The 340-cipher is known by this name simply because it has 340 characters.
The Zodiac Killer terrorized the streets of Northern California during the 1960s. Now, 51 years later, a team has successfully cracked a code that he sent The San Francisco Chronicle in 1969.
According to CNN, the code dubbed as the "340 cipher," was decoded 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.
After the cipher was decoded, it revealed the following message:
"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 message was sent without punctuations with the word "paradise" misspelled. The show mentioned in the message was The Jim Dunbar Show, a Bay Area television talk show, where just two weeks after the cipher was sent, a man called up claiming to be the Zodiac Killer.
The infamous killer, suspected to be a man, killed five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. All three attacks were targeted at couples with the first two victims being high school students, reported Wired. In the other two attacks, the men survived, but the women couldn't. A San Francisco cab driver was his last victim. During all these killings, the killer sent letters to media houses boasting about the slayings. To prove it was him, he included unreleased details from the crime scene.
After the murders of the first three victims, the Zodiac Killer sent three letters to Bay Area newspapers with the threat that he would kill again if the letters weren't published to the T. Each letter included one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram which he said would reveal his identity. A couple in Salinas, California, cracked the cipher a week after it was published in which it was revealed that he was collecting slaves for the afterlife. Also, he mentioned that he wouldn't disclose his identity as it would interfere with his plans.
Over 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 https://t.co/1QjBv4B2xQ— CNN (@CNN) December 12, 2020
The killer once again sent a letter to The San Francisco Chronicle in November 1969 with a cryptogram known as the Z-340, after killing his last two victims. The cipher was named 340 because it had 340 characters in it. Even though the cryptographers, including the FBI, have been trying to crack the code ever since, it is only now that the puzzle could be finally solved.
Gushing about their achievement, Oranchak, who's been working on solving the killer's messages since 2006, told CNN, "It was incredible. It was a big shock, I never really thought we'd find anything because I had grown so used to failure. 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."
The trio then took their findings to the FBI. In a statement released on December 12 on Twitter, the FBI said that since the case is still an ongoing investigation for the bureau's San Francisco office and its local law enforcement partners, "out of respect for the victims and their families, we will not be providing further comment at this time." The San Francisco Police Department has also been made aware of the cipher being solved.
The process for cracking the cipher has been detailed by Oranchak on his website dedicated to the Zodiac Killer. In the video that has been shared on Youtube, the man reveals that a specifically developed decryption software and some luck led them to the discovery. A unique program was used to go through 650,000 variations of the message.
Elaborating about how the team had to handpick their way through, to decipher the rest of the message, Oranchak said, "We got really lucky and found one that had part of the answer, but it wasn't obvious." However, the message didn't have any personally-identifying information.
The Zodiac Killer's 340-character cipher was recently solved by a trio of amatuer codebreakers, including software developer David Oranchak. He says he jumped out of his chair when he first saw the partial message: https://t.co/Wbu0eKP9W0— KCRW (@kcrw) December 16, 2020
The two remaining ciphers are very short with thousands of different names and phrases that could fit and so Oranchak calls decoding the two "almost hopeless."