Proposed Zodiac 340 Solution Comes Under Fire From Critics

Corey Starliper's proposed solution the the 340 cipher received much criticism from Zodiac researchers, investigators, and cryptographers.

Despite an onslaught of criticism, Corey Starliper is standing by the methodology he says helped him

Starliper,a Tewksbury native, claims to have solved the Zodiac 340, a cipher written by a serial murderer who sent coded messages to law enforcement and newspapers in the San Francisco area beginning in the late 1960’s. Even though many have tried to decipher the Zodiac 340, it has remained unsolved for some 40 years.

Starliper said he submitted his proposed solution to the 340, published , in an attempt to bring closure to the families that were victimized by the Zodiac killer.

“I started this whole thing because I thought that I could potentially make a difference,” he said.

He also thought that there was a chance the story may take off.

“I had some idea that it would escalate and it would get people talking,” said Starliper, a former correspondent for Tewksbury Patch. “When people talk, things get shaken loose.”

What has shaken loose is a bevy of readers and responders, some of whom agree with Starliper’s solution, many of whom, however, think Starliper’s solution is invalid. Starliper has even been labeled by some as a fraud and his supposed solution has been called "a hoax."

Through the verbal attacks that have followed, Starliper has tried to dispel comments about himself that he describes as “inaccurate”. One of these is the idea that he’s not open to criticism.

"Constructive criticism is welcome. In fact it's appreciated," he said. “Constructive criticism generates opportunities in the quest for truth.”

Even though Starliper said that he didn’t expect the response to his revelation to be a “bed of roses,” the extent of both media attention and negative feedback was something that he described as a “shock." He said that people responded as he expected they would, “attacking the method” he used to derive a solution to the code, which he explained was more in-depth than his critics suggest.

“They’re saying that the Caesar shift is too simple. I didn’t only use the Caesar shift,” he said. “There were a number of other methods that I used.”

A Caesar shift is a means of encryption where letters in a code have been shifted in a determined way or a predictable pattern. In a shift of “3” for example, D would stand for A, E for B, and so on, because they are three letters ahead in the alphabet. 

Starliper declined to give any explanation as to how he reached the letters other than using Caesar shifts. The amateur code breaker plans to reveal all of that in a write-up on his deciphering methods, due by mid-August.

“The write up will be out as soon as FBI Headquarters in Quantico has had a chance to review it,” he said.

There are those in the general public who will be ready to critique the “walk-through” solution, as Starliper describes it, as soon as it is available. David Oranchak plans to read the write-up and explain why Starliper’s interpretations do not have, in his opinion, “special merit or significance” over mere guesses.

“Corey's system allows him great freedom to guess words that fit his preconceived notions of the Zodiac case,” he said. Oranchak runs the website oranchak.com. He is a software engineer with an interest in cryptography and wrote a program entitled “Zodiac webtoy”, designed to help people solve the 340.

“The mistake that many investigators make, amateur or otherwise, is they develop a theory and will work towards making the evidence work for that theory,” said John Morse, a Virginia-based Private Investigator, and of Morse Investigative services. On Morse’s website, he labeled Starliper an “exposed fraud."

“His method is based on an admitted liberal use of imagination,” the post read.

Starliper admits to working “backwards” at times to find words that made sense in the code.

“I can tell you that I did use the word “game” ... at one point to try to get to the next word,” said Starliper. “There were points when I was solving it, when I did go in and put a word in, and the similarities in the number sequence ... verified that the word was in fact correct. On the occasions when those similarities were not present, I went in and changed the word until the similarities matched up.

A big problem many critics raised with Starliper’s solution was that the shift values between coded letters and plaintext (or decoded message) seemed arbitrary. Starliper didn’t respond to this criticism, and even said in an initial conversation, “the pattern changes, to the point where there is no actual detectable pattern.” He said he overcame this problem by knowing “similarities in the numerical sequence.”

