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  • December 20, 1968.

  • Two high school students named Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday are making out in a car

  • on a dark road nicknamed, “Lover's Lane.”

  • Suddenly a man appears out of nowhere and orders the love-struck teens to get out of

  • the vehicle.

  • Faraday gets out first, at which point he's shot and killed.

  • Jensen makes a run for it and is shot five times in the back.

  • This was the work of the Zodiac, perhaps America's most mysterious serial killer.

  • A maniac still in the crosshairs of law enforcement today, and a man that just spoke again after

  • half a decade of silence.

  • Around six months after that murder, three newspapers received a letter each from a person

  • who claimed he was the killer.

  • In the letters, the person included a cryptogram, that after being cracked seemed to reference

  • a book about hunting, but not animal hunting, it was about hunting humans for sport.

  • His victims, he wrote, would become his slave in the afterlife.

  • This is the Zodiac speaking,” would become five words that etched themselves into the

  • minds of millions of Americans after more brutal murders and bewildering letters.

  • The killer was playing with the cops, he was needling them, trolling them, so much so that

  • he drove some investigators nearly out of their minds.

  • And then came the unsolvable puzzle, the Zodiac's pièce de resistance, a cipher so perplexing

  • that not even the greatest code breaking minds in the world could solve it, not until now

  • anyway.

  • It's taken 51 years to finally solve the puzzle, and it's revealed a chilling message.

  • Ok, so first you need to know a bit more about the person known as the Zodiac Killer.

  • It's something we've covered in detail before, so we'll give you the abridged version

  • of this rather long and very disturbing tale.

  • SPOILER ALERT: The cops never caught him.

  • Should they have?

  • You can tell us at the end.

  • It's possible that he started his journey as a ruthless killer with those two young

  • lovers, but it's also possible the Zodiac had actually killed before.

  • We may never know for sure, but in a letter, he once claimed to have killed as many as

  • 37 people.

  • The police though, have only ever definitively linked him to the killing of five people.

  • In all likelihood, the Zodiac's body count was way higher.

  • And he might have carried on killing for decades.

  • His last letter came in 1974, and then like a ghost, he just disappeared.

  • That letter contained a postmark saying, “If I don't see this note in your paper, I will

  • do something nasty, which you know I'm capable of.”

  • He then wrote: Me: 37.

  • SFPD: 0.

  • Such letters infuriated the police, especially when he wrote such things as, “I like killing

  • people because it's so much fun.”

  • For the cops, it was only a matter of time before they caught the maniac, but they were

  • wrong, very wrong.

  • It's certain the Zodiac murdered 22-year old Darlene Elizabeth Ferrin and almost killed

  • 19-year old Mike Renault Mageau as they sat in their car in a secluded section of Blue

  • Rock Springs Park in Vallejo, California.

  • The killer pulled up behind them at one point and then drove away.

  • When he returned, he got out of his car and shined a bright light into the couple's

  • car.

  • He shot Ferrin five times and Mageau four times.

  • She died, but he lived to tell the tale.

  • Cops now knew they were looking for a male, possibly in his late 20s or early 30s.

  • He was about five foot eight and on the stocky side.

  • He had brown hair and a roundish face.

  • Mageau might have gotten some details wrong, but who takes notes when you have a gun in

  • your face?

  • How did the police know it was the Zodiac killer?

  • Well, he had the gumption to call them from a payphone only a few blocks away from the

  • station less than an hour after the attack.

  • He told them details about the murder only the killer could possibly know, like what

  • weapon was used.

  • Then he shocked the cops by saying he was also the one who killed the kids on Lover's

  • Lane.

  • So, it wasn't a one-off killer.

  • This was the work of a serial killer.

  • Since the woman was cheating on her husband he was a suspect for a while, but it didn't

  • take long to figure out it wasn't him.

  • The Zodiac was real.

  • And he was far from finished.

  • Ok, so now we need to talk about ciphers and cryptograms.

  • A cryptogram is like a puzzle that contains encrypted symbols.

  • It might look like gibberish, but it has a hidden meaning.

  • To figure out that meaning you need a kind of key to decode it, called a cipher.

  • Anyone can create one with a little bit of research, and if you're the clever sort,

  • you can even create a cryptogram that's next to impossible to decipher.

