Zodiac Killer’s Notorious ‘340 Cipher’ Cracked After 51 Years


Amateur cryptologist group solves serial killer’s ‘unbreakable’ cipher, decades after mysterious disappearance

Three private code-breakers from the United States, Belgium, and Australia solved the infamous Zodiac Killer Code that was deemed indecipherable for over half a century. The team, composed of software developer David Oranchak, computer programmer Jarl Van Eyche, and Mathematician Sam Blake, all had their hands in cracking one of the most well known unsolved codes in modern history [CNN]. 

An unidentified male suspect, who self identified as ‘The Zodiac Killer’, brutally murdered multiple victims in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1960s. While there are five murders definitively associated with the Zodiac, he has claimed an upwards of 37 [Wired]. The whereabouts of the killer have been investigated for decades, but no arrests were made and the cases are still open, as told by Biography.com

A staple of The Zodiac Killer’s reign of terror during the mid 19th century were his daunting messages to news outlets. The killer sent numerous letters to San Francisco papers that claimed responsibility for the victims’ deaths, as well as detailed specific information about murders that led authorities to cite him as the true killer.

The first of the Zodiac’s ciphered letters was decoded rather quickly, however the second stumped both authorities and private code-breakers. The unsolved cipher -nicknamed the ‘340 cipher’ for its 340 characters- remained unsolved well after the Zodiac mysteriously disappeared, and until it was broken recently by the international cryptologist team [BBC]. 

The broken cipher reads as follows: “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me that wasn’t 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 [sic] all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradice [sic] so they are afraid of death I am not afraid because I know that my new life will be an easy one in paradice [sic] death.”

The letter gives no personal information about the Zodiac, nor any clues to his current whereabouts, but it is a significant breakthrough for the world of cryptology, and a long awaited moment for those who have been following the case for decades.

The San Francisco FBI released a statement acknowledging the achievement of the private code-breakers, and announced that they will continue to work to bring justice to the victims’ families. “The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens,” wrote the official San Francisco account in a tweet. “The Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation for the FBI San Francisco division and our local law enforcement partners…we will continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes.” 

The FBI division stated that they will not provide any more comments at the time out of respect for the families of the victims.