Can You Crack the Code and Help the FBI Solve a 12-Year-Old Murder?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 - 06:00 AM

A dead body found in a Missouri field, murdered, apparently, by a blow to the head. No witnesses, no murder weapon, and no apparent motive. The only evidence: two notes in the victim's pocket with a mysterious code scrawled upon them. Twelve years later, the case remains unsolved.

It's not the description of the opening scene from latest episode of "Cold Case," it's the true story of the murder of Ricky McCormick. An eccentric 41-year-old high school drop-out who had a passion for making encrypted notes, McCormick had last been seen five days before his murder in St. Louis, where he was undergoing treatment for heart and lung problems in June 1999. Investigators came to believe that the coded messages found in McCormick's pocket would point them in the direction of his murderer. But McCormick's code has proven to be too indecipherable for even the FBI, so after twelve years, the Bureau's Cryptanalysis and Racketerring Unit, in collaboration with the American Cryptogram Association, is turning to the internet for the answers.

"Standard routes of cryptanalysis seem to have hit brick walls," CRRU chief Dan Olson said in a statement. "Our cryptanalysts have several plausible theories about the notes, but so far, there has been no solution."

The FBI is hoping that "crowdsourcing" the code might lead to a break in the case. Both of McCormick's notes (seen above and below) were posted on the FBI's website with some simple guidelines to help amateur sleuths try to solve one of the CRRU's most vexing cases. "Maybe someone with a fresh set of eyes might come up with a brilliant new idea," Olson said.

Are you good at figuring out puzzles and codes? Check out Ricky McCormick's mysterious notes and the FBI's website, and tell us if you think you can solve the case.

The FBI has offered the below exercise to assist any amateur cryptanalysts.

Breaking any code involves four basic steps:

1) Determining the language used

2) Determining the system used

3) Reconstructing the key

4) Reconstructing the plaintext

Consider this cipher: Nffu nf bu uif qbsl bu oppo.

Now apply the four steps:

1) Determining the language allows you to compare the cipher text to the suspected language. Our cryptanalysts usually start with English. 

2) Determining the system: is this cipher using rearranged words, replaced words, or perhaps letter substitution? In this case, it's letter substitution. 

3) Reconstructing the key: this step answers the question of how the code-maker changed the letters. In our example, every character shifted one letter to the right in the alphabet.

4) Reconstructing the plaintext: by applying the key from the previous step, you now have a solution — Meet me at the park at noon.



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Comments [10]

jason reams from orlando fl.

A bit psychic. Why is " can solve if you were watching coming to mind" was it solved? or was something like a satelite watching. I think a satleite was watching. just a hunch and dna codes is what i deem it. 100 percent sure it was watched.

Aug. 28 2012 07:44 PM
jason reams from orlando fl.

Racketeering unit. ITs you all that know its a ritual homicide and thats the interest. 1/2 a piece of the pie. Hence racket and extortion. It wanted half of something and you know a deity was involved hence ritual mumbo jumbo. 1999 referiing to 666 and what else wasd going on around there is the bigger question. A corn feild? Why a feild whom was mob boss at the time ect ect ect. I think its a letter form and has genetic transcrypts in it and messing with you all about dna. BIt of a ritual expert buff myself. could solve if i had ALL the DETAILS.

Aug. 28 2012 03:01 PM
Joseph from spain from Barcelona, SPAIN, europe

--I suggest this:
-- Look the 2nd note, last line, said
"O-W-m-4 H8L XORLX".

--Can you see which letters are repeated?
--Can you remember HAL 9000?. Then...

+If X= variations of the letter C (MC, C, CK),typical shorthand.
+If L= M, H= I and m= N by Caesar Code B.
+if O=O, W=W and R=R.
+If 4= four= for and 8= eight= eit= ei= letter A by phonetic solution.
+If the hyphen join the letters in a word...Then is equals:

--It is the signature, last will and testament of Mccormick. The master key is explained.

Game Over. Bye from EUROPE.

Nov. 22 2011 06:44 PM
noah from monroe,GA

its about 9-11

Apr. 22 2011 04:44 PM
noah from monroe,GA

its about 9-11

Apr. 22 2011 04:43 PM
jonathan from millsap tx

did you guys ever think the murderer is extremely smart and erased all evidence of himself being there. maybe he just put the notes there to screw with you. he probably new that rick was into cryptex so i would start looking at the people he was around a lot

Apr. 12 2011 11:13 AM

From the way he writes the notes/letters, (quite elementary in style) I sort of suspect that McCormick was not a very good student and maybe wasn't a good speller. And, if that's the case, it makes breaking the code just that much harder. Knowing somethings about his likes, dislikes, hobbies, what he did for work, etc, might help too. If, as The Takeaway states, he was an essentric, that just adds another level of complexity to breaking the code.

Apr. 08 2011 02:05 PM
James D. Blum from usa

For the first few lines, if you sort the first five
letters, discard one, and add 1 from the next five,
you get:
plate, glues,see, trees, verse, gems, sects,
west and steers.
The next lines seem to be in a code sequence.

Apr. 07 2011 11:19 AM
Tom In Brooklyn

I have determined that this code is not pig latin, nor is it a variant of "the name game". Further analysis pending.

Apr. 05 2011 03:32 PM
Robert F. D'Agostino from Everett, MA.

First, we would need an enlarged , legible version of the notes. Next, any and all written words by the victim, whether code or not in cde. You stated he was a high school dropout and we need to compare his spelling, misspellings and syntax with written examples.

Apr. 05 2011 08:50 AM

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