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March 30, 2011 5:07 PM   Subscribe

On June 30, 1999, sheriff’s officers in St. Louis, Missouri discovered the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick. He had been murdered and dumped in a field. The only clues regarding the homicide were two encrypted notes found in the victim’s pants pockets. The FBI is now asking the public to help them solve the murder.
posted by iamkimiam (93 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
BESURETODRINKYOUROVALTINE.
posted by jamaro at 5:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [13 favorites]


Boo.
posted by absalom at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2011


ack, fair enough. Sorry, folks.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:15 PM on March 30, 2011


At first glance it looks dyslexic rather than coded. It's as if I can almost read it. For example, the fifth line up from the bottom looks like "FIRST RESPONSE", and the line below "SECOND RESPONSE".
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


From wiki: "According to members of his family, McCormick had used such encrypted notes since he was a boy, but apparently no one in his family knows how to decipher the codes."

So I assume the FBI hasn't been able to get any of these other notes? Seems like they'd be helpful as fodder for making a primer.
posted by dammitjim at 5:24 PM on March 30, 2011


First glance reminds me of the Taman Shud Case, discussed on Metafilter here. Same weird cryptic writing, unidentified victim, and now the chance to play detective!
posted by howfar at 5:24 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Scratch the unidentified victim. Was thinking about the fact he'd been dumped.
posted by howfar at 5:25 PM on March 30, 2011


Transcription at Wikipedia.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"NCBE" figures prominently. Closest I can get is "CAN BE".
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2011


I'll be sure to send some coding work the FBI's way next time I need a hand, 'cause apparently we're chill like that.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


But why assume they are meaningful at all? The fact that he'd been using them doesn't tell us why or how he was using them. I wonder how (or if) the FBI eliminated the possibility that he was just using them for show, given that no-one else seems to have known this cypher or any others he may have used.
posted by howfar at 5:30 PM on March 30, 2011


Just looking at the transcribed text on wikipedia, it looks to me almost as if the text is abbreviations of words, like shorthand. Maybe he made a slang, like cockney rhyming slang, then just left out letters to form abbreviations that he recognized. That seems like it would stump cryptographers, since there's no algorithm to apply.
posted by dammitjim at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Used the code since he was a boy. You know what I used to do when I was a boy? Write out the first letters of words in song lyrics that I liked, and then break them into blocks that looked like words. I remember really liking NINBTH BIBTO. That's "No I've never been to heaven / but I've been to Oklahoma" from a Three Dog Night song.

To be fair, I haven't done that since I was a boy, so even if I got murdered it's not like anybody would be finding those scraps of paper in my pockets. But if they had, they'd get a bunch of strings of letters that (1) would be damned near impossible to decode and (2) looked like they contained information but which (3) would actually not have anything meaningful to say at all.
posted by penduluum at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Lots more info at Websleuths. [Lots of wild geese and garden paths too.]
posted by unliteral at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


qxntpqbbbqxl just favourited the Wikipedia link. I think we can expect a solution within moments.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


We need to see earlier examples of his alleged cipher. What consistency is there across them?

I agree that these pages look like they use abbreviations for phrases.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:34 PM on March 30, 2011


Yeah, it seems more like some kind of shorthand than an actual formal code. You can sort of see things like "Telephone ... Mr DeLuse to the ..." in the text (2nd to last line, 1st note).
posted by Quietgal at 5:35 PM on March 30, 2011


What excuse is there for not doing this a decade ago? Pride?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sticherbeast, alleged cipher is exactly right. If it was a private code, rather than a cipher, there is every possibility that the codebook died with poor Mr McCormick. In which case it may have been meaningful to him, but impossible to ever decrypt.
posted by howfar at 5:36 PM on March 30, 2011


I agree with weapons-grade pande---


These are purely guesses on how at first glance it looks

ON DE 71 NCBE as "on December 1971" and SE is September 1974"

WLD NCBE = would be nice

99.84.8 2 According to Google Map, a few feet from US 84

XARL = Carl

NTSRCR = instructor

G-SPSE MSKE R 8 = greater mistake (not sure what SPSE would be)

NPRSE = enterprise

SOLE MRDE = sole murder

G D DMN = god damn

36 MLSE = 36 miles
posted by stormpooper at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


If I ever want to get away with killing someone, I'm going to take the output of cat /dev/urandom | strings | egrep -v "[^a-zA-Z]" and leave a note pinned to the body. The FBI will go insane trying to decrypt gibberish for 12 years and not bother to chase down actual leads.
posted by benzenedream at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


I wonder how (or if) the FBI eliminated the possibility that he was just using them for show, given that no-one else seems to have known this cypher or any others he may have used.

