The final Zodiac Killer cipher has been cracked after more than 50 years
More than 50 years after the so-called Zodiac Killer first began terrorizing the streets of Northern California, a code-breaking team is believed to have finally cracked one of the killer’s mysterious coded messages sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969.
Dubbed the “340 cipher,” the message was unraveled by a trio of code breakers — David Oranchak, a software developer in Virginia, Jarl Van Eycke, a Belgian computer programmer, and Sam Blake, an Australian mathematician.
Because I now have enough slaves to work for me where everyone else has nothing when they reach paradice so they are afraid of death
I am not afraid because I know that my new life will be an easy one in paradice death.”
The TV show the message refers to is “The Jim Dunbar Show,” a Bay Area television talk show. The cipher was sent two weeks after a person claiming to be the Zodiac Killer called into the show.
“It was incredible. It was a big shock, I never really thought we’d find anything because I had grown so used to failure,” Oranchak, who’s been working on solving the killer’s messages since 2006, told CNN.
“When I first started, I used to get excited when I would see some words come through — they were like false positives, phantoms. I had grown used to that. It was a long shot — we didn’t even really know if there was a message,” he said.
The trio took their findings to the FBI a week ago, but didn’t reveal their breakthrough until the FBI’s confirmed cleared by the authorities, they said.
The Zodiac Killer is most known for leaving a trail of five unsolved murders between 1968 and 1969. He was never caught, but he gained notoriety by writing letters to police and local media up until 1974, sometimes in code, boasting of the killings.
Bloody bits of clothing were included with his letters as proof of his actions. He claims he killed as many as 37 people.
The FBI said in a statement that the case remains an ongoing investigation for the bureau’s San Francisco office and its local law enforcement partners.
“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,” the statement read.
The San Francisco Police Department has also been made aware of the solved cipher, and said the information has been sent to the department’s cold case homicide investigators.
Oranchak detailed the process for cracking the cipher on his website and in a YouTube video, where he used a specifically developed decryption software and a bit of luck to finally make the connection. The team used a unique program to sift through 650,000 variations of the message. In one, a couple of words appeared.
“We got really lucky and found one that had part of the answer, but it wasn’t obvious,” Oranchak said, explaining that they then had to handpick their way through to decipher the rest of the message.
The only disappointing part, Oranchak said, is that the missive contained no personally identifying information.
Oranchak holds out no hope for solving the two remaining ciphers. He described the mission as “almost hopeless,” as both are very short, with thousands of different names and phrases that could fit.
An international team of three people cracked the cipher to reveal its chilling message.
SAN FRANCISCO, California — After more than 50 years, the Zodiac Killer’s infamous cipher has been cracked by an international team of code breakers.
The code was broken by Australian software engineer Sam Blake, American cryptographer David Oranchak and Belgian software engineer Jarl Van, NBC reports.
The 340-character cipher was sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969 as the Zodiac Killer, named so because many of his messages had astrological symbols and references, terrorized northern California. The still-unknown Zodiac Killer murdered five people and injured two others. However, he claimed to have killed more than 30 people.
In total, the Zodiac Killer sent four ciphers, and the 340-character one that was solved most recently was the last of the four that needed translating.
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 ALL THE SOONER BECAUSE I NOW HAVE ENOUGH SLAVES TO WORK FOR ME WHERE EVERYONE ELSE HAS NOTHING WHEN THEY REACH PARADICE SO THEY ARE AFRAID OF DEATH I AM NOT AFRAID BECAUSE I KNOW THAT MY NEW LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH
The Zodiac Killer references not being the person on the TV show because days before, someone claiming to be him had called into a television talk show and spoke to Melvin Belli. This famous incident was recreated in the 2007 movie “Zodiac” starring Robert Downey Jr.
Anger over federal executions continued to grow Friday after two Black men died by lethal injection within nearly 24 hours.
Bernard’s case became a high-profile clemency campaign that advocates say highlights major issues within the justice system. The cases were among the last that were quickly scheduled by the Trump administration. Bernard and Bourgeois were two of four Black men scheduled to die by lethal injection during the Trump administration’s final days in the office.
Bourgeois was the 10th person to be executed since Attorney General William Barr announced in July 2019 the revival of capital punishment for federal death row inmates — a decision that has been fraught with controversy.
