Zodiac Killer's Cipher Solved By Amateur Codebreakers
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- A team of amateur codebreakers has deciphered a coded letter from the infamous Zodiac serial killer who terrorized Bay Area communities in the late 60s and early 70s, the FBI confirmed Friday.
Word of the deciphering was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, which received the cipher in the mail in 1969. The Chronicle reported a team of amateur sleuths from the United States, Australia and Belgium solved the mystery.
The Zodiac Killer is believed to have killed five people in San Francisco, Benicia, Vallejo, and Napa County between December 1968 and October 1969, and claimed to have killed 37 people. The solved cryptogram was one of several sent to the Chronicle and to police during the time of the Zodiac's killing spree, along with letters that often taunted investigators.
The Zodiac communicated with investigators into the early 70s before going silent. The San Francisco Police Department marked the case as in 2004, but reportedly re-opened it sometime before March 2007. Vallejo, Napa County and Solano County also have open case files on the Zodiac murders, as well as the California Department of Justice.
According to code-breaking expert David Oranchak, the text of the so-called 340 cipher (named for its 340 characters) includes: "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 paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me," the newspaper reported.
Oranchak, who has been working on the Zodiac's codes for years, said in an email to the newspaper that the solved cipher was sent to the FBI.
"They have confirmed the solution. No joke! This is the real deal," he wrote.
Cameron Rogers Polan, spokeswoman for the FBI's San Francisco office, confirmed Oranchak's claim Friday in an emailed statement.
"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," said Polan. "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."
According to Oranchak, the text of the 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 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
This is the second time a Zodiac cipher has been cracked. The first, a long cipher sent in pieces to The Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Vallejo Times-Herald papers in 1969, was solved by a Salinas schoolteacher and his wife.
It said little beyond: "I like killing because it is so much fun."
Oranchak says he came up with 650,000 manipulations of the cipher to try to figure out how the Zodiac Killer may have rearranged his message. Then after running it through a decryption software, one version caught his eye.
"It looked like thousands of others and normally I would ignore them but this one had phrases like 'hope you are trying to catch me' or 'the gas chamber,'" Oranchak said.
KPIX security analyst Jeff Harp oversaw the intelligence analysts working to solve this case with the FBI. He says there's no question how technology has helped to crack the code.
"The CIA and the FBI had a lot of smart people doing those kind of things back then but it was time consuming. Now you have computers that you can scan a document with every character on it," Harp said.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX correspondent Andrea Nakano and the Associated Press contributed to this report
for more features.