Zodiac Killer’s victims, letters and the code

The serial killer claimed to have murdered 37 individuals in total but investigators have only confirmed seven victims, two of whom survived the attempt. He primarily targeted young couples but had also murdered a male cab driver once.
On November 8, 1969, the killer sent a 340 word cryptogram which was recently solved after 51 years on December 5, 2020.(AP)
On November 8, 1969, the killer sent a 340 word cryptogram which was recently solved after 51 years on December 5, 2020.(AP)
Updated on Dec 12, 2020 07:46 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | Byhindustantimes.com| Edited by Nilavro Ghosh

After 51 years, a team of mathematicians have finally cracked a cipher sent by the infamous serial killer who called himself the Zodiac. The Zodiac killer’s identity still remains unknown.

The serial killer claimed to have murdered 37 individuals in total but investigators have only confirmed seven victims, two of whom survived the attempt. He primarily targeted young couples but had also murdered a cab driver once.

The Zodiac killer operated in northern California, USA, from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. His five confirmed murders were committed between December 1968 and October 1969.

Confirmed murders

Lake Herman Road murders: The Zodiac killer’s first victims were a high school couple, Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on December 20, 1968. The two were on their first date and had driven out to Lake Herman Road, just within Benicia City limits, where they had parked their car. According to reports, the killer had pulled up his car beside the couple’s, before shooting Faraday in the head and Jensen five times in the back as she fled.

Blue Rock Springs murder: On July 4, 1969, Darlene Ferrin and Michael Mageau had pulled up at Blue Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, 6.4 km from the Lake Herman Road murder site. A car had pulled up beside theirs, only to drive off and come back within 10 minutes. The driver got out of the car with a flashlight and a gun before flashing the light at the couple and shooting them five times. While returning to his car, he heard Mageau moaning and shot him two more times.

Lake Berryessa murder: This was the first incident where one of the victims had survived. Pacific Union College students Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard had gone to Lake Beryessa in Napa County on September 27, 1969. A man had approached them with a gun, wearing a black hood over his head and sunglasses. The man claimed to be an escaped convict and demanded a car to escape to Mexico. He ordered Shepard to tie Hartnell up before tying her up himself. On discovering that Hartnell was loosely tied, he stabbed the couple, Hartnell six times, and Shepard 10, before drawing his patented cross-circle symbol on Hartnell’s car, and writing beneath it: “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27–69–6:30/by knife.” He then phoned the Napa County Sheriff’s office from a payphone, reporting the crimes and confessing to them before escaping the scene. Shepard died two days after being taken to the hospital while Hartnell survived.

Presidio Heights murder: On October 11, 1969, the killer entered a cab driven by Paul Stine in San Farncisco and requested to go to Washington and Maple Streets in Presidio Heights. When Stine drove past Maple Street, he was shot in the head. The killer took his wallet and keys and tore away part of his bloodstained shirt. Three teenagers were witnessing the incident as it unfolded and called the police. Patrol officers responded to the call and even saw him, but he escaped.

Letters from the Zodiac Killer

Three letters written by the Zodiac killer were received on August 1,1969 at the Vallejo Times Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. The killer had taken credit for the Lake Herman Road and Blue Rock Springs murders in them and each letter contained one-third of a 408-symbol cryptogram in which the killer claimed to have revealed his identity.

On October 14, 1969, the San Francisco Chronicle received another letter from the killer along with part of Paul Stine’s shirt as proof that he was the killer.

On November 8, 1969, the killer sent a 340 word cryptogram which was recently solved after 51 years on December 5, 2020.

On November 9, 1969, the killer sent a seven-page letter describing how he was stopped by two policemen and had even spoken to them after committing the Paul Stine murder.

On December 20, 1969, a year after the lake Herman Road murders, the Zodiac mailed a letter to lawyer Melvin Belli with another part of Paul Stine’s shirt, he said that he wanted help.

The solved letter

A team of codebreakers, David Oranchak, Sam Blake and Jarl Van Eycke, cracked the 340 word cryptogram on December 5 which the killer had sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on Novermber 8, 1969. The letter read: “ 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.”

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