Ray Cantrell...I think Ray Lynch, too. There were five or six of us.

TOS: But you did at least tell the police what you were doing, right?

HANSON: Welllll…I was careful how I approached them because, shit, if they called the theater owner he would’ve said, “You ain’t running that film here!” They kind of blankly said they wanted nothing to do with it, and I don’t blame them. I was just there to drop a hint, y’know? “In case something happens, you might not want to come in with guns blazing.” [Laughs] You try to cover things without getting your head in a noose when you do this kind of stuff!

TOS: In addition to the newspaper ads and the motorcycle giveaway, what else did you do to promote the film?

HANSON: I actually held interviews in the lobby of the Golden Gate Theatre. I had somebody underneath the motorcycle display, and people would come in and I’d talk to them. I probably interviewed twenty-some people. They all had different weird stories. The only time I got a little scared, there was a guy that came in who was huge! Not just tall, like 6’4”, he was big! And he had hair all over the place, on his knuckles, his hands… I think this guy said he lived with a guy he knew was the Zodiac Killer, but all I thought was, “This fuckin’ guy’s gonna grab me by the throat and strangle me!” But again, I had one of my guys under that box only about 10 feet away.

TOS: Did you do any radio or TV appearances?

HANSON: I was on, I think, three radio stations up there, on those shows where they interview you. One of the hosts asked, “Aren’t you afraid he might kill you?” and I said, “I’d like to talk to him.” I was trying to bait him.

TOS: You weren’t afraid that he’d come after you?

HANSON: No, I was never afraid of the guy. Paul Avery, the writer for the Chronicle, he was absolutely petrified! Z had sent him a Halloween card with “Boo! You’re next!” written on it, so one of Paul’s roommates put a sign over his door, “Paul sleeps here!” [Laughs] I was staying in some cheap bum hotel, and I did have a chair up against the inside of the door, but he never showed.

TOS: Avery was a consultant on the film, but did he know about the trap?

HANSON: Yeah, we’d have coffee and talk about “Did anything happen today?” and all that kind of shit. Paul was so goddamn paranoid. He was packing. He had a gun on him all the time. When we’d meet for coffee, I’d have to walk down one of those side streets from the theater, so he could see that I was alone. At one point he thought maybe Hal Reed was the Zodiac! [Laughs] The guy I had playing the Zodiac, he thought was the Zodiac!

TOS: I guess when fear takes a hold of you...

HANSON: I was packing too, incidentally, but I was never really afraid. I figured this guy’s a fuckin’ coward, whoever he is, he’s not gonna try and pull a stunt like that. A couple of my guys were packing also.

TOS: Your son Jim said that I should ask you about “Ray Cantrell in the box.”

HANSON: That’s the freezer. He’s the one who almost died.

TOS: Ray Cantrell? He co-wrote the screenplay, didn't he?

HANSON: Yeah. Jesus, when we got him out of there he was damn near unconscious! We almost lost him! He was kind of crunched in there but his head was right up under that vent, so it appeared to me that he could breathe the outside air through the vent. I know when you get cramped up like that the air gets stale and you pass out, but the damn vent was right there.

TOS: He wasn’t the first guy to go in there, was he?

HANSON: No! Everybody took their turn in there. Nobody had complained about it before. And nobody wanted to go in there after him! We had to rotate that position, and Bobby was the guy who was supposed to have been in that freezer next. He’d been in there once already and he said he just couldn’t take it again.

TOS: Meanwhile, those yellow cards were still going into the box at a steady rate?

HANSON: Yeah, everything else worked the way it should. I mean, people went and saw the movie, and they dropped those cards in to win the free motorcycle. We would look at them, and there was all kinds of bullshit in there -- “He kills because he’s been treated badly,” on and on. And then on the fifth or sixth night, I forget which night it was, one of those yellow cards came through the box – “I was here, the Zodiac.” That was all that was on there.

TOS: You didn’t see who dropped it into the box?

HANSON: No, we were screwed up because of [Ray Cantrell] almost dying in that goddamn freezer, so we didn’t get a physical identification of him. I think this was the second showing, and there weren’t that many people -- I’m going to say 40 or 50, something like that. One of my guys was up by the projection booth and one of the other guys was in the theater, but we didn’t have a visual to go on.

TOS: What did you do?

HANSON: I don’t know if it was Graysmith or not, but someone in one of those articles or books screwed up that bit about how we grabbed the guy because he was jackin’ off in the theater or some bullshit, and it just isn’t true.


TOS: It’s in Zodiac. The police told Graysmith that the suspect was caught masturbating in the restroom after one of the violent scenes in the movie.

HANSON: That’s bullshit. We grabbed him because he scared the living shit out of me in the restroom! And I don’t scare easily!

TOS: How did he scare you?

HANSON: There were good-sized restrooms on the upper floor, where the movie was being shown, and I went in take a leak. I stood there at the urinal and the door opened behind me. It’s not a big deal, people are going in and out of the bathroom, but then all of a sudden I notice - what the hell? - I heard the door and I didn’t see anybody, so I just kind of turned my head a little bit and whoever it was started walking over toward the other urinals. There were urinals against one wall and some more against another wall. So I’m standing there taking a leak and the guy who’s taking a leak at the other urinals says, “Y’know, real blood doesn’t come out like that.” I said, “Oh yeah?” At that point, I was done and he was done and he turned around, and I remember to this day, I looked at the guy – because we had the wanted posters of the Zodiac – and I made a noise, an animal noise like [makes noise]. I was petrified. If that wasn’t the poster, I gotta tell you, man, I would not have made that kind of noise.

TOS: He looked like the guy on the poster?


HANSON: It was the guy on the poster! It sounds so goddamn phony but it’s true, and I don’t scare that easy. I’ve been held up like nine times. If you’ve had 12-gauges held at your stomach and .45’s to your head being held up, you’re not gonna get too jumpy. I did when that fucker turned around! If that wasn’t the face on the wanted poster I don’t know what the hell it was. Same curvy glasses, same look on the face, same eyes. I had a shot go through me that was just like “Get the fuck out of this bathroom!”

TOS: Which I assume you did?

