Zodiac Killer’s name decrypted: Joe Bevilacqua #1

In the summer of 2017, I knew a man named Joe Bevilacqua.
Joe was an 81-year-old Italian-American from New Jersey. In his 20-year career in the United States Army, he had served as a chemical instructor and CID investigator, having been awarded the Silver Star and other medals during the war in Vietnam.

[Click here for the second part]

In 1994, Joe testified about the “Monster of Florence” case in the Pietro Pacciani trial. At the time of Monster’s homicides, Joe resided in the area of ​​activity of the serial killer, near Florence. The last crime took place near his home, the local American war Cemetery, where he worked as superintendent.

One afternoon in August, while we were on the balcony of Joe’s house, an apartment overlooking the “highway of the sun” and the Chianti hills, I showed him a copy of the first page of the letter from Zodiac with his encrypted identity.
He took the letter and began to read aloud, translating each line into Italian. When he reached the thirteen symbols, he smiled: “Forget it.” He paused on the line below the cipher. “I am mildly cerous…”.
“Strange”, he said, “‘Cerous’ means ‘waxy’. Why did he not write ‘I am curious’?“.

A few weeks later, reflecting on Joe’s insistence on “cerous”, I realized that this word was essential to the solution of the puzzle (see chapter L’acqua).
I noticed another detail, during the first attempts to decipher the message. In the 1988 edition of the Oxford English dictionary, the word “Aeneid” and the main character of Virgil’s poem, “Aeneas”, were the only words starting with “Aen”[1], like Zodiac’s cipher. Could there be a connection?

That classic reading was useful in providing clues about the identity of the serial killer than it was in helping to find his name (see chapter Take the money and run). After three years, I believe I have come to identify all the pieces of the coding method of the 13 letters encrypted by Zodiac. It will be seen that, apart from ancient symbols and terms, the references used by the murderer to encrypt his name were popular at the time the message was written.

The references used by Zodiac to build the cipher

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is zodiacs-name-cipher-references.png

The letter (FBI specimen)


Page 1

Page 2

How the cipher is made

Zodiac’s name is not encrypted with a substitution code. The symbols are part of a puzzle game.

The cipher

In the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle postmarked on April 20, 1970, Zodiac claimed to have encrypted his name in the row of 13 symbols on the first page. Immediately upon receiving this communication, the San Francisco Police Department asked the FBI to break the code, but the Bureau’s specialists were unable to[2]. The text was too short.
The Army Security Agency and Criminal Investigation Division were of the opinion that Zodiac had received military training in cryptography[3]. If it were true, the author should have known that the message of 13 symbols could not be “cracked” without clues similar to that he would have inserted in his Halloween card, a few months later[4] (the letter Q, according to the solution I posted here).


Here’s the FBI airtel


On page 1 of the letter, Zodiac asked readers if they had already decrypted the 340-character encrypted message he mailed a few months earlier. He said he was “cerous” – instead of curious – to know the amount of his reward. He nicknamed the policemen “blue meanies (sic)”, like the Beatles antagonists in the movie “Yellow submarine”. He added that he was not the perpetrator of a recent bombing on a police station, although he claimed there was “more glory” in killing a cop than a “cid” – misspelling of “kid” child.
Zodiac also told the readers he “was swamped by the rain”.
In the previous letter to Melvin Belli he had said: “I am drownding (sic)”. Did he mean he lived in a not very dry place?

On page 2, the killer had drawn a diagram of a bomb he was threatening to detonate, describing how it would work.


The first block of the cipher consists of an ancient Greek word in capital letters depicted in the book “The Alphabet” by Frederic W. Goudy, ANETHEKE, erected (or dedicated), recognizable by the particular shape of the Theta, similar to a solar cross. It is an inscription from a temple of Poseidon located at Cape Taenarum, in Laconia, Greece[5] (this find was first published by zodiackiller.com).
Zodiac made three changes to the original inscription. He transposed N and E, inserted a solar cross in place of the Theta, replaced the second and third E with a circled 8.

The word ANETHEKE matches the structure of the first part of the cipher with a few differences

The name and symbol that Zodiac used to sign himself were probably copied from the watch brand “Zodiac”.
The Zodiac most advertised product in the late 1960s was the Sea Wolf diving watch, publicized in 1967 as follows:

“A skin’s diver watch?
The only time
I am under water is
in the shower.”

