Amateur sleuths crack one of the Zodiac Killer's ciphers after 51 years

The FBI announced that a cipher from the Zodiac Killer has been solved, more than half a century after the infamous killer began his reign of terror.

Three private citizens broke what's known as the 340 cipher, a vexing code that has stumped detectives and cryptographers alike for decades. David Oranchak, a software developer in Virginia, Jarl Van Eycke, a Belgian computer programmer, and Sam Blake, an Australian mathematician, are being credited with decoding the message, CNN reports.

"It was a long shot — we didn't even really know if there was a message," Oranchak told CNN.

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The killer, who operated around the San Francisco Bay Area between 1968 and 1969, is famous for the coded messages he sent police and media. While three of the four ciphers were previously solved, the 340 cipher remained the most elusive. 

The coded message, sent to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1969, reads as follows:

"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 [sic] all the sooner

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"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."
 
The comment about the TV show refers to an incident during which someone called into the popular "Jim Dunbar Show" claiming to be the Zodiac Killer, according to CNN. 
 
Investigators had hoped the final cipher would reveal the identity of the killer, as he had hinted it would, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
 
Oranchak told The New York Times he worries the message may cause more harm than good for the families of the Zodiac Killer's victims, as it didn't give any substantial answers.
 
"The message in that cipher — I don’t see it as being helpful to them,” he said. "It’s more of the same junk that the killer liked to write about. It’s just intended to hurt people and make them afraid."

The FBI acknowledged the breakthrough in a Twitter statement.

"Even though decades have gone by, we continue to seek justice for the victims of these brutal crimes," the statement reads. "Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, and out of respect for the victims and their families, we will not be providing further comment at this time." 

The Zodiac Killer remains one of the most famous unsolved cases in American history.