issue #04 (December 1981)
More than 5,000 years ago, before the Golden Age of man, Tantalus, son of Zeus, put the gods to a test. He slew his son, Pelops, and served him up as a stew in Mt. Olympus' banquet hall. Only Demeter, who was distracted by grief over the loss of Persephone, ate of the ghastly meal. The other gods saw what Tantalus had done, restored Pelops to life -- with an ivory prosthesis for the eaten shoulder - and sent Tantalus down to tartarus for eternal punishment.
There are few if any instances in history of such things in real life. A quiz of this nature appears, however, to have been given to the residents of the Bay Area within recent memory and we all seem to have been as distracted as Demeter. And, to carry the parallel one step farther, the test was just as gruesome -- but without a happy ending for the victims.
Folklore is full of such tests of perspicacity.
A series of murders, beginning in Riverside in October 1966 and continuing in the Bay Area between December 1968 and October 1969, left six people dead and two severly injured. The perpetrator, who identified himself variously as "Z," The Zodiac," "A Citizen," and "Red Phantom," barraged the press with communications which ranged the full gamut from literate to imbecilic to cryptographic. His modus operandi was never the same. His weapons ranged from pocketknife to 9mm automatic.
The police followed every indication in the Zodiac literature according to the precepts of normal investigative procedure. He appeared to be psychopathic, so they checked the rosters of every mental institution in Northern California for suspects. When he quoted from The Mikado they screened all past and present members of The Lamplighters. Because he sometimes identified himself as "the Zodiac," they pored over the circulation records of public libraries to find out who had been reading books on astrology.
It is also standard police practice to suppress evidence, on the theory that it nay be valuable for them to kncw something that only the criminal knows. The bulk of the Zodiac's communications have been suppressed for this reason. Because what he was doing appeared to have no rhyme or reason, some of his hints were never followed up on, being, as the police reasoned, full of sound and fury. Nonetheless, when he apologized for not having written by virtue of having been "swamped out by the rain," the police diligently scoured the countryside looking for flooded basements. I'm not faulting them for not having noticed it, but 'by rain' is an anagram for "binary."
What the authorities can be faulted for is taking the Zodiac at his word in the matter of swamping, but not in the matter of the radian. In a communication accompanying an annotated road-nap of Contra Costa County, postmarked late in June 1970, he suggested that they would find "something interesting" if they placed a radian angle on Mt. Diablo, a prominent Bay Area landmark.
To my certain knowledge, in the ten years that elapsed between the receipt of this communication and 26 December 1980, no one in the police establishment had even looked up the word radian in a dictionary, let alone try the exercise the Zodiac had suggested. The remarkable thing about it, as emerged from my experimentation the day after last Christmas, is that the Zodiac murder-sites in Vallejo and San Francisco line up exactly on the legs of a radian angle whose apex sits on the Vertical Angle Benchmark atop Mt. Diablo. His last known victim, Paul Stine, was a cabby. Stine was hired by the Zodiac to go to a certain intersection in Presidio Heights from downtown San Francisco. I think that, given the murderer's explicit mathematical suggestion, the reason for murdering a cabbie is obvious: he needed a victim at a particular location, in order to complete the geometric structure. Cabbies are eminently transportable.
There are a number of implications to be drawn from the Zodiac's choice of sites, weapons, and dates, which, to my mind, can be drawn together into a consistent intellectual structure. A more detailed and extensive discussion is to be found in my pseudonymous article in the November issue of California magazine. For present purposes, it suffices to say that the word "radian" is not commonly found in the vocabulary of imbeciles -- the Zodiac has been described by the San Francisco Police Department as someone who had difficulty graduating from high school -- and that few mess murderers lay out geometric designs on the map.
Of the dozen so communications from the first Zodiac period (August 1969-March 1971), all but one were postmarked in San Francisco. In the second period, January-July 1974, the pattern is reversed, in one of those contrastive -- and instructive -- juxtapositions. The four 1974 letters were postmarked in this order: South Bay, San Francisco, southern Alameda, Marin It's a gigantic connect-the-dots puzzle, spelling the letter "Z" on the map. No one has ever noticed this before.
One thing that characterizes the radian is that it is a commonplace in engineering schools; another is that it is defined by the natural number pi. Put succinctly, a radian is a circle divided by 2pi. The first written communications from the Zodiac in his Bay Area phase accompanied a cryptogram, divided into three parts, each of which went to a different newspaper. The cover letters threatened a "kill rampage" if the cryptogram was not published on 1 August 1969.
When it was solved, this puzzle turned out to be an illiterate's encomium on the joys of homicide. It ended with a jumble of letters: EBEORIETEMETHHPITI. So much attention was focused on the verbal content that no one thought to treat it as an expression of a number. Having had - illicit -- access to the secret of the radian, a mathematical expression, I had taken to counting everything in the Zodiac literature. The English text of the August 1969 cryptogram is 390 characters; the anagram is 18. Noting that the radian angle is defined by pi, I was not slow to note also that 3x130 is 390, and that 0.14159. . . x130 is 18.40. . . . Rounding down to the nearest whole number, the Zodiac had subdivided his text into rational (English) and irrational (anagram) parts in the same proportions as the rational and irrational parts of pi.
In my analysis of the Zodiac literature, I assumed - on the basis of evidence such as the above -- that the author was expressing himself in a mathematical idiom. I applied the principles of linguistic, not cryptographic, analysis. The point of a linguistic approach is not to relate elements of the problem to a known language, but to discover repetitive and internally consistent patterns which can be related to external landmarks.
