Cryptographic clues from an unsolved mystery. FBI asks for help solving the Ricky McCormick Case.
The FBI asks for help from amateur sleuths
Everybody likes a good mystery and this is a real one from the cold case files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Stuffed in the pocket of a dead man's clothes were two strange notes that not even the best of the best cryptanalysts can decipher.
The 41 year old body of Ricky McCormick was found in a field near St. Louis in 1999. It was the height of summer, June 30th. The notes were left in the victim's pockets and they are the only clues to the killer. Ricky seems to be the author of the notes, but the FBI thinks they point to the identity of the killer. The FBI has issued a public appeal for some fresh perspectives on the notes.
Although there is no reward for help in solving the murder case, or "cold case", the satisfaction of breaking the code is usually enough for amateur sleuths. They are looking for people that think cypher texts are easy and fun. If you do break the code or have an idea about how to break the code, the FBI is asking us to contact them at:
Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit
2501 Investigation Parkway
Quantico, VA 22135
Attn: Ricky McCormick Case
The cryptic notes...
I've tried to make it easier to read...
This is how I think the top note reads:
ALPNTE GLSE-SE ERTE
PNRTRSE ON DRSE WLD NCBE
NWLD X LRCMSP NEWLD STS ME XL
DULMT 6 TUNSE NCBEXC
(MUNSA 1 STENMUNARSE)
(SAE 6 NSE SE N MRSE)
NMN LCB ? NSE PTE 2 PTE WSRC BK ?? E
36 MLSE 74 SPRKSE 29 KCENO 6? OLE 173 R7RSE
35 GLE CLGSE ? UN ? TXEDKRSE PSESHLE
651 MTLSE HTLSE NCUTCTRS NMRE
99.84.52 UNEPLSE VCRSE AOLTSE NSKSE N?SE
NSRE ONSE PVTSE WLD NCBE (3X a RL)
?NMSE NRSE 1N2N TRLERCB ANSENTSR CRBNE
LSPNSEN GSPSE MKSE RBSE N CBEAV X L ‘ R
MN ? CRENMRE ? LBE ½ MUNDDLSE
D-W-M.4 MIL x DRL x
The bottom note...
The bottom note is easier to read, so I didn't try to "translate" it. Cryptanalysts can usually infer some information just from the handwriting.
One thing I noticed that almost every "word" ends with "E". What could that mean? It also looks like there are some measurements involved or directions to something. A life-long resident of St. Louis may be able to make something out of that.
Maybe it's a treasure map! Wouldn't that be a shocker?
Greater St. Louis, Missouri area
The body was found in an open area by the SE corner of the cornfield between the field road and a densely foliated levee, an old railroad grade.
One known address for Ricky McCormick and Sandra Jones
Marais Temps Clair Conservation Area. Possible location of the "treasure"
Photos from the area where Ricky's body was found
Additional Information about Ricky McCormick
Court Records search by RealHousewife
Ricky McCormick was born in 1958, he was 41 at the time of his death in 1999. His brother, Charles was born in 1959. Ricky was reportedly unmarried, but known to be the father of at least four children (from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Friday, July 2, 1999) Ricky was last seen on June 25, 1999 at Forest Park
Hospital in St.
Louis where he obtained medication for his illnesses. McCormick was unemployed and on disability welfare; he was
not homeless. Death appears to be caused by a blow to the head.
Ricky, or his brother, Charles may have been married to a Vicki Young or a Sandra Jones. There is some confusion about who was married to whom. Vicky Young had a child from an unknown father who had the child support payments suspended in 1990. The child is also rumored to have been fathered by Ricky or Charles McCormick.
Vicki was accused of passing bad checks, possibly cheating on unemployment requirements and fraud. She allegedly never paid her bills. Not much is known about Sandra Jones.
11-1992: A criminal complaint was filed against Ricky McCormick
12-23-1992: An indictment was filed for 1st degree sexual assault (Rape, Weapon or Injury involving a child under the age of 14)
4-22-1993: A mental exam was requested by the St. Louis State Hospital
9-1-1993: Ricky McCormick entered a guilty plea to the criminal complaint.
10-8-1993: Ricky began a three year sentence with the Missouri State Dept. of Corrections, serving only 11 months. Jail time reduced his sentence.
9-15-1994: Ricky was charged with writing bad checks.
