Reporting on the Zodiac Killer Ciphers

340 CipherThe other day, I noticed a rather unusual spike in traffic to this website. After digging around a bit, I determined that the primary reason for the spike was a renewed interest in Corey Starliper's clearly invalid solution to the Zodiac Killer's 340 cipher. This increased level of interest was partially brought about because Tom Hanks' "Electric City" blog decided to pay it some attention.

The timing of these happenings was interesting in that it coincided nearly perfectly with the one-year anniversary of the publication of the Tewksbury Patch article which introduced to world to Corey Starliper's "solution."

I didn't write about it at the time, but in the days after my article on the subject, I was contacted by the author of the Tewksbury Patch story, Brandon Schillemat. He explained he was planning a follow-up article in which Corey could answer his critics. He essentially asked if I had any input. I replied and described my thoughts on the matter.  I'm fairly certain that what I had to say was a bit different from what Brandon was expecting. Nonetheless, some of the thoughts (though slightly misinterpreted) made it into the follow-up article.

The recent renewed interest in the subject motived me to go back and reread the email I wrote nearly a year ago. Satisfyingly, I concluded that it still represents my opinions on the subject quite well. For these reasons, I've decided to share it (with some of the boilerplate removed).

I don't really buy into the premise of the planned article. Corey Starliper doesn't deserve to have a forum in which to answer his critics.  The people that should be answering their critics are those in charge of publication decisions at the Tewksbury Patch. Corey Starliper and his claim that he's solved the 340 are all over the internet. In most ways, he's no different than the 10s of other people who claim to have solved the 340. However, there is one important difference: a website with apparent journalistic integrity gave him credibility.

If Corey Starliper walked into your office and announced that he had cured cancer, would you write the story: "Tewksbury Native: I've Cured Cancer" without seeking input from a medical professional? If he walked in and claimed to have solved one of math's currently unsolved problems (, would you write the article without doing something to evaluate the validity of his claim? I hope the answer to those questions is "No." But, for some reason, if he walks in and says he's solved a cipher that's remained unsolved for the last 40 years, the Tewksbury Patch has no problem publishing an article without doing anything in terms of evaluating the probability that his solution is actually correct. His solution is garbage, pure and simple. Point me to one person with real cryptographic expertise who endorses Starliper's solution. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you cannot because I'm fairly certain one does not exist.

Multiple people have written master's degree theses on the subject of solving the 340. I and a fair number of other people have spent 100s of hours attempting to solve the cipher. I've personally written a computer program that is capable of solving the Zodiac Killer's first cipher, the 408. Other people have written other programs that can also solve the 408. Through all of this effort, none of us have even come close to solving the 340.

So when Corey Starliper comes along and claims to have solved the 340 in nine hours only because he doesn't have sufficient knowledge to understand that his solution is not valid, well, it's not surprising. People do this every so often. Simply google "zodiac 340 solution" and you'll find enough material to keep yourself occupied for quite some time. But what is surprising is that the Tewksbury Patch would write an uncritical article about his so-called solution and, in so doing, bolster his claim.

There's an interesting epilogue to this story. About a month ago I was reviewing various data regarding other websites that link to One particular table showed the "authority" of the websites that are doing the linking. Of course, the website with the highest so-called authority was (wait for it...) the Tewksbury Patch.

Michael Cole


  1. James Wood 31 July, 2012 at 03:57 Reply

    I think I read that this solution has been turned over to the FBI, for their call on it. FBI has spent the last 40+ years evaluating the cypher. Even teaching classes directly tied to the Z cypher’s. And of the hundreds/thousands? of agents who have tried to crack the cypher, no one to date has.