I'm sure they haven't eliminated that possibility. Detectives don't just chase down sure leads; they chase down all leads.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:43 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bookhouse, fair point, but I rather hope they chased down pretty much everything else first.
posted by howfar at 5:44 PM on March 30, 2011


Lots of words are repeated and E itself is still a very common letter (particularly in two letter combinations at the end of "words"), possibly indicating that the code itself is actually quite "shallow" - neither the structure of the message nor the characteristics of the language (assuming it is in English) is hidden. The problem is then more the idiosyncrasy rather than sophistication. This is supported by their being handwritten and carried in note form, meaning that coding and decoding was relatively easy once you knew the key. I reckon the "words" are mnemonic strings vaguely suggestive of the underlying English words but scrambled enough to confuse the uninitiated.
posted by Jehan at 5:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


To many SE, WLD, and NCBE combinations. Looks like some kind of personal shorthand mixed with some kind of personal pig latin for obfuscation. Hard to crack if this guy developed his personal shorthand since he was a boy.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I vote on some kind of weird-ass shorthand. When I was in elementary school I used to write notes in my spiral notebooks that kind of looked like this. Mostly, for things like if I was mad at a teacher I'd put it onto paper for cosmic revenge. The system was basically if I wanted to write "Mrs. Soandso sucks a lot and I really don't like her! She should catch on fire!", I'd write the "MSSALAIRDLH SSCOF", so that every sentence was a word. They were only vaguely decipherable by me, basically only so much as they'd jog my memory. I made up the rules as I went and it was a mess and probably pretty tough to crack.
posted by floam at 5:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not necessarily encryption and not necessarily dyslexia.
I write notes to myself, and work out complex designs and schematics etc.
Because it's for myself, and I'm interested in the content, not the writing down, it makes no sense to me to go to all the extra time and effort to make it all legible to others - I use a mental shorthand. I just write the information that I need, there is no need to write more.

If you're not the mind that it was written for, then there is likely to be information present that you don't need, and likely to be information lacking that you do need.

Over time, some things become habits, which is like a code. Eg "\__." is a quick-written "w." which may consistently mean "with".
posted by -harlequin- at 5:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like an install key to me.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I ever want to get away with killing someone, I'm going to take the output of cat /dev/urandom | strings | egrep -v "[^a-zA-Z]" and leave a note pinned to the body. The FBI will go insane trying to decrypt gibberish for 12 years and not bother to chase down actual leads

Well now they won't. Sheesh. Way to spoil a perfectly good murder.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think the suggestion that they could be for show is discounted by two points:

1) They were only a few days old, whereas notes just for show would be much older.
2) There's no reason why he would carry around two, as one would suffice.
posted by Jehan at 5:55 PM on March 30, 2011


If I ever want to get away with killing someone, I'm going to take the output of cat /dev/urandom | strings | egrep -v "[^a-zA-Z]" and leave a note pinned to the body. The FBI will go insane trying to decrypt gibberish for 12 years and not bother to chase down actual leads.

If I ever want to get away with killing someone, I'm going to take the output of cat /dev/urandom | strings | egrep -v "[^a-zA-Z]" and leave a note pinned to the body. The FBI will arrest benzenedream, while I sip cocktails on a tropical beach.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [40 favorites]


Well, now all I have to do is make sure that I'm one step ahead of benzenedream. And be very smart from the beginning with the body.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait! I didn't mean to post that!
posted by -harlequin- at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


C'mon guys it is obviously just future english.

Kinda strange they couldnt figure this out, after all people figured out Mayan Hieroglyphics and Linear B.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


ooh, free insurance!
posted by iamkimiam at 5:57 PM on March 30, 2011


At first glance it looks dyslexic rather than coded. It's as if I can almost read it.

Being dyslexic myself, i felt the same. It 'looked weird' in my eyes or head, not like most codes i've seen. It actually felt like it was messing with my head, like i'd look away, and it would at first make sense, then not. (yeah, i don't really have a good way of describing that feeling)
posted by usagizero at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2011


After you've cracked this one, take a stab at the Zodiac Killer's code.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kinda strange they couldnt figure this out, after all people figured out Mayan Hieroglyphics and Linear B.