5-14-1999: Ricky and Sandra both had a judgement against them for non-payment of rent? in the amount of $905.02 each.
6-30-1999: Ricky McCormick's body found in a field near West Alton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis, MO.
Courthouse records found by Anonymous.
Names associated with these cases...
These people were associated with Ricky McCormick at some point in his criminal life. Perhaps something in the cryptic code relates to one or more of these names:
Vicki Young or Sandra Jones; Charles McCormick; Shari K Gueninger; Frederick Carl Toelle; Edward William Sweeny, Jr.; Judge Sherri A Sullivan; Thomas C Mummert III; Mary C McWilliams (PD); Jane B Geiler; Judge Michael Paul David; Dr. Michael Armour; Judge Charles A Shaw; Eric Seymour Affholter (PD).
Analysis from a friendly Illinois inmate - Number BR549 4/9/2011
- Was Ricky an inmate in Farmington or Potosi?
- The code letters may be in a progression and this is why some of the words are in parentheses to indicate starts and stops. The apostrophe may be a red herring or a stray pen mark. It is too obvious to be intended in the way an apostrophe is usually used.
- Ricky was probably an abused child and the code is his way of talking to someone. His spelling is probably bad. Ricky was a disturbed individual and this code is either very sophisticated or very childish.
- This code may indicate where something or someone is hidden.
- What did his parents do for a living? His brother’s occupation?
- Who was the victim of the sexual assault? Could she have been related to someone of importance? Is she still missing? Is she seeking closure?
- What comic books or kid’s decoder games were popular when Ricky was a kid? There were some “decoder rings” in cereal boxes at one time.
- The code may have been a way for Ricky to talk to his brother or friends when he was being “punished” as a child.
- One of the pages may actually be the key to the other pages.
- Having to write over one letter may mean that the letter was actually “real” and not part of the code. It may be a clue to figuring out the rest of the letters.
An analysis from the smartest Hubber I know...
I had to write to Manna in the Wild to ask if he could shed some light on the crime scene notes. Here is his reply:
Yes - I saw this case too. It is curious. In the war, the Americans recruited the Navaho (Navajo) because of their unique language. They used them as crypto-translators. The enemy could not penetrate the language and so it was very successful. These notes may be similar if he did not base the language on anything known.
When a known language is encrypted it can be mixed with a random stream of data of the same length as the message and the message takes on the characteristics of the random stream. This too cannot be decrypted.
But it is impractical to use a key as long as the message, so key-based cryptography uses different methods with a shorter key. This often creates the possibility that the encrypted stream can be 'cracked'.
‘Standard’ methods of crypto-analysis include 'frequency analysis' and brute-force attacks and 'cribs' and so on. Often, the success demands a lot of encrypted text. In the case of the murdered victim, it appears that there is only a small amount of code, and it is out of context. These are both detrimental to cracking it.
It's obviously not a substitution cipher - usually you can crack these just by looking at it, so FBI would have tried that. How much further they went, I don't know.
I noticed, for example a word that uses an apostrophe. That might be a clue. Other clues are gained from knowledge of the victim's intellect, cunning, relationships, dealings, friends etc and could provide a crib. We are not privy to that information. When 'reading' the notes, it does sort of look like a language rather than a code. If so there might not be enough data to crack it. Those brackets and other punctuation, and the digits might be useful too.
Try to find out more about the character and his friends and relationships. They say he was 'street-smart' suggesting that he could be involved with drug deals or other crime. That in itself is possibly a clue -- perhaps there are other people on the other end of a crime ring who can read the note, or maybe it's his own personal 'blog' and he uses a random child-language no-one else knows. It could be full of its own language's spelling and grammar mistakes which are distracting for cryptanalysis.
Analysis used by permission from Manna in the Wild
How cryptographic analyists go about breaking a code...
Cypher systems are usually broken by applying four steps:
- Determine the language - In this case it is obviously English but could be some childhood language like "pig-latin" Ricky never graduated high school and his family say he made notes like these since he was a boy.
- Determine the system - letter substitution, rearranged words, math, reference, etc.
- Find the key - for instance, if it is letter substitution, what letter is substituted?
- Apply the key to figure out the message.
Ciphers and Analysis Video How To
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Unsolved FBI Cases
Call them what you will...but don't call them open and shut.
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