According to Oranchak, Caesar shift-type ciphers “use a fixed or repeating set of shift values.”

“The random selection of Caesar shift values demonstrates no credible pattern,” Oranchak said of Starliper’s method. “My initial impression was that his Caesar shift patterns would not hold up at all throughout the entire cipher.”

To confirm this, Oranchak recently analyzed Starliper’s solution down to the shift of every individual character. His work, which is posted on his site, claims that Starliper’s shifts are arbitrary.

“I am very sure that I could use the same steps to generate other guesses of the solution, all of which are as insignificant as Corey's solution,” he said. “You can simply replace Corey's solution with ANY plain text you wish, and generate another sequence of meaningless Caesar shift values.”

Michael Butterfield, a freelance writer who has researched the Zodiac case for more than 10 years, as well as the Webmaster of zodiackillerfacts.com, said that Starliper's means of decryption seem to be “random, selective, and self-serving.”

“By shifting the values of a given character within the code, Starliper was able to compose whatever message he desired. Anyone could do the same thing and achieve (his or her) own results. This is not a method to discover a valid solution -- this is a method for creating a preferred solution.”

Another qualm that critics have with Starliper’s methods are his reliance on a “340” connection between the cipher, and the area code of the U.S. Virgin Islands, to which the Zodiac was rumored to have ties. Starliper said he decided on the original shift of 3,4 by using the formula 3+4+0=7, 7+0=7—707 and 340 being the area codes for two locations in which the Zodiac supposedly operated. The problem is, as many readers pointed out, 340 didn’t become the area code of the U.S. Virgin Islands until 1997.

“It really wasn’t an insignificant connection ... in reality, if you throw away the Virgin Island connection, which people are already, you still have the 707 connection and you still have the 340,” said Starliper.

Oranchak disputes even this logic. He describes some of Starliper’s methods as “pseudo-mathematical,” specifically the connection between 340 and 707.

“These kinds of techniques are often used by numerologists to find non-existent messages and meanings in various sources,” he said.

Starliper’s decryption process took nine hours—in two shifts—which he attributes to his “trial and error method.”

“There have been thousands of solutions proposed to the 340,” he said. “This is mine.”

Michael Cole, the Webmaster of the site Zodiacrevisited.com, and an avid Zodiac researcher, said that Corey is similar to the many other people that have claimed to have solved the cipher.

Cole mentioned that through the years, Master’s Degree theses have been written on the 340 cipher, computer programs have been designed, and hundreds of man-hours have been spent in pursuit of a solution to the 340.

“Through all of this effort, none of us have even come close to solving the 340,” he said. “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,” he said.

Starliper seems to accept this as a possibility.

“I believe there is enough evidence to suggest that my solution is valid. However, it really is anyone’s guess,” he said. “For all anybody knows, (the Zodiac’s) code could be the alphabet repeated 30 times over.”

To those that dispute him, Starliper says that he won’t argue, he’ll simply tell them to come up with their own solution.

“Try your hand at it and see if you can come up with something different,” he said. ”If my solution turns out to be (inaccurate), at the very least I’ve opened the door for people to come forward with their own solutions and maybe we can get this thing solved once and for all. And if this solution is accurate, or somebody comes forward with one that is, then all this time in the spotlight and all the notoriety will have been worth it in the end.”




