Ask anyone who was around at the time and they will remember all too well the horror of the Zodiac Killer. In the late 1960s and early 1970s this unsolved serial killer case went unsolved, with mysterious and cryptic messages published in the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers that were the talk of the nation. Now, more than 50 years after it was written one of the killer’s encoded letters has finally been solved.
The Zodiac Killer got his nickname from the many letters and cards he sent into newspapers and their reporters. Over the years he sent in many letters and cards, not all of which were deciphered. The killer to date has not been caught, though a long list of suspects were investigated at the time, including a disciple of Charles Manson named Bruce Davis. However, all the leads ended up cold, despite thousands of people having been investigated in relation to the crime.
The first cihper of The Zodiac to be solved was done so by a schoolteacher and his wife, Donald and Bettye Harden.
The more recently-cracked code was solved by David Oranchak, Sam Blake (an applied mathematician), and Jarl Van Eycke (a warehouse employee and programmer from Belgium). Once solved Oranchak posted a video about the process on his YouTube channel where it has gotten nearly 1.5 million views at the time of this writing. Even a supercomputer couldn’t crack the code, but Van Eycke’s custom-designed software was key in finding the solution.
This letter was sent in by the killer in 1970, shortly after a man had called into a TV show claiming to be the killer and saying that he didn’t want to go to the gas chamber. The decoded letter 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 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”
From this letter it seems that the killer thought he was gathering slaves for the afterlife, though it remains to be seen whether he intended his murder victims to serve him in the great beyond or there was some other plan he had in mind.
The letter was made up of a 340-character cipher, though other codes the killer used were different. Another letter reads “My name is —–“, although it uses a much shorter cipher and so may never be solved. The Zodiac Killer got his name because he signed his letters as “the Zodiac”. He also used a symbol that looks like a crosshair to sign off, threatening the papers with bombs and violence if they did not publish his letters.
The case was inactive until 2004 and was reopened sometimes before 2007. The San Francisco division of the FBI issued a statement on Twitter in response to the recent success in decoding, “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 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 Zodiac Killer is believed to be responsible for killing 5 people, and a further 2 were attacked but survived in the end. This is in contrast to the 37 people that the killer once stated to have murdered.
You can watch the video below to find out all about how the code was solved.