World

51 years later, amateurs crack Zodiac killer’s ‘340 cipher’

It took 51 years to crack, but one of the taunting messages written in code and attributed to the Zodiac Killer has been solved, according to the FBI. The Zodiac Killer — who was never caught — shot or stabbed seven people in the San Francisco Bay Area over the course of about year in 1968 and 1969, killing all but two of them. During his murderous spree, he sent a series of terrifying letters to the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
Some of the notes were in code, including a particularly complex missive with 340 characters that became known as the 340 cipher. This letter, which was mailed to daily in November 1969, does not reveal the killer’s identity. But it does build on his image as an attention-seeking killer.
“I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me” and “I am not afraid of the gas chamber” are two of the boasts in the message, according to David Oranchak, a software developer in Virginia who said he had decrypted the cipher with the help of Sam Blake, an applied mathematician in Australia, and Jarl Van Eycke, a warehouse operator and computer programmer in Belgium.
Oranchak, who runs a website and YouTube series about the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers, said he was excited to have solved the code after 14 years of trying to break it. But he said he was also worried about the effect it might have on victims’ families. “The message in that cipher — I don’t see it as being helpful to them,” he said. “It’s more of the same junk that the killer liked to write about. It’s just intended to hurt people.”
The San Francisco field office of the FBI on Friday confirmed that the group had cracked the coded message, and said the investigation into the case was ongoing “The Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation for the FBI and our local law enforcement partners,” the field office said. The code had long baffled cryptographers, law enforcement agents and armchair sleuths obsessed with the killer. Only one previous cipher attributed to the Zodiac had been solved.

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