The Zodiac Killer murdered five or more people and sent four encrypted messages to newspapers. The case and three of the cryptograms have never been solved.
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The Zodiac Killer was a serial killer who operated in the San Francisco area in the late sixties. He was never caught. He killed at least five people and seriously injured two.
The Zodiac Killer
There are four confirmed crimes the Zodiac Killer committed:
- Dezember 20, 1968: The Zodiac Killer murders 16-year-old Betty Lou Jensen and her 17-year-old boyfriend David Faraday in Vallejo, north of San Francisco.
- July 4, 1969: The Zodiac Killer kills 22-year-old waitress Darlene Ferrin in a parking lot in Benicia. Her 19-year-old companion Michael Mageau survives badly injured.
- September 27, 1969: In a park near Lake Berryessa, a man dressed in black kills 22-year-old Cecelia Shepard and seriously injures her 20-year-old boyfriend Bryan Hartnell (see picture below).
- October 11, 1969: The Zodiac Killer shoots Taxi driver Paul Stine in his taxi.
It is well possible that the Zodiac Killer committed even more crimes. There are several unsolved murders and murder attempts where at least it is not excluded that the Zodiac Killer had something to do with it.
The Zodiac Killer wrote dozens of letters to regional newspapers and other recipients. In these notes he repeatedly made fun of the police and boasted of his deeds. Four of his letters contained encrypted messages. Three of them are unsolved to date.
Message #1 (Z408)
The first Zodiac cryptogram was received in three parts by three different regional newspapers in San Francisco on August 1, 1969. It is referred to as Z408 because it contains 408 letters.
Z408 is the only Zodiac cryptogram that was solved (in the picture above the plaintext is written above the ciphertext). The solution was found by a teacher couple who had learned about the encrypted message in the newspaper. Unfortunately this deciphering success did not help the police. The plaintext is reproduced in the following.
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI
In the following video made by blog reader Nils Kopal the solution of Z408 is explained in detail:
Message #2 (Z340)
The second Zodiac cryptogram (Z340) was received on November 8, 1969.
This cryptogram comprises 340 characters and thus offers a relatively large amount of analysis material. Anyway, it is unsolved to date.
Considering that the first Zodiac message (Z408) proved to be encrypted in a homophonic cipher (i.e., a plaintext letter may have several ciphertext counterparts), it seems reasonable to assume that Z340, which looks similar, was created with the same kind of encryption. However, all attempts to find a homophonic substitution table that decrypts Z340 have failed so far. Apparently, the Zodiac Killer, after his first cryptogram had been broken within a short time, tried to make his second try more difficult. It is, of course, also possible that Z340 is a hoax.
Message #3 (Z13)
The third encrypted message (Z13, dated 20 April 1970) is as follows:
The encrypted part contains only 13 characters. It begins with “My name is”. Whether the Zodiac Killer really put his name on this, we don’t know.
Message 4 (Z33)
The fourth Zodiac cryptogram (Z33) is also quite short.
The encrypted part only contains two lines. Their meaning is unknown.
An unsolved mystery
Much has been published about the Zodiac Killer. In my books Nicht zu knacken and Codeknacker gegen Codemacher the topic is covered in detail. Craig Bauer’s book Unsolved! contains a chapter about the Zodiac Killer as well. Zodiac Killer expert Dave Oranchak once gave me an interview (only available in German).
The Zodiac Killer’s encrypted messages represent one of the world’s most spectacular and most popular crypto mysteries. For over 50 years experts and hobby codebreakers have tried to solve Z340, Z13, and Z33, but to no avail. The murderer has never been caught.
Further reading: Craig Bauer defends his solution of the second Zodiac Killer cryptogram