Zodiac. The name means more than just astrology and birth signs to any Crime fan. Zodiac was the enigmatic name of a serial killer that managed to hold a large portion of northern California in collective terror as he killed at what appeared to be his leisure.
If you believe all the letters sent to the newspapers of the San Francisco area are truly Zodiac’s, then there were 37 victims. However, police only officially confirm seven victims. It’s hard to pin down what makes the killer so legendary, but a large portion of it is that the Zodiac Killer managed to taunt police while providing numerous letters and cryptograms, promising that by decoding them, police would be able to identify who he was. To this day, only one has been ackowledged by the Zodiac Killer to have been decoded correctly.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the Zodiac Killer managed to evade police capture while killing seven men and women between 16 and 29, not counting the other kills that where claimed in letters to the police but have yet to have been confirmed as victims.
On August 1, 1969, a letter, divided into three parts, was sent to the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner. While nearly identical in content, each letter included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram. On August 7th, another letter was delivered to the San Francisco Examiner, and this letter confirmed that the previous letters were indeed from the the person who had killed two people and named himself “Zodiac”.
On August 8th, Donald and Bettye Harden claimed to have decoded the cryptogram and said that no name appeared in the message, despite claims that it was by Zodiac. Zodiac responded to this decryption, however, which led those that were involved with the case to belive it was an accurate translation.
The killings and letters continued until about 1974, with the killer thowing the police other cryptograms and puzzles in his letters to the newspaper. For about 40 years, these subsequent letters have failed to be decoded, but the times they are a-changin’.
One of the more famous letters to the San Francisco Chronicle included a 340-character cipher. It is this cipher that Corey Starliper of Tewksbury, Massachusetts claims finally to have solved.
Corey became interested in the Zodiac killings after reading Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac. (Graysmith was working at the the San Francisco Chronicle at the time of the killings.) Starliper claims that the key to the cracking Zodiac’s code is an instance where the killer mentions the U.S. Virgin Islands almost arbitrarily. When this is combined with the number “340”, which, as Starliper points out, is an area code used in the Virgin Islands, as well as the number of characters in the cipher, the message begins to come together. Cory took the 3 and 4, added them to get 7, and then found that “707” happens to be the area code for the region of California where the Zodiac killer operated.
Using the similarity of the area codes as his key argument, Starliper claims that the solution is to use the 3 and 4 as keys in a Caesar code (a somewhat simple letter substitution method that was used by Julius Caesar), and by using similar letters to translate the symbols used by Zodiac in other instances. (For example, Starliper uses “v” for ^ or >.) In this way, Starliper determined that the decoded cipher read as:
Leigh Allen was the area police’s primary suspect for a long time, being the only suspect to be officially served a search warrant by authorities, but has yet to be confirmed as the killer through forensic evidence.
I’m sure there is a mandantory grain of salt which should be included when reading Mr. Starliper’s conclusions, but it is interesting none the less. What do you think about the Zodiac killer possibly being identified after all this time?
(For the full story on Corey Starliper go to ForestCity Patch.)