Murder victim Ricky McCormick left behind two encrypted notes. Both the crime and the cryptograms are unsolved to date.
On June 30, 1999, police found a corpse on a corn field near St. Louis, Missouri. The dead man was identified as 41-year-old Ricky McCormick. It soon became clear that he had been murdered. In a pocket of the dead, police found two pieces of paper with encrypted notes.
The FBI engaged its codebreaking department, the CRRU, but none of the specialists could solve the encryption (this is unusual because the CRRU has a success rate of about 99 percent). A co-operation with the American Cryptogram Association (ACA) was not successful, either.
The McCormick mystery
On March 30, 2011, the FBI published McCormick’s two encrypted messages on its website. Here’s the first note:
McCormick was no model boy. He had dropped out of school, changed residence frequently, and fathered at least four illegitimate children. He spent eleven months in prison because of rape. When McCormick died, he was sick and unemployed. Here’s the second note:
Ricky McCormick did not have a cryptology education nor was he known to have an interest in computers or mathematics. However, according to police, his family members reported that McCormick had occupied himself with encryption since his childhood. He had never told his family much about his crypto activities.
No solution found
Little is known about McCormick’s last days in life. On June 25, 1999, he was last seen by witnesses. Five days later, his body was found on the cornfield near St. Louis, about 20 kilometers from his home place. He wore a white shirt and jeans pants and lay face down.
The police did not reveal whether the finding place was also the crime scene. McCormick did not own a car, and the cornfield was not served by public transportation. According to the police, the body was so badly decomposed that the physicians could no longer determine the cause of death. While examining the body, policemen found the encrypted messages. For 12 years, the FBI kept this find secret.
After the FBI had published the cryptograms, codebreakers around the world could study them. The police also hoped for witnesses who knew more about McCormick’s enciphering methods. Allegedly, the encrypted texts were written by McCormick himself no more than three days before his death.
The McCormick cryptograms created a tremendous interest. Many codebreakers believed that they had found the solution, others gave more or less helpful hints. In order not to be flooded with clues, the FBI set up an online discussion forum and asked to first discuss solutions there before the CRRU was informed. But in the end, all the excitement was in vain; the McCormick cryptograms remained unresolved.
Here is a transcription of the first note:
PRSE NMRSE OPREHLDULDNCBE(TFXLC TCXL NCBE)
AL-PRPPIT XLYPPIY NCBE MEKSEINCDRCBRNSEPRSE
WLD RCCBRNSE NT SSNENTXSE-CRSLE-CLTRSE WLD NCBE
(NOPFSE NLSRE NCBE) NTEGDDMNSENCURERCBRNE
(TENE TFRNE NCBRTSENCBE INC)
(FLRSE PQSE ONDE 71 NCBE)
(CDNSE PQSE ONSDE 74 NCBE)
(PRTSE PRSE ONREDE 75 NCBE)
(TF NBCMSPSOLEMRDELUSE TOTE WLDN WLDNCBE)
(194 WLD’S NCBE)(TRFXL)
This is the second note transcribed:
ALPNTE GLSE – SE RTE
NWLDLRCMSP NEWLD STS MEXL
DULMT 6 TUNSE NCBEXE
(MUNSAISTEN MU NARSE)
(SAESNSE SE N MRSE)
26 MLSE 74 SPRKSE 29KCNOB,OLE 175 RTRSE
35 GLE CLGSE UUNUTKEBKRSE PSESHLE
651 MTCSE HTLSE NCUTC TRQ NMRE
NSREONSE PUTSEWLD NCBE (3 XORL)
DNMSE NRSE 1N2 NTRLERC BANSENTSECRSNE
MH CRE NMRE NCBE 1/2 MUNDDLSE
D-W-M-4 MPL XDRLX
New facts about the case
It is clear that the FBI kept many details about the McCormick case secret. For example, it is certainly not true that the police could not determine the cause of death – after all, the corpse was found only four days after the murder.
In 2012, Christopher Tritto, an investigative journalist, published an article about the McCormick case. He presented a wealth of information that had not been publicly known before. According to Tritto, Ricky McCormick had made at least two bus trips to 1,600 kilometers away Orlando, Florida, in the months before his death. Presumably, he acted as a drug courier, who transported marijuana from the coastal state of Florida to the interior of the USA.
McCormick’s relatives said that he had been scared after his last Orlando trip. He went to several hospitals where he asked for stationary treatment – perhaps because he felt safer there. On the afternoon of June 25, 1999, he left a hospital that had treated him but refused to keep him overnight. Probably only a few hours later he was murdered. As Tritto found out, the police detected several suspects, but in no case could the suspicion be substantiated.
Tritto couldn’t find out anything new about the two cryptograms. If a reader can, please leave a comment.
Further reading: The Top 50 unsolved encrypted messages: 21. The YOG’TZE case