HANSON: I ran to the office and said to one of my guys, “I just saw him! The son of a bitch was in the can!” We all had those little beepers that you buzz when you need to talk to each other. I got everyone together. One guy had been up in the projection booth and one in the back of the theater. Art was the guy in the projection booth. When I sent him back into the theater to try and scope him out, I said “I don’t think he’s gonna be with a woman or another guy. He’ll be by himself.” Right away, Art said, “I know where he’s sitting.” I said, “OK, when he comes out, Bobby, you get on one side and Art, you get on the other and grab this fuckin’ guy and hustle him straight into the office,” which was maybe ten feet from where they’d come out after the show was over. I had Art finger him when he came out and we grabbed him and basically threw him inside the office.

TOS: Did he put up any resistance?

HANSON: Nothing! Not upset, not shook up, not “Who the fuck are you?” or “what are you doing?” or “How dare you grab me” – none of that! Never said a goddamn word about it! And I watched him turn my guys around just by talking about Vietnam and all this shit. Not an ounce of fear in him, not pissed off at all that we grabbed him…

TOS: What do you mean he turned your guys around?

HANSON: They went from literally grabbing the guy and throwing his ass into that office to “Sorry, we must’ve made a mistake” in a matter of minutes, and I stood there thinking “What the fuck is going on?!” Because he wasn’t upset or angry or anything! Here were six guys, one on each side grabbing him by the arms and throwing him through a door. I mean, basically it was kidnapping! And he was just polite and easygoing, like one of the guys! One of us! Meanwhile, my guys are thinking we got the wrong guy, this guy can’t be the Zodiac -- all of a sudden he’s the nicest guy who ever walked the earth. It was so freakin’ strange. To this day, I say to myself, “What the hell happened in that office?”


TOS: You weren’t able to match the card to him?

HANSON: No. We went down to where he’d been sitting, there were two more cards with nothing written on them under the seat, torn up, which means he’d been given more than one card, the son of a bitch. Every night I told the gal in the box-office, “Don’t give anybody more than one card! We have to check the numbers on these!” Well, somehow he got three and denied that it was his when I showed him the card, the one that said “I was here, The Zodiac.” I said, “Did you drop this in the box?” He said, “No, why would I do something like that?” You wouldn’t believe the way this guy came out with that after being pulled out from both sides and thrown through an open door.

TOS: Especially since a couple of those guys were actors in the movie he had just watched! Did he ever say anything about that?

HANSON: No, nothing. He finally said something like “Who are you guys with anyway?” -- but again, it wasn’t in anger or anything like that. So I looked straight at him and said, “My brother Paul Stine was killed by the Zodiac.”


That was the only time I thought I saw a little flash in his eyes, but I don’t know, maybe I was looking too hard to see something. He said, “Oh… Oh, that’s terrible.” I asked him a few questions. He was an interesting guy, very strange, no driver’s license when we grabbed him. Paratrooper, black boots, he had just been released from the service… At one time they thought there was a military connection, because of the boot prints found at Lake Berryessa.

TOS: Those were military boots for walking on airplane wings.

HANSON: A lot of it seemed to tie in. Anyway, we finally let him go but I thought for sure that the cops were going to come and ask us, “Did you grab this man out of the theater?” But they never did.

TOS: Were you the only one in the group who thought something weird had happened in the office that night?

HANSON: No. When we went out to eat afterwards I said, “What the fuck happened to you guys?! It was like you all folded your tents the minute he was through that door!” I remember Art saying, “I don’t know, Tom -- I just don’t know.”


Everybody shook their heads, and all of a sudden they’re agreeing with me that it was kind of strange! It was almost like a form of hypnosis!

TOS: Maybe neuro-linguistic programming?

HANSON: I don’t know what it was, but I know it hit me at the time, because I actually turned away from [the suspect] and thought, “There’s something wrong here.” I couldn’t nail it down. It – just – wasn’t – normal.

TOS: You knew where he lived?

HANSON: He’d said he was staying in the Astoria Hotel, so after dinner I called over there but he wasn’t in his room. I kept calling but he was still out. Finally I talked the guys into, y’know, let’s try one more time and if not, we break into his fuckin’ room and find out if he’s our guy or not, what the hell. So I called one more time -- this would’ve been about 1:30 in the morning -- and he answered the phone! I said, “This is the guy over at the theater, I just want to offer my apologies for bothering you.” He said, “Yeah, they said you had called here.” “Well, I just wanted to apologize, because I felt kinda bad about it.” “Oh, it’s ok. I’m fine. No bother.”

TOS: That’s strange.

HANSON: Uh-huh. The next day I was sitting at the desk in the office, counting tickets or something, and all of a sudden I heard, “How’re you doing?” Jeeeesus Chriiiist, there he was right in front of me! I didn’t hear the door open, never heard him come in… He kind of spooked me a little bit! He said, “I just thought I’d stop by and see if everything is okay.” He was on his way over to apply at a medical firm or something -- I forgot what he told me exactly, but I said, “Oh, okay, well good luck to you!” I think he was checking to see if we were still onto him.

TOS: And were you?

HANSON: I really felt he was the guy who put that card in the box, and if my guy had been in the goddamn freezer like he was supposed to have been, we would’ve seen who dropped it in. ‘Cause the guy under the motorcycle would’ve buzzed him when that card came through. That was the glitch in our sophisticated freakin’ trap that didn’t work too well! [Laughs]

TOS: You didn’t pursue it further?

HANSON: I had to leave. When you’re on your ass you gotta try and make a living.

TOS: After the world premiere at the Golden Gate, ZODIAC was re-titled THE ZODIAC KILLER and given a national release by Radley Metzger’s Audubon Films.


HANSON: The next thing I heard was Billy Fine had it.

TOS: Fine had ZODIAC? I know he had A TON OF GRASS GOES TO POT.

HANSON: He took it on. He made 25 copies of each film, of ZODIAC and A TON OF GRASS, and he started distributing them to theaters. They played all across the United States. I saw them at the Pickwick Drive-In over in Burbank, but people told me they played in Minnesota, Wisconsin...

TOS: Audubon definitely had it as THE ZODIAC KILLER before Fine got it. They licensed it for a year and paired it with THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN, which was a re-release of an Italian film they had already released as THE LAUGHING WOMAN.


HANSON: That I don’t know anything about. Billy Fine was the guy who was supposed to see that we got the money. We were getting reports of how many theaters they were playing every week. They were playing all over the country, in theaters and drive-ins and as second features, all that kind of stuff. So we thought someday we were going to get some money out of this damn thing. And then he changed the name of TON OF GRASS to THE BIG SCORE and I don’t know what the hell he did with it.

