Notorious Zodiac Killer’s coded message ‘cracked’ after more than 50 years

A team of amateur detectives appear to have cracked one of the notorious Zodiac Killer’s coded messages – more than 50 years after it was sent.

The killer is confirmed to have fatally stabbed or shot five people in Northern California in the 1960s, although it is believed he may have murdered more.

He was dubbed the Zodiac Killer after sending taunting letters and mysterious ciphers to police and local newspapers.

An artist's sketch based on a victim's testimony about the Zodiac Killer in California in the 60s and 70s
Image:An artist’s sketch based on a victim’s testimony about the Zodiac Killer

Until now, one of the ciphers – sent to The San Francisco Chronicle in November 1969 – had never been cracked.

But three members of the public, Australian software engineer Sam Blake, American cryptographer David Oranchak and Belgian software engineer Jarl Van, say they have managed to make sense of the coded symbols, letters and numbers.

According to the amateur team, the 340-character cipher reads: “I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME THAT WASNT ME ON THE TV SHOW WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT ABOUT ME I AM NOT AFRAID OF THE GAS CHAMBER BECAUSE IT WILL SEND ME TO PARADICE.”

It continues: “ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE IS LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH.”

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Investigators had hoped the cipher would reveal the killer’s name, but the message does not mention this.

The FBI’s San Francisco arm said in a statement its own Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) had acknowledged and confirmed the work.

One of the ciphers sent to The San Francisco Chronicle
Image:One of the ciphers sent to The San Francisco Chronicle
A police captain inspects the door of a car belonging to a Zodiac Killer victim in 1969
Image:A police captain inspects the door of a car belonging to a Zodiac Killer victim in 1969

“Over the past 51 years CRRU has reviewed numerous proposed solutions from the public – none of which had merit,” it said.

“The cipher was recently solved by a team of three private citizens.”

Mr Oranchak, who lives in Virginia, told The Chronicle that the find was “exciting”.

“We’ve been sitting on the solution since last Saturday,” he said. “When I first started looking at the Zodiac ciphers all those years ago, I thought, ‘Oh, I can just write a computer program and solve it,’ but it’s been kicking my a** all this time. Until now.”

It is the second time a cipher from the Zodiac Killer has been cracked.

Schoolteacher Donald Harden broke another of the Zodiac's codes
Image:Schoolteacher Donald Harden broke another of the Zodiac’s codes

The first, also sent to The Chronicle, was solved by a schoolteacher and his wife – but it said little other than: “I like killing because it is so much fun.”

The killer has never been caught, despite gaining notoriety, and the case is still active.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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