One of the longest-running mysteries in the ‘Zodiac Killer’ saga has finally been solved after an international code-breaking team cracked the notorious ‘340 Cipher’ sent to the San Francisco Chronicle 51 years ago.
The letter has been puzzling authorities and amateur sleuths since it arrived at the newspaper’s officer in November 1969, four years after the killer started terrorizing the Bay Area, killing at least five people.
Half a century later three private citizen code-breakers from the United States, Australia and Belgium finally decoded a taunting message which reads: ‘I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me… I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner because I now have enough slaves to work for me’,
Investigators had hoped that the murderer, who has never been definitively identified, would reveal his name in the cipher, but were pleased nonetheless with the break-through.
An international code-breaking team cracked the notorious ‘340 Cipher’ (pictured) sent to the San Francisco Chronicle 51 years ago
US code-breaker David Oranchak (pictured), and code-breakers from Australia and Belgium, cracked the 340 cipher sent by the Zodiac Killer to The San Francisco Chronicle in 1969, using specialist software
Australian applied mathematician Sam Blake (left) worked with Oranchak to go through 650,000 different solutions to the cipher 340. Belgian programmer Jarl Van Eycke (right) designed the code-breaking software used to help solve Cipher 340
The infamous Bay Area Zodiac Killer, who killed at least five people and potentially as many as 37 in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has never been definitively identified
Full text of ‘340 Cipher’
‘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’m not afraid of the gas chamber.
Because it will send me to paradise 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 will be an easy one in paradise.’
‘Last weekend, a team I’m on solved the 340 and submitted it to the FBI,’ coding expert David Oranchak told The Chronicle on Friday, after posting a video on
‘They have confirmed the solution. No joke! This is the real deal.’
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Francisco office confirmed to The Chronicle the message had been figured out, saying investigators were ‘aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens.’
Code-breaking expert David Oranchak said in a video posted to YouTube on Friday that he and Australian mathematician Sam Blake and Belgian programmer Jarl Van Eycke were able to crack the ‘340 Cipher.’
In the video, which is dedicated to the killer’s victims, Oranchak said: ‘This is a big one. We have a solution for the 340 and it’s real.’
The group had been doing ‘experiments’ for several months trying to work out why previous methods used to successfully decode other Zodiac messages had failed, including looking at 650,000 different manipulations of the cipher text.
They then ran the manipulations through Van Eycke’s code-breaking software, AZD Decrypt, and stumbled on the answer on December 3.
‘I jumped out of my chair and yelled ‘holy s**t’, said Oranchak.
After 50-years they were finally able to read the message from the taunting killer.
Including that ‘wasn’t me on the TV’ and that he is ‘not afraid of the gas chamber’, a potential reference, Oranchak said in the video, to a phone-call made into a TV show two weeks before the letter arrived at The Chronicle offices, in which a caller claimed to be the Zodiac Killer and that he was ‘afraid’ of the gas chamber.
The message went on to reveal in chilling detail how he would welcome the death penalty because it would ‘send me to paradise all the sooner’, where he believed that his victims or ‘slaves’ would ‘work’ for him.
Betty Lou Jensen (left), David Faraday (center), and Darlene Ferrin (right), are believed to be victims of the Zodiac Killer
Cold case detective Ken Mains has previously said that he believes the Zodiac Killer was potentially one of two men: Ross Sullivan (left) or Lawrence Kane (right)
‘Where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradise so they are afraid of death,’ he wrote, ‘I am not afraid because I know that my new life will be an easy one in paradise.’
The serial killer operated in Northern California in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
He targeted young couples, along with a male cab driver, and delighted in taunting police and media about his unsolved cases.
The Zodiac killed is believed to have murdered David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, on December 20, 1968, who were on their first date when they pulled over into a lovers’ lane on Lake Herman Road in Benicia and were shot dead.
Police believe he is responsible for shooting Michael Renault Mageau, 19, and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22 – 4 miles from the first crime scene – on July 4, 1969. While Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival, Mageau survived being shot in the face, neck and chest.
Zodiac Killer often mailed letters (pictured) to media and law enforcement
On September 27, 1969, Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, were having a picnic at Lake Berryessa in Napa County when they were approached by a hooded man believed to be the Zodiac killer who bound and stabbed them. Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to his back, but Shepard died two days later.
And on October 11, 1969, he is thought to be responsible for shooting dead cab driver Paul Lee Stine, 29.
Evading capture, he posted letters and clues to local Bay Area press in the form of cryptograms.
In one of those letters, he identified himself as ‘Zodiac’ and began using the Celtic cross symbol used on Zodiac-brand watches.
Though police linked him to five murders and two survivors, he boasted of at least 37 victims in his letters to the press.
In 1969, one of his cypher puzzles was cracked by a school teacher from Salinas, Calif., and his wife.
It said: ‘I like killing because it is so much fun.’
THE ZODIAC KILLER’S VICTIMS
Although the Zodiac Killer claimed to have killed as many as 37 people in his letters to local newspapers, police have only linked five murders – and two other injuries – to him.
On December 20, 1968, David Arthur Faraday, 17, and Betty Lou Jensen, 16, were on their first date when they pulled over into a lovers’ lane on Lake Herman Road in Benicia. There, they were forced from the car by a killer and Faraday was shot in the head. Jensen began to run away but was shot multiple times in the back.
On July 4, 1969, Michael Renault Mageau, 19, and Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin, 22, were in the parking lot of Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo – 4 miles from the first crime scene – when they were shot ‘to pieces’, according to the investigator. But while Ferrin was pronounced dead on arrival, Mageau survived being shot in the face, neck and chest.
On September 27, 1969, Bryan Calvin Hartnell, 20, and Cecelia Ann Shepard, 22, were having a picnic at Lake Berryessa in Napa County when they were approached by a hooded man who bound and stabbed them. Hartnell survived eight stab wounds to his back, but Shepard died two days later.
On October 11, 1969, cab driver Paul Lee Stine, 29, picked up a passenger and drove him to Presidio Heights – where he was shot in the back of the head and robbed. The killer also ripped part of Stine’s shirt, which he later sent with a letter to a local newspaper.
Four other victims and one other escapee have been connected to the Zodiac Killer, but none have been confirmed.