The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Zodiac Killer

Ted Cr- I Mean, The Zodiac Killer

The podcast on the Zodiac Killer was well made and well produced.  From a technical standpoint, the intonation, projection, and fluency of the speaker made it very enjoyable to listen to the podcast. Often times, even when simply reading from a script, people can falter, trip over words and phrases, and stutter, all of which detract from the listening experience of the podcast. In addition, these kinds of mistakes also decrease the ethos of the speaker, making them seem unprepared or nervous. These issues, however, were not present in the Zodiac Killer podcast. as the speaker delivered her message with clear intonation and projection and few, if any, stutters or mistakes. In addition her speaking style, the incorporation of background music made the podcast that much more enjoyable, as rather than it simply being one person droning on about a subject matter, the background music helps to supplant the voice of the speaker. Altogether, I hope to incorporate these two aspects of this particular podcast into my own, as they seemed to help enhance the efficacy of the podcast and overall make it more engaging.

Beyond merely technical details, the content of this podcast also piqued my interest. Having seen many documentaries and movies about serial killers – even the ones about the titular killer – it was interesting to learn even more about one of the most notorious killers in American history. It was even more fascinating to learn about the killer’s extensive use of cryptography in hiding his killings and communicating with the police and those who would have liked to have stopped him. Altogether, the communication of relevant information in an easy-to-listen-to manner made this podcast interesting and enjoyable, as well as giving me ideas on how to create my own.

A Killer on the Loose

“A Killer on the Loose: The Zodiac Ciphers” gives an extensive history of the Zodiac Killer and the attempts of the officials at Vallejo at capturing him. I believe that the producers were successful in making a good podcast and kept a balance between the content and the theatrical aspects of it.

The title itself gives the impression of an interesting podcast and serves as a good hook for the audience. Additionally, the background music complements the eerie tone set by the podcast and betters the experience of the audience. The structure of the podcast is such that it seems like an interesting story but is also filled with information and facts which seems like a good way of sharing raw information without causing much boredom. To refer to an example, the segment about cracking the Zodiac cipher seemed to come right out of a dramatic movie but was filled with precise information on the cryptanalytical steps taken.

Finally, I also felt that the conclusion was done in manner that inspired the audience to look up the focus of the podcast. By mentioning different unlikely theories, the producer was able to spark an interest in the different theories behind the identity of the Zodiac Killer. All these factors contributed in making this podcast a good production.

The Captivating Story of a Serial Killer

The first thing that I noticed in the podcast “A Killer on the Loose: The Zodiac Ciphers” by Kelsey Brown was the background music. The music went well with the topic of the podcast. The music sounded very ominous and I think that relates to the dark theme of the podcast. Without even completing the podcast I was compelled because the background music captured my attention and made the podcast more interesting. The music would transition with the story when Kelsey would talk about the different subject matter.

One of the things that I admired about the podcast was Kelsey Brown’s use of storytelling. The podcast was very fluid. This makes me want to make my podcast in a similar way. I think that if my podcast was not fluid, there would be a disconnect with the listeners. Kelsey Brown’s podcast is so alluring because of how smoothly it transitions.

The topic of the podcast was very interesting to me. I am an avid enjoyer of murder mysteries, and crime television shows like Criminal Minds. I actually researched the Zodiac Killer a couple of years ago because the zodiac killer was a topic on one of the episodes on the show. I decided to listen to this podcast because the topic relates to my own interests in life. I know that for me to keep the listener’s attention in my own podcast, I have to be passionate about what I am speaking of.

A Killer Podcast

The part of the podcast I found most interesting was when Kelsey talked about Corey Starliper and how he supposedly decrypted the Z340 cipher. Before, I had thought that the Zodiac codes were almost all unbroken, and that the identity of the killer was completely unknown. However, if Starliper’s decryption of the Z340 cipher is correct, that means there’s a very solid lead on the Zodiac killer’s identity. Whether or not it’s actually Leigh Allen is up to debate, as it could have been intended to misdirect investigators, but it sheds more light on the mystery of the killer. Since I had previously thought that none of the decrypted codes yielded any useful information, this part of the podcast really stood out for me.

In the podcast, the producer introduced several technical concepts like cribs, frequency analysis, and substitution ciphers, while talking about the Zodiac killer. When the concepts were first brought up, she would add in a little side note explaining exactly what the term meant as well as how it applied in the context of whatever she was talking about. For example, when the concept of cribs came up, Kelsey gave the definition of a crib, and then connected it back to how the crib “KILL” was used to crack Z408 by Donald and Bettye Harden. Additionally, she refrained from using overly complex language that would push away listeners with less knowledge of cryptography and cryptographical history.

The Allure of an Undecipherable Cipher

The Beale Ciphers, despite the attempts of hundreds if not thousands of cryptanalysts, have never been broken before, and might never be broken in the future. Two of the three pages that Beale left behind are still shrouded in complete mystery, and likely will remain a mystery unless someone manages to find the key that Beale used to encode the ciphers. In all likelihood, all the cryptanalysts working on the cipher are wasting their time while hoping for an outcome that will never come. So why are so many people so interested in cracking the Beale Cipher?

The first and most obvious, though perhaps not the primary answer is the promise of wealth. Allegedly, the rest of the Beale Ciphers will lead the one who cracks the code to the treasure trove that Beale hid somewhere within 4 miles of Buford’s Tavern. This was the primary motivation of the cryptanalysts during and immediately after Beale’s time, because everyone wanted to be the first to solve it and get Beale’s fortune. However, as time went on, hope of getting the money slowly faded, but people still actively try to crack the Beale Cipher. For them, the pursuit of fame, glory, and the unknown is enough to keep them going. Being the first person to solve a 200 year old, perviously unbreakable cipher would certainly be neat, even if the papers didn’t actually lead to a $20 million grand prize. Their name would go down in history along with Babbage, Kasinki, and Bazeries as the people who finally cracked ciphers that completely baffled everyone else. It’s a similar story with the Zodiac letters. Two of the letters have been decoded, but the remaining two are still completely undecipherable. Despite the many failed attempts by amateurs and professionals alike, many people still actively try to solve both ciphers, though not as much for practical purposes as for the thrill of the hunt.

The Sign of Zodiac

I found Elonka Dunin’s website to be greatly interesting. Her small bits of information about the Zodiac Killer on her List of Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers specifically caught my eye. Before now, I had of course heard of this serial killer and his or her bold ciphers. However, I had not thought about it in a long time–definitely not since before the start of this course. Her little comments on it, both in her list and her book, The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles, are just enough to reignite interest in this decades-old mystery. To me, this reveals another area in which cryptanalysis can be put to use–solving not only messages in times of war, as we have discussed in class, but also messages involved in criminal activities. We’ve discussed the uses of cryptography in wartime extensively, but have not taken it quite from the realm of counterintelligence to that of criminal justice.

The uses of cryptography in criminal justice are quite similar to those in counterintelligence. Both involve determining the enemy’s intentions, and possibly his or her motives. In cases of criminal justice, investigators can use cryptanalysis to either analyze intercepted messages or to understand evidence left behind at a crime scene. To me, the case of the Zodiac Killer also sparks my psychological curiosity. This serial killer had to have a reason for sending the encrypted messages to law enforcement. These motives could be power, confidence, pride, or many other things. Successful cryptanalysis of the unsolved messages could reveal these motives, and possibly provide more evidence as to his or her identity.

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