There's one huge difference though: the writers of the Maya script and Linear B wanted their work to be read; McCormick didn't.
posted by Jehan at 6:01 PM on March 30, 2011


There's one huge difference though: the writers of the Maya script and Linear B wanted their work to be read; McCormick didn't.

Yeah, I guess if there are no consistent rules other than what McCormick felt like at the moment it will be kinda tough.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2011


Somebody call in Lawrence Waterhouse...
posted by rhythim at 6:21 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


74 +75=149 and then the next number he writes is 194, swapping the 9 and 4. I wonder if a lot of the letters are just swapped. But I don't know about 71.

I wish I had a printer. Maybe I'll recopy by hand. Lots of sequences with PRSE, NCBE, WLD, TRF, XL, PPI,


I wonder if he's substituting letters for other letters

I see BRINGS

I see BETS ME......GODDAMN CURE.....
posted by anniecat at 6:27 PM on March 30, 2011


You folks will solve this in, like, a day. A week, if you're drunk.
posted by LordSludge at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why haven't they tried feeding it into the CSI computer yet?

It'll process the notes in a nice, graphics-intensive GUI, so that you can watch it as it thinks, before it highlights the key letters, rearranges them to form a coherent sentence, arranges the numbers into a telephone number, and then brings up the drivers licence of the person who owns that phone number, along with their precise current location, as viewed through a closed circuit TV camera.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:35 PM on March 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


This sounds like a job for the "For Grigori, I sold goat" squad.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:41 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'll create a GUI interface in Visual Basic, see if I can track his IP address.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:45 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Computer, enhance.
posted by mecran01 at 6:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think the hyphens connect parts of words that are meant to be read as one. If a rare word - or more likely a name - wasn't in his code, trying to write it all out could be confusing. This is especially true if he's writing mostly without vowels and using his knowledge of English to fill in the missing sound, as such a thing wouldn't be possible with names. Perhaps individual words in the code are used to build up the name through spelling out each syllable individually?

Also, the number string 99.84.3 2 might be a future or past date, considering he died in 1999.
posted by Jehan at 6:47 PM on March 30, 2011


The St. Louis Post Dispatch has the same rip-and-run everybody else has, but also some links to their original coverage of the murder.
posted by steambadger at 6:50 PM on March 30, 2011


From the Wikipedia transcription:

(FLRSE PRSE ON DE 71 NCBE )
(CDNSE PRSE ON SE 74 NCBE )
(PR+SE PRSE ON REDE 75 NCBE )

Now I read "FIRST PRIZE", SECOND PRIZE" etc.
The cryptanalysts may be thrown by variations in his shorthand. For example, "DE" and "SE" may both stand for "THE", rather than December and September. He may have a fascination with cars--maybe even a particular brand of muscle car:
"First prize on the '71 would be nice, Prize on the red '75 would be nice" etc.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


A couple of observations:

The numbers aren't scattered throughout like you'd expect them to be if they were substituting for letters. For this reason, I'd guess that the numbers are numbers, or at best ciphers for other numbers.

There are a huge number of occurrences of -E suffixes like -SE (especially) but also NE, LE, TE etc. E almost never appears at the beginning of a word. That has to be significant. I'd be interested to see an analysis of where letters are distributed like that (eg beginning, end, 2nd / 3rd / 4th position etc), and also of which letters are most commonly paired with which others.

Overall, I lean towards the position (stated earlier) that it's not a cipher, but a private language made up of abbreviations, anagrams, acrostics, etc.

If built up over time, there's a not insignificant chance that he would've been using private words as a basis for these letter-games. For example, I might use HRS-W for "horrorshow", meaning great or beautiful or awesome, from the nadsat language in A Clockwork Orange.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird. From the P-D's original coverage of McCormick's death, it's not even clear that he was murdered.
posted by steambadger at 6:53 PM on March 30, 2011


Bit odd that the FBI wants snailmail help in an electronic era, isn't it? I wonder if this is more about getting a piece of physical evidence from someone who knows something than about the code itself...

Also, day after tomorrow is April first.
posted by Westringia F. at 6:56 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is too much we don't know.

Was English his first language? Was it his parents' first language? Did he know any other languages? Was he likely to speak AAVE? Another American dialect?

What did he like to read? Listen to? Watch? Many of my cryptic notes would reference media I'd consumed. They'd also reference people important to me, which is not anything we could glean from this brief posting.

