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Programmers unraveled yet another Zodiac killer cipher half a century later




An international team of hackers, which included experts from the USA, Australia and Belgium, was able to guess a serial cipher nicknamed the Zodiac, which was never caught. This code is 51 years old. The zodiac sent him to the American newspaper San Francisco Chronicle in 1969.

Cipher 340, named for the number of words it contains, reads: “I hope you have a lot of fun trying to catch me. It wasn’t me on that TV show. I am not afraid of the gas chamber, because it will send me to heaven even earlier, because now I have enough slaves to work for me. They are afraid of death, but I am not. ” We are talking about the television show The Jim Dunbar Show from October 22, 1969, which was telephoned by an unknown person who introduced himself as Zodiac. The text of the message was sent two weeks after this show.

While working on the cipher, the team hoped that the killer would reveal his name in the text.

One of the researchers, programmer David Oranchak, has been working on the killer puzzle for almost 15 years. He wanted to create a program to decrypt the message, but attempts were unsuccessful. Oranczak even set up a website called with information on ciphers.

Another member of the group, programmer Jarl Van Eycke, created AZdecrypt, a tool that allowed him to set the world record for decrypting bigrams.

Sam Blake identified and collected information about the changes in the ciphertext, which ultimately turned out to be the key to the hack. By running the cipher through AZdecrypt, the team found that there are 650,000 possible readings of the cipher. Then the programmers began to select the most likely scenarios.

imagePhoto: David Oranczak, Sam Blake, Jarl Van Eycke /

The first unraveled message in 1969, “Code 408”, had encryption, in which it was necessary to select letters that were designated by certain symbols. The meaning is consistent with the new decoding. In the first letter, the killer wrote that he was killing people in order to “collect slaves” who could serve him during his afterlife in “paradise”. The zodiac included the same errors in the text, using the words “paradise” and “slaves.”


In the last “Code 340” the words were lined up diagonally downward, sometimes shifting to the side along the column. Similar schemes could be found in the ciphers of the American military leadership of the 1950s, Oranchak said.

Two messages of the Zodiac are still unsolved. It is alleged that in one of them, the killer still calls his name.

The zodiac was active in California in the 1960s. He was never arrested or identified. At the same time, the killer amused himself by sending encrypted messages about himself to the editorial offices of newspapers. In one of them, he said that he had killed 37 people. At the same time, the US police officially confirmed only seven episodes with his participation.

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