TOS: A TON OF GRASS GOES TO POT was shot entirely in Arizona?

HANSON: We shot a little bit in the hills in southern California but most of it was shot in Arizona. There’s a ranch there called Little Tucson where they shot a lot of films, and the union wouldn’t let me shoot there so I shot right adjoining to it and then at night we’d sneak in and use some of their sets. [Laughs] I busted out my credit cards doing that movie, getting it all done, and nobody got paid. Low budget means talking a hell of a lot of people into working for nothing. Christ, I got thirty or forty Mexicans who worked in stores for me out there in federale uniforms that we got from, I don’t know, I forgot the name of that firm in Hollywood where you can rent any kind of uniform you want, but I don’t think we even brought them back.

TOS: You made ZODIAC to bait a trap, and it served its purpose well, but are you happy with the way A TON OF GRASS turned out?

HANSON: Some of the shots weren’t the best, but for what I had to work with it’s pretty good.

TOS: Production-wise, it’s a more ambitious movie than ZODIAC.

HANSON: When you don’t have any money, you’re doing stuff that you probably really shouldn’t be doing, but the drive is to get the son of a bitch finished, get it in the can.

TOS: Can you give me an example of something you did that you shouldn’t have done?

HANSON: The two guys who owned the balloon -- with that crate, y’know? -- they didn’t want to go up because it was windy. Meanwhile, I’ve got the guys at the hotel saying my cards are overcharged, the truck rental guys are looking for me, and these balloon guys won’t go up because it’s windy. It was a big crate, something like 14 feet by 6 feet. I said, “Listen, if you guys won’t go up, show me how to operate this goddamn thing and I’ll go up with it! I gotta get this balloon in the air!” So they said, “Ah, fuck it” and they got in and took it up. Well, I almost killed those guys! They wound up drifting into the damn mountains! I thought, oh, this is good, now I’ve killed the pilots! But they survived. A little banged up, but they survived.

TOS: It sounds like it was a real crash course in no-budget filmmaking.

HANSON: Everything was on bad cards -- the rooms, the trucks, on and on. Everybody was after me. You remember the cattle at the end? The idea was that we were going to pay the ranchers -- I forgot what it was, five hundred or six hundred dollars -- to run their cattle so I could have the scene with them eating the grass. Well, we hit a freak storm. I’m talking hail the size of golf balls, rivers flowing, water coming out of nowhere, and I forgot how many of their cattle drowned. They wanted to kill me! They were looking for me at the hotel, those guys, and they didn’t look like guys you’d want to screw with either! Ranchers! I forgot how many died.


One of my sons who worked with me on that damn near got killed trying to save the cattle, which were getting washed down the river like logs. There was no insurance on any of this. One of my biker guys had to show off riding his bike and he got all fucked up, so we were short one black guy. Another guy running around the shack at the beginning broke his leg or some goddamn thing and he had to be hauled out of there. SAG was after me. I had been in SAG and you’re not supposed to use union guys when you’re shooting a non-union film. These are the things that happen with a low budget. You just gotta keep moving and get it done.

TOS: Who built the miniatures?

HANSON: There weren’t any miniatures. I didn’t have money to use any of that kind of stuff.

TOS: Really?

HANSON: [Laughs] I couldn’t afford shit like that!

TOS: I thought that jailbreak scene was done with miniatures and forced perspective.

HANSON: Yeah, I read that in your review and I thought what the hell is he talking about? These were shot with spit! There was no technical zippo at all.

TOS: That wasn’t a toy Jeep?

HANSON: No! And the reason I know it wasn’t a toy jeep is because another guy was gonna kill me ‘cause I fucked up his Jeep! [Laughs] That was a real Jeep and a real wall! I remember the night. We were doing shit illegally on the Old Tucson property. They were after me too, because they knew we were shooting out there at night. They wouldn’t let me in because I wasn’t union. I thought, well, fuck ‘em, we’ll go in at night. [Laughs] But that was no toy Jeep.

TOS: The shot looks so strange. I could’ve sworn it was a forced perspective gag.

HANSON: It’s probably a combination of bad shooting, not enough light, and they were coming after us in helicopters. I know the guy that had the jeep was pissed off. Maybe the lights burned out as we were shooting, I don’t remember. All I know is that we got the footage and got the hell out before the police came.

TOS: I love the ad campaign you came up with for A TON OF GRASS, especially that transcript of you being interrogated by the FBI.

HANSON: I tried to promote it [in L.A.] by having a ton of grass inside a trailer to get some kind of exposure. It was one of those trailers where you can walk in the front and then walk out the back, and we had [the grass] enclosed behind half-inch thick Plexiglas. People were going in there left and right to see the ton of grass. It was a big attraction on Hollywood Boulevard, where it was showing in one of those theaters, I forget the name of it...

TOS: The Vine.

HANSON: I think it was the second day there I had two plainclothes guys come up to me and ask, “Is that real marijuana?” I said, “I don’t have to tell you if it’s real or not.” The one said, “By God, you’re gonna tell us or you’re gonna go to jail!” So, showing how tough he was or whatever, being a cop, he starts to take his gun out and the damn thing drops, clunks against the wall and goes off! WHAAAM! In public! Christ, I could’ve been killed, someone outside could’ve been killed...

TOS: Why did he pull a gun on you?

HANSON: He’s standing there tellin’ me “If that’s real, you’re goin’ to jail.” So I just looked at the other cop and I said, “Should he really be on the police force if he’s this fuckin’ dumb?” and I turned and walked out, and that’s when I heard the bang behind me. I thought what the hell did he do, shoot the other fucking cop?! I went back in and he was picking it up. I said, “Y’know, if I were you, I don’t think I’d talk about bringing me in for anything!” And they didn’t.

TOS: Was it real marijuana?

HANSON: No! Jesus Christ… [Laughs] It was sponge blocks covered with oregano or whatever. We made, I don’t know, two hundred of those -- ten inches long, four inches thick, six wide -- bricks of that shit. It looked pretty good in there, especially the way we tinted the light, and it got this dumb fuck going, “Is that real marijuana?” Well, if dumb fuck can’t tell oregano from the real thing, I guess it looks very similar! [Laughs] That was promotion. I considered myself a hell of a promoter, except I couldn’t quite pull it off.