Did he tell anyone what his boyhood notes were about? Are those notes consistent with the ones found at the murder scene? Are these notes longer or shorter than his average boyhood note? What kind of paper were they written on (i.e., meant to be kept, or a scrap that you'd write a throwaway list on)?

So many questions...
posted by desjardins at 7:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's obviously the formula for coca-cola.
posted by skauskas at 7:02 PM on March 30, 2011


Suppose you develop your own personal code. You use it to write all your personal notes - shopping lists, birthday reminders, phone numbers, etc. - because you think it's fun to have your own personal code that no one else can read. Then you get horribly murdered and the only clue to your killer is in your weird personal code, and no one else can read it. Well then, it's just not as fun anymore, is it?
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:06 PM on March 30, 2011


The Websleuths forum say he was brain injured and that there wasn't any evidence that he was murdered.
posted by anniecat at 7:20 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, you can see that he'd had to correct himself on select letters every so often. The replaced letters are often pretty different phonetically, visually and alphabetically from ones being written atop of them. This indicates that the code wasn't one that lent itself to very simple enciphering -- he probably had to think about the letter transformation, and then had some reason to realize that he got the wrong letter after writing one out.

I would imagine that he had to write the whole word out and then had to come back to fix the earlier characters based on some signal from the word or upon re-reading it.
posted by haykinson at 7:22 PM on March 30, 2011


Jehan: Lots of words are repeated and E itself is still a very common letter (particularly in two letter combinations at the end of "words"), possibly indicating that the code itself is actually quite "shallow"

Yeah, there does seem to be a correspondence between the frequencies of the most popular characters and the usual English-language distribution...
 Rank Character       Rel.Freq.            English         Rel.Freq
  1   e               1.00                  e 1.00
  2   s               0.73                  t 0.71
  3   n               0.62                  a 0.64
  4   r               0.53                  o 0.59
  5   l               0.38                  i 0.55
  6   c               0.34                  n 0.53
  7   t               0.31                  s 0.50
  8   m               0.22                  h 0.48
  9   b               0.21                  r 0.47
 10   d               0.21                  d 0.33
 11   p               0.20                  l 0.32
 12   w               0.12                  c 0.22
 13   o               0.11                  u 0.22
 14   u               0.11                  m 0.19
 15   a               0.11                  w 0.19
 16   x               0.10                  f 0.18
 17   f               0.09                  g 0.16
 18   k               0.07                  y 0.16
 19   i               0.07                  p 0.15
 20   g               0.05                  b 0.12
 21   y               0.03                  v 0.08
 22   h               0.03                  k 0.06
 23   v               0.01                  j 0.01
I tried substituting in those most frequent letters, but it still looks like gibberish. (less frequent characters left blank)
Note 1:
   ( _a_ __ae _ nte-a-t-_-_a_ne ) ( __t_ )
    __nae a__ate a__te n__nate a_nte _a_
    _nte a _nte __ne _d_ _d_ a__e ( ___d_ ___d_ a__e )
    _d-*n____ _d_____ a__e ___te _d_ n__nate _nte
    _d_ n__nate a_ t_aea_nte - _ntde - ___nte _d_ a__e
    _d _d_ a__e _t_e dnte ndte _n_dt ~ e_t ~ _d_ a__e
    ( a___te adtne a__e ) a_e _ _ __a tea__ne n__nate
    ( _eae __nae a__n_te a__e _a_ )
    (_dnte _nte _a _e 71 a__e )
    (__~te _nte _a te 74 a__e )
    (_n+te _nte _a ne_e 75 a__e )
    (__ a*__t_ t_de _n_e d_te ___e _d_ ~ _d_ a__e )
    ( 194 _d_'t a__e ) ( _n__d )
    

Note 2:
    _d_a_e _dte-te en+e
    _dte __te-_t_e-_te-_n_te
    __n_nte _a_nte _d_ a__e
    a _d_ _dn __t? ae _d_ t_t _e _d
    
    __d__ 6 __ate a__e__
    
    (__at_ _ t_ea__ a_nte)
    _dte-dnt_e-_n te-_nte-__te a-_nte
    (_neeate te a _nte)
    
    a_a n___ ate __e 2 __e _tn_ _ne_e
    36 _dte 74 t_n_te 29 _ea_t _de + 73 n_nte
    35 tde _d_te __aa___ __nte _tet_de
    651 ___te __dte a __ __ _nt a_ne
    99.84.8 2 _ae _dte __nte __d_te at_te a te
    
    atne _at_ ___ te _d_ a__e (3 __nd)
    ?a__te ante _ a 2 a _nden__ _ate a_tn_n _ ae
    _t__te a _-t_te _t_e n 8 te ae_e __ _d n
    __ _nea_ne e__e 1/2 __a__dte
    
    _-___-_ __d __nd_

turgid dahlia: qxntpqbbbqxl just favourited the Wikipedia link. I think we can expect a solution within moments.


