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Has the Code of The Zodiac Killer Been Cracked?
July 24, 2011 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Corey Starliper of Tewksbury, Massachusetts believes he has solved the last Zodiac serial killer cipher and has identified the person who terrorized northern California in the late '60s. "Zodiac sent encrypted communication to area newspapers, taking credit for the killings and warning of more to come ..." His most famous: a 340-character cipher, "was mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, according to zodiackillerfacts.com. To this day, the cipher has not been completely cracked. Starliper, however, believes he has found the solution to that code."

"The code identifies 'Leigh Allen' as the killer, which Starliper says refers to Arthur Leigh Allen. Allen was a prime suspect at one point in the investigation, but was never arrested. He died at age 58 in 1992. The following is the full text of the 340-character code that Starliper claims to have deciphered"*:
KILL/SLF/DR/HELP/ME/KILL/MYSELF/GAS/CHAMBER/AEIOUR/DAY
S/QUESTIONSABLE/EVERYY/WAKING/MOMENT/IM/ALIVE/MY/PR
IDE/LOST/I/CANT/GO/ON/LIVING/IN/THIS/WAY/KILLING/PEOPLE/I/
HAV/KILLD/SO/MANY/PEOPLE/CANT/HELP/MYSELF/IM/SO/AN
GRY/I/COULD/DO/MY/THING/IM/ALONE/IN/THIS/WORLD/MY/W
HOLE/LIFE/FUL/O/LIES/IM/UNABLE/TO/STOP/BY/THE/TIME/YOU
/SOLVE/THIS/I/WILL/HAV/KILLD/ELEVEN/PEOPLE/PLEASE/HELP/
ME/STOP/KILLING/PEOPLE/PLEASE/MY/NAME/IS/LEIGH/ALLEN
posted by ericb (56 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 


After the decryption of the first code, Zodiac sent many more communications to law enforcement and the media, including his most famous: a 340-character cipher... Starliper believed that the “340” of the 340 cipher was significant, and had some tie-in with the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was then that he found out that 340 is the area code for a portion of the U.S. Virgin Islands — not an insignificant connection.

Nice try, but it looks like the 340 area code wasn't in use until 1997. Didn't come up with this on my own, I read about it from a comment on a site which reposted the article in the first link.
posted by phyrewerx at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2011 [15 favorites]


For the first few lines, the pattern remained constant, but it changed beyond that. He said he was able to figure out the non-patterned series that by finding “similarities in the numerical sequence.”

If his method of finding similarities is anything like his quasi-numerological and decidedly dodgy way of getting to the area code, this sounds highly dubious.

He even sent the code to a cryptographer, who, after looking over the solution, said that it appeared “not valid,” according to Starliper.

Right. I think it's safe to assume, especially in the absence of a clear description of the deciphering method, that it is indeed not valid.
posted by iotic at 10:31 AM on July 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


“It was a high. One of the best highs I had ever experienced was cracking something that nobody else had cracked in over 40 years.”

Anyone else got a hankerin' for some crack?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anybody know exactly what the cipher he "found" was? This smells dubious.
posted by edheil at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2011


Would be nice if we could see if the ciphertext that the dude came up with is consistent with his proposed cipher.

Also let's not forget that for any ciphertext it's possible to pick an encryption method that will give you back any text you like.
posted by silby at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I wonder if anyone has sent people a string of random characters and told them it was a code?
posted by JHarris at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anybody know exactly what the cipher he "found" was?

Well, reading the first link in the FPP gives these details:
This is where it gets even creepier. 3+4+0=7. Right. So you get 7+0=7. 707...707 are the area codes for Vallejo, Napa, and Solano. So I figured, why not start this with Caesar code using 3,4.”

Caesar code is a substitution type cipher where an encoder has “simply replaced each letter in a message with the letter that is three places further down the alphabet,” according to http://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/caesar.html.

This doesn’t mean the 340 is such an easy task to decode, considering the fact that the original 340 cipher is full of symbols: >, +, and ▲ being just a few of the signs found in the code. To combat this problem, Starliper extracted symbols and changed them to letters they could correspond with. For example, a ^ or < symbol could be interpreted as inverted or sideways “V”s.

