Codebreakers have deciphered a message sent by the Zodiac Killer to a San Francisco newspaper in 1969, ending half a century of speculation over the mysterious note’s meaning.
The message, dubbed the 340 Cipher, has stumped investigators and amateur sleuths for decades going back to November 1969, when it first arrived in the mail at the San Francisco Chronicle. It was one of four coded messages that Zodiac wrote at the time. Each one proved a major challenge for investigators, in part because Zodiac made several spelling mistakes in his messages.
Codebreaker David Oranchak revealed the solution to the 340 Cipher on his website Thursday, after working with fellow sleuths Sam Blake and Jarl Van Eycke, who live in Australia and Belgium, respectively.
“We solved the 340 and submitted it to the FBI,” he wrote. “They have confirmed the solution.”
Investigators had long hoped the 340 Cipher would contain the Zodiac Killer’s real identity, but the note does not provide that information.
“I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me,” it says in part. “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.”
In a video describing his solution, Oranchak explains that he ran the cypher through a decoder program and came up with a few phrases within the resulting nonsense. He saved those phrases and forced the decoder to work with them, which ultimately led to the solution.
The full text reads:
“I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me. That wasn’t 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 paradise so they are afraid of death. I am not afraid because I know that my new life is life will be an easy one in paradice (sic) death.”
Oranchak says the “TV show” comment refers to an incident on Oct. 22, 1969, when someone claiming to be the Zodiac killer called into a local TV show.
“The very end doesn’t flow quite right yet,” Oranchak says in his video. “But maybe someone can figure out how it’s supposed to read.”
The FBI acknowledged the solution in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, and added that the investigation is still ongoing.
“The Zodiac Killer terrorized multiple communities across Northern California and even though decades have gone by, we continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes,” a spokesperson for the FBI’s San Francisco office said. “Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, and out of respect for the victims and their families, we will not be providing further comment at this time.”
Zodiac is one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history. He stalked the San Francisco Bay Area from 1968-1969, when he killed at least five people while taunting the public through a series of letters and cards sent to the press. A few of those missives included coded messages known as ciphers.
Each letter was signed with a cross and circle symbol, which became associated with the killer. He also dubbed himself “Zodiac.”
A schoolteacher and his wife solved one of the ciphers back in 1969, but the others remain unclear.
A copycat killer later claimed the Zodiac title in New York in the 1990s, when he incorporated astrology signs into his murder spree. He was eventually identified as Heriberto Seda and sentenced to life in prison.
The San Francisco Zodiac Killer was never found, although investigators have renewed their efforts to identify him through DNA-based ancestry databases. The same tactic led to the arrest of California’s Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo, in 2018.
DeAngelo is currently serving several consecutive life sentences behind bars.