I got nothin'. If he's using his own made up language in addition to a cipher, then the chances of figuring it out without a larger body of text are vanishing. Best chance is to try to figure out what the numbers mean. But I did forward it to a cryptographer friend.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:27 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the Feebs are yanking somebody's chain here. I haven't found anything on the intertubes about this case other than a thousand reposts of the FBI press release and two cursory local stories from 1999, neither of which presents compelling evidence that the guy was murdered at all. Assuming Rick McCormick wrote the notes himself, and given that they haven't been broken in twelve years, the most likely explanation is that they're either indecipherable personal shorthand or gibberish. Is it plausible that the FBI, twelve years after the fact, would still be investigating the maybe-murder of a chronically-ill drifter with a grocery list or a rosicrucian tract in his pocket? The press release reads like an Encyclopedia Brown, you-can-crack-the-big-case kids puzzle. And, as desjardin noted above, they can't possibly expect anybody to come up with an unorthodox solution with such a paucity of information. So, what? Early April Fool's gag? Publicity stunt? Recruiting bait for talented amateur cryptanalysts? Or, just possibly, Ricky McCormick was secretly the Grand Panjandrum of the Bavarian Illuminati and an international super-criminal, and they're trying to smoke out his associates.

I'm hoping for that last one...
posted by steambadger at 7:28 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


We deny all knowledge of this person.
posted by the Cabal at 7:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]



“We are really good at what we do,” said Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) chief Dan Olson, “but we could use some help with this one.”

Dan added, "To be quite frank, in cryptanalysis we suck. But give us some racketeering records and watch us kick ass."
posted by digsrus at 7:33 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The transcription has now disappeared from the Wikipedia link:

This page was last modified on 31 March 2011 at 02:26.

This is a very deep rabbit hole indeed...
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:40 PM on March 30, 2011


I got it:

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!
posted by pjern at 7:42 PM on March 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra!

Yes, but you need to substitute:
Darmok = Colonel Mustard
Jalad = Candlestick
Tanagra = Conservatory
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:53 PM on March 30, 2011


The transcription has now disappeared from the Wikipedia link:

So it has. But it hasn't disappeared from my open tab:

Note 1 text:

( MND MKNE A RSE-N-S-M-KNARE ) ( ACSM )

TFRNE NPINSE NPBSE RCBRNSE NPRSE INC

PRSE N MRSE OPRE HLD WLD NCBE ( TFXLF TCXLF NCBE )
AL-*RPPIT XLYPPIY NCBE MGKSE WLD RCBRNSE PRSE
WLD RCBRNSE NT SGNENTRSE - CRSLE - CITRSE WLD NCBE
AL WLD NCBE TSME LRSE RLSE URGLS ~ EAS ~ WLD NCBE
( NOPFSE NLSRE NCBE ) NTE G D DMN SENCURE RCBRNsE

( TENE TFRNE NCBRTSE NCBE INC )

(FLRSE PRSE ON DE 71 NCBE )
(CD~SE PRSE ON SE 74 NCBE )
(PR+SE PRSE ON REDE 75 NCBE )

(TF N*CMSP SOLE MRDE LUSE TOTE WLD ~ WLD NCBE )

( 194 WLD's NCBE ) ( TRFXL )

Note 2 text:

ALPNTE GLSE-SE ER+E
YLSE MTSE-CSTE-WSE-FRTSE
PURTRSE ONDRSE WLD NCBE
N WLD XLR CMS? NE WLD STS ME XL

DULMT 6 TUNSE NCBEXC

(MuNSA I STENMU NARSE)

KLSE-LRSTE-TR SE-TRSE-MKSE N-MRSE

(FREENSE SE N MRSE)

NMN RCBX NSE PTE 2 PTE WSRC BREXE
36 MLSE 74 SPRKSE 29 KENOS OLE + 73 RTRSE
35 SLE CLGSE OUNNTXF DKRSE PSESHLE
651 MTCSE HTLSE N CU TC TRS NMRE
99.84.8 2 UNE PLSE VCRSE AOLTSE NSKSE N SE