TOS: Pull what off?

HANSON: I wanted to do something dramatic to kick it loose, y’know, and make it look like it really was grass that we had in that trailer, so I was going to have members of the Hell’s Angels, the Galloping Gooses and Satan’s Slaves steal it right there in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard.

TOS: What?!

HANSON: Well, I had worked with all those motorcycle gangs on Tony Cardoza’s biker films, so I knew a lot of the head guys, and I had gotten together 125 bikers who were gonna steal it for 125 cases of beer.

TOS: That’s right, I think it was Richard Rush who told me the motorcycle gangs were paid one case of beer per biker per day to do movie work.

HANSON: I was gonna have them ride in and steal [the ton of grass] and get all the news coverage I could, but I guess I got jumpy because of that stupid detective with his gun going off inside the goddamn trailer. What an idiot! So I decided to call it off. We were gonna have to block traffic and make a real mess, and I thought, geez, with all those bikers, what if somebody gets killed? I’ll maybe go to the slammer on some charge.

TOS: Speaking of the slammer, what’s the story behind that “Ton of Grass” pot bust poster with Hal Reed, Arnie Koslow and the other cast members posing as LAPD officers in S.S. uniforms?

HANSON: When I was doing the film, I got to know some poster people in Hollywood. There was an old Bank of America that was going to call it a day, right across from Warner Brothers in Burbank, so I had the guys dress up in their S.S. uniforms [from the film] and had the hippies with their hands up against the van full of grass. At that time, all the kids thought the cops were Nazis because they were busting them for smoking grass, so it was something I thought we could sell. We made 5,000 of those and sold the living hell out of them.

TOS: You sold them at the theaters that were showing the movie?

HANSON: Yeah. I went up north to try and get some help in getting TON OF GRASS distributed in theaters up there through -- well, I hate to say ‘the mob,’ but I knew a lot of the Italian guys from buying cheese and stuff, and they knew guys who ran theaters pretty much all throughout northern California. So we got the film into those places, and we were selling the posters outside the theaters. Some nights we sold 70 or 80 of those things! It was keeping us alive for food! [Laughs] It’s an actual poster, 3 feet by 2 feet or something like that. We must’ve sold around 4,000 of them.

TOS: I get the feeling that Billy Fine cut at least 10 minutes out of A TON OF GRASS when he released it as THE BIG SCORE.


HANSON: I wouldn’t doubt that. He did whatever the hell he wanted and pocketed all the money. There were hundreds and hundreds of showings all the time. Christ, they played it in I don’t remember how many hundreds of drive-ins all around the country.


We were seeing charts from Fine showing where they’d be playing. I don’t know how the hell it worked, but I guess he’d contact groups of theaters and they would be playing in 18, 20 theaters at a time, down south, in Florida, you name it. His books would show money coming in, and to my knowledge it was supposed to be $400,000 and I never saw a dime of it. But that’s the way he operated. It was just a mistake going with him or we might have gotten something. We should’ve sold it to Crown International, but somehow, when everything’s done and you’re broke and you still owe the guys for putting it together...


TOS: So TON OF GRASS was the end for you as a director?

HANSON: No, I shot a pilot real quick after that, called HOLLYWOOD BEAT. It was about two detectives, and we shot it all on Hollywood Boulevard, pretty much. That was a big disappointment, because I had it almost all the way done and then seven or eight minutes of the film got screwed up in the lab and that was it. I was broke. Done. Finished.

TOS: Who was in the pilot?

HANSON: Arnie Koslow and… [Pause] I can’t remember who else. Christ, we’re talkin’ 40 years ago. I’d had a Chicken Delight right on Hollywood Boulevard, so I knew the owners of every bar, and the guys at Sinatra’s hangout, so I could get in those places and shoot for free. I had quite a bit of gift to get that thing done. It was a pretty good little pilot, too. I was gonna try and sell it, but then we blew that in the lab and I was tanked. I couldn’t go any further. The last guy wouldn’t even charge me.

TOS: Who’s that?

HANSON: The guy in the lab in Burbank. I was into him for I don’t know how much money. He finally just forgave the bill when we were done. He called me a young Michael Todd! He said, “You belong in this business.” I said, “I belong in a fuckin’ asylum!”

TOS: Did you have other film projects you wanted to tackle after TON OF GRASS?

HANSON: I had a few scripts I wanted to do. For my third film, I was gonna go get Dr. Mengele. I thought I could find him. I thought he was somewhere in Brazil. I wanted to actually go get him and, if nothing else, bring his head back here. [Laughs]


Anyway, that was the kind of trip I was on. Another idea I had was to find the Four Corners Treasure. I studied about 250 treasures and that one appears to be valid.

TOS: I read about that. A group of Mexican businessmen stashed a lot of gold in the U.S. and waited for the price to go up, but then they missed the deadline to sell and couldn’t get it out of the country once the law changed.


HANSON: They held on to the gold instead of selling it because they knew it was going to go up, and they tucked it away in the Four Corners area. There’s truth in the story. In my research I found that the family had had been to the courthouse in Los Angeles trying to get an injunction or something. There was a trail of paperwork that showed an apparent attempt to make a deal with the government, and the government had turned them down, and so we felt it was there. Since a lot of it checked out, I thought, well, we’ll do that caper. We’ll do the going in to get it in the Four Corners area, and the way I was going to present it to the family in Mexico was “You help me finance the picture and I’ll get your gold, and at the last minute we’ll shoot it across [the border] in helicopters.” But I couldn’t get past “If you’re feeding three kids, you better get back to work,” so that was the end of the film career.

TOS: On the ZODIAC newspaper ad, your company, Adventure Productions, is described in parentheses as “The Awareness People.”


HANSON: That must’ve been done by Billy Fine. That doesn’t ring any bells with me.

TOS: No, it’s on the original ad that ran in San Francisco for the trap.

HANSON: [Pause] Really? Jesus, you got me. I’m not sure why the hell I would put that on there.

TOS: Did you name your production company Adventure Productions because each movie was going to be an adventure?

HANSON: Y’know, I can’t give you an honest answer on that. I don’t know why the hell I called it -- [Laughs] I mean, it was an adventure, I can tell you that! I think I did come up with that name, but I don’t know why, and I don’t remember any “Awareness People” thing. That doesn’t even sound like the way my brain works! [Laughs] You got me on that one.