“I first went in there and I did that,” he said. After everything symbolic had been interpreted alphabetically, he started applying reverse Caesar shifts. He found the first two letters to be “K” and “I”.
Were you looking for more details than that?
posted by hippybear at 10:41 AM on July 24, 2011


JHarris: Have you ever read the book Cryptonomicon by Neil Stephenson?
posted by Canageek at 10:41 AM on July 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Regardless of the missing ciphering method, his "full text" seems incredibly fake. It's exactly what someone would make up as the missing Zodiac message. The first one, if you'll recall, was totally over-the-top balls-out crazy, and this one just isn't.
posted by Rinku at 10:42 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


That he said "Any code created by man can be cracked by man" makes me think he doesn't really know much about cryptography. A one-time pad is provably uncrackable.
posted by Hither at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I deciphered that is said, "Jesus is in your toaster." I sent it to a cryptographer, who, after looking over the solution, said that it appeared “not valid," but it's just as valid as Starliper's!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:57 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you use a substitution cipher that you then claim changes throughout the message, you can make the plaintext basically whatever you want and have it 'work', which appears to be what this guy did.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2011 [17 favorites]


Yeah, this is flat out silly.
posted by dobbs at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok assuming that for some reason 3+4+0 makes some kinda of sense, how you derive 7+0=7 having meaning is just ridiculous.
posted by MrLint at 11:39 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The part I'm not buying, having read the article and examined the accompanying photo, is the part about forgetting to eat. rimshot
posted by maxwelton at 11:43 AM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Via BoingBoing yesterday, who mention that all the info in the 'solved' cypher is in the public record. Discussion of confirmation bias in the comments there.
posted by maryr at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I deciphered that is said, "Jesus is in your toaster." I sent it to a cryptographer, who, after looking over the solution, said that it appeared “not valid,"

Plus, that's invalidated by the fact that Jesus is actually in my Belgian waffle maker.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy put together a much better argument that the Unabomber was The Zodiac Killer, but the forum host, the guy in the "This is Your Brain in Overdrive" link, ripped him a new one concluding the same thing as Dr.Enormous, that you can pretty much make any name work if you rearrange the letters. His theory is a fascinating read nonetheless.
posted by wherever, whatever at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Has the Code of The Zodiac Killer Been Cracked?

Noop!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:15 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe it wasn't a code.

Maybe the guy was just a psycho killer who liked messing with people.

Seems logical to me.

You start a conversation you can't even finish it.
You're talkin' a lot, but you're not sayin' anything.
When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed.
Say something once, why say it again?

Psycho Killer,
Qu'est-ce que c'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu'est-ce que c'est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

posted by Malice at 12:35 PM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The last line of the code, from the BoingBoing link image, pretty clearly includes the word "Zodiac" (or, rather, "Zo-delta-aik"). The chance that that section of the code would translate to part of "my name is leigh allen" seems truly rather unlikely.

It seems to me that the best explanation for why a code like this has not been conclusively cracked despite decades of the best experts' best efforts is that the code is, simply put, mostly nonsense. (With a few more obviously things like the "Zodaik" in the last line.)

But I know nothing about ciphers, so meh.
posted by lewedswiver at 12:36 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Leigh paused at his typewriter, reading over his work. He lipped a fresh cigarette between dry lips and reached for his lighter with a shaking hand.

"No," he mumbled around the cig. "Isn't right yet. Something's missing."

He put the lighter down, leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes. The confession wasn't enough. It lacked something. A mandate. A thesis.

Ciphertext marched through the dark behind his eyelids. Yes. That was it. He reached out for the typewriter and encoded the final touch. Reaching again for the lighter, his hand steady at last, he lit his cigarette and took a deep, satisfying drag as he reviewed the post-script, eyes taking in code but mind reading cleartext:

"BE/SUR/TO/DRNK/YOUR/OVLTIN"
posted by cortex at 12:38 PM on July 24, 2011 [59 favorites]


I've never seen the original 408-character cypher that was supposedly cracked by a pair of history teachers - the one that supposedly begins "I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN" - but this ridiculous story involving the Virgin Islands makes me doubt that even the earlier "solution" was valid in any way. Can anyone point to a description of how it was confirmed?
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on July 24, 2011


Pretty sure it's explained in Robert Graysmith's book, koeselitz.
posted by hermitosis at 3:07 PM on July 24, 2011


EVERYSHAVER/NOWCANSNORE/SIXMOREMINUTES/THANBEFORE/BURMA-SHAVE
posted by kirkaracha at 3:23 PM on July 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


Perhaps he can send the cipher to Surfer Guy and we can get a good read on his technique.

There's a reason it hasn't been cracked in 40 years, and random guesses about non-existent area codes seem to be an unlikely key, to wax very, very charitably. Some very competent folks have looked at it.

My vote, FWIW, is "No. It still hasn't been cracked."


