Solution claimed to Zodiac's last code

PENNS340CIPHER.png

A hobbyist codebreaker believes he's cracked the Zodiac killer's last encoded message (above). It is, he claims, a Caesar cipher with some substitution stuff, though it's not really clear from the article. His solution identifies Arthur Leigh Allen as the killer:

KILLSLFDRHELPMEKI
LLMYSELFGASCHAMBE
RAEIOURDAYSQUESTI
ONSABLEEVERYYWAKI
NGMOMENTIMALIVEMY
PRIDELOSTICASTGOO
NLIVINGINTHISWAYK
ILLINGPEOPLEIHAVK
ILLDSOMANYPEOPLEC
ANTHELPMYSELFIMSO
ANGRYICOULDDOMYTH
INKIMALONEINTHISW
ORLDMYWHOLELIFEFU
LOLIESIMUNABLETOS
TOPBYTHETIMEYOUSO
LVETHISIWILLHAVKI
LLDELEVENPEOPLEPL
EASEHELPMESTOPKIL
LINGPEOPLEPLEASEM
YNAMEISLEIGHALLEN

With spaces, that reads "KILL SLF DR HELP ME KILL MYSELF GAS CHAMBER AEIOUR DAYS QUESTIONSABLE EVERYY WAKING MOMENT IM ALIVE MY PR IDE LOST I CAST 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 THINK IM ALONE IN THIS WORLD MY W HOLE LIFE FUL O LIES IM UNABLE TO STOP BY THE TIME YOU SOLVE THISI WILL HAV KILLD ELEVEN PEOPLE PLEASE HELP ME STOP KILLING PEOPLE PLEASE MY NAME IS LEIGH ALLEN".

I always assume "multiple keys used for different parts of the ciphertext", "Bible Codesque frequency shenanigans", etc., with these things. And it contains no new information, just the prime suspect and generic pathos. Cynical, I know! Be sure to drink your ovaltine.

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  1. Alan: thanks for that link. I was wondering something similar, though I didn’t know the proper term. I would expect something that was encoded to use better spelling, if you ever expect anyone to crack it?

    1. Poor spelling doesn’t guarantee that he didn’t crack it, the Zodiac killer actually used poor spelling and grammar in several of his notes, including in cyphers. Since there wasn’t a lot of uniformity in the words that he misspelt, it has been theorized that he did it as a ruse. I won’t believe this until I see his method in details. I’m more than a little skeptical of his claim.

    2. I would expect something that was encoded to use better spelling, if you ever expect anyone to crack it?

      Misspellings are commonly deliberately introduced into plaintext, the better to hassle and delay bad guys who intercept messages. (The good guys, who know how to decrypt it instantly, won’t be confused by misspellings.)

      Also, if you’ve got a sufficiently complicated method of encryption that you’re doing by hand, it’s easy enough to lose your place or make a mistake on any given letter. Especially if you have dogs whispering in your ear to kill people (etc.).

  2. When you read the article he says that one of his inspirations in “cracking” it is 340 being the area code for the U.S. Virgin Islands, but that area code wasn’t assigned until 1997. That’s a full 5 years after Arthur Leigh Allen died and almost 30 years after the cipher was sent. This makes me a little skeptical. I was really hoping that the case would be broken open. I wish I wasn’t so obsessed with this case.

  3. It looks to me like he applied Caesar shifts to different letters seemingly at random to produce whatever the heck he wanted it to say. Whether he was doing it consciously or subconsciously, I have no idea…it seems like *he* thinks there was a method to his madness at least.

  4. A load of bunk.

    From the article, after mentioning that 340 (the name of the code, apparently) is the area code for the US Virgin Islands: “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.”

    That’s barely even intelligible, and it reads like stereotypical conspiracy theory. Not to mention that as someone points out in the comments on the linked article, 340 wasn’t the area code for the US Virgin Islands until 1997, many years after the code was created.

    Also, the article mentions that he sent his solution to a cryptographer, who called it “not valid.” Hmmm.

  5. Well, he somewhat describes the process for decoding the first word, KILL from HERV. (he says its a V).

    Can anyone tell me how you get that using a caesar cipher as he (somewhat) describes?

    themastertheorem.com has a resource page (for members only) with a caesar tool to make playing around with caesar shifts easier. For people who aren’t members, here is another I found:

    http://www.shodor.org/interactivate/activities/CaesarCipher/

    Long story short…I think just from those first four letters, it seems like something fishy is going on, (eg, changing the cipher frequently)…aka…picking a cipher that leads to the message saying what you want it to say.

    But if someone can use what he says in the article to get at least the first word, let me know.

