Belgian world-class codebreaker


In the 1960s, the notorious Zodiac Killer, an American serial killer, caused a panic in Southern California. He claimed to have killed 37 people, five of whom have been confirmed. In December 2020, our compatriot Jarl Van Eycke made world news when he deciphered his secret writing after more than 50 years.

This 40-year-old warehouse manager from Melsele, East Flanders, is one of the best - if not THE best - codebreakers in the world. What top investigators, and even the FBI, had failed to do in more than 50 years, was realised by the efforts and ingenuity of Jarl Van Eycke, American web designer David Oranchak and Australian mathematician Sam Blake. They cracked code Z340 - so called because it consisted of 340 characters. The criminal had made a game out of sending encrypted messages to police and the local San Francisco Chronicle newspaper in November 1969 without revealing his identity. The three masterminds, however, managed to transform the bizarre symbols into understandable language. As a result, we were able to read some disconcerting statements from the killer, such as, "Hopefully you guys like trying to catch me" and "I'm not afraid of the gas chamber, because it will get me to paradise even faster."

Jarl Van Eycke, by the way, clearly has a thing for codes. Sometime later, he and a colleague also cracked the code of the Dutch-Flemish engineer, cartographer and astronomer Michael van Langren (1598-1675) which was used to determine a position on the high seas.