“The Department intended to resume executions in December 2019, however due to litigation, the process was suspended,” a department spokeswoman told CNN Friday night. “Once the Supreme Court ruled in favor of resuming executions, the Department has proceeded each month — with the exception of October — since July 2020.”
Although six White men were executed over the summer, critics say that death sentences have disproportionally affected people of color for decades. Five Black men, including Bourgeois and Bernard, have been scheduled to die since Election Day. Bernard’s co-defendant Christopher Vailva, who was Black, was executed in September.
On Friday morning, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “Brandon Bernard should be alive today. We must end all federal executions and abolish the death penalty. In a world of incredible violence, the state should not be involved in premeditated murder.”
Bernard was one of five gang members convicted in Texas of killing Stacie and Todd Bagley — who were youth ministers — in 1999.
Although Bernard apologized for his role in the crime before he died on Thursday night, it wasn’t until 2018, when his legal team learned that the trial prosecutor withheld information from the defense. The alleged violation was the basis of Bernard’s appeals and changed the minds of five out of the nine living jurors who sentenced him to death, according to court documents.
“A case like Brandon Bernard’s shows that our criminal legal system often prioritizes finality over fairness, even when there are deeply troubling legal issues that have never been addressed by the courts and in spite of widespread calls for clemency,” Kristin Houle Cuellar, executive director of Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told CNN on Friday.
Texas has consistently lead the country with the most executions and has conducted 570 since 1976.
Since 2015, more than 70% of death sentences in Texas have been imposed on people of color in Texas, according to the nonprofit organization, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Of the 210 Texas death row inmates in Texas: 93 are Black, 57 are White, 54 are Hispanic and six identify as other, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Case attracted national attention
Bernard, 40, was the youngest person in the United States in nearly 70 years to be executed by the federal government for a crime committed when he was a teenager. He was also the ninth of 13 federal death row inmates Barr requested the Bureau of Prisons to schedule to die before Inauguration Day — January 20.
“Brandon’s execution is a stain on America’s criminal justice system. But I pray that even in his death, Brandon will advance his commitment to helping others by moving us closer to a time when this country does not pointlessly and maliciously kill young Black men who pose no threat to anyone,” his attorney, Robert C. Owen, said.
Kim Kardashian West and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were among the high-profile figures who made last-minute requests to President Trump to commute Bernard’s sentence to life in prison.
An 11th-hour attempt by Alan Dershowitz and Ken Starr — high-powered defense attorneys who also represented Trump — to join Bernard’s legal defense, delayed the proceedings for three hours, but did not sway the Supreme Court to grant a request to delay the execution for two weeks.
Since executions were reintroduced in the United States in 1977, nearly 300 Black defendants have been executed for the murder of a White victim, while only 21 White defendants have been executed for the murder of a Black victim, according to a Death Penalty Information Center report released in September. The report examined the historical context of how capital punishment has been a tool for authority over Black people.
There are currently 53 people on federal death row: 23 Black men, 21 White men, seven Latino men, one Asian man and one White woman, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Since 1973, there have been 172 men and women who were sentenced to death and later found to be wrongfully convicted, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Of those exonerees are 89 Black men, 63 White men, 15 Latino men, one Native American man, two other men of another race as well as one Black woman and one White woman.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to abolish the federal death penalty and will give incentives to states to steer them away from seeking death sentences. While no federal death row inmate has been wrongfully convicted, Biden’s initiative against the death penalty is due in part to the amount of wrongfully convicted people who have been given the sentence, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
Until Biden’s swearing in, there are three more federal death row inmates pending execution. They are two Black men, Corey Johnson and Dustin Higgs, and Lisa Montgomery, who is the only woman scheduled to be executed by the US government in nearly 70 years.
With Bourgeois’ execution, Trump is now tied with President Ulysses S. Grant (1873–1876) for the fourth most federal executions in a single year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Bourgeois, 56, was sentenced to death in 2004 for torturing and killing his 2-year-old daughter in Texas.
After Bourgeois’ execution Friday, anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean tweeted, “The SCOTUS voted to allow the federal government to execute Alfred Bourgeois despite the fact that he is intellectually disabled with an IQ measured between 70–75.”
“State sanctioned murder is not justice,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said Thursday during a virtual discussion hosted by The Appeal calling for support for Bernard. “For Donald Trump … the willful criminality to allow a pandemic to rage out of control that has disproportionately impacted the most marginalized and now the cruelty that we first came to know of him in calling for lynching of … young Black men. Death and cruelty will be his legacy.”