Paul Avery (April 2, 1934 – December 10, 2000) was an American journalist, best known for his reporting on the serial killer known as the Zodiac, and later for his work on the Patricia Hearst kidnapping.
Avery was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, the son of Howard Malcom Avery, a U.S. Navy officer and pilot, and Frances Avery. He was raised and educated in Honolulu, Oakland, California, and Washington, D.C.. Avery started his career in journalism in 1955, working at a variety of newspapers in Mississippi, Texas and Alaska before returning to Hawaii and hiring on at the Honolulu Advertiser where he was appointed the paper's Big Island bureau chief. He was 23 years old at the time.
San Francisco Chronicle career
Avery joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1959. In the second half of the 1960s, Avery took a leave of absence from the Chronicle and moved his family to Vietnam. In Saigon, Avery co-founded Empire News, a freelance photojournalism organization. He expanded Empire News, opening a branch in Hong Kong, before returning to San Francisco, in 1969 after three years in Asia. In the mid-1980s, after working for The Sacramento Bee and writing a book about the Hearst kidnapping, he signed up with the then- Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner, where he stayed until his retirement in August 1994.
Avery reported on the Zodiac case, a series of killings—unsolved to this day—that began in December 1968 and ostensibly ended with the death of a San Francisco cab driver in October 1969. At the time, Avery was a police reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Zodiac soon wrote Avery (misspelled by the Zodiac as "Averly") a Halloween card, warning, "You are doomed." The front of the card read, "From your secret pal: I feel it in my bones/you ache to know my name/and so I'll clue you in..." Then inside: "But why spoil the game?" Just as quickly as the threat was made public, a fellow journalist made up hundreds of campaign-style buttons, worn by nearly everyone on Chronicle staff, including Avery, that said, "I Am Not Paul Avery." It was at this time that Avery began carrying a .38 caliber revolver.
When Patricia Hearst was kidnapped in February 1974, Avery joined forces with Chronicle reporter Tim Findley to produce a series of stories detailing the kidnapping and writing about the members of the little-known band of revolutionaries called the Symbionese Liberation Army.
Avery covered the Hearst case until the newspaper heiress-turned-bank robber was arrested in September 1975. Avery then holed up on his houseboat at Gate 5 in Sausalito with Boston writer Vin McLellan to write The Voices of Guns, a book on the SLA and the Hearst kidnapping."
Despite his progressive illness with emphysema, Avery continued working in crime and journalism until the end of his life. After joining The Sacramento Bee in 1976, he discovered that authorities had wrongly charged an innocent man with murder, and was instrumental in convincing detectives to drop the charges.
While covering the war in Vietnam, Avery suffered a spinal fracture when a falling tree limb knocked him from atop an armored personnel carrier.
Avery died of pulmonary emphysema in West Sound, Washington on December 10, 2000. Avery's family scattered his ashes in the San Francisco Bay the following June.
At the time of his death, Avery was married to Margo St. James, a feminist organizer and founder of the sex worker's rights group COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics). He has two daughters from an earlier marriage, Charlé Avery and Cristin Avery. He has a third daughter, Janet Anderson.
Avery was portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. in the 2007 film Zodiac. The film details his involvement in the Zodiac case, including his discovery of the 1966 Riverside murder, the threat on his life, the "I Am Not Avery" buttons, a heavily fictionalized involvement with cartoonist turned Zodiac expert Robert Graysmith, as well as his eventual physical decline, including his abuse of cocaine and alcohol. The film ends with a brief mention of his fatal illness and death. In 2010, his former colleague Lance Williams wrote that the movie "portrayed Avery as ruined by the Zodiac... That just wasn't true."