(This story sounds like a direct application of F3... (Flannigan's Finagling Factor). F3 is that quantity which when added to, subtracted from, multiplied or divided by the answer we got gives us the answer we want to get. I have used it many times before successfully!)
posted by FauxScot at 4:02 PM on July 24, 2011


Wasn't there a deleted Ask Metafilter thread where someone said they had discovered who the Zodiac Killer was and it was deleted as a very unwise thing to post?
posted by dunkadunc at 4:14 PM on July 24, 2011


When are people going to finally realize there isn't anything romantic or particularly complex about "psycho-killers"--they're basically just humanity's most repugnant and (despite their delusions of grandiosity) ultimately pathetic form of troll.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is this the same person who posted a couple AMAs on Reddit talking about how he was taking vacation time to set up a program to crack the code?
posted by Judith Butlerian Jihad at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everything I've ever read about Arthur Allen suggests that he just liked screwing with the cops and enjoyed dropping false hints that he was the Zodiac Killer.

Graysmith's struggle to pin the crime on Allen seems more the product of Graysmith's ego than the actual evidence.
posted by SPrintF at 4:38 PM on July 24, 2011


This guy died in 1992. There have been no murders attributed to the Zodiac killer since he died. None of the cops in any jurisdiction want anything to do with talking to Starliper. I have cracked the code. The cops all think Allen was the killer too and he is dead so leave me alone.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:31 PM on July 24, 2011


dunkadunc: "Wasn't there a deleted Ask Metafilter thread where someone said they had discovered who the Zodiac Killer was and it was deleted as a very unwise thing to post?"

There is absolutely no evidence that Nicole Kidman's ex-husband's orthodontist is the Zodiac Killer.
posted by jack_mo at 5:35 PM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Noop!"

Worst. Encryption algorithm. Ever.
posted by Riki tiki at 6:11 PM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Always excited to read any new theories or developments in the Zodiac case. The cryptography angle is something beyond my grasp, but my doubts are high because I don't believe Arthur Leigh Allen was Z. Leigh Allen was a sad pedophile nobody who kept dead squirrels in his freezer and probably liked the attention from the cops.

Leigh Allen's thumb print didn't match the bloody thumb print left on Paul Stine's cab. No known example Allen's handwriting matched Zodiac's letters. And, most crucially, DNA collected from the saliva on the back of the stamps Z sent police and the Chronicle did not match Allen's DNA sample.

The main evidence against Allen was brought by his former friend, Don Cheney. Cheney claimed that Allen told him he would one day hunt people with a gun with a pen light taped to the barrel and call himself the Zodiac. The problem is that Cheney never brought this evidence to police until years after the Z killings were widely known. There is some circumstantial evidence that Cheney was trying to get revenge on Allen because Allen may have inappropriately touched one of Cheney's kids.

I am pretty sure we will never know who Z was, with any degree of certainty.
posted by meadowlark lime at 6:16 PM on July 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


"When are people going to finally realize there isn't anything romantic or particularly complex about "psycho-killers"--they're basically just humanity's most repugnant and (despite their delusions of grandiosity) ultimately pathetic form of troll."

When lawyers stop defending known meth chemists? Trying to rationalize why people shouldn't be intrigued is a pretty misguided effort. Popular crime captures the imagination, especially with speculation factor, just look at the success of gangster/mafia films....
posted by dimejubes at 6:34 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


GET/UP/DEATH/DEATH/BRUSH/TEETH/DEATH/DEATH/GRAB/DONUT/DEATH/DEATH/DEATH/DEATH/LUNCH/DEATH/DEATH/DEATH/BATHROOM/DEATH/DEATH/LIGHT/SHOPPING/DEATH/DEATH/DEATH/CUP/OF/TEA
posted by markkraft at 6:36 PM on July 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


"When are people going to finally realize there isn't anything romantic or particularly complex about "psycho-killers"

Hey, don't blame us.

If they stopped with the grizzly murders, then the rest of us would stop what we're doing and find something else to masturbate to.
posted by markkraft at 6:38 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


I/HAV/EATN/PLUMS/IN/ICEBOX
YOU/WERE/SAVNG/BREAKFST
FORGIVE/DELICIOUS/SWEET/COLD
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:10 PM on July 24, 2011 [31 favorites]


I found this handwriting comparison between Kaczynski and Zodiac awfully compelling.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:09 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


I/HAV/EATN/PLUMS SQUIRLS/IN/ICEBOX
YOU/WERE/SAVNG/BREAKFST
FORGIVE/DELICIOUS/SWEET/COLD
....................................

also... Grizzly murder.
posted by taz at 8:16 PM on July 24, 2011


When are people going to finally realize there isn't anything romantic or particularly complex about "psycho-killers"--they're basically just humanity's most repugnant and (despite their delusions of grandiosity) ultimately pathetic form of troll.

