The Zodiac killer is one of the most notorious serial killers in the USA. He killed at least 5 people from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, although he claimed that he killed 37 people in total. The killer, who was never caught, had a habit of taunting the public and the police investigators by sending ciphers to the media.
One of the coded messages by the mysterious killer was finally deciphered by a trio of amateur codebreakers, 51 years after it was sent to the San Francisco Chronicle. The “340 cipher” as it was dubbed, contained the following message:
“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 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”.
The TV show that the Zodiac is referring to, is probably Jim Dunbar’s “AM San Francisco” show on KGO-TV that aired in October 1969. The host and attorney Melvin Belli during the show received a call from a person claiming to be the Zodiac, and he said: “I don’t want to go to the gas chamber.” This seemingly aggravated the killer who felt the need to clear things up.
Except for figuring out which letters are represented by certain symbols, the decoders had a hard time determining the alignment of the words as well. They used software programs as well as human ingenuity to finally come up with a solution. It turned out that the direction of the words ran diagonally down the page, and occasionally shifted over a column. The team, comprised of Virginia web-designer David Oranchak, Australian applied mathematician Sam Blake and Belgian warehouse manager and code-breaking software engineer Jarl Van Eycke, spent around 8 months resolving the difficult puzzle.
The code-breaking achievement was confirmed by the FBI, who said that they are still working on the case.
“The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens. The Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation for the FBI San Francisco division and our local law enforcement partners. The Zodiac Killer terrorized multiple communities across Northern California, and even though decades have gone by, we continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, and out of respect for the victims and their families, we will not be providing further comment at this time.”
The series of murders began in December 1968 when David Faraday and Betty Lou Jensen were shot dead in their car in Benicia. In July 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau were shot in Vallejo, but the man survived. Later that year a couple were stabbed near Lake Berryessa and once again only the man survived. In October 1969, a cab driver was shot dead in San Francisco.
This is the second time a Zodiac cipher has been cracked. The first, which was sent in pieces, was solved by a Salinas schoolteacher and his wife. Known as the 408 Cipher, it did not say much beyond: “I like killing because it is so much fun.”
Two unsolved ciphers remain a mystery for the time being. However, decoding them might be important for finally finding the real name of the serial killer, as he himself stated that his name is hidden inside one of the coded messages.
The only suspect in the unsolved case that was named by investigators was convicted child molester and Navy veteran Arthur Leigh Allen of Vallejo. However, he died at 58 of a heart attack in 1992 before police could find enough evidence to officially charge him.