TOS: OK, where are we at this point?

HANSON: I’d gone down with Pizza Man and on my way out the door I made the two films. When those were all done I was really broke. So I went back to Wisconsin, rented a farm for a year and tried to get my thinking back in line. When you’re broke and you got three kids it’s a son-of-a-bitch, what do you do? So then I came back to California and got back on my feet.

TOS: You and two partners opened a restaurant in Van Nuys, The Wild West, in March 1974. Meanwhile, what was the status of THE ZODIAC KILLER and THE BIG SCORE?


HANSON: I tried to check that out when I got back. I thought there was some way to salvage something, and of course the prints were missing. 25 of each and they were gone. Those guys just stole left and right. I’m talking about Billy Fine and the other guy that worked for him. They also screwed one of the Smothers Brothers.

TOS: Tommy Smothers.

HANSON: Yeah, he made a film called ANOTHER NICE MESS and never saw a dime. The money was all going up Billy Fine’s nose. That’s what I heard anyway.


TOS: It was around this time you decided to return to San Francisco and set another trap?

HANSON: Well, that guy that we grabbed in the theater I thought did at least one of the killings – Paul Stine – if not more. I went back to figure out where the hell he was. I was up there with my wife, two detectives from Oakland, and a guy from the intelligence division of the San Francisco Police Department -- I can’t remember his name. I don’t know if he was still a cop or retired, and they had a handwriting guy.

TOS: The two detectives were from Roper Investigations?

HANSON: Yeah, Ron Pimentel and his partner, whose name I’ve forgotten but he was probably a little more the brains of the operation. I remember when we sat down originally, I said, “I’m not paying for any of this shit, but if we catch him, you guys are cut in, whether it’s a film that starts making big dough or whatever, somehow I’ll find a way to cut you in on it.” So they knew from the get-go.

TOS: Knew that there was no way to pay them?

HANSON: There was never any talk about payment, but after it was all over, and I found out they’d taken all my so-called evidence, then they wanted money. I think I sent them a check for a thousand dollars and I put on there “In full payment,” but they somehow got that off of the back of the check.

TOS: In Zodiac, Graysmith wrote that you had "pledged $100,000 to the Roper Agency if they caught Zodiac, the reward to come from the profits the Zodiac movie would make from the capture."


HANSON: No, we never had anything written or anything oral. I was up there on a wing and a prayer, ‘cause I was pretty well busted after making the films and everything was dependent on catching the guy. There was actually never any mention of money. They never had me sign anything. I don’t know what else to tell you on that.

TOS: The last time we spoke, you talked about an attempt to catch the suspect using a contest involving postcards.

HANSON: [Laughs] Yeah, I found out where he was working, and I kind of conned him into sending me postcards. I sent him a postcard like the kind Z had sent, which were post office postcards, and I wrote that he had won a prize in a drawing -- y’know, “Let us know where you want it mailed” and all this stuff, to get his address, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t send me the same kind of postcard back! So then I had that sample of his handwriting, and I sent another postcard to him that said he had to sign for what he’d won. I wanted to get his fingerprints. So we got his address and I had two guys go there with the prize and have him open it. I know this all sounds silly, but it’s what we did.

TOS: To get the fingerprints off the prize?

HANSON: Yeah. When he opened it and he looked at it and handled it, they said, “Oops, that’s the wrong prize. That’s for somebody else.” The guy said, “Where’s my prize?” “We’ve gotta go get it. We’ll be right back.” So they left with his fingerprints, or that’s what we thought. I brought it to the gal who I guess dusts or whatever the hell it is to get the fingerprints, and there weren’t any! And he really handled it. I forgot what it was that we had in the package, but I remember doing it so that he would have to leave his prints on the damn thing. I said, “How could that be?!” She said, “There are no fingerprints on this.” I had told my guys, “When you put it back in the box, make sure you keep your hands on the bottom, not on the sides, because that’s where we want to get the prints.” She came up with none, so I asked my guys, “When you knocked on his door and you went in, did he go away at any time while you were there?” One of the guys said, “You know what? He went to the kitchen, and we sat there and sat there and sat there, and then he came back in and we opened the box and all that.” Anyway, I wound up with nothing. There were no prints on the damn thing.

TOS: Did you try to set another trap?

HANSON: There were like three efforts to do this! It went on and on with this fuckin’ guy! Meanwhile, we got him fired from the Bank of America because one of the goddamn detectives wanted to look at his file or something, and when the guy in the personnel department asked why he wanted to see it, this dumb fuck -- I was in the office when he called -- he said, “We think he could be the Zodiac Killer.”


I almost shit. I couldn’t believe it! As soon as he hung up the phone I said, “Why in the fuck did you say that to him?!” He said, “Well, at the time it seemed appropriate.” I said, “It was the dumbest thing you could’ve said! What the hell is the matter with you?!” Needless to say, that guy didn’t last long at the B-of-A! I thought, shit, I’m gonna get sued!

TOS: But nothing like that ever happened.

HANSON: He never turned us in. We chased that guy one time, with his wife driving -- Jesus Christ, she got up to about 90 miles an hour! You’d think he would’ve called the cops and said “Some lunatics are chasing us!” but nothing ever happened.

TOS: He was married?


HANSON: That’s another thing. In some of the letters Zo mentions The Mikado and there’s a line in there, something like “He must marry a bride of the Orient.” So when I tripped on my guy in Daly City, he had married a Japanese gal! [Laughs] There were so many strange twists to this -- I don’t know, maybe this kind of shit happens in a lot of murder cases but it seemed to me there were too many of them in this thing I was working on. Oh, and then… [Pause] Well, I don’t want to bore you. You’ve been listening to this shit long enough.

TOS: No! Are you kidding?! Please, go on!

HANSON: Well, those two detectives had a spy van with a window in the side of it that we could look out of but no one could look into. We were in there watching his house one morning. He had now moved out of Daly City to another town, I forgot the name of it, but we found out where he had moved to. I guess we got there at like three or four in the morning, to see him come out early to go to work. Well, out he comes, and he’s in a mailman’s uniform.

TOS: You're kidding!

HANSON: No! He’s got that goddamn bag, y’know, that they carry the mail in over their shoulder? He had gotten a job as a mailman!

