Do You Have Code Cracking Skills? If So, The FBI Needs Your Help
On June 30, 1999, officers in St. Louis found the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick, who had been murdered and dumped in a field. The lone clues regarding the homicide were two encrypted notes found in McCormick's pants.
Now, investigators from the FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) and the American Cryptogram Association are seeking the public’s help in breaking the encrypted code found in the notes on the body of the murdered Missouri man.
"We are really good at what we do," CRRU chief Dan Olson said in a statement. “But we could use some help with this one."
The notes contain more than 30 lines of coded material, using a variety of letters, numbers, dashes and parentheses. McCormick -- a "street smart" high school dropout who was able to read and write -- had used such encrypted notes since he was a boy, but none of his friends or relatives can decipher the code, according to the FBI. Investigators believe the notes were written up to three days prior to his death.
"Breaking the code could reveal the victim’s whereabouts before his death and could lead to the solution of a homicide," Olson's statement continued. "Not every cipher we get arrives at our door under those circumstances."
Several CRRU examiners who are experts at breaking codes have been stumped over the years while applying a variety of analytical techniques to the notes in search of an answer or clues in McCormick's murder.
"Standard routes of cryptanalysis seem to have hit brick walls," Olson's statement continued. "Maybe someone with a fresh set of eyes might come up with a brilliant new idea."
To advance the cold case, investigators are searching for another sample of McCormick's coded system -- or a similar one -- that might offer context to the notes or allow for comparisons to be made, Olson said.
The FBI is not offering a reward for assistance in the case, "just a challenge -- and the satisfaction of knowing that your brain power might help bring a killer to justice," according to a March 29 news release on the notes.
To get you started, here's a basic tip: Breaking any code involves four basic steps, including determining the language used; determining the system used; reconstructing the key; and reconstructing the plain text.
Anyone with information on the codes or the McCormick homicide is asked to write CCRU at the following address: FBI Laboratory, Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit, 2501 Investigation Parkway, Quantico, VA 22135, Attn: Ricky McCormick Case.
"Even if we found out that he was writing a grocery list or a love letter, we would still want to see how the code is solved," Olson said. "This is a cipher system we know nothing about."