  2. Margene Morrison 15 January, 2013 at 16:48 Reply

    I used to get a lot of phone calls when I lived in CA. I was an Army wife. My husband was usually gone and when he was home he was difficult. His family didn’t like his little redneck wife. They had leased their land to a Japanese company for millions of dollars. We had a lot of problems. I am not a smart person but I am artistic. I took on the study. And the only ones who would give me the time of day were the JFK assassination researchers. So between them and the FBI that I visited there were hundreds of letters I had written. Yes, I called the police when I got the calls.
    After they stood me out in the open in the dark for 30 minutes while I was waiting to be shot: I was no longer afraid of the dark. I told the civilian officer that after I got shot maybe they’d take me seriously and protect my children. They sent me to Natividad in Salinas (where Hodel could reach me as my psychiatrist. Give me a shot to calm me down and wake me up to do it will you). So I wrote for 20 years while my life went to hell and back. As my mission faded I blocked out a lot that happened. I still have nightmares and flashbacks I can’t understand. I applied for SSI and didn’t get it for schizophrenia; I got it for PTSD. Its a shame I didn’t know my monster died in 1999. I began to wonder if Jack Tarrance was the Zodiac Killer. Then just 2 weeks ago I picked up a book. Reluctant to read another son thinks his dad is the Zodiac Killer, even the sales clerk, a teen looked at me, a grandmother now, and asked “Are you sure you want to read THIS?!” See, as I read it, I realized that I had written clues out of it for over 20 years. It was like my book too. There was my monster. And I will tell you like I told him. By George I think I’ve got it! He’d say I was vicisious and I’d say that I had an old Jewish boyfriend who used that word! “What are you, a psychic?” The most tragic thing besides the loss of life and an innocent man who did life in prison, is what has done to our culture and entertainment. It has made society so negative. I can’t totally blame my in-laws because I can only suppose they had something to do with my downfall; they made trips to Hong Kong and San Francisco and the Philippines and Japan…all places where he was. He owned a big Asian company. I did like Steve Hodel did later. I combed the magazines for his symbol.
    It seems so simple to me. He was no. 1 on the Black Dahlia suspect list. He was richer, smarter, and better connected than Albert Einstein. So you don’t have to be an Albert Einstein to figure out he bought people off. Maybe after a while, he volunteered his services as a hit man. Maybe his elbow rubbing included the government. I imagine they didn’t want to admit one of their workers was a serial killer and a child killer. One person from the government told me that they in no way are causing children to be killed. And how I am free to speak in this country and say any horrible thing I wish because it is a free country. No, they didn’t kill children. “You just won’t stop him!” It began when he bought the jury in the incest trial.

  3. Margene Morrison 15 January, 2013 at 17:32 Reply

    You have to really read Steve Hodels’ book “Most Evil.” With Dr. Hodel using hypnosis the possibilities are even more frighening. His picture on page 19 looks familiar and so does the recorded voice. I want you to listen to the song by the Rolling Stones entitled “Sympathy for the Devil” and see if it doesn’t remind you of him. Even the lyrics “puzzling you is the nature of my game” should remind you of the Zodiac. Maybe people don’t think the way I do. I really wish people would come forward. Notice the lyrics DON’T say “I’m a poor guy who works in a jumpsuit and I keep squirrels for pets in my trailer.” Steve Hodel could have written some cheesy hype book that everybody would have said “Good boy” and that would have set him up for life. Do you think that admitting your daddy was a killer of the worst kind was some easy step for a homicide detective? I could be sitting on a beach right now in the Northern Marianas watching the rest of my grandchildren play ball in the sand. Where am I now. Well, I came back to NC on a bus with my oldest daughter. I worked as a maid when I was going to have one. I went back out on the bus to try to bring my children home. My ex with his nice government job now, put me on a plane alone. I got a call 19 years later “Mom, I’m in Virginia.” Happiest day of our lives here. Her sergeant wanted to see our home video of our yard at 173 Bataan Rd. Maybe we were on a radion; I don’t know. I am still waiting for my oldest son to gain some understanding. My family wasn’t eager to get me killed by my ex or one of his uncles. And when I would get some of what it costs to fly over there, I would think about my oldest daughter. Her mother needed to drive with car insurance and it was high because I didn’t get my license until I was 29. Yes, I had problems. No better person for that monster to pick on. So in all I have 5 children and 6 grandchildren and I treasure every day that God gives me. I hate to answer the phone and don’t really enjoy being around people very often unless they are close family and friends. Frankly, my dog is like the nicest person! So, don’t think this Zodiac study has gone without sacrifices for you, Joe Q. Public. But if a housewife didn’t take up her cross, how would you expect your police, firefighters, doctors, and nurses to fight the good fight? I want to see this country become free of the Zodiac Killer’s legacy. I want to turn on the t.v. and laugh at something that is really funny and not gross. I want to see a movie that doesn’t glorify evil. I want to hear music that praises God and marvels at his creation. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I sure hope one day this gets resolved. One of the biggest clues is the star Dr. George Hill Hodel bought for himself. Take it away and perhaps he will be in outer darkness. I want to look up at the stars again and not think that his star is there. For 19 years I looked up at the stars and blew kisses that went from North Carolina to Saipan. Now, I know that George Hodel had a star. I hope it falls from the sky and we can make a wish for no more monsters.

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