The similarity between the Theta in the inscription of the temple of Poseidon and the solar cross may explain why the author of the cipher text replaced one with the other.
Due to its symbolic importance, the solar cross could encipher an initial.

Zodiac Watches logo

Archaeologist James Whitley, Cambridge University, explains how the word “anetheke” is translated into English:

Questa immagine ha l'attributo alt vuoto; il nome del file è set-up-anetheke-zodiac.jpg

James Whitley, The archaeology of ancient Greece, p. 140

The reason Zodiac used the word ANETHEKE in its cipher is related to the way his code was made. In fact, this ancient Greek word is translated as the word “set up”[7], that is the same verb the author of the cipher used on page 2, in the preamble of the explanation on how he “set up” the ” bomb”.

What Zodiac intends to suggest using ANETHEKE and the verb “set up” could be: “My name is – set up like this”.

The diagram below with the sun, the road and the bus could indicate the method for deciphering the “My name is-cipher”.

The arrows represent the sunbeams which were supposed to activate the detonation mechanism

2. Let the sunshine in

The sentence “the bomb is set up like this” based on the ANETHEKE – set up connection, suggests that the name of Zodiac is “set up” as the schematic of the bomb indicates.
If the diagram is superimposed on the cipher (you may drawn it on tracing paper) as in the image below, by placing the solar circle on the I of “is”, the arrows will indicate an empty space under the symbol and before the word “cerous”, the bus just below the cipher.

The decryption of E, I and the discovery of the key word ICE

By moving the diagram of the bomb along the encrypted text (you can also use Microsoft Paint or a similar program), you’ll find three possible translations in correspondence with the symbols ⑧ that allow you to start the decryption.

You can do that using the image at this link

I and E
The seventh letter of the cipher is an I, which is shown under the decrypted symbol.
Moving the diagram horizontally in correspondence with the first, the fifth letter will be an E.

The virtual movement of the “bus” vector along the path designed by Zodiac highlights the decrypted letters as the product of the “collision” between the bus and the first of the two arrows coming from the sun.
In the case of the third , as indicated by the second arrow (in red), if the dash is translated over the word “cerous”, the elision of “rous” is obtained, which, coupled with the projection of the “i”, generates the word ICE.
The application of this procedure explains why Zodiac has misspelled a commonly used word that he could hardly not know, “curious”, in “cerous”.
The keyword ICE can be a tip for decrypting the third .

is a composition of the symbol 8 copied from posters and advertisements[8] of the musical “Hair” and the solar disk drawn on page 2 of the letter.

Let the sunshine in
The decryption system of this part of the message is based on Fifth Dimension’s song “Aquarius-Let the sunshine in” taken from the musical “Hair”. It is applied in correspondence of the , since the circle around the symbol 8, copied from the posters of the musical “Hair”, is the symbol of the solar disk.

A possible clue inserted in the first sentence under the cipher confirmed that “Hair” is the right track.

A tip in the letter

“Aquarius-Let the sunshine in” by The Fifth Dimension is a 1969 single with which the American band won the Grammy Award for “recording of the year”[9].

The musical piece of the group is an arrangement of “Aquarius” and “Let the sunshine in”, two songs of the musical “Hair”[10], a milestone of hippy culture, which was performed at the Geary Theater, in San Francisco, a few steps from the corner of the street where the Zodiac stopped the taxi driven by Stine[11], the same day he was killed, on October 11, 1969[12].
In 1969-1970, the pacifist musical was so successful (as was Fifth Dimension’s Aquarius-let the sunshine in”) that it was still staged in San Francisco, at the Orpheum theater, when Zodiac sent his name enciphered[13].
On the posters of “Hair” were depicted two mirror faces in the shape of 8. The same symbol in horizontal position appeared above the “i” of “Hair” also in advertisements[14].

Department of Justice, Zodiac Homicides Special Report, 1971

In the night of Paul Stine’s murder, “Hair” was staging at the Geary Theater, which was about 40 yards from the intersection where Zodiac got into the victim’s taxi

“Let the sunshine in” is the last song sung in the musical “Hair”, while the first song is “Aquarius”, followed by “Donna”, a name of a possible Zodiac’s victim who disappeared on the coast of Lake Tahoe, near the state line with Nevada, September 6, 1970[15].
In a postcard dated March 22, 1971, the serial killer seems to allude to his responsibility for the disappearance[16].

