I found this story on Network World, a site that does not usually devil in crime and mysteries, rather it explores the world of bits and bytes as they relate to the digital world that we live in. Although some might argue that there are many crimes and mysteries within the digital world.

This article however caught my attention. In summary the article says – The FBI is seeking the public’s help in breaking the encrypted code found in two notes  discovered on the body of a murdered man in 1999.

The FBI says that officers in St. Louis, Missouri discovered the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick on June 30, 1999 in a field and the clues regarding the homicide were two encrypted notes found in the victim’s pants pockets.

Here are the two notes.


What do they mean? Ricky McCormick did not have a great education, and he certainly was not employed by the NSA as a cryptographer. It is likely a simple code, but to date it has baffled everyone.

What is the significance of the parentheses? I looked at the notes for 10 seconds, and those parens reminded me of the syntax used in constructing a computer program.

The cipher itself is something more complex than mere letter substitution. Yet just on the basis of the notes being handwritten seems to rule out the use of some complex computer key cipher system.

I wonder if the key is a document that he knew by heart? Could the opening parenthesis represent the paragraph or page to start at? Each new ( would indicate that you should move to the next paragraph. Using this scheme you could create a simple, yet almost impossible code to crack. Merely use the letter to the left or right as the one you write down in your coded note. But this code strategy does not fit these notes. What is the significance of the numbers?

I love a great puzzle, and this is one of them.

Does anyone have some ideas?

Simon Barrett

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