Killer Code – The Zodiac Murders

Killer Code – The Zodiac Murders

The so-called Zodiac Killer was – or indeed is – a murderer who is suspected of at least five killings and could well have committed several more. He operated around Northern California during 1968 and 1969, killing his victims at random, using both gun and knife.

His attacks were against total strangers without any direct motivation and the killings created a great wave of fear across the area.

In a further grotesque twist to the killings, he sent a series of letters to several newspapers in which he claimed responsibility for the murders and embedded in the text of four of these were cryptographic messages in which he claimed to explain his motives – provided the code could be broken. In one of these letters he referred to himself as the “Zodiac”.

In one of these cases the code was cracked by Donald Harden, a high school teacher, and his wife Bettye who had seen the letters published in a newspaper. Although his identity was not revealed “Zodiac” explained his motive in the decoded letter, including the spelling mistakes that were contained in the document:

“I like killing people because it is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangeroue anamal.”

In the following five years he sent more coded letters to the media, taunting the police because of their inability to locate him. “Zodiac” was never identified and his last letter was sent to a newspaper in 1974. It is not known whether he is still alive.

Many attempts have been made to profile “Zodiac”, with general agreement reached about several of his characteristics:

  • “Zodiac” regarded killing as a personal sport
  • He wanted credit for his killings
  • He appeared to concentrate more on killing women than men – indicating a possible sexual problem and a resentment towards the relationships of others
  • He wished to demonstrate his superiority over lesser humans
  • He was intelligent with a knowledge of cryptography
  • He enjoyed exerting control over his victims
  • He was interested in astrology


Despite the passing of the years “Zodiac” continues as a major interest to crime watchers from around the world, all holding the distant hope that one day his identity will be finally revealed.


Image: A 1969 sketch of “Zodiac”, based on eyewitness descriptions, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.