Ricky McCormick’s Encrypted Notes, a Mystery for FBI and Cryptographers Since 1999
Ricky McCormick, a 41-year-old man was found dead in an abandoned field in St. Charles County. He was killed three days before his body was discovered. There was no missing person’s report lodged in his name. He could have become just another murdered person had it not been for the two notes found in his pockets. Upon close inspection, the two notes turned out to be encrypted in an unknown code. To date, no one had been able to solve the code and it still remains one of the FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit’s (CRRU) top unsolved cases.
On June 30, 1999, 41-year-old Ricky McComick’s body was discovered in a field in St. Charles County, Missouri along with two hand-written encrypted documents in his pockets. He was murdered 3 days before and was identified through the fingerprints of his already decomposing body.
On June 30, 1999, a woman was driving along a field route off Route 367 when she suddenly spotted a body. When police reached the spot, they found the body somewhat decomposed. The authorities used fingerprints to identify the body which turned out to be McCormick’s. McCormick was a 41-year-old high school dropout. He never married but had fathered at least four children. Also, he had a criminal record and had been sentenced to three years for statutory rape out of which he had served eleven months. During the time of his death, he was unemployed and on disability.
The decomposition of his body revealed that McCormick died three days earlier. He was last seen alive on June 25, 1999, when he was getting a checkup at the now defunct St. Louis Forest Park Hospital. According to his girlfriend, she had talked with him on the phone on June 26th around 11:30 a.m. After that, no one heard anything from McCormick until June 30th. Yet no one, not even his family, had filed a missing person’s report. But the thing which baffled police then and continues to be a mystery even now was the encoded notes in his pocket. The two note consisted of “a jumble of letters and numbers occasionally set off with parentheses” which were assumed to be an unknown code.
In 1999, McCormick’s death was ruled out as “undetermined” and the news stories did not mention anything about the encrypted messages. But twelve years later, the FBI listed his death as murder and released the cipher messages asking for help in deciphering them. They hoped that could help in solving his murder.
When the body of McCormick was discovered, it was quite decomposed. So, at that time, the authorities could not determine whether it was a case of homicide or not. Also, there was no indication that anyone had a motive to kill McCormick. So, initially, the authorities ruled out homicide and the case slowly turned cold.
Twelve years later, the FBI reopened the investigation and listed the death of McCormick as murder. They also posted a notice on the main page of the FBI website asking for help to decode the encrypted messages found on McCormick’s body at the time of his death. The FBI believed that if deciphered, the messages would lead to the person or persons who murdered McCormick. The cipher generated such a huge response that later the FBI requested people not to call by phone but respond only by email. Instead, they set up a new page where anyone could offer information on how to break the code and prove the theories related to it.
McCormick’s family did not know about the encrypted notes and only came to know about them after their public release by the FBI. Ricky’s mother claims that he could not write any code and referred to him as a “retard”. According to his cousin, Ricky might have suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Also, he was known to hang around with drug dealers.
Surprisingly, McCormick’s family had no idea about the two encrypted notes. At the time of McCormick’s death, all the contents of his pockets were revealed to his family except these notes. In 2012, during an interview with Riverfront Times, McCormick’s mother, Frankie Sparks, said at the time of her son’s death they were not told about the existence of any such messages. She also said “The only thing he could write was his name. … He didn’t write in no code” and referred him as a “retard”. According to his father, Charles McCormick, his son “couldn’t spell anything and would just scribble”.
Riverfront Times also mentioned that “family members say they never knew of Ricky to write in code”. They say they only told investigators he sometimes jotted down nonsense he called writing, and they seriously questioned McCormick’s capacity to craft the notes found in his pockets. According to his cousin, Ricky would often talk “like he was in another world”. He also suspected that Ricky might have suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Also, he used to hang out with drug dealers. Prior to his murder, McCormick had traveled back from Florida and had brought back marijuana purchased there from a local drug dealer.
Due to the varied descriptions of McCormick’s personality, a number of theories related to the cryptic messages have developed. According to some theories, the encrypted messages give information about his killer. While some theories claim that MCormick could not write such messages as he is a high school dropout.
Since the time the FBI had publicly released the encoded message, they have received lots of theories. Since McCormick is a high school dropout, some theories claim that the cipher could not have been written by him. But according to his family members, McCormick has used encrypted notes since he was a boy. So, another theory states that maybe it’s really a highly intelligent coded message which could lead to his killer.
McCormick’s cousin has claimed that he may have been schizophrenic. Such patients often have an urge to pen down their thoughts and views. So, according to this theory, the encoded messages could have been a product of a schizophrenic mind. There were many other theories related to Ricky McCormick’s murder and encrypted messages but none of them have been proven to be true.
FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU), the American Cryptogram Association and many other code-breakers tried to decipher the message but up to now no one has succeeded. Currently, it is listed as one of CRRU’s top unsolved cases.
Ricky McCormick’s life might have been forgotten by people long ago had not it been for these two sheets of paper. The encrypted messages have been a source of a puzzle for many code-breakers including the FBI’s CRRU and the American Cryptogram Association. Is it actually just a set of gibberish as his father claims or does it contain any real information? No one knows.
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