Massachusetts Man Says He's Cracked Zodiac Killer Code

Corey Starliper believes he has solved the 41-year-old "340" cipher and has identified the legendary serial killer who terrorized northern California.

To most, the word “Zodiac” conjures up images of astrological symbols and the positions of stars. Corey Starliper, a Tewksbury, Mass. native and hobby code-cracker, thinks of a serial killer of the same name.

Starliper also thinks that he has solved a cipher devised by Zodiac that has remained unsolved for over 40 years.

Zodiac was the name taken by a murderer who operated in the Bay Area, including Napa, Solano, and Vallejo counties, in 1968 and 1969. Zodiac sent encrypted communication to area newspapers, taking credit for killings and warning of more to come, according to Robert Graysmith, who personally investigated the murders and wrote several books on the case.

Police attributed seven murders and two attempted murders to Zodiac because of information he was able to provide that was unavailable to the public, though the number of unconfirmed victims may be much higher.

The first coded communication was a three-part cipher sent in portions to the Vallejo Times-Herald, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner on July 31, 1969, according to “Most Evil”, written by Steve Hodel. The complete cipher contained 408 characters and was published on August 2 and 3, 1969 in accordance to Zodiac’s demands. It took just a few days for the code to be deciphered.

“The first one was cracked by a history teacher and his wife,” said Starliper. “What I’m driving at was the first code was cracked by amateurs. So they figure that any communication after that would be able to be cracked by amateurs.”

After the decryption of the first code, Zodiac sent many more communications to law enforcement and the media, including his most famous: a 340-character cipher, mailed to the San Francisco Chronicle, according to zodiackillerfacts.com. To this day, the cipher has not been completely cracked.

Starliper, however, believes he has found the solution to that code.

“The first time I saw this code was a couple of years ago, and I knew that it could be cracked,” he said. “It was just instinct, I had a gut feeling that it could be cracked. Any code created by man can be cracked by man.”

A 2007 movie entitled “Zodiac” was what sparked interest in Starliper about the case.

“I saw the movie first, and when I saw the movie, (I had) instant interest in it,” he said, snapping his fingers. “When I read the book, I was ... just hungry for more when the book ended.”

Starliper describes the Zodiac serial killer case as “extraordinarily consuming.”

“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.”

Starliper said that after becoming interested in the code, he abandoned it for some time, but after that, an idea for breaking the code came to him almost by “accident.”

According to Robert Graysmith, in “Zodiac”, tips received by police after Darlene Ferrin’s murder indicated that the killing was connected to the U.S Virgin Islands. Starliper believed that the “340” of the 340 cipher was significant, and had some tie-in with the US Virgin Islands. It was then that he found out that 340 is the area code for a portion of the US Virgin Islands — not an insignificant connection.

“So that’s what I started with,” said Starliper. “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. 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.”

Caesar code is a substitution type cipher where an encoder has “simply replaced each letter in a message with the letter that is three places further down the alphabet,” according tohttp://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/caesar.html.

This doesn’t mean the 340 is such an easy task to decode, considering the fact that the original 340 cipher is full of symbols: >, +, and ▲ being just a few of the signs found in the code. To combat this problem, Starliper extracted symbols and changed them to letters they could correspond with. For example, a ^ or < symbol could be interpreted as inverted or sideways “V”s.

“I first went in there and I did that,” he said. After everything symbolic had been interpreted alphabetically, he started applying reverse Caesar shifts. He found the first two letters to be “K” and “I”.

“What are the next two going to be? right? I figure, what’s the first word he’s going to throw in there? Kill,” said Starliper. “And I was able to keep going from there.” For the first few lines, the pattern remained constant, but it changed beyond that. He said he was able to figure out the non-patterned series that by finding “similarities in the numerical sequence.”


Arthur Leigh Allen was a prime suspect during the Zodiac investigation. When Sherwood Morrill, a handwriting expert, examined Allen’s writing, he told investigators that the writing was “similar, but not the Zodiac killer’s”, according to “Zodiac Unmasked” by Robert Graysmith. Allen also passed a polygraph exam during the investigation.

These facts don't bother Starliper.

“Leigh Allen in that situation was forcing his handwriting to look different from the way that he normally wrote,” said Starliper, referencing the work of detectives.

Allen died in 1992 at age 58.