  • Seeing as it took 51 years to crack one of the Zodiac's puzzles, well, you say criticize

  • him all you want for his brutality, but you can't underestimate the man's brainpower.

  • His first cryptogram was the 408, which is called that because that's how many total

  • symbols are in it.

  • It was published by the San Francisco Chronicle and two other newspapers that were each sent

  • different parts of the puzzle, and the public was asked to solve it.

  • A couple of teachers in California named Donald Gene and Bettye June Harden did just that,

  • and it only took them around 20 hours.

  • Strange, since so-called experts had failed where they succeeded.

  • There's actually a conspiracy theory that the two were the Zodiac, but that's a story

  • for another day.

  • Ok, so in all this cryptogram contained 54 different cipher symbols and 25 letters that

  • are in the English alphabet.

  • The couple worked out that they were looking at what's called a homophonic substitution

  • cipher, which basically means you replace one letter with another, say a D for an M.

  • It gets tricky though when one letter can be replaced by five different letters.

  • They couple cracked it, though, and this is how the decoded message began:

  • “I like killing people because it is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild

  • game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of all.

  • To kill something gives me the most thrilling experience, it is even better than getting

  • your rocks off with a girl…”

  • He then goes on about slaves in the afterlife and paradise, so despite being very clever,

  • the Zodiac may also have been suffering from mental illnesses.And he wasn't finished

  • killing.

  • Just over a month later, he struck again.

  • This time he picked on two Pacific Union College students named Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia

  • Shepard.

  • They were enjoying a picnic at a bucolic spot next to Lake Berryessa in California's beautiful

  • Napa Valley.

  • The pair must have received the shock of their lives when they saw what looked like a vision

  • from hell walking towards their very secluded spot.

  • It was a man, about five feet eleven, average weight, wearing what looked like an executioner's

  • hood.

  • They couldn't see his eyes due to the fact he was wearing sunglasses over the mask's

  • eye holes.

  • If that wasn't frightening enough, he was also wearing what looked like a child's

  • bib.

  • On that bib was his now famous crossed circle symbol.

  • The couple were absolutely petrified but didn't move since the maniac approaching them was

  • clasping a handgun.

  • He told them not to worry, and told them a story about being a convict on the run.

  • He subsequently told the young man to tie up his girlfriend with a plastic clothesline

  • that the supposed-convict just happened to have handy.

  • The Zodiac then tied up the woman himself.

  • What happened next is what usually only happens in horror movies featuring college students

  • that drive out to the woods or a lake even though they're warned not to do so by a

  • peculiar-looking gas station owner.

  • The Zodiac started going crazy, stabbing them both in the back.

  • He stabbed the man six times and the woman ten times.

  • Leaving them for the dead, the Zodiac walked about 500 yards to where the couple's car

  • was parked.

  • There he drew his symbol on the door and wrote, “Vallejo/12-20-68/7-4-69/Sept 27–69–6:30/by

  • knife.”

  • That evening the Zodiac got the Napa police department on the phone and told them he really

  • was behind the double murder at the lake.

  • The cops later discovered he'd made that call from a Napa Car Wash that was just around

  • the corner from their department.

  • The cops got a lead from this though, because they managed to get some prints from the phone.

  • Not only that, the kids he stabbed weren't dead.

  • They were discovered inches from death having lost a ton of blood.

  • The girl told the cops what she had seen, but not long after she fell into a coma and

  • died in hospital two days later.

  • The man survived though and told the cops everything he knew.

  • The police also had other clues, such as tire tracks most likely from the killer's car

  • and his size 10 1/2 Wing Walker boot prints.

  • Now cops knew they were looking for a true American psycho.

  • Soon after the Zodiac struck again, this time murdering a taxi driver named Paul Stine with

  • a bullet to the back of the head.

  • Three days later, the San Francisco Chronicle received a letter from the Zodiac containing

  • a piece of Stein's shirt.

  • There was no doubt it was the real deal.

  • The Zodiac said in the letter that the cops could have caught him if they'd been doing

  • their job correctly.

  • He also wrote, “School children make nice targets, I think I shall wipe out a school

  • bus some morning.

  • Just shoot out the front tire + then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”

  • Just over a week later, someone claiming to be the Zodiac called the Oakland Police Department.

