After millions of attempts, thousands of bad solutions, and 51 years, the Zodiac Killer’s most notorious cipher has been solved.
If your skepticism tickles, you are not alone. In the decades since the Bay Area’s most notorious serial killer fired his mysterious letter on the San Francisco Chronicle, countless people have come forward saying they cracked him. But the solutions were all a little different and almost always required illogical gymnastics, like ignoring whole chunks or leaving out certain uncomfortable characters. This solution is different. It references an event that just occurred and contains several key phrases that Zodiac used in other letters. It reads:
Hope you enjoy catching me who didn’t show me on TV show which makes a point about me. I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to the parade all day, because I NOW YOU HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME, IF EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING, IF YOU REACH THE PARADICE YOU ARE IN DEATH
Before we get into how this cipher fits into the well-known writings and activities of Zodiac, here is a little background on the methodology. The 340 cipher – so named after its number of characters – was solved by an international team of three code breakers: the American computer programmer David Oranchak, the Belgian computer programmer Jarl Van Eycke and the Australian applied mathematician Sam Blake. With Van Eycke’s code breaker software, Blake was able to manage over 650. Run 000 simulations to determine the correct reading direction of the characters.
On 3. December the men had their first breakthrough. By breaking the cipher into three parts and reading the characters diagonally like a word search puzzle, they saw phrases take shape. « Try to catch me » and « the gas chamber » appeared. As they broke apart, however, the words began to get mixed up. Oranchak and Van Eycke discovered that Zodiac had made a mistake in creating his complex cipher – once they moved a character, the misspellings were fixed and the cipher worked.
The cipher solved, the men sent the solution to the FBI, which confirmed to the Chronicle on Friday that « a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private individuals. «
In addition to his solid methodology, there is a contextual reason to believe that these are Zodiac’s words. Most noticeable is the reference to slaves in « Paradise ». « Zodiac has regularly and almost certainly deliberately misspelled Paradise in its media correspondence. He effortlessly correctly wrote more complex words and circumscribed operas like « The Mikado, » suggesting that his blatant spelling of simple words was either stylistic or intended as red herrings.
The 340 cipher was posted to the Chronicle in November 1969, a few weeks after a man who claimed to be the Zodiac Killer was called on the Jim Dunbar Show, a local TV talk show. The footage was broadcast throughout the Bay Area and was undoubtedly seen by the real Zodiac using his cipher to make it clear what the authorities already knew – the caller wasn’t him.
The Zodiac Killer struck four times. He killed David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, on Lake Herman Road in Benicia. Darlene Ferrin, 22, at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo; Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, on Lake Berryessa; and Paul Stine, 29, in his Presidio Heights taxi. Two men survived, Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell, and both have been part of the investigation over the years.
There is still an unsolved Zodiac cipher – although no one can guess whether it can even be deciphered. In one letter, Zodiac wrote “My name is,” followed by a series of 13 symbols. The 340 cipher breakers said that because of its brevity, it would take sheer luck to find its solution.
But knowing Zodiac, the coward who hungered for fame, is unlikely to have his real name.
Zodiac Killer, Cipher, San Francisco Chronicle
World news – USA – The Zodiac Killer’s most unbreakable cipher has finally been solved
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