Police sketch of the man suspected of being the "Zodiak Killer," 1969. Handout / The Chronicle The Zodiac Killer's infamously uncrackable 340 cipher has been solved. Hearst Newspapers
A French engineer says he’s cracked two ciphers purportedly left behind by the infamous Zodiac Killer, including one that he reportedly says reveals the murderer’s identity.
But Fayçal Ziraoui’s impressive claims — including that he deciphered the killer’s mystifying messages in just two weeks — have been met with stiff resistance by the fervent online community of Zodiac code-crackers skeptical of his methods, the New York Times reported Monday.
Police investigators and an army of amateur sleuths have spent decades trying to decode the cryptic messages left behind by the Zodiac, who killed five people in the Bay Area in 1968 and 1969.
The first of four ciphers, sent to media outlets including The Chronicle in 1969 and 1970, was solved quickly. Last December, an international team of code breakers from the U.S., Australia and Belgium claimed to have deciphered a second code, known as the 340 Cipher. The message read in part, “I hope you are having lots of fun in trying to catch me.”
Using an encryption key and other tools, Ziraoui told The Times he was able to unlock the remaining two codes, known as Z32 and Z13 Ciphers — named after the number of characters or symbols in each message. The Z13 code supposedly contained the killer’s name because the encrypted message was preceded by the words “my name is.”
Using some of the tools published by the team that cracked the 340 Cipher along with other codebreaking methods, Ziraoui told The Times the Z13 Cipher spelled out “KAYR,” letters he thought were similar to Lawrence Kaye, who was long considered a suspect in the murders. Kaye, who also went by the name Kane, died in 2010.
Ziraoui said the longer, 32-character code revealed coordinates for a location in South Lake Tahoe, where Kaye lived and a spot referred to in a postcard believed sent by the Zodiac Killer in the early 1970s.
Ziraoui posted his results to online forums dedicated to cracking the killer’s messages, where he was met with fierce criticism over his methods, and the speed with which he was seemingly able to crack a code that befuddled thousands of people for decades.
A Parisian cryptographer and professor interviewed by The Times, however, reviewed Ziraoui’s methods and said they should be considered by police investigating the killer.
Dominic Fracassa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @dominicfracassa