Around 1920, a US pulp magazine published an encrypted message exchange in its “missed persons” column. The cleartexts might refer to a familiy drama. Even two of the world’s greatest codebreakers apparently could not make sense of these cryptograms.

Encrypted newspaper ads are a fascinating topic. I have written about this way of secret communication many times on this blog.


The Detective Story Magazine

When I recently searched documents left behind by master codebreakers William and Elizebeth Friedman in the New York Public Library, I encountered an encrypted ad in the Detective Story Magazine, a successful pulp magazine, which ran from 1915 to 1949 (1,057 issues).


The Detective Story Magazine featured a “missed persons” column. The following scan shows how this column looked like:


The Friedman’s probably added this clipping to their files because of the other side of the leaf:


To my regret, these two pages from the Detective Story Magazine are not dated. It is not clear, in which issue they were published. As the material in the New York Public Library is from the Friedman’s Riverbanks years, this item was probably collected before 1921.


A message exchange with a missed person?

As can bee seen, page 157 of this unidentified Detective Story Magazine issue contains an encrypted text in the upper right corner:


Apparently, the first part of these number sequences were published in an earlier issue of the magazine. The second part lists replies sent in by readers.

Is this is a cryptogram sent in by a reader hoping that other readers would decipher it (see here for a similar story)? I don’t think so. It looks more like an encrypted message exchange, perhaps between a person who has disappeared from home (after all, this is a “missed person” column) and his or her family. Apparently, the Friedman’s couldn’t make sense of these messages, otherwise they would have left a comment on this sheet.

Can a reader decipher this message exchange? If so, we might learn about a family drama that took place about 100 years ago.

Further reading: Sherlock Holmes and the Pollaky cryptograms


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Kommentare (10)

  1. #1 Dampier
    19. März 2018

    Apparently, the Friedman’s couldn’t make sense of these messages, otherwise they would have left a comment on this sheet.

    Maybe they just archived it for later, but never found the time to delve into it …

  2. #2 Rallinger
    19. März 2018

    It’s a simple substitution. Every letter plaintext is a 2digit number, except for e = 103. The first message reads:

    “old cal where r k now. write me pare this magazine | theyll forward. am well having time kno.”

  3. #3 Thomas
    19. März 2018

    Probably these pages (157, 158) stem from an issue between Dec. 9, 1919, and Apr. 27, 1920: From Dec. 9, 1919 on “Missing” began on p. 156, after Apr. 27, 1920 the magazin had only 140 pages, see the links on (bottom)

  4. #4 Marc
    19. März 2018

    First answer is :

    Well cal here i am im havana. Write to me and send the rest of the (pode?). Eddie Fernandez

  5. #5 Rallinger
    19. März 2018

    2nd: “am under boper(?). write me bare d r blarkson gen del rochester ny. he will fowad ur old sidekick”

    3rd: “i am glad that through the detective story magazine two old pals have ound each other. george kirchenbauer yp(?) riverside ave baltimore m.d.”

  6. #6 Thomas
    19. März 2018

    old pal where r u now
    write me care this magazine
    theyll forward
    am well having time

    well pal here i am
    im havana write to
    me and send the rest
    of the code.

    am under cover. write
    me care d r clarkson
    del rochester ny
    he will fowad. ur old

    i am glad that through
    the detective story
    magazine two old pals
    have ound each other
    george ?irchenbauer
    1221 riverside ave.
    baltimore md

  7. #7 Marc
    19. März 2018

    so, “code” sounds way better than “pode” 🙂

  8. #8 Thomas
    19. März 2018

    “Gen. Del.” = Gerneral Delivery

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    20. März 2018

    @Rallinger, Thomas, Marc:
    Thank you very much! Another mystery solved.

  10. #10 Mike S
    31. März 2018

    How did you figure out that the 2 (or 3 for e) digit substitution worked?
    And how did you decide what numbers to use with each letter?