A team of armchair sleuths say they have solved a coded message attributed to the infamous Zodiac Killer — who killed at least five people in California in the 1960s and claimed to have killed more than 30 — more than half a century after the note was sent to The San Francisco Chronicle.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's San Francisco Division, which lists the Zodiac killings as an open case, confirmed the discovery in a statement on Friday.
"The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens," the statement read. "The Zodiac Killer terrorized multiple communities across Norther California and even though decades ave gone by, we continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes."
The Zodiac Killer case remains an ongoing investigation, the agency said.
According to coding expert David Oranchak, who posted his findings on YouTube, the encrypted message — dubbed the "340 cipher" due to its number of characters — reads in part: "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 [sic] 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," the note, which was sent to the Chronicle in 1969, continues.
"I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE IS LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH," it reads.
Oranchak, a 46-year-old web designer who lives in Virginia, told the Chronicle that he has been working on the Zodiac Killer's codes since 2006.
He was able to crack the 340 cipher with help from two other amateur codebreakers: Sam Blake, a mathematician in Australia, and Jarl Van Eykcke, a warehouse operator in Belgium, according to the outlet.
Oranchak said the team knew they were getting close when they unlocked the phrases "gas chamber" and "the TV show," which seemed to reference an October 1969 broadcast of Jim Dunbar’s AM San Francisco show on KGO-TV in which a person claiming to be the Zodiac said, "I don’t want to go to the gas chamber."
"I could not have done this without them," Oranchak said of his partners. "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."
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The Zodiac was known to taunt law enforcement and media by sending letters to local publications featuring cryptograms. They were often signed with a cross over a circle. He appeared to stopped writing the coded notes in the 1970s.
In 1969, a schoolteacher from Salinas, California, and his wife were able to decipher a message — now named the "408 cipher" — sent in pieces to three different newspapers. The message read: "I like killing because it is so much fun."
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