It is worth noting an important allusion by Zodiac in reference to “Hair” and dating back to October 5, 1970, about a month after the death of Donna Lass.
In the postcard in which Zodiac claimed crime number 13 (below), there is a visible peculiarity. Let’s identify it before reading the next paragraph.

Zodiac composed the message with newspaper clippings (which he had never done before), gluing a part of it upside down. For what reason?
The answer is in the pages of the San Francisco newspapers of that period used to make the postcard, definitive confirmation of the goodness of the lead followed.
Before the postcard was sent on October 5, in the days of Donna Lass’s disappearance, the advertisements for “Hair” appeared with the title upside down, probably to attract the attention of the reader who had seen those ads for more than a year.

“Hair, the musical that turned Broadway upside down”

Another clipping on the back of the postcard, the address “San Francisco Chronicle”, taken from Datebook, the insert dedicated to cultural events that came out in the Sunday edition in combination with the Examiner, is a useful proof of the readings of Zodiac confirming two of the next parts of the decryption.

Letters so far decrypted

Crossed out in green, the changes in ANETHEKE that have been explained; in red, the symbols actually deciphered

3. L’acqua – the water

Like the word ANETHEKE, the anchor-shaped symbol before NAM also comes from an ancient civilization. This is the Brahmi letter “Ya”. It is preceded by a symbol similar to ⑧, “Mi”.

The Harappa seal

The drawing of the seal depicted above accompanied by four Brahmi symbols was published in the “Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum” (Indian inscriptions) by the archaeologist Alexander Cunningham[17]. The YA used by the Zodiac in its row of 13 symbols was part of the name “Lachhmiya”, an attempt by Cunningham to translate the unknown symbols in the seal.

Alexander Cunningham, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, p. 61

MI and YA are anagram in the first two letters above and below Zodiac’s encrypted message: “My” and “I a”. The respective Brahmi symbols, the “bull symbol” (circled like the symbol of Hair) and the “anchor” one, are identifiable in the cipher text in the same order in which they were found in Cunningham’s book.

The symbols MI and YA extrapolated from the name “Lachhmiya”

Highlighted on the left two anagrams of MI and YA
The symbols MI and YA flank the M above the word “cerous”

Why was Zodiac inspired by the Harappa seal?
Looking at the position of the symbols, Cunningham’s are above the word “cerous”, a distortion of a word so commonly used, “curious”, that it could hardly have been made by mistake. From “cerous” the word ICE, ghiaccio has been derived. There is more?

First of all, a comparison can be made between the Harappa seal and the cover of “Red Ryder” n. 15, from which Zodiac probably copied the mysterious symbol used in the Halloween card, a few months later subsequent to the letter with his encrypted name. The two symbols have something in common. In both cases, they were imprinted on the effigy of a bull.

On the right, the cattle brand depicted on the cover of Red Ryder #15 and the symbol drawn by Zodiac in the Halloween card

The second observation concerns the word “cerous”. While in Latin languages it is translatable into the word “wax”, in English, “cerous” is related to the metal “cerium”[18]. There is no apparent connection between this meaning and the decryption. The matter would change if it was derived from the Latin etymology “cera”, wax, which in English is one of the main prefixes of words starting with “cera”, “ceri” or “cero”[19].
It is possible that “cerous” means “waxy”, as in Italian and Latin[20].

The simplest logical connection between the term used by Zodiac, “cerous”, waxy, and the seal stone of Harappa, the seal from which he took the anchor-shaped symbol, is the binomial “sealing wax”[21].

The sealing wax is a mixture consisting mainly of “lac”[22], a resinous substance which is secreted by the cochineal Kerria Lacca. In past centuries, sealing wax was used to seal letters and certify documents[23].

LAC is also the first part of the name “Lachmmiya” from which Zodiac took the symbols MI and YA.

LAC could be the text ciphered by the symbols above “cerous”.

If the decryption is correct, the third , formed by the disk of the sun and the 8 of “Hair” and / or the symbol of Taurus in the representation of the seal of Harappa, would imply a connection between the A of LAC and ICE, ghiaccio.

What could be the connection between the letter A and ICE?