When they stop making compelling villains for films and identification figures for trouble youth.

Can Cracked crack the Zodiac case? I'd put my money on David Wong at least making a dent...

This whole thing reminds me of a case in LA Noire which is both pointless and, I suppose, kinda tasteless.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:26 PM on July 24, 2011


The word is grisly, not grizzly. Grizzly bears may occasionally do grisly things, but they are so named because of the colour of their fur.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:08 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


And as a rule, grisly grizzly bears make for better eating than gristly grizzly bears.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:49 PM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


But gristly grizzly bears are less likely to make a grisly eating of you. Rather, they are jolly and huggable, and will hardly tear your face off at all.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:54 PM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


But that's begging the question, Lovecraft in Brooklyn (in the old school, academic sense of that phrase).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 PM on July 24, 2011


WORK IT/MAKE IT/DO IT/MAKES US
HARDER/BETTER/FASTER/STRONGER
posted by Mikey-San at 11:05 PM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


3+4+0=7. Right. So you get 7+0=7. 707...707 are the area codes for Vallejo, Napa, and Solano. So I figured, why not start this with Caesar code using 3,4

This is pretty much textbook Insane Troll Logic.
posted by unigolyn at 11:30 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


This doesn’t mean the 340 is such an easy task to decode, considering the fact that the original 340 cipher is full of symbols: >, +, and ▲

The Zodiac Killer's true identity is... WITCH HOUSE
posted by FatherDagon at 12:24 AM on July 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought the Kaczinski and Zodiac fingerprints didn't match? That's what it says at the site in the FPP, which I've generally found accurate the rest of the time.

It's pretty rare actually, to see a site focused on a serial killer which is more interested in the facts than pushing a specific theory. The author of zodiackillerfacts.com believes that we may never find out the Zodiac's identity, because the evidence is incomplete and many of the key players are elderly or dead by now. It's a refreshing change from people claiming they KNOW the TRUE SECRET, etc etc. I'd give anything to overhaul his site navigation though :)
posted by harriet vane at 12:28 AM on July 25, 2011


I always found the monster of Florence more intriguing.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 5:17 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


This Starliper guy also made another claim that he had also solved the famous Beale ciphers. The guy sounds like a crank to me.
posted by jonp72 at 10:16 AM on July 25, 2011


Someone get him to work on The Voynich Manuscript - that should keep him busy.
posted by iotic at 10:24 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


7AM/WAKING/IN/THE/MORNING
GOTTA/BE/FRESH/GOTTA/GO/DOWNSTAIRS
GOTTA/HAVE/MY/BOWL/GOTTA/HAVE/CEREAL
SEEIN/EVERYTHING/THE/TIME/IS/GOIN
TICKIN/ON/AND/ON/EVERYBODYS/RUSHIN
GOTTA/GET/DOWN/TO/THE/BUS/STOP
GOTTA/CATCH/MY/BUS/I/SEE/MY/FRIENDS/
KICKIN/IN/THE/FRONT/SEAT
SITTIN/IN/THE/BACK/SEAT
GOTTA/MAKE/MY/MIND/UP
WHICH/SEAT/CAN/I/TAKE?
ITS/FRIDAY/FRIDAY
GOTTA/GET/DOWN/ON/FRIDAY
EVERYBODYS/LOOKIN/FORWARD/TO/THE/WEEKEND/WEEKEND
YESTERDAY/WAS/THURSDAY/THURSDAY
TODAY/IS/FRIDAY/FRIDAY/
WE/SO/EXCITED
WE/GONNA/HAVE/A/BALL/TODAY
TOMORROW/IS/SATURDAY
AND/SUNDAY/COMES/AFTERWARDS
I/DONT/WANT/THIS/WEEKEND/TO/END
posted by artlung at 11:53 AM on July 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've got to say: If I ever commit a really awesome crime, or do something I'm not allowed to talk about for legal reasons I am totally going to leave a letter in a bank or with a lawyer to be opened on my death that tells the whole story.

Course, in my case it is more likely to be 'check out this awesome molecule I made, that company X won't let me talk about as they might make a drug out of it in 30 years.' then 'I helped plan the invasion of Mexico in 2017, bahahahaha'
posted by Canageek at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2011


Are there any theories re: Zodiac = BTK? Their MOs are pretty similar, and the timeline matches up pretty neatly.

(I guess being in the military at the time is a pretty good alibi, though.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:49 PM on July 25, 2011


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