Corey Starliper August 01, 2011 at 02:20 PM
I tried using Oranchak's "webtoy" before all this came to a head. It's based on the theory that this is a simple substitution cipher. The "game" that I referred to comes from the Halloween card that was sent to Paul Avery. "I feel it in my bones, you ache to know my name, AND SO I'LL CLUE YOU IN, but then why spoil the "game." For a long time, people have agreed that the Halloween card may give hints and clues about solving the 340. I risked taking a lot of heat because I suspected that this solution was in fact accurate. If I'm wrong, everyone will get their last words in and that will be in for me. If it's verified by Quantico...well, people are going to think what they want to think, regardless. There's nothing I can do to change that and without a detailed write up, nobody at this point has what they need to prove me wrong. David used a photo of the Caesar shifts supplied by Patch. The picture itself is of my first guess. A few days later, I sat down to doublecheck my work and realized that a few of the shifts may have been off, so I corrected them using a fresh sheet of paper. It was not until several months later that I came to what I believe was the most accurate guess, and told Tewksbury Patch.
Corey Starliper August 01, 2011 at 02:22 PM
When I said that I had to work backwards, I said this twice. One was in regards to the words that I chose for the solution, the other was that I didn't want to put the write up out until the authorities had a chance to look it over, and before I put the solution out there, the authorities wouldn't pay attention. And now I think everybody is stuck, which is unfortunate.
John Morse August 02, 2011 at 04:12 AM
Corey, I want to set the record straight, and be clear of my reasons for getting involved in this case. I work with many cold case files for free because I believe in giving back to my community. I was originally looking for other citizens and private sector investigators that have broken cases open to underscore the need for law enforcement to lean on the public. I get frustrated when good work is done and it is discarded because of ego. Originally when I ran across your story I was excited and was hoping to feature the story at a conference with a local Fraternial Order of Police in hopes of breaking down the walls of distrust. After some research on your case I was able to draw the conclusion that I have made very public. I did this because this situation illustrates the number one reason given to me by LEO's as to why they don't give the private sector the time of day. I also understand that you can not get LEO's to look into cases many times with out some media pressure. I have mixed feeling about this situation. I do not know what your intentions where and hope that they are genuine. If you are right about the cipher then you deserve the praise of all of us. If it is a fake, fraud, or simply misguided you will continue to catch crap from the public. More information is available at http://www.morsepi.com/free-services/frauds/ . Please include me in the write up next month as I am interested in learning more.
Corey Starliper August 02, 2011 at 05:33 AM
@John Morse. I know that you are interested in this case, and so am I. But my question is this...and I know that in your position you must be heavily involved in research-you'd have to be-...if you have mixed feelings, why have you been so quick to jump to the conclusions that you have without having the write-up in front of you? Is it the default approach or do you have hard evidence that I'm exploiting the families of the victims? I have expressed on numerous occasions that the method by which I came to the conclusions I did is more complicated than it seems for people who take it at face value. And what do you propose I hope to gain? People attacking me personally? Reading thousands upon thousands of comments on forums telling me I'm a fraud, a fake, that my attempt to bring some peace to the victims families was a hoax? I'm sorry that this has gotten bigger than me but I didn't think I had a choice. Now I'm regretting it. So you don't need to remind me that I'll continue to catch heat from the public. I never meant for it to get this out of control.
John Morse August 02, 2011 at 12:07 PM
@ Corey. I am happy to discuss my feelings on this case and why I came to the conclusions I did in detail with you or anyone else. I am not on a witch hunt. I do believe your solutions are wrong, and that poor and subjective methodology was used. It is troubling when I hear in the original report how engrossed you were with others work and I truly believe that based on the Movies, TV, and books on this subject, that your results were tainted. Feel free to call me at my office at the number on my website, ext. 15. I am happy to discuss this further. I welcome the call and the opportunity to explain my feelings on the case and give you the chance to explain what your thoughts are. www.morsepi.com
John Morse August 02, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Corey called me today and we had a chance to talk in depth about this and other issues related to this case. I am glad to have had this chance and wish Corey well through the mine field of the mess he has created. I hope to have the chance to talk to him again in the future once the final write up is complete.
