“Chinese Zodiac killer” caught, encryption still unsolved

In the U.S., an unknown man sent coded letters to the press posing as the “Chinese Zodiac Killer.” Now a suspect has been arrested.

Deutsche Version

I have reported about the infamous Zodiac killer on Cipherbrain many times. The four encrypted confession letters of this serial killer are among the most famous cryptograms ever. Two of them are still unsolved after more than 50 years.

The Zodiac killer has never been caught. Things are now apparently different for a copycat killer who has been up to his mischief since 2021. Such “Zodiac Copy Cats,” who send coded letters in the style of the serial killer, have occurred repeatedly in recent decades. The most recent, for now, referred to himself as the “Chinese Zodiac Killer” and made his appearance in the northeastern United States. According to press reports, a suspect has now been arrested.


The case

I blogged about the “Chinese Zodiac Killer” in January. As some U.S. media reported, this one sent letters to television stations, government agencies, churches and businesses in the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as in the capital, Washington. He wrote that he had killed and eaten people and announced more murders. Presumably, these acts exist only in his imagination. The FBI went public with the following message:

Quelle/Source: FBI

At least some of the letters of the “Chinese Zodiac Killer” contained coded messages. Unfortunately, the FBI did not mention what these looked like. However, via Reddit I came across a newspaper article that shows such a letter (the image detail is unfortunately not complete):

Quelle/Source: The Day

The “Chinese Zodiac Killer” is said to have sent this letter to a newspaper in New London (US state of Connecticut) in October 2021.

In the meantime, another encrypted message of this kind has surfaced. This went to the television station WWNY and was published by this (again only in extracts):

Quelle/Source: WWNY


The suspect

The suspect, who was arrested a few days ago, is a 46-year-old U.S. citizen named Jesse Bartlett. He is from La Fargeville, a village in upstate New York. Apparently, Bartlett was caught on camera sending his letters:

Quelle/Source: FBI

Here is another photo:

Quelle/Source: FBI

As you could read, Bartlett plays guitar and sings, performing also self-written songs. If a reader finds a corresponding video, I would be interested. The “Chinese Zodiac Killer” should now have enough time to make music, because although he did not hurt anyone, he faces up to five years in prison.


The encryption

To my knowledge, no one has yet deciphered the two letters shown. Reddit user Bolleswoods has created the following transcription of the former message:




According to this transcription, the alphabet used contains around 90 symbols. Bartlett could therefore have used a homophonic cipher, like the Zodiac killer. Whether an additional transposition was applied (as in the second, but not the first Zodiac message) is unclear.

Can a reader find out more about this and the second cryptogram mentioned?

If you want to add a comment, you need to add it to the German version here.

Further reading: Post von einem Zodiac-Trittbrettfahrer: Die Scorpion-Briefe

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