  • The person demanded that either one of two big-shot lawyers, F. Lee Bailey or Melvin

  • Belli, go on a popular local talk show hosted by a man named Jim Dunbar.

  • Belli did just that and appealed for the killer to call in.

  • A man who said he was the Zodiac did call.

  • He said “I need help, I'm sick.

  • I don't want to go to the gas chamberand he even said he'd meet with Belli, but

  • in the end, he didn't turn up.

  • As you'll soon find out, there was likely more to that call than first meets the eye.

  • This brings us finally to the unbreakable puzzle.

  • Not long after that no-show with the lawyer, the Chronicle received a new communication

  • from the Zodiac.

  • This time it was a cryptogram containing 340 characters, which came to be known as cipher

  • 340, and it proved to be too difficult for the best minds in the world to decipher at

  • the time.

  • People tried for decades from the USA and across the world, but what the Zodiac killer

  • had created was something special, something so annoyingly difficult that after years or

  • trying and failing, the puzzle was forgotten by most code crackers.

  • Maybe it was meaningless, they thought, an assumption that put their frustrated minds

  • at ease.

  • But then in 2006, a global team of crack code breakers took a look at the impossible puzzle

  • again.

  • They knew it meant something, but finding the key was no easy task, and it would end

  • up taking them fourteen years to finally decipher the code.

  • That's dedication.

  • The team included an American software developer named David Oranchak; a computer programmer

  • from Belgium named Jarl Van Eycke, and an Australian mathematician named Sam Blake.

  • Their hard work finally brought the words of the Zodiac to the public.

  • Eycke had actually developed software to break codes, and he had created specifically to

  • crack the one made by the Zodiac.

  • Blake's role in figuring out the cipher was to manipulate the symbols and see how

  • they could be transposed, which Oranchak did the rest.

  • The team said at times they'd get somewhere with the puzzle; they'd find a word, but

  • then they'd discover that what they'd discovered was a false positive, what they

  • called a “phantom.”

  • Then one day the Oranchak announced, “This is a big one.

  • We have a solution for the 340 and it's real.”

  • It hadn't been easy.

  • The team had looked at hundreds of thousands of different manipulations of the text.

  • Then on a Thursday at the beginning of December 2020, a variation of the text showed up in

  • the program.

  • Oranchak said, at first sight, it looked like gibberish but it also contained the words

  • gas chamberand the even more Zodiac-esque phrase, “Hope you are trying to catch me.”

  • That was a signature Zodiac taunt.

  • If those phrases were actually part of the correct solution to the puzzle, what the team

  • would then have to do is apply a cipher that had been used for those words to the rest

  • of the symbols in the cryptogram.

  • It was complicated.

  • They realized they had to look at the puzzle and read it in a diagonal fashion.

  • So, they took the symbol in the top left-hand corner and wrote it down, so if it was an

  • “H' they'd write “H”.

  • Then they moved down one and over to the right two spaces.

  • They then wrote down that symbol, which here was a plus sign.

  • They went through the entire puzzle doing this until they'd written down every symbol.

  • What they then ended up with was a completely different looking puzzle.

  • It still looked like nonsense of course, but now they had something new they could put

  • into the code-breaking software.

  • Hmm, the team was rather disappointed after that.

  • Not only did not much of anything come up, but the termsgas chamberandHope

  • you are trying to catch meweren't there too.

  • It was as if they'd gone backward.

  • But then Oranchak tried something else.

  • He added the words they suspected were correct - “gas chamberandhope you are trying

  • to catch meto the software as known solutions and let the program run.

  • Pesto, an English message popped up, the words of the grandmaster secret code psycho, the

  • Zodiac himself.

  • That wasn't me on the TV show.”

  • Was this the Zodiac telling the cops that the guy that had called in to talk to the

  • lawyer was an imposter?

  • Oranchak almost fell out of his chair.

  • After 51 years it was as if the Zodiac had risen from the grave.

  • The team could now decrypt the first part of the puzzle, but the same method of codebreaking

  • didn't work for the other two parts.

  • Since the first part was almost definitely correct, it didn't make sense that the other

  • sections couldn't be solved in the same way.

  • But then they hypothesized that the reason it didn't work, was because the Zodiac had

  • actually made a mistake when he designed the cipher.

  • If that was the case, it was no wonder no one could crack it.