  6. There’s breaking a cipher, and then there’s using a Ouija board. This looks more like the later.

  7. The guy comes across as schizophrenic for some reason, and it sounds like he made up the decipherment as he went along, changing both cipher repeatedly to force the results he wanted. Not credible at all.

  8. “I thought, there’s no way … that Zodiac is going to be prosaic enough not to mention the U.S. Virgin Islands in this code.”

    I think this statement is cipher, and needs to be decoded.

  9. Reviewing on the personality of the killer, I don’t think he would write such a thing with guilt in it, he had a very big ego and the way he killed his victims (stabbing for example) denote he didn’t have a lot of empathy with them, if he was able to feel guilt he might have expressed it before; besides, his ego and his beliefs in an afterlife might refrain him for killing himself. If this is the right translation then I would assume it was a letter to fool the police.

  10. It is very easy to create a “decipherment” of anything if one allows arbitrary substitutions and the like — look at all the supposed decipherments of the Voynich manuscript — a supposed coded text that according to the current theory may not encode anything at all!

  11. The Zodiac was a genius; he created a puzzle that will decode into anything you want it to.

  12. I’m pretty sure that it has something in it, but I also don’t believe that the Zodiac would disclose his identity. Maybe I’ve just spent too many years looking at the ciphers, trying to figure them out to believe that it’s a doodle with no meaning. I think that there’s probably more math to it than Starliper put into it. I wish this story were true, but it rings so false.

  13. “I became absolutely obsessed with the case, to the point that I’d look up from Graysmith’s books … and realize that I’d actually forgotten to eat.”

    By the looks of him, he wasn’t as obsessed as he claims.

  14. Let’s not just dismiss this without a second thought.

    If someone else can get this solution, now that we know it’s at least plausible, using a logical method, then it’s true.

    1. No, it’s not without a second thought.

      The first thought is ‘Wow, really?’

      The second thought is ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous.’

      1. Couldn’t be as ridiculous as Graysmith’s “solve,” which proposed it to involve disorganized transposition — i.e., FUBAR, absent a system by which an intended recipient could have decrypted it. Armed with this supposition, Graysmith still yielded a confused plaintext, which he then interpreted to explain all of the foregoing through its revelation the Zodiac had been taking LSD.

        See also William Friedman’s tongue-in-cheek cryptanalytic “proof” that Theodore Roosevelt wrote the plays widely attributed to Shakespeare.

  15. I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this margin is too narrow to contain.

  16. Stabbing someone is a very intimate form of killing. Unless it is purely done in the heat of the moment or due to a lack of options (a gun) choosing to stab someone would be a very personal attack. To stab a stranger requires getting right up to their face and getting bloody yourself. It shows a lot of rage.

  17. Apart from everything else, the ciphertext doesn’t look at all like someone crying out for “HELP ME KILL MYSELF GAS CHAMBER”. It’s someone highly organised, methodical and arrogant.

    It doesn’t fit psychologically in itself, let alone with the tone of the previous messages.

  18. I don’t know much about crypto, but why the hell hasn’t the NSA turned their WOPR on this for five minutes to figure it out?

    Or is this part of their interview exam?

  19. “In Dan Brown’s latest enigmatic novel, the Zodiac Cipher, a handsome professor cracks an infamous code, putting him squarely into the sights of a killer. But is there more to the picture than first suspected?” –E! Weekly, March 11 2012

  20. I stand by my belief that Zodiac was my neighbor on 15 th St., San Francisco. He was a painter who copied the old masters (who were into ciphers). He took special interest in the text of other languages and could recreate characters in languages he didn’t speak. He had the crosshair sign tattooed on his wrist. Always wore the same dirty beige outfit and was old enough. He is most certainly dead now. Somewhere, I have a handwriting sample. He had a great view of the Chronicle building and seemed to have a woman captive in his apartment for many of the years I lived there. Dead now, as far as I know.

  21. This guy is an idiot.

    Hey Shleprock, try to break this code. I changed the key and cipher “frequently (every letter)”:

    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
    ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

    The fact that you can make this [or the Zodiac] say anything you want it to, if you assume it is effectively a one-time pad encryption, which is what you do when you change the key and cipher “frequently (i.e. with no pattern)”

    He fails realize that one-time pad encryption can’t be broken, unless you get access to that sheet. For the reason that it could say anything the decrypter wants it to say. I highly doubt the Zodiac killer used a one-time pad encryption.

  22. @anon#23,

    True, unless you are properly trained to do it (a process that includes conditioning, desensitization and dehumanization) then it becomes as easy an automatic as peeling a banana or opening a can of beer… of course as the conditioning wears off the delayed psychological repercussions can be rather serious.

  23. If Harold Camping wants to take another stab at predicting Judgment Day maybe he could team up with this guy.

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