Code Dead: Do the encrypted writings of Ricky McCormick hold the key to his mysterious death?

Code Dead: Do the encrypted writings of Ricky McCormick hold the key to his mysterious death?
Timothy Lane

Ricky McCormick's remains were well on their way toward fertilizing the soil when investigators arrived to the scene in late June 1999. Filthy Lee blue jeans and a stained white T-shirt clung to his scrawny five-foot-six-inch frame. Although it had been just three days since he disappeared, the flesh on his outstretched hands was already rotted to the point that his fingertips, just below the top knuckles, had fallen off and lay next to him in the weeds.

How his corpse ended up facedown in this cornfield in rural St. Charles County — twenty miles from where he worked and lived in downtown St. Louis — was anyone's guess. But the desolate sliver of land between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers has been a criminal dumping ground for years.

In 1995 authorities discovered the bullet-ridden body of an alleged prostitute in an abandoned house along the same stretch of U.S. Route 67. Two years after McCormick's death, state road crews mowing grass some 300 yards away from where he lay found the nude bodies of two more women.

The notes seem to display elements of secret languages and simplified phonetic spellings. For example, “MLSE” could be code for “miles.”
The notes seem to display elements of secret languages and simplified phonetic spellings. For example, “MLSE” could be code for “miles.”
The FBI has been stumped for a decade but  insists the writings have meaning.
The FBI has been stumped for a decade but insists the writings have meaning.

Advanced decomposition made an autopsy of McCormick difficult. Following a thorough examination of the 72 pounds of bones and flesh that survived exposure to the elements, pathologists with the St. Charles County Medical Examiner's Office ultimately ruled McCormick's cause of death "undetermined." Yet police suspected foul play.

Homicide detectives searched the 41-year-old victim's pockets for clues and interviewed his relatives, girlfriend and others who knew him. Soon leads began to run dry, and a stack of other cases piled up on investigators' desks. Before long McCormick appeared to join the ranks of countless other poor, indigent men whose short lives ended under suspicious circumstances only to be forgotten.

Twelve years passed, and then everything changed.

In March 2011, FBI officials made a rare and remarkable revelation, seemingly out of the blue. Dan Olson, chief of the bureau's Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) in Quantico, Virginia, disclosed for the first time the existence of two pages of handwritten encrypted notes found stuffed in a pocket of McCormick's jeans. Unable to decipher the tangle of letters and numbers, the FBI released copies to the public with a plea for assistance to hardcore puzzle solvers and wannabe sleuths alike.

It turns out McCormick's riddle, allegedly written by a man who could hardly write his own name, has stumped the world's foremost code breakers. They remain so baffled, in fact, that McCormick's notes now rank third on the CRRU's list of top unsolved cases, behind only an unbroken cipher authored by the self-proclaimed Zodiac killer in 1969 and a secret threat letter written to an undisclosed public agency about 25 years ago.


FBI code breakers typically unlock the meanings of ciphers they receive in a matter of hours. McCormick's notes have eluded Dan Olson for more than a decade. Although he has since been promoted to lead the bureau's cryptanalysis unit, Olson was a forensic analyst when the McCormick codes first made their way east to Quantico in late 2001. He's been puzzling over them ever since.

Olson projects a clinical approach to his job: disciplined, methodical, emotionally detached. When the McCormick codes originally hit his desk, Olson attacked them as he always does, counting characters and looking for patterns. He attempted to break them down manually with graph paper and a pencil. He dissected the strings of letters and numbers on whiteboards amid the acrid whiff of dry-erase markers. He employed computers with state-of-the-art software to perform statistical analyses. Olson worked on the codes for two solid weeks.

He got nowhere.

He brought in other analysts to take a look and brainstorm ideas and consulted experts for clues. He compared the letters and numbers in the notes to every street address in St. Louis and vetted them against maps from across the country, but no hits rose to a level beyond coincidence.

"It doesn't happen often that we have an unsolved cipher of this length and significance," Olson says. "The characters are not random. There are many E's, for example, that could be used as a spacer. There are many characteristics that suggest it could be solved, many patterns. The problem is we don't know why it is not solvable."

Cracking a code takes four steps. First one must determine the language used, in this case, English. Then the system used — a cipher in which letters are transposed or substituted for something else, for example, or a code in which a letter such as "R" represents a person or place, or perhaps even a secret language such as a version of pig Latin. After

that one must reconstruct the key that explains how the code maker changed the letters of the message, such as by shifting every character three letters to the right in the alphabet. Finally, one can apply the key and transcribe the intended text.

"We cannot get past step two," Olson says of the McCormick case.

Some have suggested the notes are meaningless, the random scribblings of a man who by all accounts was functionally illiterate and demonstrated a low IQ. Olson is quick to argue otherwise. He is convinced the codes could contain leads about where McCormick was or with whom he met in the last hours before his corpse was abandoned to rot along with his secrets.

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21 comments
HonestABE
HonestABE

He was possibly held prior to his death.  There are actually more than one encryption.  It's based on two different types of encryption.  And there appears to be directions.  Have fun.

jdpinkninja
jdpinkninja

It looks like he was sounding out words. Some of the words has to many letters.

dan.schlueter.1.1.2.
dan.schlueter.1.1.2.

I just wanted to say that this was an incredibly well researched and well written article.  I read articles every day that are just trash with nothing to say and poorly written at that.  You sir, give me hope.

