How An Aussie Used His Spare Time In Lockdown To Solve The Zodiac Killer’s Infamous Cipher
The famous serial killer was not so killer at spelling.
What did you get up to in quarantine? Did you binge some choice content? Zoom your pals? Take up being a plant mum? Well, a mathematician from Melbourne and a small team of volunteer codebreakers from around the world used their time inside to solve a 51-year-old cipher left by the infamous Zodiac Killer.
The Zodiac Killer is one of the world’s most infamous and uncaught serial killers. When they were active, they were officially tied to the murder of five people. Two of the Zodiac’s other victims escaped, but its believed the Zodiac Killer may be responsible for over 30 murders.
— FBI SanFrancisco (@FBISanFrancisco) December 11, 2020
Between 1968 and 1970, the Zodiac Killer sent a series of taunting letters to the San Francisco Chronicle. In the letters, he claimed to have killed 37 people. Some were written in code and deciphered within days, such as the one sent in 1969 with 408 characters. But one cipher, infamously known as the ‘340 cipher,’ owing to its number of symbols, had eluded solving for over half a century…until this year.
— Chris Lowes (@ChrisLowes83) December 11, 2020
Melbourne applied mathematician, Dr Samuel Blake, had an interest in the Zodiac Killer’s ciphers since he saw the 2007 film, Zodiac, starring Robert Downey Junior. During quarantine and lockdown this year, Dr Blake began viewing videos published by David Oranchak on his youtube channel. Oranchak is an amateur cryptologist whose been working on the Zodiac’s cipher for 14 years.
In his videos, Oranchak discussed a potential statistical analysis of the 340 cipher. Dr Blake’s interest was peaked, and the two began to collaborate with Belgian programmer Jarl Van Eycke to crack the cipher over the past year. The trio of amateur codebreakers worked on the 340 cipher using Van Eycke’s code-breaking computer program and over 650,000 variations written by Dr Blake.
The message, dubbed ‘340 cipher’ for it’s 340 characters, was decoded by American software developer David Oranchak, Belgian computer programmer Jarl Van Eycke, and Australian mathematician Sam Black.#ZodiacKiller pic.twitter.com/pV3gFR81QK
— Next Shot (@NextShotIO) December 12, 2020
Earlier this month, they solved it. Once they had the okay from the FBI to release the info, Oranchak posted the finding in a video to his youtube channel.
Before you ask, no. The now coded cipher does not reveal the identity of the Zodiac Killer. Chillingly, it reads, “I hope you are having lots of fun trying to catch me.” More chilling? The Killer’s less than killer command with spelling, spelling paradise with a ‘c’. Either way, the cracking of the 340 ciphers is the first major public breakthrough in the serial killer’s case in decades.
— reilly (@OL1VEG4RDENSOUP) December 12, 2020
I can only speak for myself here, but a film about three amateur codebreakers from 3 different countries coming together during a global pandemic to solve a 51-year-old cipher sent by one of the world’s most notorious uncaught killers? Now, that’s the kind of film about 2020 I want to see.