TOS: But that’s how you portrayed the Zodiac in your movie!

HANSON: I know! I’m sittin’ there in the van with this nitwit detective thinkin’ Christ, have I flipped out or what?! I asked him, “Am I seeing this right?” He said, “Yeah, he’s a mail delivery guy.” I thought it was kind of a bizarre little coincidence! My wonderful detective had gotten him goddamn fired from the Bank of America, but then he turns up carrying a mailbag?! [Laughs] This is the kind of stuff that causes you to drink!

TOS: I checked the timeline of some of this against Graysmith’s book. It’s now seven years after you grabbed this guy in the Golden Gate Theater. Seven years. At any time while this was all going down, did you ever think, “Maybe we made a mistake -- maybe we grabbed the wrong guy…”

HANSON: No. I thought at the time and I still think we didn’t make any kind of fuckin’ mistake, this guy’s involved in this thing.

TOS: OK.  Let’s get back to the handwriting samples. How many did you have at this point?

HANSON: I had the yellow card that says “I was here, The Zodiac” and the postcards he had sent back to me trying to get his prize. There were three of those, if I remember right.

TOS: So you needed to match the yellow card from the Golden Gate Theater to the contest postcards, and then match all of them to the Zodiac’s letters.

HANSON: I had all that stuff when I met with those detectives and the guy from the intelligence division of the San Francisco Police Department, who gave them to a handwriting expert. I was there when he asked the guy, “How did the handwriting come out?” and he said, “It’s a perfect match.”

TOS: According to Graysmith's Zodiac, the handwriting didn’t match and your suspect had already been cleared by Toschi and Bill Armstrong.

HANSON: I don’t know, man. My wife was with me at the time and I remember the intelligence guy asking the handwriting guy, “Does it match at all?” and he said, “It’s a perfect match, all three of ‘em.” That’s what the handwriting guy said.

TOS: Maybe they matched the three postcards to the yellow card, but not to the Zodiac letter?

HANSON: The Zo crossed his t’s in the middle and I think he had swinging g’s. Those postcards I got from my guy? Swinging g’s, middle-crossed t’s -- and when I say middle, middle, I mean they looked like plus signs. And they were post office postcards, like the Zodiac used, the kind you buy in a post office.

TOS: What else were you looking for besides handwriting and fingerprint samples?

HANSON: I was really trying to find out if he had the cape and the hood. I thought anybody who could do what Z did -- y’know, ripping off Paul Stine’s shirt sleeve? -- would’ve kept the hood, kept the pistol, that kind of thing.

TOS: Where would you begin looking for something like that?

HANSON: I knew he had a package stored in the Astoria Hotel, which was where he was staying at the time the Paul Stine killing took place. It was right in downtown San Francisco, kind of a dumpy hotel. I thought that was a little peculiar. Why the hell was he still storing something at the Astoria Hotel after all that time? After he gets married, moves out of Daly City into a house with a garage, why would he keep stuff stored there? So I got inside of a big cardboard box and one of the detectives got me into the storage area to look for the package --

TOS: Whaaaaaat?!

HANSON: Yeah, I know! This thing goes on and on! [Laughs] So I get into the fuckin’ room and I’m looking at all these goddamn packages, there must’ve been a hundred and fifty of them. I can’t find the package! Later, I’m talking to the lady at the desk and she says “Oh, we also have long-term storage. That’s downstairs.” [Laughs] There was regular storage and deep storage, and that’s for guys, maybe they go overseas two or three years so they keep their stuff in deep storage. That’s what he had the ticket for, something in deep storage.

TOS: I’m almost afraid to ask what happened next.

HANSON: The police department was going to do a John Doe warrant on the Astoria Hotel and see if there was anything in there, like the hood that the Zodiac had worn or whatever, but that day, the detective in charge of the Zodiac case -- I forget his name --

TOS: Dave Toschi.


HANSON: There had been a letter sent in to the Chronicle about Toschi making him out to be quite a hero or whatever, and they figured out he probably wrote that himself, so now they figure if he wrote that, what the hell else did he write? Maybe he’s the one who’s been sending some of the Zodiac letters? So instead of doing the John Doe, they went and had a thing with Toschi, and he was demoted to pawn shop detail, and I never did get the John Doe look at the Astoria Hotel.

TOS: You didn’t wait it out and try again after Toschi was cleared?

HANSON: No, I had to call it a day and come back here to L.A. and work. Shit, it was costing me money to keep going up there, renting cars to chase that guy around. If you ever locate that detective in Oakland, Ron Pimentel, or his partner -- they’ve got all that stuff I’m talking about, y’know, the postcards and all that? And boy, if [the suspect’s] DNA is on ‘em and it matches that thumbprint on Paul Stine’s cab, or whatever it is they got that they think is the Zodiac’s...

TOS: What did you mean earlier when you said the Roper guys took your evidence?

HANSON: One of those detectives stole all the stuff I had on the Zodiac. He’s got that whole folder. He stole it right out of my briefcase. I never thought that could happen, but he got me out of that room where I left it sitting on the couch. I was up there with my wife and it was in my briefcase and I got called out of the room by the other detective, with my wife, and I never thought to look in my briefcase, but later on the airplane when I was looking in there for some stuff, I saw that the whole folder was gone. He took it.

TOS: What did he say when you confronted him about the missing evidence?

HANSON: He wouldn’t even admit that he had stolen it. I said, “Give it back to me!” He said, “You haven’t even paid me.” I said, “The deal was nothing gets paid unless we catch the guy.” Anyway, I did send him a thousand bucks once I got back on my feet but he never sent me the book. It broke my heart because they got the postcards and all that stuff that one day might’ve been able to prove either that my guy did some of the killings or didn’t. Back when we did this they didn’t have all the DNA technology, but today they can take that postage stamp and see if his DNA’s on the back of it, and I don’t know, maybe that thumbprint on Paul Stine’s cab might be his, too. I still think I’m right on this. It’s never left my mind after what happened to me in the restroom that day.

TOS: None of you had direct contact with the suspect after the incident in the Golden Gate Theater in 1971?