The discovery of a solution to the code wasn't “disturbing”, as Starliper said he had heard it described, but invigorating.

“To me, I found it exciting, that I was actually able to get into his head when nobody had for over 40 years,” said Starliper. “It was a high. One of the best highs I had ever experienced was cracking something that nobody else had cracked in over 40 years.”

Starliper didn’t let it rest at just solving the code. He tried to get in touch with the counties where the murders originally took place and received little response.

“But Napa, after I sent them the solution to the code, said that they would delve into the case later on in the year. Which to me means, 'you know what kid ... leave me alone.'”

Along with a lack of progress contacting Solano, Vallejo, and Napa counties, Starliper has contacted the San Francisco Cold Case Unit and Special Investigative Unit without response.

“I didn’t want it getting lost in the mix. I wanted to contact someone directly,” he said. “It’s frustrating that ... interest in the case has dropped off, because at one time it was one of San Francisco’s highest priorities. It’s disheartening to know that the authorities have basically shut the door on it.”

He even sent the code to a cryptographer, who, after looking over the solution, said that it appeared “not valid,” according to Starliper.

“That really ticked me off,” he said. “With a code that constantly changes a pattern ... you can’t attack it using brute force. There are people who have tried. Out of all of the solutions that I’ve seen this one has the highest readability and probability for accuracy that I’ve ever come across.”

What Starliper hopes to do is to apply his number patterns to the other unsolved ciphers that Zodiac sent to the police.

“What I really mean to do by cracking these codes ... my main goal, is to figure out, for one, exactly who did it, and to bring peace to the families of at least some of Zodiac’s suspected victims,” he said.