Craig Hyatt August 03, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Here is what I have a problem with. The solution and methodology was rejected by a cryptographer according Starliper. Furthermore, articles published online give the methodology in detail and point out in detail the inherent problems with it. Now, Starliper claims to be writing a "report" and that he is waiting on analysis from Quantico. First off, why is a report needed when the detailed methodology is published and second, what makes Starliper think Quantico will waste time evaluating a solution that is proven to be incorrect by professionals? I read a book earlier in the summer called "Mathematical Cranks". I am not name-calling here, but stating that Starliper's publication and handling of this matter exactly matches the profile of a "crank" as described in Dudley's book. To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, Starliper's decoding effort is "not even wrong" and the right thing to do is admit that, drop it, and move on.
John Morse August 03, 2011 at 11:39 AM
@ Corey, This is one of the examples I was telling you about yesterday. I was not expecting it to break yesterday. http://www.morsepi.com/free-services/frauds/ Look at the Atwell case.
Corey Starliper August 03, 2011 at 12:44 PM
Props to him for taking the blame on himself and saying that he was too scared to admit it when the car dealership deal went through. He appears genuine, probably started with good intentions and things got out of hand. I can see where you might find a similarity between that case and whats been going on with mine. I wish I could get people to understand that my motivations were pure but people are going to think what they want to think.
Criney August 14, 2011 at 09:38 PM
Corey I am really curious as to why you didn't submit your information to the task force first. I know Arthur leigh Allen was no saint but his family along with the victims were victimized too. I personally would like to see a law put into place that would help protect exploitation. I have worked extensively on this for 2 years and always give what I have found to professionals. I went through what you submitted and the only thing I could place it to would be if they were trying to cover it up. If I was them I would use something similar to make it seem like the " Melvin Belli letter". I think also they were all about framing people. Good try though I can tell that underneath you have a good heart.
Corey Starliper August 14, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Could you elaborate? The way that you worded it confused me. Who is trying to cover what up?
Criney August 15, 2011 at 05:04 AM
Sorry can't say very much...........you are on the right track just wrong guy. Melvin Belli show hoax was linked to a patient at a mental hospital. So if there were some big players involved would you not frame a man who was charged with pedophilia? After all nobody would care would they.
Craig Hyatt August 15, 2011 at 09:18 PM
@Criney "Sorry can't say very much...." Yeah right, because you are a CIA "secret agent".
josh fox August 18, 2011 at 09:55 AM
its pretty obvious A.L.A was zodiac, maybe the solution is wrong but its more than any1 else gave, you dont need to solve the 340 now cos wel never knw the only we wuda knwn was if police had searched allens trailers properly when they had chance instead of waiting 2wks before he died. i know if i murdered someone i wudnt b let of bcos my handwriting dont match, yet i got bombs in my basement.
Anders Liljeblad October 14, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Honestly, not really. I mean, there's a lot of circumstantial evidence connecting Arthur Leigh Allen to the Zodiac (some so blatantly obvious that it simply has to be him, right?). However, trying to directly link Arthur to the crimes has come to no avail. Whilst that alone doesn't necessarily mean that he's innocent, it does weaken the connection.
VICTOR COLE June 16, 2012 at 07:53 PM
What I find disturbing is that most hard line Zodiac researchers have their favorite suspect and instead of being objective, viciously attack anyone who dosen't share their opinion on their favorite POI.Tom Voight is seriously reaching with his suspect Richard Giakowski and their are many others. I've looked at the 'evidence' submitted on the numerous suspects and in my humble opinion only 1 person fits the bill and that is Arthur Leigh Allen.Just read the George Bawart 30 point Arthur Leigh Allen report from 1992.It's quite convincing.Personally I find it amazing the number of so called amateur experts who discard this report just to satisfy their ego's that their man was the Zodiac.I have yet to see any other suspect who even comes close to the circumstantial evidence gathered on Allen.I personally think those internet sleuths just cannot accept the fact that Allen was the Zodiac and they keep introducing new suspects just to keep the story alive. Corey you could be on to something because it's quite apparent that the code 'experts'have been barking up the wrong tree for 40 years.I'm not endorsing your decipher but at least hopefully your efforts will point those experts in another direction as theirs have hit a brick wall.


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