The decryption of the sequence ILAC through the song “Aquarius-Let the sunshine in” and the Harappa seal is useful not only to find the reason why Zodiac connected A to ICE, but to identify almost all the solution, an eventuality that certainly the author of the message had not foreseen.
Nowadays, to find it, all you need is an online search in the Census Bureau datasets (download file B in the linked page).

List of all surnames containing ILAC in the 2010 US census[24]

With a representation of 2667 people, which reaches almost 70 percent of the total, the most common surname containing the sequence ILAC in the United States is Bevilacqua[25]. This surname, in addition to corresponding to the letters identified so far and to the number of letters remaining in the final part of the decryption, contains the Italian word ACQUA[26], that is the most elementary connection to the term ICE and, at the same time, offers an explanation to the Zodiac’s choice to use the Fifth Dimension song “Aquarius-Let the sunshine in” to encrypt this part of his name.

The A is connected to the word ICE as the first letter of ACQUA, water, the last part of Zodiac’s name.

In the 2010 United States Census data, it turns out that the primacy of surnames ending with ACQUA also belongs to BEVILACQUA. It represents more than a third of the total, surpassing the second in the ranking, PASSALACQUA (1410), by almost double.

Highlighted in red, the most important data: only BEVILACQUA and ILACQUA are part of the set of surnames that contain the sequence ILAC and end in ACQUA in the United States[27].
On balance, this means that, if Zodiac is an American citizen and the decryption so far is correct, it is very likely that his surname is BEVILACQUA (90 percent).

Fifth Dimension’s “The age of Aquarius” cover


Endnotes part 1

[1] The Oxford paperback dictionary, 1988, p. 12, read the chapter “Take the money and run”.

[2] FBI Laboratory, report on specimens Qc45, Qc46, Qc47, FBI File n. 9-49911, April 28, 1970.

[3] FBI San Francisco, airtel, file 9-49911, Janyary 22, 1970.

[4] Zodiac, Halloween card to Paul Avery, October 27, 1970 (zodiackillerfact.com). My solution’s here.

[5] Frederic W. Goudy, The Alphabet, 1922, p. 11.

[6] Sunday San Francisco Examiner and ChronicleCalifornia Living, week of November 12, 1967, p. 54. Several advertisements of Zodiac watches were published in U.S. newspapers in 1967. Source: newspapers.com.

[7] James Whitley, The archaeology of ancient Greece, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 140-141.

[8] Hair, poster, A.C.T.’s Geary Theatre, San Francisco, 1969/1970.

[9] “5th Dimension gets Grammy”, San Francisco Examiner, May 8, 1970, p. 34. Source: newspapers.com.

[10] Mary Campbell, AP, “It’s a ripe age for the 5th Dimension”, San Francisco Examiner, June 6, 1969 (p. 26).

[11] California Department of Justice, Zodiac Homicides, special report, 1971.

[12] San Francisco Examiner, October 11, 1969, p.10. Several references int he following notes also. Source: newspapers.com.

[13] San Francisco Examiner, March 24, 1970, p. 24. Fonte: newspapers.com.

[14] San Francisco Examiner, October 11, 1969, p. 10. Fonte: newspapers.com.

[15] “Hunt for nurse at dead end”, San Francisco Examiner, September 26, 1970, p. 4.

[16] MClatchy Newspapers Service AP and UPI, “Zodiac’s postcard”, The Sacramento Bee, March 27, 1971, p. D2.

[17] Alexander Cunningham, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Volume I, plate XXVIII. The description of the seal is on page 61.

[18] The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, Volume XI, The Century Co., p. 224.

[19] Ibidem, pp. 222-224.

[20] Harper’s Latin dictionary founded on the translation of Freund’s Latin-German lexicon, American Book Company (p. 819).

[21] William Haynes, Chemical trade names and commercial synonyms, 2nd Edition, D. Van Nostrand Co, p. 377.

[22] Andrew Ure et al., Dictionary of Chemistry, Vol. II, Robert Desilver, 1821, “Lac”.

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sealing_wax.

[24] U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2010, surnames occurring at least 100 times, FILE B.

[25] Ibidem.

[26] Bevilacqua, en.wikipedia.org/wik/Bevilacqua_(surname).

[27] U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2010, surnames occurring at least 100 times, FILE B.