As early as August 10th 1969 Professor D.C.B. Marsh of the American Cryptogram Association (ACA) was commenting on the Zodiac ciphers. In the San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle he praised Donald Harden's deciphering skills and called the code "complicated and obviously drawn by somebody who knows his business".
The Zodiac Killer had already responded to prompts by Vallejo Police Chief Jack Stiltz to send more details to prove the letter writer and killer were one and the same. The more the Zodiac Killer wrote, not only lessened his time for killing, but may have provided additional clues to detectives regarding his identity. This tactic was likely adopted by Professor D.C.B. Marsh in the October 22nd 1969 San Francisco Examiner newspaper article by Will Stevens, which laid down a challenge to the Zodiac Killer to reveal his name. The newspaper stated "Dr Marsh told the Examiner today: "The killer wouldn't dare, as he claimed in letters to the newspapers, to reveal his name in the cipher to established cryptogram experts. He knows, to quote Edgar Allen Poe, that any cipher created by man can be solved by man. Zodiac has not told the truth in his cipher messages to the Examiner, the Chronicle and the Vallejo Times-Herald. Zodiac has not done this, because to tell the complete truth in relation to his name -in cipher code - would lead to his capture. I invite Zodiac to send The American Cryptogram Association a cipher code - however complicated - which will truly and honestly include his name."
'Nobody' considered the idea that the Zodiac Killer may have used a foreign language in the cipher, or possibly a rotating key that switches at certain intervals. By employing such a technique, the Zodiac Killer could make the cipher virtually "crackproof".
The article in the October 22nd 1969 San Francisco Examiner may have been specifically designed to lead the Zodiac Killer down a particular path, making his next cipher easier to crack. Dropping innocuous sections of text into an article such as "to quote Edgar Allen Poe, that any cipher created by man can be solved by man", can be specifically designed to guide the Bay Area murderer into using one of Edgar Allan Poe's cipher techniques or a model suggested by him. We know the Zodiac Killer was an avid reader of the newspapers and may have took this bait of using a publication by Edgar Allan Poe, thinking he was getting one over on Dr Marsh and the police. The hope from the standpoint of law enforcement, was that the Zodiac Killer would bite the hook and get reeled in.
The Zodiac Killer, however, would hold back his '13 Symbol' cipher for approximately six months. Zodiac researcher Michael Cole stated "Clearly, the Zodiac did not send the cryptogram to Marsh, as had been requested (this non-public way of satisfying the challenge was apparently unacceptable to the attention-craving serial killer). Neither did he respond in a time frame that most would have expected. But these details matter little. In fact, the timing itself provides yet another reason to conclude that what we have here is a specific instance of cause and effect. As mentioned, this article was published in the Examiner on October 22, 1969. Six months to the day later, April 22, 1970, the people of the San Francisco Bay Area were reading about the My Name Is cipher in the Chronicle."
But there may have been a much more cunning reason why the Zodiac Killer delayed his mailing of the April 20th 1970 communication, and it has everything to do with Edgar Allan Poe. Did the Zodiac Killer pick up on the wording of Dr. D.C.B. Marsh in the article, create and mail his '13 Symbol' cipher based on something in the writings of Edgar Allen Poe?
"Were two individuals, totally unpractised in cryptography, desirous of holding by letter a correspondence which should be unintelligible to all but themselves, it is most probable that they would at once think of a peculiar alphabet, to which each should have a key. At first it would, perhaps, be arranged that a should stand for z, b for y, c for x, d for w, &c. &c.; that is to say, the order of the letters would be reversed. Upon second thoughts, this arrangement appearing too obvious, a more complex mode would be adopted. The first thirteen letters might be written beneath the last thirteen, thus:
n o p q r s t u v w x y z
a b c d e f g h i j k I m; and, so placed, a might stand for n and n for a, o for b and b for a, &c. &c. This, again, having an air of regularity which might be fathomed, the key alphabet might be constructed absolutely at random."
The Dr. Marsh newspaper article opened with "A Challenge perhaps unique in the annals of American crime was injected today into the bizarre case of the killer who begins his letters to newspapers 'This is the Zodiac Speaking'."
The article continued, and bemoaned the fact that Zodiac hadn't revealed his true identity: "Zodiac has not done this, because to tell the complete truth in relation to his name - in cipher code - would lead to his capture. I invite Zodiac to send The American Cryptogram Association a cipher code - however complicated - which will truly and honestly include his name."
'A Few Words on Secret Writing' stated "This challenge has elicited but a single response, which is embraced in the following letter. The only quarrel we have with the epistle, is that its writer has declined giving us his name in full. We beg that he will take an early opportunity of doing this, and thus relieve us of the chance of that suspicion which was attached to the cryptography of the weekly journal above-mentioned–the suspicion of inditing ciphers to ourselves. The postmark of the letter is Stonington, Conn." link.
It may not have been the six month anniversary that was important to him, but the only date mentioned in the Edgar Allan Poe literature, 'A Few Words on Secret Writing'. The date was April 21st.
Had the Zodiac Killer deliberately waited six months to ensure his '13 Symbol' cipher letter would be postmarked April 21st, or be published on April 21st, which unfortunately for him never materialized? He was slightly early on the mailing, resulting in the postmark of April 20th, and the San Francisco Chronicle published his cipher in the April 22nd edition, effectively thwarting any intentions to recreate the Connecticut letter.
However, the possibility remains, that the Zodiac Killer could have used one of the cipher techniques employed or suggested by Edgar Allan Poe in 'A Few Words on Secret Writing', and the idea proposed by 'Nobody' regarding the use of a second language as the key, a much more viable proposition than initially considered.
"It is not to be supposed that Cryptography, as a serious thing, as the means of imparting important information, has gone out of use at the present day. It is still commonly practised in diplomacy; and there are individuals, even now, holding office in the eye of various foreign governments, whose real business is that of deciphering. We have already said that a peculiar mental action is called into play in the solution of cryptographical problems, at least in those of the higher order. Good cryptographists are rare indeed; and thus their services, although seldom required, are necessarily well requited. An instance of the modern employment cipher is mentioned in a work lately published by Messieurs Lea & Blanchard, of this city–“Sketches of Conspicuous Living Characters of France.” In a notice of Berryer, it is said that a letter being addressed by the Duchess de Berri to the legitimists of Paris, to inform them of her arrival, it was accompanied by a long note in cipher, the key of which she had forgotten to give. “The penetrating mind of Berrver,” says the biographer, “soon discovered it. It was this phrase substituted for the twenty-four letters of the alphabet–Le,gouvernement provisoire.” 'A Few Words on Secret Writing' by Edgar Allan Poe.