The TV channel HISTORY is launching a series about the Zodiac Killer. Allegedly, a solution to one of the famous cryptograms created by this serial killer will be presented.

Throughout the late 1960s, the Zodiac Killer, one of history’s most famous unidentified serial murderers, terrorized America in a spree of heinous attacks, sending taunting letters to the public.



The four Zodiac cryptograms

Four of these letters contained encrypted messages. Here’s the first one (it was solved by Donald and Betsy Harden in 1969):


The three other encrypted messages are unsolved to date. Here’s the second message:


This is message #3 (only one line of the message is encrypted):


And finally, this is the fourth Zodiac cryptogram (two lines encrypted):


As #3 and #4 are too short for an unambiguous solution, codebreakers usually focus on message #2. Is has never been solved.


Has the second Zodiac Killer message been solved?

Now, a new TV series, The Hunt For The Zodiac Killer by HISTORY (formerly known as The History Channel), opens up a new investigation into the mystery of this serial assassin. This five-part limited series will premier tomorrow, Tuesday, November 14 at 2200 ET/PT. It will launch on HISTORY UK on Wednesday 22 November, 9:00PM GMT.

Allegedly, The Hunt For The Zodiac Killer will present new evidence, new witnesses, new clues, and new information from representatives of the CIA and FBI. A super-computer named CARMEL (“the first of its kind programmed to think like a killer”) will play a major role.

According to a press release, a team of codebreaking experts hired by the producers of the series believe that they have broken a significant portion of the second Zodiac Killer cryptogram (sometimes called Z340).

If this announcement proves correct, we will soon see one of the greatest codebreaking successes of this century!

Usually I doubt claims like these. The Voynich Manuscript has been “solved” at least 50 times without a “solution” ever beeing accepted by the experts. Other famous crypto mysteries have been “solved”, as well. This is also the case for the second Zodiac cryptogram. For instance, here’s a video about a “solution” and here’s an article about another one.

However, this announced Zodiac Killer solution appears to be different. The members of the HISTORY codebreaker team are renowned cryptanalysts. The press release mentions Kevin Knight, who deciphered the Codex Copiale a few years ago. Another member, who is not mentioned, is Craig Bauer, …


… mathematics professor, editor in chief of the scientific magazine Cryptologia, and author of the great book Unsolved.

At the NSA Symposium on Cryptologic History I talked to another experienced codebreaking expert (he didn’t want me to mention his name), who was involved in this TV production. He confirmed that the solution found by his colleagues was correct.

So, chances are good that we will soon witness a sensation.

How to watch this series?

It goes without saying that I am looking forward to watching this series. However, I don’t know how this works best from Germany. Here’s a website with a HISTORY livestream. Does a reader know a better one? Will the episodes be available online after they have been broadcast? Any hint is welcome.

Further reading: The Zodiac Killer code is solved – at least in this new movie

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Kommentare (23)

  1. #1 David Oranchak
    13. November 2017

    The new preview video for the show has a small reveal about this very topic:


  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    14. November 2017

    @David Oranchak: Thanks for the hint. As you can be seen in the preview, you’re apparently a member of the codebreaking team, too.

    For those who don’t know David, here’s an interview I made with him.

  3. #3 Nils Kopal
    14. November 2017

    In the teaser: 1:40 min – Craig Bauer claims he cracked Zodiac-340 – I believe him :-)

    My bet always was that zodiac changed the alphabets to create some kind of polyalphabetic cipher… i am really curious to see the solution :-)

    Well done guys… !

  4. #4 Seth
    14. November 2017

    I’m sure the channel that has programs like “Ancient Aliens” and ghost hunting and UFOs and Bigfoot and random reality shows will make a major breakthrough…

    That cipher has so many rarely used characters that if you accept “partial solutions” as something useful you can make it say literally anything you want. I could make it say Klaus is the Zodiac.

  5. #5 Lou
    14. November 2017

    How do you program a computer to think like a killer? There are many ways that killers think, I just can’t see how?

  6. #6 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    14. November 2017

    I’m highly skeptical that Z-340 has been broken. (That’s not to say that it’s unbreakable.)

    And the “experienced codebreaking expert,” who didn’t want his name mentioned on this blog, is a cryptographer, not a cryptanalyst. I know, because that anonymous source has corrected me on that point before. I, too, heard him endorse the Z-340 “solution,” but I was not at all convinced.

  7. #7 Thomas
    14. November 2017

    So Craig Bauer cracked the Zodiac cipher between the printing of his new book ‘Unsolved’ (Zodiac cipher still unsolved, probably summer 2017) and the making of the HISTORY series?

  8. #8 Jugin
    14. November 2017

    @Thomas: That’s a good point :-)

  9. #9 Nils Kopal
    14. November 2017

    Thats what you hear in the “teaser”. Either its just cutted very badly and the sentence is just taken out of context. Otherwise, I assume, if Craig says that they cracked the cipher, it must be true…

    I am curious to see a publication in Cryptologia given a proof…

  10. #10 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    14. November 2017

    The so-called History channel manipulates its audience *and* its contributors. Sensationalist narrators produce what they want you to think is irrefutable evidence, speaking in leading questions and psychobabble: “Could it be, as ancient alien theorists suggest, that the odds of this being a coincidence are 1 in 493,349,633,808?”

