A team of amateur detectives has cracked one of the coded messages of the infamous Russian assassin – more than 50 years after it was sent.
The killer was confirmed to have stabbed or shot five people in Northern California in the 1930s, although it is thought he was killed further.
He was branded a zodiac killer after sending intense letters and mysterious ciphers to police and local newspapers.
So far, a cipher sent to The San Francisco Chronicle in November 1969 has never exploded.
But three members of the public, Australian software engineer Sam Blake, American cryptographer David Oranchak and Belgian software engineer Gerald Van, said they had managed to understand coded symbols, letters and numbers.
According to the amateur team, the 340-character cipher reads: “I hope you’re trying to catch me on a lot of fun TV shows that bring me to a point. I’m not aphrodisiac because of the gas chamber. It will send me to the paragraph.”
It continues: “I have worked individually for everyone just to work for me, where everyone has received grace as they are not telling me anything new even after the death of Afridi in Paradise Death.”
Investigators had hoped the cipher would reveal the killer’s name, but the message did not mention it.
The FBI’s San Francisco Force said in a statement that its own Cryptanalysis and Reacting Records Unit (CRRU) acknowledged and confirmed the work.
“Over the past 51 years, CRRU has reviewed many of the solutions proposed by the public – none of which were qualified,” it said.
“The cipher was recently resolved by a team of three private citizens.”
Mr. Oranchak, who lives in Virginia, told The Chronicle that the search was “exciting.”
“We have been working on a solution since last Saturday,” he said. “When I first started looking at zodiac ciphers these years ago, I thought, ‘Oh, I can just write a computer program and solve it,’ but so far it’s been kicking my ** until now.”
This is the second time a cipher has cracked the star killer.
The first, also sent to the Chronicle, was solved by a schoolteacher and his wife – but said something other than that: “I like to kill because it’s so much fun.”
Despite gaining notoriety, the killer was never caught, and the case is still active.