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'I am not afraid of the gas chamber': Codebreakers solve old Zodiac Killer cipher

FBI backs amateur sleuths who appear to have deciphered a chilling message from the infamous 1960s killer.
Image: Documents related the Zodiac killer case
A San Francisco Police Department wanted bulletin and copies of letters sent to the San Francisco Chronicle by a man who called himself Zodiac on display in San Francisco on May 3, 2018.Eric Risberg / AP file

An international team of amateur sleuths claim to have decoded a half-century-old taunt by California's notorious Zodiac Killer.

And federal authorities said they believe the code breakers appear to be on solid ground in following the mysterious killer who fatally stabbed or shot five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969.

San Francisco homicide detectives David Toschi and William Armstrong go through the clothing of a murder victim at the morgue in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco on March 29, 1974. The Zodiac killer is blamed for at least five murders in 1968 and 1969 in the San Francisco Bay Area.Susan Ehmer / The San Francisco Chronicle via AP file

The killer sent taunting letters and cryptograms to police and newspapers. He was dubbed the Zodiac killer because some of his cryptograms included astrological symbols and references.

A 340-character cipher has been a mystery to investigators for all these years, until Australian software engineer Sam Blake, American cryptographer David Oranchak and Belgian software engineer Jarl Van said they finally got the symbols, numbers and letters to mesh into a coherent — though chilling — message.

"I HOPE YOU ARE HAVING LOTS OF FUN IN TRYING TO CATCH ME THAT WASNT 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," killer allegedly wrote.

It wasn't immediately clear what television show the Zodiac Killer could have been referencing.

The killer continued his ramblings about "paradice."

"ALL THE SOONER 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 IS LIFE WILL BE AN EASY ONE IN PARADICE DEATH," the killer said.

In a statement from FBI headquarters on Friday, the bureau said its own Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) acknowledged and confirmed the code breakers' work.

"Over the past 51 years CRRU has reviewed numerous proposed solutions from the public — none of which had merit," the FBI said. "The cipher was recently solved by a team of three private citizens."

The Zodiac Killer has never been caught and the case is still active.

"The FBI is aware that a cipher attributed to the Zodiac Killer was recently solved by private citizens," the FBI's San Francisco office said in a statement on Friday.

"The Zodiac Killer case remains an on going investigation for the FBI San Francisco and our local law enforcement partners."