    The highly respected expert (the one who’s a cryptographer, not a cryptanalyst) was apparently shown something to get him to endorse their proposed Z–340 solution. History likely showed him whatever was needed to dazzle him, and withheld whatever context or content would have persuaded him otherwise.

    And Craig Bauer, although I know him to be a fine and decent person, lost some credibility with me by recently giving an underwhelming performance on Coast to Coast AM, whose bar for evidence is set even lower than History’s. (Granted, host George Noory was utterly unprepared to conduct the interview.)

  11. #11 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    14. November 2017

    History’s own press release about “The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer” provides this revealing statement: “This team *believes* they *may* have broken a significant *portion* of the diabolically complicated code.” [Emphasis is mine.] Serious code breakers don’t talk that way. Either they broke it, or they didn’t.

  12. #12 Bill Briere
    14. November 2017

    We’ll see today how this all plays out. To the uninformed, History will likely make its case. If they say Sasquatch is the Zodiac killer, then they’ll prove it to the satisfaction of the masses.

    But no matter how their confetti-edited sound bites and convincing reconstructions make you feel, ask yourself this question at the end of the day: Did Craig (or the team or whoever) decrypt Z–340 in an independently repeatable way that recovered an intelligible message? In other words, could the rest of us, given a different message that had been encrypted with that same system and keys, recover unambiguous plaintext?

    Don’t hold your breath.

  13. #13 Thomas
    14. November 2017

    It was HISTORY who named the Zodiac killer already in 2009: Richard Gaikowski

  14. #14 George Lasry
    15. November 2017

    Has anyone watched the first episode. Any crypto related stuff?

  15. #15 Norbert
    16. November 2017
  16. #16 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    16. November 2017

    With Episode 1, History has lived up to its reputation of manipulating its contributors and its audience. And there was nothing crypto-related worth mentioning.

  17. #17 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    16. November 2017

    As expected, I couldn’t identify a single piece of new evidence in the episode — cryptologic or otherwise. Everything brought up as new discoveries, including from supercomputer Carmel’s alleged output, was stuff we already knew.

    The cryptanalytical stuff was mostly taken from the presentation material that Dave himself has shown us as examples of the many interesting patterns that can be found in Z-340. The stuff that History wants you to believe was spit out by their Think-Like-a-Killer machine has actually been pointed out by Dave before (at least back to 2015, maybe earlier).

  18. #18 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    16. November 2017

    The case that History is building up around Ross Sullivan (using evidence that we already knew about) is the same case that could be made for any of the other top ten or so suspects. They just picked one and ran with it. He HAS to be the one, because the odds of these pieces of evidence being coincidence are 1 in whatever. Of course, the same thing can be said of many other suspects.

    This show is purely entertainment, at least for those who don’t care that it’s complete garbage.

  19. #19 Thomas
    17. November 2017

    Wow, cool when the Mission Control Center’s supercomputer revealed two trigram repititions. Ready for liftoff!

  20. #20 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    17. November 2017

    @Thomas, I think you’re referring to Dave Oranchak’s “pivots” — the two L-shaped features that the show’s producers expect people to believe were found by Carmel. In fact, the computer had nothing to do with it. Dave has been talking about those “pivots” for at least a couple years.

    History doesn’t make real documentaries (anymore). There’s nothing there for the serious researcher, scientist, or historian. At best, it’s entertainment. The way they edit and package stories is extremely (and intentionally) misleading. I’m not a fan.

  21. #21 Thomas
    17. November 2017

    @Bill Briere
    As an occasional reader of zodiackillerciphers.com I know this isn’t anything new. Just was stunned watching four cryptanalysts in front of a wall screen, reminded me of a movie scene in a NASA Ground Control Center. Moreover, I was surprised that Californian IT experts have supercomputers that are capable to perform difficult tasks such as finding trigram patterns in a 340 character text. 😉 The redundancy of such documentaries is unrivaled, hope this isn’t going to be cryptological eyewash.

  22. #22 Nick Pelling
    17. November 2017

    History documentaries in general have evolved into a horribly stylized format, to the point that if you – gasp – happen to actually know anything about the subject being covered, they are painfully close to unwatchable: and there’s no reason yet to think that this series will buck that televisual macro-trend in any great way.

  23. #23 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    17. November 2017

    Yep, it’s all hype and theatre and deception.

    On the investigative side of things, having selected which suspect to build the show around, they’re simply retracing the steps of others and acting as if they’ve made the discoveries themselves.

    On the cryptanalytical side of things, they’re doing the same thing, simply pointing out things we already know and acting as if their “supercomputer” made the discoveries itself. Don’t be surprised if they play up Carmel’s dark, artificial-intelligence capabilities in the coming episodes (because she thinks like a killer).

    And poor Craig: one of the teasers has him saying that he broke Z-340. That sets a pretty high bar for expectations. Anything short of a legitimate, full solution by the fifth episode is going to be met with a bunch of us asking “Why did you say that, if it wasn’t true?” My guess is that he teased out a few bits of “plaintext,” maybe something we’ve already seen, or maybe even the name of Ross Sullivan, and probably without the help of Carmel. It’ll be added to the pile of other nonsolutions we’ve seen. One can find just about any name or phrase ones wants to find in the cryptogram (à la Ted Cruz), but a professionally accepted full solution is a completely different story.

    I’m standing by with a copy of Z-340, ready to apply whatever Craig’s methods and keys are. What are the odds that we’ll be able to duplicate his 340-character solution?