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The Most Dangerous Animal of All, A Review

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A man’s search for identity leads him down the dangerous path of one of the oldest unsolved cases.

On the surface, FX ‘s The Most Dangerous Animal of All (2020) is another program about an infamous serial killer. But the four-part docu-series is much more than that. It’s about a man who claims to be the son of the infamous Zodiac Killer.

The first episode kind of seems like this guy might be onto something. About halfway into the second episode, the “evidence” and theories start to fall apart.

Gary Stewart was adopted when he was three months old. He always knew his birth parents were out there somewhere in the world. As a teenager, he was insecure and struggled to find an identity. That carried over into his adult life. He says, “There’s a primal wound that adoptees have.” And, we all wonder, is that wound dangerous?

At age 39, Gary met his birth mother, Jude Gilford. He constantly asked her about who his father was, and Jude finally said, “I think his name was Van.” Right away it’s clear she’s not going to be upfront about anything.

Jude was 14 years old when she met Earl, a 27-year-old conman. He convinced her to run away with him. They married, then were caught and arrested. Earl gets out of jail, Jude gets out of juvie, they run away again, and get arrested again. Jude finds out she’s pregnant and the two go on the run yet again.

Jude claims not to remember exactly what happened. But Jude’s police statement says that Earl left the motel with their son and returned without him. Gary, aka Earl Van Best Jr., was found abandoned in an apartment building’s stairwell in Baton Rouge.

Gary pieces this obviously dangerous story together, using records at the San Francisco library, and Jude’s spotty memory. Since she changes her story several times, Jude is clearly not a reliable source.

Soon after finding a photo of his father, Gary watches an episode of Cold Case Files (1999–). The episode shows the Zodiac Killer police sketch. His investigation begins on shaky ground, but this is where it gets wild and dark and ultimately dangerous.

All the evidence is circumstantial. Gary thinks that the police sketch of the suspected Zodiac looks like his father’s mugshot. He thinks his father had a strong interest in ciphers like what was sent to the police. He thinks that his father must be the Zodiac Killer, because they were both in San Francisco at the same time. Those are just a handful of theories. It’s a weak case, but Gary believes it enough for the claim to appear convincing.

Gary kept a journal about his personal investigation into his father. He realized he had a 500-page manuscript that could be an actual book. That’s when he met Susan Mustafa, journalist and true crime author. Susan says, “I definitely wanted to investigate it further, because it was so many stories intertwined into one.”

This story has everything that entices true crime lovers — the occult, asylums, murder, and of course, the allure of a decades-old unsolved and dangerous case. At one point, there’s a possible connection to Charles Manson. There’s no doubt that it’s fascinating. But, Susan’s mistake was trusting Gary too much. She says, “Every time I questioned him on anything, he had the evidence to back it up for [sic], either in emails or letters or police reports. So, at a point, I quit questioning him. That, to me, was the point that I lost my objectivity.”


Gary’s obsession clouded his ability to accept that he was wrong. In the documentary, he repeatedly talks about the pain of being adopted and his need to have an identity. He needs a story, a legacy. Gary ends up creating a scenario where his father was the worst type of person possible. He needs to explain his father’s willingness to discard his own child. But, instead of a serial killer, Van Best was just a bad person.

The last episode centers around the realization that most of the book is fabricated. In separate interviews, Gary and Susan learn that the producers and their private investigator have debunked Gary’s theories. In Susan’s interview, she’s visibly upset and has to leave the room. Later, she states: “I’m a journalist, so truth is what I live and breathe. And, the fact that there are discrepancies in the book has really been very difficult for me to deal with.”

The documentary studio, Campfire, led their own investigation into Gary’s claims. Various experts in handwriting, fingerprints, and ciphers discredit everything. The private investigator digs into Earl’s addresses and finds that he wasn’t even in the country in 1970. He couldn’t be the Zodiac Killer.

Susan speaks to the detective that allegedly told Gary that based on DNA results, he couldn’t rule his father out as a suspect. Detective Pierucci clarifies that he meant that he doesn’t have enough information to rule him out. He wasn’t saying this as if he believes that Van Best is the number one suspect.

“The lesson to be learned here, for me, is setting out to prove something as opposed to disproving something is a big mistake,” Susan says. “That’s a big mistake for a journalist to make. I have to own up to it. I have to take responsibility for it.” Trying to create reality instead of accepting what is already turns out to be the most dangerous road of all.

Check out the FX trailer for “The Most Dangerous Animal Of All!”

Source: Dead Talk Live

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cfeltus.writes@gmail.com | Website | Posts

Cassondra Feltus is a freelance writer best known for film, television, literature, and pop culture analysis. She holds an MFA in Writing and a BA in Media Communications with an emphasis in Script-writing and a minor in Film Studies. She loves naps, Paul Rudd, and binge-watching the latest series with her two pups – Harry and DeVito. Visit her at cassondrafeltus.com.