Unsolved: An encrypted bottle post from St. Louis

Dave Oranchak, who with his two partners solved the Zodiac Killer’s second cipher message last year, forwarded me a request. It’s about an encrypted message in a bottle that was found in a park.

Deutsche Version

I still can’t quite believe that the second encrypted message of the Zodiac Killer (Z-340) was solved a few weeks ago. For 51 years, experts cut their teeth on it. Z-340 was, in my opinion, the second most significant unsolved cryptogram after the Voynich Manuscript. Dave Oranchak

Quelle/Source: Schmeh

… and his two partners have undoubtedly achieved a success of the century. An interview I already did with Dave years ago can be found here.


The bottle post in Lewis Park

A resident of the city of St. Louis in the US state of Missouri has apparently also read about the Z-340 decryption. He found an encrypted message in a bottle in a park a few years ago. He thought Dave Oranchak was the right person to crack this cryptogram and contacted him about it. However, Dave didn’t have the time to take care of it, so he thankfully forwarded the request to me.

The St. Louis resident wrote the following:

Some years back I found a four page letter in code placed in a bottle. A friend and I were metal detecting at a park when I found it. I dont have the resources or smarts to figure it out.

The letters are number 1-4 in swahili. There are Egyptian hieroglyphs on page A. Looks like math to me.

It’s a small neighborhood park here in Saint Louis. The park was under construction at the time I found it under a tree the workers had knocked down. I have had them for about 4 years.

The park is called Lewis Park.

On the page A or Moja I believe is the key to the code maybe. All of the pages are written in pencil, but the one part is in pen.

I live in a very old area [of St. Louis], close to Washington University. The park belongs to a famous writer I do believe.

The said Lewis Park, where the message in a bottle was found, is only about 100×50 meters. It is located near the much larger Forest Park in St. Louis.

This story reminds me of a coded message in a bottle found near Kaliningrad (Königsberg) in Russia that is still unsolved.

Quelle/Source: Strana Kaliningrad

The Kaliningrad message in a bottle was also found on a construction site, although one would rather expect such a shipment in a body of water.

Eight other cryptological bottle mail finds were made in Hamburg at the Außenalster.

Quelle/Source: Katrin Reischert

The mystery of the Alster bottle mail cryptograms is also still unsolved.

The city of St. Louis is not exactly new on the cryptological map. The body of murdered Ricky McCormick was found near this metropolis, carrying two encrypted notes in his pocket. St. Louis was also home for several years to Elonka Dunin, with whom I co-wrote my current book, Codebreaking: A Practical Guide.


The cryptogram

The letter in the bottle consists of four pages:


Quelle/Source: Oranchak


Quelle/Source: Oranchak


Quelle/Source: Oranchak


Quelle/Source: Oranchak


Solution approaches

I suspect that the four-page text was created by a simple letter substitution (MASC). So it should be possible to crack the encryption.

The content of the message is probably nothing serious. Theoretically, it could be a message from a spy who used a bottle as a dead drop. But professionals don’t usually use fantasy letters, because they don’t have any advantages over the normal alphabet. It is possible that a teenager encrypted a trivial text here and deposited it in a bottle.

But who knows, maybe my guess is wrong and there is more to it. I hope my readers can say something about it.

If you want to add a comment, you need to add it to the German version here.

Further reading: CIA-Codeknacker dechiffriert verschlüsselte Flaschenpost

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