51 Years Later, a 'Zodiac Killer' Cipher Has Been Solved

Code-breaking trio solves one of the ciphers the killer sent to 'San Francisco Chronicle' in 1969
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2020 6:00 AM CST
51 Years Later, a 'Zodiac Killer' Cipher Has Been Solved
This is a file copy of a cryptogram sent to the "San Francisco Chronicle" in 1969 by the Zodiac Killer.   (San Francisco Chronicle via AP, File)/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

For 14 years, Virginia web designer David Oranchak has been toiling away on one of America's greatest mysteries: the "340 Cipher," a 340-character puzzle sent to the San Francisco Chronicle more than 50 years ago by the infamous "Zodiac Killer," who murdered at least five people in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late '60s. Finally, the breakthrough he's been looking for came this month, when he, Aussie mathematician Sam Blake, and Belgian programmer Jarl Van Eycke at long last broke the code that's mystified sleuths since it was sent to the Chronicle in 1969. "I feel vindicated," Oranchak tells the Washington Post, admitting that when he first started examining the cipher in 2006, he was confident he'd figure it out almost immediately. "I thought, 'Oh, I can just write a computer program and solve it,' but it's been kicking my ass all this time," he tells the Chronicle. "Until now."

Unfortunately, there's no name in the code, just this basic message: "I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. ... I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradice [sic] all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me." The breakthrough came on Dec. 3, when critical clues finally popped up in the usual mishmash of translated phrases, Oranchak says in a video on how they cracked the code. By Dec. 5, the team had solved the entire cipher and sent it to the FBI, which has since verified the breakthrough. The Zodiac Killer sent three other ciphers to newspapers: One was solved by a schoolteacher and his wife—that one read "I like killing because it is so much fun"—and two more remain unsolved, one of which contained the killer's name, per the killer. "That's the one the code breakers have to work on now," an ex-San Francisco cop who worked on the case tells the Chronicle. "We need his name." Much more here and here on the case. (Read more Zodiac killer stories.)

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