Why it is a hoax

Many major crypto history experts (including David Kahn, Louis Kruh, and Craig Bauer) believe that the story of the Beale treasure including the cryptograms is a hoax. There are many good reasons for this view:

  • The Ward book (i.e., a kind of trashy novel) is the only source for this story.
  • It is unclear why Beale would have bothered writing three different ciphertexts for what is essentially a single message.
  • Joe Nickell, a renowned forgery expert and (like me) a member of the skeptics movement, has analyzed the language of the Ward booklet and of Beale’s letters using stylometry. The result suggests that they may have been written by the same person.
  • According to the Ward book, Robert Morriss was running the Washington Hotel in 1820. However, contemporary records show he did not start in that position until at least 1823.

In his Cryptologia article A Basic Probe of The Beale Cipher as a Bamboozlement, blog Louis Kruh gave a few more reasons why the Beale cryptograms are probably a fake:

Some other anomalies. After Ward received the papers from Morriss, according to his own words, he “arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them. Note that the ciphers which had been identified by Ward as numbers 1, 2, and 3 contain 520, 763 and 618 elements respectively. Obviously, they are not arranged in the order of their length. Supposedly, he either made a mistake at the outset or, more likely, reversed his numbering of 2 and 3 after solving (?) what is now identified as cipher number 2 but which he probably first marked as number 3 because it was the longest of the three ciphers. The reason for the renumbering would be that the solution (?) gives the location of the treasure as being in cipher number 1 and says the names and addresses of the party are in cipher number 3. Therefore, the solved cipher becomes number 2 automatically.

Nowhere, however, does Ward indicate by what divine guidance he had been able to determine which of the two unsolved ciphers was number 1 and which was number 3. Nevertheless, his trustworthiness is apparently so beyond reproach that to this day virtually everyone accepts as an undisputed fact his labeling of one cipher as number 1 and the other as number 3.

But here are the most curious questions of all. First, how did Beale, who allegedly wrote the message found in cipher number 2, know that it would be deciphered first? Because if it wasn’t, his references to the other ciphers would not make sense. And, secondly, if he was confident it would be deci—phered first, why didn’t he refer to the other ciphers as number 2 and number 3, which would have been the normal and logical thing to do.

There’s more. For instance, a view on crypto history reveals that the cipher method used to encrypt the second note was a pretty good one for the 1820s. Almost all encryption algorithms used four decades later in the Civil War were considerably weaker. It is certainly amazing that a buffalo hunter knew this elaborate system. On the other hand, if we assume that the whole story is a fake and that this cryptogram was created in the 1880, the situation becomes completely different. In the meantime, authors like Edgar Allan Poe had made cryptography popular in the USA. The Civil War, in which encryption played an important role, had made many soldiers familiar with ciphers. After the presidential election of 1876, US newspapers reported on their title pages about hundreds of encrypted telegrams sent by the candidate’s supporters in order to manipulate the outcome of the election. All this means that in the 1880s many Americans were well informed enough about cryptology to know and use such a cipher.

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Kommentare (11)

  1. #1 Marc
    20. März 2017

    This is a Level X Challenge on
    It seems someone has solved it (Seth Kintigh) ?

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    20. März 2017

    Thanks for mentioning this. Here’s the link to the Beale challenge (as you see, I’m the author of it):

    >It seems someone has solved it (Seth Kintigh)
    Seth has has handed in a link to Jim Gillogly’s paper, which gives strong evidence that cryptogram #1 is a hoax. Of course, this is not a solution, but the MTC3 team awarded him a few points.

  3. #3 Klaus Schmeh
    20. März 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    I have not looked i to these but i know some people are VERY passionate about this subject.

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    20. März 2017

    Richard SantaColoma via Facebook:

    I like that you came right out of the box, and call this one like it is. Surprisingly there still are many who still present it as a real possibility… and I was actually going to use it as an example as persistence of hope overcoming simple common sense.

  5. #5 Jim
    21. März 2017

    If the Voynich Ms. is someday shown to be a hoax, I think *it* would be a strong contender for the greatest one.

    I agree with Richard that it’s refreshing to see plain talking on this one!

  6. #6 Peter
    21. März 2017

    My private garden mole gave me a hint:
    You should always be aware, that all those
    treasure hunters help to aerate the compacted
    soil, main problem of our suffering breed, he said.
    Must I say more, he asked and twinkled with
    one eye…

  7. #7 Nick Pelling
    22. März 2017

    Klaus: respectfully, I think you’ve called this one wrong. There is a world of difference between asserting (a) that the story in the Beale Papers are fake and (b) asserting that the ciphers in the Beale Papers are fake.

    Though there is reasonably good evidence that a good proportion (though quite how much is a very tricky question) of the story is indeed fake – I prefer to think of it as “optimistically back-filled” after the event by one or more treasure-hunters – I think that the Gillogly strings point very strongly to there being some kind of genuine plaintext, though obviously not using exactly the same encryption scheme as the deciphered part.

    You say “Even if the Beale cryptograms will never lead to a hidden treasure, there is still a chance that they can be broken” – but if you accept that they can be broken, you should also accept that you have no idea of why they were encrypted in the first place.

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    23. März 2017

    James Simpson via Facebook:

    No Klaus, “They” won’t find it…..a man of the Union will…..

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    23. März 2017

    Bart Wenmeckers via Facebook:

    See :p

  10. #10 Lidia
    5. Oktober 2017

    Szyfry BEALE. Informacja.
    Rok temu złamałam 3 szyfry liczbowe BEALE : “71”, “115”, “317”. Na podstawie 3 szyfrów BEALE narysowałam 3 duże mapy format A-3 na papierze w kratkę. Według moich map skarb konfederatów znajduje się aktualnie w stanie Massachusetts. Oto moje mapy:
    1/ szyfr 71- region Revere Boston
    2/ szyfr 115 – miasto New Bedford Mass
    3/ szyfr 317- mapa stanu Massachusetts. Pozdrawiam serdecznie Leokadia Janiszewska Gdynia, POLAND. Adres e-mail: Data : 5.10.2017.