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After 51 years, experts crack cryptic message of California’s ‘Zodiac Killer’

This was not the first message the Zodiac Killer had sent to Californian newspapers during his reign of terror. In 1969, a school teacher and his wife were able to decade another similar message.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 13, 2020 8:21:45 am
It took several years of work for the team to finally crack the code. (Photograph: Screengrab from YouTube video uploaded by David Oranchak)

Over 50 years after the anonymous mass murderer — who went by the name ‘Zodiac Killer’ — terrorised the streets of northern California, a team of cryptography experts were finally able to crack one of the killer’s mysterious coded messages sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969.

The message, dubbed ‘340 cipher’ as it contains 340 characters, was decoded by David Oranchak, a software developer in Virginia, Jarl Van Eycke, a Belgian computer programmer, and Sam Blake, an Australian mathematician, CNN reported.

It took several years of work for the team to finally crack the code. Web designer David Oranchak, 46, first tried to use computer programs to decipher the complex code in 2006.

While sleuths hoped that the message would unveil the identity of the murderer, the team instead found that the Zodiac Killer simply bragged about evading law enforcement authorities in the code, without providing any real clues about motive or identity, AFP reported.

“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 message, written in all capital letters and without any punctuation marks, read.

This was not the first message the Zodiac Killer had sent to Californian newspapers during his reign of terror. In 1969, a school teacher and his wife were able to decade another similar message.

“I like killing because it is so much fun,” it said, once again referring to the “slaves” he claimed he was collecting to serve him in the “afterlife”.

But Oranchak and his team said that this code was much harder to decipher. “All of us in the crypto community on the Zodiac figured the cipher had another step beyond just figuring out what letters belonged to the symbols, and that’s just what we found here,” Oranchak told AFO.

The 340 cipher is decoded by reading it diagonally — starting from the upper-left corner and shifting one box down and two boxes to the right. Once the reader reaches the bottom, they have to return to the opposite corner, Oranchak explained in a YouTube video.

This particular coding system appears in a cryptography manual for the US army dating back to the 1950s, according to the web designer.

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