HANSON: Pimentel told me they actually talked with him one day, had coffee with him. They didn’t ask my permission or tell me they were going to do it. I said, “You had coffee with him? When did you do that? You should let me know what the fuck you’re doing, because I’ve always let you know what I was doing.” They said, “Nah, it was on the street and we were doing interviews for selling houses,” because I had found out where he lived. I said, “OK, tell me what you thought at least! What did you think when you talked to him?” They said, “Well, there’s some strange happenings going on in his life, and he just doesn’t talk about them.” I didn’t know what the hell that meant, but then he said the guy was clean as a whistle. I said, “Really? Why do you say that?” He said, “I don’t know, just sittin’ there talking, he said some people were hassling him and he had no idea why, and he didn’t seem to be bothered by any of it.” [Chuckles]

TOS: That sounds like what happened in the office all over again.

HANSON: That guy was something else, I tell ya. He had some kind of gift.

TOS: You’ve said several times that you’re convinced he was responsible for at least one of the killings, which means you believe there was more than one Zodiac killer.

HANSON: I think the reason they had so much trouble trying to track this guy down was that they were chasing more than one guy. There were two of them. I think the original killings were done by the Unabomber.


Incidentally, I’m not the only guy who thinks that. When they first caught him, it popped up in the news that they could’ve been the same person for several reasons. One, he was teaching at Berkeley and in the area at the time of those killings. Two, at the Lake Berryessa killing where the girl died and the guy lived, Zodiac mentioned he came from that town --

TOS: He said he broke out of a prison in Deer Lodge, Montana, which is 50 miles or so from where the Unabomber built his cabin a couple of years later.

HANSON: But what are the odds that out of all the thousands of small towns in this country, Zodiac would mention that one?

TOS: There are some very intriguing similarities, but they’re far outweighed by the differences, and Ted Kaczynski was eliminated as a Zodiac suspect years ago. I do agree with you that there could've been two different people committing the Zodiac murders, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a third who wrote the letters. The Paul Stine shooting just doesn’t seem like it was perpetrated by the same person who did the other murders.

HANSON: I think it’s the reason they had such problems. When you get a copycat it’s difficult to pin him down. There are all kinds of kooks and crackpots that want to be the Zodiac Killer. It gives them a purpose. Look at that BTK Killer. I was gonna try the trap on him. I thought it would bring him out.


TOS: You thought what would bring him out?

HANSON: I was gonna rent a theater and run THE ZODIAC KILLER again, advertise and get on the radio and tell everyone BTK is the Zodiac, and pull it off. I thought, well, if I failed with the Zodiac, maybe I can catch another one of these assholes. [Laughs] I knew that whoever that sick puppy was, he would have to show up and see why I was comparing him to Zo, even though it was all bullshit. Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch -- about a week later, as I was looking for a theater and figuring out how the hell I was going to pull it off, they caught him!

TOS: Tom, I’m surprised you haven’t written a book by now.

HANSON: There’s been about a hundred times guys have called wanting me to write a book, because I’ve done some other pretty hefty things. I invented a cure for cancer about 35 years ago.

TOS: [Pause] Come again?

HANSON: Yeah. Well, you’re eating tender meat all over the world today because of me.

TOS: [Confused] I’m not following you...

HANSON: When I had to get back on my feet, one of the equipment companies in Wisconsin had come up with a new way to cook. It was a cable-wrapped machine. It really was a unique kind of stupid idea, except it worked. The idea is that you put prime ribs in there to cook overnight, and it would cook ‘em for a certain amount of time and then it would swing the hold and it would hold ‘em at 140° air temperature for eight, ten, twelve hours. Most of the machines would tenderize the living hell out of it, and some of them didn’t tenderize at all. I couldn’t understand why some of the machines would tenderize the meat and some wouldn’t. I finally figured out how it worked, for that certain heat to turn loose those enzymes that tenderize it without the meat going bad or anything. As a consequence, I made those people millionaires. When I did that I thought, Jesus, no one would’ve ever stumbled on this, because it was kind of weird how it worked.

TOS: I found an article from 1974 that mentions you had discovered a revolutionary way of cooking meat, but what does that have to do with curing cancer?

HANSON: Well, I started reading books on heat, its application on human beings and how the government had really been on to it at one time. I read about spontaneous remission cures, all kinds of shit. I must’ve read about a thousand books in less than a year. I figured I had stumbled onto something. So I built four heat machines for humans, for the chest, the arms, legs, or whatever. A gal at one of my restaurants at that time said, “I hear you’re working on a cancer machine.” I said, “Well, I’m fucking with something,” and she said, “I’ve been told they’re going to remove my breast and three of my ribs.” I told her, “I’m working on it. That doesn’t mean that it works.”

TOS: Had you tested it yet?

HANSON: I had removed my wife’s plantar warts on her foot with one treatment, and it worked perfectly. My wife asked me, “Will it get rid of these?” I said, “What the hell are they?!” There were like five of them! I thought they were boils but she said no, they’re plantar warts.


So I had her put her foot in that machine, 140° air temperature, for three hours. About two weeks later she said, “Y’know those bumps on my feet? They’re soft.” So I lifted her foot and I could move ‘em around, and about two weeks later they were totally gone. So that was about the point where the waitress asked me about the machines.

TOS: I think I see where this is going.

HANSON: I said “all right,” because I had built a chest machine. I had her lay on the floor in the office, and of course my wife said “You know you’re going to jail for this, right?” and I said “Yeah, I suppose.” We had her underneath that for three hours, and then I told her, “You can’t go back [to the doctor] right away, you’ve gotta stall it. If there’s anything to what I’ve been trying to accomplish here, you’ve gotta give it time to work.” So she stalled, and they were furious with her. “You’ve got to get in here!” I don’t remember if it was a month or what, but I told her, “If there’s anything to this and there probably isn’t, you can’t go back in there.” She was supposed to go back like three days after we did that one three-hour treatment. Anyway, she stalled and I went to Chicago to a restaurant show. I got back, went into the restaurant and she was there waiting on people. She came up to me, gave me a big hug, looked me in the face and said, “All gone.” I said, “What’s all gone?” She said, “The cancer. I don’t have any. It’s gone.”

TOS: How did she explain that to the doctors?

