....For nearly 40 years, the Zodiac Killer and his cryptic messages have mystified authorities, but a Great Falls man believes he has some clues that could identify the 1960s serial killer who has never been caught.
"It's the puzzles that got me," said Tim Spencer, owner of the Brighten Up Shop on Central Avenue.
Spencer, an avid bridge player since he was a boy, said the cryptogram messages and letters the Zodiac Killer sent to three newspapers in San Francisco sparked his interest. He first saw the puzzles in the 2007 movie, "Zodiac."
The Zodiac Killer operated in northern California in the late 1960s. He has five known murder victims but in letters to newspapers claimed responsibility for as many as 37. His identity remains unknown.
Spencer spent hours poring over "solved" cryptographs the killer sent to police. One stated that the Zodiac liked to kill because he's collecting slaves for the afterlife. A line in one of the letters reads: "In this cipher is my identity."
After reading the ciphered messages, Spencer didn't stop his puzzle-solving.
"If the ciphers are solved, then where is his identity?" Spencer asked.
Spencer is bothered by the fact that the Zodiac Killer misspelled several words. "Paradise" was "paradice," "forest" was "forrest," and there were 18 extra characters at the end of one cipher that didn't mean anything at all, according to investigators.
Spencer asked his wife, Joy, what these misspellings might mean because someone who can make cryptograms normally wouldn't have a spelling problem.
"To make the puzzle work," she told him.
With that, Spencer went to work using a different method — he put the ciphers together. Each was 17 columns wide and eight rows from top to bottom. He then took each column and remixed the letters to spell out words.
"Some of them are just scary as to what they say," Spencer said.
One awkward sentence reads, "I beat SFPDs laws by show self." That possibly could mean the killer was seen by the San Francisco Police Department but was never caught, Spencer said, which actually happened.
Spencer figures the symbols going horizontally, the ones that already have been solved, state that the killer likes to kill and he will do it again. However, the words hidden vertically could reveal his identity, Spencer said.
"I live in your city by the ship dks," one says, most likely referring to ship docks.
"A sly lone letter, I sent score," another column states. The Zodiac Killer signed one letter Zodiac 5, SFPD 0.
"This guy was really competitive and liked to play games," Spencer said. "These are the type of clues that should be followed.
"I swear this is not an accident."
He has gone to several police departments but his findings haven't been taken into serious consideration, he said. The San Francisco Police Department said it doesn't have time for old crimes and clues, Spencer stated.
Most people believe the killer was a poor speller, according to the Web site, zodiackiller.com, where Spencer posts his results and receives comments from users. Many also believe solving the crime really doesn't matter because the killer is probably between 60 and 80 years old by now.
Joy Spencer isn't as dedicated as her husband in deciphering the letters but is glad that he has "something to entertain him."
She said the findings are relevant because the victims' families would like to know who the killer is and see him punished.
"The real harm is in not trying," she said.