howard davis July 21, 2011 at 06:41 PM
The work should be submitted to the FBI.We can't take this man's opinion-even though he is dedicated and certainly knows codes- as it will never be accepted as a solution unless it has FBI backing.I am all for his success,but those are the facts when it comes to codes. Starliper seems to have found Allen in this code. Allen is cleared as a suspect. We can't dismiss Morrell who said there was no match with Zodiac and Allen's writing as he was trained to detect to find out if the suspect is trying to alter his writing stlyle. It shows up especially under magnifcation with ultra violet light,etc. Many suspect names and some unheard of have been 'found'in the code.I wish him well and know he has no doubt worked very hard,but we go back to how codes are verified professionally and the FBI is a great place to begin. I believe it will be forensics, like with the BTK Killer,that will solve the case-prints,DNA,etc.,not codes or handwriting or even polygraph.
TZMC July 21, 2011 at 07:53 PM
See: www.TheZodiacMansonConnection.com
Christopher Keeble July 22, 2011 at 11:55 AM
Walter McGrain July 22, 2011 at 12:07 PM
The 340 area code for the Virgin Islands didn't exist until 1997, so if this has any connection at all it was pure luck.
Robert July 22, 2011 at 09:18 PM
As Mr. McGrain stated, that 340 area code has only been around for 14 years. I'm pretty sure Zodiac had stopped sending cyphers by 1997. If the guy couldn't even be bothered to do that much rsearch (approximately 30 seconds on Google/Wikipedia), then i don't have a lot of trust in his attention to detail in any area.
Lee July 24, 2011 at 06:59 AM
Robert and Walter, you are fools, you are both over looking the obvious - the killer is known as the ZODIAC killer. The signs of the Zodiac are used in Astrology for predicting personality traits and even the FUTURE - so of course the ZODIAC killer would know that the area code 340 was going to be used for the Virgin Islands in the FUTURE. Gosh, some people not show the world their ignorance.
Douglas E. Berry July 27, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Vallejo is a city in Solano County, not a county itself. Seems like the person doing this did very little research which makes his conclusions questionable.
Major Joseph Fuller July 27, 2011 at 07:19 PM
The Zodiac was infamous for taunting the authorites, not begging for help. True, the Zodiac did reach out to Melvin Belli but that was ALSO a taunt. The Zodiac had never disclosed his identity, even though he mentioned he had in the previous cipher which proved to be false. I don't believe the Zodiac would do so in this case either. I believe the individual took a suspect and fit the code to him, rather than solve the code and find a suspect.
Marie Barry March 31, 2012 at 11:49 PM
AEIOUR/DAYS/QUESTIONSABLE/ - ? Okay, so I could see that as "I, our days, questionable", but the unnecessary AE and the misspelling? Unlike the Son of Sam killer (David Berkowitz), the Zodiac Killer wasn't exactly known for misspelling things in his messages. Major Joseph Fuller: "The Zodiac was infamous for taunting the authorites, not begging for help. True, the Zodiac did reach out to Melvin Belli but that was ALSO a taunt." If you think about it, though, the fact that the code has taken 40 years to crack is taunt enough. The name given might be false, but the cry for help not; even the violent insane can have brief lucid periods understanding that their compultions are unnatural.
Marie Barry March 31, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Lee: "you are both overlooking the obvious - the killer is known as the ZODIAC killer. The signs of the Zodiac are used... for predicting... even the FUTURE - so of course the ZODIAC killer would know that the area code 340 was going to be used for the Virgin Islands in the FUTURE." Indeed, this may seem fake psychic crap, but that Zodiac signs *can* be used to predict future events dealing with dates and *numbers*. It's astronomy and math combined, mathematical movements of the stars over time. Difficult, but obviously the Zodiac killer was highly intelligent if he *made* codes we still can't decipher *today*. I'm not saying that the name isn't just one more false lead, but I am easily able to change my handwriting and had a grand time switching it about when we got a small paper about what it can tell about you in 5th or 6th grade. My natural handwriting also looks eerily similar to my mother's, although I've never actually forged any signatures except the way I write my name on homework (not even a field trip slip, fraidy cat that I am always afraid Mom would just *know*). I couldn't do any signature except possibly Mom's (Why would I when she'd just agree to sign it?), but I *can* do completely unique ones, so it's not impossible that the guy who originally did the handwiritng analysis was wrong. *No one* likes to admit they're wrong.
Marie Barry March 31, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Also, people today - especially with doctorates and the like behind them - are always sceptical of amatures even if they know what they're talking about and are likely to say the person is wrong without more than a cursory glance at the work. Plus, the asking for help could easily be a false lead as well, part of a taunt in the next killing that was supposed to occur, though the "MY/PRIDE/LOST/" part rings startlingly true in feel and tone in that it's not something any killer would normally admit. People hate admitting vulnerability even more than they hate admitting to being wrong, so it stands out as odd and highly likely.
TZMC May 22, 2012 at 09:13 PM
See also: www.TheZodiacMansonConnection.com/340_code.html
TZMC May 23, 2012 at 11:33 AM
First of all there are only seven known victims that are attributable to the Zodiac. Five of them died (not seven as mentioned in the article above) and two survived. However Zodiac claimed 37 kills by the time his letter writing stopped. Zodiac did not write to any police department, unless you include the Riverside Police Department in 1966 and 67 before he took on the moniker "Zodiac." (And many do not believe Zodiac killed Cheri Jo Bates at Riverside City College on October 30, 1966, including the Riverside Police Department, even though Zodiac claimed her murder in one of his letters.) David Fincher's 2007 movie "The Zodiac" was based on two books written by Robert Graysmith, "Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked." Graysmith was not a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper. He was a political cartoonist. Much of what Graysmith wrote has been proven to be false and it has only contributed to the confusion that has caused this case to remain unsolved 40+ years after it all happened. His first book has come to be deridingly called "Yellow Book" because of the color of the paperback's cover. Most serious Zodiac researchers put little credence in Graysmith. Corey Starliper is only perpetuating the problem. In virtually everything written about Zodiac there is something that is stated wrong. Some may be relatively minor but this only helps to keep this case from being solved. My hope is that someday the truth will come through.
boom boom June 15, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Marie, if you'd "google" and read Zodiac's letters, you'd see that he misspelled words and made basic grammar mistakes as well
TZMC June 16, 2012 at 06:19 AM
Plus Zodiac would use a word more than once, spelling it both correctly and incorrectly, in the same letter.
Dave October 07, 2012 at 09:52 AM
Sorry, everyone; but Corey completely made up his solution. Anyone could use his method to invent their own "solution" to the Zodiac cipher. More info here: http://www.zodiackillerciphers.com/?p=204
Joseph Covino Jr April 29, 2013 at 10:08 AM
This new crime suspense thriller novel advances fresh new heretofore un-investigated plausible LEADS(not far-fetched theories or outlandish suspects)in this case, check it out: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/san-franciscos-finest-joseph-jr-covino/1112187069?ean=9780943283333


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