Richard1980
Richard1980

I've been thinking about where RM's body was found. The location was 20+ miles from his residence and the hospital where he was last seen five days earlier. After poking around on the map a bit, I got the idea that the casino might be the reason. In 1999, the Alton Belle was docked in Alton, IL, about 4 miles from the site of RM's body. Also during that time, the Casino Queen was in operation in East St. Louis only three miles from Chouteau Ave. (Coincidentally, the Mayfair Hotel where Maury Travis was employed 2000-2001 is practically within walking distance of Chouteau.)  http://bleacherreport.com/users/1493055-buy-green-coffee-bean-extract-online http://bleacherreport.com/users/1419367-food-lovers-fat-loss-system http://bleacherreport.com/users/1416296-buy-cigarettes-online-with-free-shipping

JustARedditor
JustARedditor

It is just a key for an encrypted ebook. Notice the (ACSM). He most likely wrote it down after buying the book to put it on another computer. When you start to download an Adobe PDF a small file with the extension .acsm is first downloaded. This is used by Adobe Digital Editions to send the activation ID to the delivery server which will use that ID to generate an encrypted PDF/ePub eBook, which is then downloaded to your PC. Write the code in a file and save it as 'foo.acsm' Login to the dead guys account and download his encrypted adobe ebook. Case solved!

irony free
irony free

Schizophrenic is the answer. Only Ricky knows.

Burris Travis
Burris Travis

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Scott19674
Scott19674

I made it to the part where he had knocked up a child, then dredged Givafuck Bay unsuccessfully to muster up the energy to read about his unjust end.

Burris Travis
Burris Travis

A buddy's mother makes $65 every hour on the computer. She has been without a job for seven months but last month her payment was $14505 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this web site lazycash42.c()m

MandoMadMan
MandoMadMan

Perhaps he didn't write the notes and perhaps they are not based on the English language. I'm sure they've looked into that? Maybe he was keeping them as a bargaining chip or insurance? Didn't work as it turned out.

sherlock holmes
sherlock holmes

okay i got it figured out. the note was not actually written by mc cormick . it was written by his drug dealer and it says: "this mother funking n word shoulda paid his funk ing drug debt. man don't play me for no f-ing b!tch cause you end up face down ina vacant lot wit maggots crawing all up in n out your orifices like dis scroungy @ss b!tch". well, that's what it says word for word and so i hope that puts this matter to rest.

Gilbert
Gilbert

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steve allen winkelmann
steve allen winkelmann

I worked with schizos for decades as an RN in mental health facilities and on the med floors. I guartentee you , you will never decipher the writings. I had pages of writing by schizos. I would ask them what they were saying in the jibberish writings and they would tell me. Days later, the same writings would have a different meaning when I would ask the same question.

srv
srv

what i love is how the police do not tell his family anything and that the middle eastern gun toting drug lords go free. what fools we are to have any hope that our st. louis police force is not corrupt.

Ricky Hollywood
Ricky Hollywood

I think I've solved it. It says: l;kasdlk;jaflkjsdajklf poop poop poop al;kjdalk;akl;sad alkjdl;kaljk;dfa peepee akl;jdasl;ka

Gentry June
Gentry June

what George replied I'm amazed that anyone able to earn $5349 in one month on the internet. did you see this site lazycash42.c()m

Danieljoeoconnor
Danieljoeoconnor

.... and the idea that they gotta use a state of the art ibm computer to figure out a mysterious code written by some bum who could barely write his own name is preposterous.

Danieljoeoconnor
Danieljoeoconnor

i agree with the people who knew him best . he didn't write no code that could fool all these fbi and german enigma code experts when he could barely sign his own name. or if he did write these scribblings he probably couldn't tell you what it said five minutes after he wrote it. i recall reading another story similar to this where some guy had supposedly written some mysterious code and by lucky chance the experts stumbled onto the logical explanation and proof that he never wrote diddly. however, i can't recall the details but there was no one able to find a complex solution cause there was simply nothing to solve. i believe this mystery mostly likely has an obvious solution to someone more closely familiar with his lifestyle.

Jose Galofre Manero
Jose Galofre Manero

Hello from Spain. - The master key to understanding Mccormick´s notes should be sought in the last line of the 2nd note the signature of the deceased. - I saw that certain letters were repeated as in the word "Mccormick" and i remembered the joke of Arthur C. Clarrke in the movie "2001" (IBM= HAL 9000) - And this is my solution: "O-W-m-4 H8L XORLX" = "OWN-FOR I AM MCCORM(i)CK" because ... + O=O, W=W and R=R + m=N, H=I and L=M by use Caesar code B or +1 + 4= four= for by phonetic solution + 8= eight= eit= ei= letter A by phonetic solution + X= Variations of the letter "c" (MC, C and CK) by shorthand use. + The hyphen join the letters in a word. + Vowel "i" by usual solution in shorthand transcription - If you think 4 is not 4 but "Y" and 8 is not 8 but "I" then the solution is: +"Y"= wai= WHY or WAY by phonetic solution, similar sound. +"I"= ai= letter A by phonetic solution, graphic representation of a sound. "O-W-m-Y HIL XORLX" means "OWN-WHY? I AM MCCORMICK" -This is the master key and means the note ia a last will or testament. -The plaintext not exist -Only exist a stenographyc text that was hidden with a personal shorthand system with some measures of deception.It is a children´s game, literally .... -Finally, in Marais Temps Clair C.A. (mo) there is a suitcase buried by Mccormick with money ($99.840) and more, after the central curve in a bird watching position. - Good luck. (Search the house 35 next to northern entrance to Marais ...) bye.

 
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