No weight has been given by me to the superficial meaning of the Zodiac's English. Problems have been selected on the basis of criteria such as contrast, emphasis, repetition, misspelling, gross lapses of normal syntax, gibberish, and graphic or syntactic isolation from other contexts. And at every turn, where a facsimile or diplomatic text is available, everything has been counted.
The Zodiac uses a number of devices known since classical times (acrostic, rebus, anagram, etc.). He also employs a reverse-alphabet cipher which I have named the WIZARD alphabet because in a reverse-alphabet cipher, WIZARD comes cut as DRAZIW. One communication, the "Halloween Card," contains a graphic illustration of casting out nines. This procedure applies in WIZARD (pairs of matching letters, e.g. A-Z, I-R, P-K, add up to 27, a 9-multiple) in the sense that 27-sum pairs are used as nulls; being divisible by 9, they zero cut. Duplicated letters generate numbers, just as they do in chemical notation (or in corporate logos, for instance, for Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing). The most ingenious contribution of the Zodiac to secret writing, however, is a Norse Code-to--binary number transformation which is capable of reducing English to complete ambiguity.
There are a number of other consistent and repetitive patterns in the Zodiac's writings, some alphabetical, some numerical. Read as descriptors, they all fit a particular individual, whom I have identified. A careful reading of that individual's own publications reveals not only the same patterns expressed in the Zodiac literature, but also documents which work like Zodiac documents. To give an -- oblique -- example, the word TREES expressed in Binary-Morse is 320. It would be an astonishingly unlikely coincidence if Joyce Kilmer's famous poem were composed in exactly 320 words. But documents published under Mr. X's name work exactly that way.
There's even more to it. Mr. X's contemporary photographs show a resemblance to the police artist sketch an the Zodiac wanted poster. He has a documented expertise with small arms. And in an early publication, he expresses a need to teach people how to recognize patterns expressed in formalistic manner rather than as mere verbal content. The document in question reads like a manifesto for the Zodiac episode.
* * *
The age of the gods is long past. Even the Golden Age has come and gone. It might be appropriate to call this the Eschatological Era. In times like these, we are distracted from careful observation by a multitude of concerns ranging from personal finance to the extinction of the human race. Our children have been butchered and served up as a grisly repast whose nature we have not perceived.
Law-enforcement authorities don't see it that way. While the Zodiac's activity is bizarre even by the standards of psychopathology (cf. Son of Sam, who always shot long-haired girls with a .44), police are not receptive to explanations, no matter how consistent, that attribute a higher intellectual design to a murderer's conduct. To put it another way, to show intellectual content in what superficially appears to be random and bizarre events is to make then a thousand times more bizarre.
The Zodiac produced one genuine cryptogram; and so his other cryptic-appearing communications have been pored over - without success -- by a number of cryptanalysts. And when cryptanalysis failed, the messages ware dismissed as meaningless. The most important hint from the author, to place a radian on Mt. Diablo, was ignored by the police and withheld from the public.
When I submitted my Zodiac article to the editors of California magazine, I made no claim in the text to being able to read the murderer's Delphic utterances. I did claim to have found repetitive and consistent patterns of the sort shown above. I pleaded for the release of the suppressed documents so that they could be examined by linguists, mathematicians, psychiatrists, and others. The submission was accompanied by a sheaf of analyses, in which the identity of Mr. X was developed.
The magazine 's first instinct was to denounce. To justify this grave course of action, they consulted a leading cryptanalyst. He would neither endorse nor discredit my findings, but since he considered the author to be capable of nothing more than 'the drivelings of a madman," he found the whole thing "highly improbable." He was forced to modify this opinion when I pointed out to him later that Mr. X's present telephone number spells his initials in Morse code, which is itself highly improbable -- unless Mr. X requested the telephone number.
In the meantime, the magazine bucked the matter to the FBI and waited for something to happen. Nothing did. Finally, spurred on by news of the telephone number, they decided to go ahead with it, but to cut out the reasoned appeal for the release of documents and to append a disclaimer --expressly for legal reasons -- in which they would make the claim to having learned Mr. X's identity, then discredit the identification.
I think it's obvious that this story is either worthless, or else it's the story of the century. I urged the editors to expend sufficient resources to do some investigative field work which would either prove me wrong or else justify further investigation, which might well produce evidence of the sort that would sway a jury. I also think that anyone who knows this background to the story will be as amazed as I am that they tried to steer a course down the middle instead.
I'm satisfied that I know who the Zodiac is and why he did what he did. I'm also satisfied that the Zodiac murders are unique in human history. I don't expect everyone to be confident of my analysis, at least not without closer acquaintance with the entire body of data. But I think that I have made clear in the foregoing that the Zodiac was not what he seemed to be, and that he deserves very meticulous examination by people with abilities that match his. Otherwise, there is no hope that he will ever be brought before the bar of justice.
Otherwise known as 110011001010, he is a free-lance writer. When not tracking down mass murderers, he lives north of San Francisco in a geodesic dome that he built himself.
Gareth Penn is probably best known as the greatest amateur Zodiac sleuth after his many articles in The Ecphorizer that lead to the identity of Zodiac. However, Penn is much more than that as he has a keen inquisitive mind that finds an interesting story in just about anything from a memorial to a little-known soldier in a park in Vallejo, CA, to his notes about animals, to plumbing the depths of the limerick. Penn's prolific pen is evident in that he has made a contribution to every issue of The Ecphorizer up through Issue #33 (and counting!).