HANSON: I had told her, “Don’t tell ‘em about me!” I’d had her sign a little thing -- not that it would’ve saved my ass [Laughs] -- that she had elected me to do the treatments. Anyway, the Madison Cancer Research Center found out that I had built the machines. I didn’t tell ‘em anything about actually treating people, because you’re not supposed to do that, but they wanted a whole body machine. So I had the factory that made my machine build another one and shipped it to Burbank, where I got in it and tested it and calibrated it because it’s gotta be done a certain way for that temperature. It’s very specific. Then it went to Madison. I think it was there eight or ten years. I have about an inch-and-a-half thick file of what happened with that machine.

TOS: Can you give me an abridged version?

HANSON: They changed the calibration on it. What they did was, they brought people up to 107.5º for three hours. They were scared that it might go to 108º, because in their bullshit knowledge, at 108º your brain explodes. It doesn’t, but they were afraid it might go there, so they screwed with that thermostat. They never should’ve done that. They did have a couple of cure-ups, I don’t want to bore you -- there was a whole bunch of shit with that -- but my point is, the Japanese stumbled on it., and as far as I know, there are still two machines in Kyoto that treat 45 people a week for $6,000 a pop. So kinda like my films, somebody else made millions of dollars and I didn’t make a fuckin’ dime.


TOS: Getting back to your films, what’s this I hear that William Devane was going to play you in a movie?

HANSON: Joe Stern is the guy who became pretty familiar with all of this and wanted to make the film with Billy Devane about the Zodiac trap. He produced that JUDGING AMY show on television. He taped me for like three hours over at Paramount one day, about all the things that happened and why we grabbed the guy we did. I knew Joe from before he became successful. You want to hear a funny story?

TOS: Always!

HANSON: Joe went off to New York, I guess to study how the business works, and was in a film called THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH that Sylvester Stallone was in. He came back to California and I was supposed to have lunch with him one day. He had a guy with him he wanted me to meet. “You’ve gotta meet this guy!” he said, “You’ll love him! He’s just made a low-budget boxing film.” I said, “I can’t, goddammit, I’m trying to earn a living!” Well, if I had made that lunch I would’ve met Stallone right before ROCKY came out! [Laughs] Anyway, that’s Joe Stern. He was all hot to do something, but then a couple of other Zodiac films came out.

Film, stage and TV producer Joe Stern

TOS: He’s right -- your story would make a great movie.

HANSON: I’m sure he’s still got it all on tape somewhere. At the point we did that, it wasn’t all that long after all this shit had transpired, so there are probably some things I’m not even telling you now because I can’t remember.

TOS: I had lunch with a friend the other day, and I told her all about your trap. She was slack-jawed the whole time, and when I finished, she agreed with me that it was a great plan. It must've been very frustrating, after all that effort, to not catch the guy.

HANSON: I still think it was successful, but it broke my heart that I couldn't pull it off all the way. If I had, I think it would've launched me into staying in the film business. I love the business. And to this day? I still think I'm right. I think we grabbed a guy who did at least one of those Zodiac killings. I had pretty good access to information through Paul Avery and also that guy from the intelligence division who was helping me. I kinda knew stuff that other people didn't know, and I think that's why this guy fit so perfect to me to be at least a part of this damn thing. I'll tell you his name, so when they run his DNA or whatever and find out he was involved, you'll know I was right all along. He's probably retired from the post office by now. His name is...

9 comments:

Robert Plante said...

AMAZING!

Jeff Mclachlan said...

That is one of the most fascinating interviews I've ever read. Good job to you for the interview, and to Mr. Hanson for living an ass-kicking life.

Nash said...

This story is AMAZING. Thank you for these interviews.

Screen13 said...

One of the best interviews I have read. Great story!

Mike Mac said...

Late to the party here, but I had to echo all of the above comments- an amazing interview, with an incredible amount of detail on Mr. Hanson and his films.... and so much of it going to completely surprising and unexpected places. I've re-read the piece several times now; fascinating!

I hope that the uncut A Ton of Grass Goes to Pot will be released to DVD some day, by the way, since I'd love to see those scenes and actors missing from The Big Score, and find out what they added to the overall picture.

Speaking of actors, I never compared the end credits from The Big Score- actually the end credits from A Ton of Grass Goes to Pot, as noted in Chris' review- with the names on The Big Score poster until just a few days ago. For some reason, only four of the five main actors are credited on the poster, with poor Oliver Aubrey tossed aside in favor of one "Curtis Robinson", whose name is missing from the thirty-nine name cast in the end credits; in fact, "Curtis Robinson" isn't mentioned anywhere in the end credits. Similarly, the poster would have you believe that "Holly Black" and "Prissie Willow" in The Big Score, but they are nowhere to be found in the end credits. I can understand why Billy Fine and company would want to make potential ticket-buyers think that women are more prominently featured in the film than they actually are, but why in the world would they substitute Robinson for Aubrey?!

The Harry Hope ad was also a very cool and informative addition to the post. Since both The Zodiac Killer and The Big Score are there, the latter under the Billy Fine rechristening, I wonder if Fine sold some or all of his prints of both films to Mr. Hope- who at some point sold a print of The Big Score to an Australian distributor, which resulted in that Aussie VHS release of TBS at some point down the road....

I also loved the mix of titles in the Hope ad, with a James Ivory title cheek and jowel with its more exploitation-minded brethren. I'd never heard of The Pinkgarter Gang before, but the only write-up I could find, on the IMDb, made it sound like a must-see; here's hoping it comes out on DVD soon. The Assassinators was also new to me. Does anyone have any ideas as to what movie is hiding behind ( or being hidden behind) that name? My best guess is Sudden Terror- or could it be some forgotten/undiscovered film, unknown to the IMDb and awaiting (re)discovery?

Nick Cato said...

That was absolutely incredible. Great job.

Anonymous said...

For real---Mr. Hanson should've written a book by now---from catching a possible murder suspect to inventing a machine that cures things----man, what a wild and crazy life he's led@ Great interview,BTW! I enjoyed the heck out of this!

Mitch said...

I worked for Tom Hanson back in the 70's when he owned other restaurants, Mother's Pizza in N. Hollywood and Panorama City. I was 17, and never knew he was such a bad ass and in the film biz. Coincidentally, I went on to film school after leaving Mothers!

Mitch said...

I worked for Tom Hanson back in the 70's when he owned other restaurants, Mother's Pizza in N. Hollywood and Panorama City. I was 17, and never knew he was such a bad ass and in the film biz. Coincidentally, I went on to film school after leaving Mothers!