NSRE ONSB PUT SE WLD NCBE (3 XARL)
?NTOSE NRSE I N 2 N TRLERCB ANSE NTSRCR O NE
ASPUSE N G-SPSE MSKE R 8 SE NEBE AU XL R
HM CRENMRE ECBE 1/2 MUNDDLSE

D-W_M-Y MIL XDRLX
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:59 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait, now wikipedia says a translation/interpretation of note one has been posted: De-Crazying.
posted by Tesseractive at 8:04 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's just crazy talk.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:09 PM on March 30, 2011


If he's "been writing these codes since he was a boy", it might be helpful for the FBI to provide more than two samples to work with. :|
posted by luvcraft at 8:13 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It pays to increase your word power!
posted by staggernation at 8:31 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You might want to spend a little time with the Voynich Manuscript. Code? Cypher? Invented language? Random gibbering?

My opinion: these notes, like the Manuscript, are an internal world made manifest. The author is the code book. Without him, the message is lost. Only the mystery remains.
posted by SPrintF at 8:36 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Freaky, he lived in three different towns that I have lived in or currently live in. Strange that I don't remember hearing this story when it happened.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:37 PM on March 30, 2011


As others have stated earlier, this isn't so much a cypher in the traditional sense as needing to understand what is shorthand. My guess is that this guy, not being too literate, is mashing sounds together to make something approximating writing. That it is also indecipherable is just a neat side effect. For instance:

( ACSM ) = (Aks em - common mispronunciation) = (ask him)
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would suck for the FBI if it turned out to be an encrypted suicide note.
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2011


651 MTCSE HTLSE N CU TC TRS NMRE 651 might see HTLSE and see you to cry tears no more

Pretty sure NCBE is "not coming back."

Do we know if this guy was Jamaican? It kind of reads with that same dialect.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 9:32 PM on March 30, 2011


>Or, just possibly, Ricky McCormick was secretly the Grand Panjandrum of the Bavarian Illuminati

I can confirm that he is not.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:01 PM on March 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here's a couple of things I've deciphered.

It's awfully close to April Fool's Day. And all the links I can find about "Ricky McCormick" are in relation to the FBI crowd-sourcing these notes.

Also, people who think that the FBI would be confounded by shorthand: if it is real, they've had more than a decade to look at this. I'm sure any theory that has been advanced in this thread would have been discussed a long time ago.

If I'm going to take this seriously, and I don't, I'll point out that on the second page, the groupings of letters separated by dashes appear to be numbers. Only ten different letters are used in these sequences.

Don't tell me that the FBI wouldn't have noticed that. They are publishing this, but they don't bother to include any of their data or analysis. Not even any information about the case or the man, that could help us figure out where he's coming from.

A few quotes in the story seem like subtle jokes. "We're usually pretty awesome at this" or whatever the guy said. The four step process for breaking codes. I think they just got the jump on 4/1 this year.
posted by Edgewise at 10:36 PM on March 30, 2011


...and, as several have noted, he's been doing this as a kid, but there are no other samples? What, did he go all Mission Impossible and burn everything he wrote?
posted by Edgewise at 10:39 PM on March 30, 2011


I don't think it's an April fools. It appears to be a real man that died, that would be pretty tasteless. The other irregularities might just be that this is more about "fun" PR than actually soliciting the public for real help solving a murder.
posted by floam at 10:52 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looking through all the google results for NCBE, there's a "NCBE" sound clip here. It seems to be a random snippet of a really trippy song, and may be completely unrelated to anything relevant to the case. But the letters NCBE show up several times in the McCormick notes, and if this sound clip is unrelated, why is it titled NCBE? Is there a TV show or music group with those initials?
posted by amyms at 10:53 PM on March 30, 2011


When I say tasteless, I don't mean I wouldn't approve. I'd LOVE to see a return to real mindfuck pranks that people don't really see coming. I just don't think it's very likely.
posted by floam at 10:54 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, now wikipedia says a translation/interpretation of note one has been posted: De-Crazying.

Wow. That PDF needs some de-crazying of its own. It "is" a "textbook" case of "pareidolia".

But it may be on to something. The fact that the FBI has failed to make sense of these notes suggests that either (1) Ricky McCormick was very clever or (2) he was a nutcase and the notes can't be deciphered because there's no sense to be made of them.

Considering his background and the prevalence of crazy people in the world, Occam's razor points to (2).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:00 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


and if this sound clip is unrelated, why is it titled NCBE? Is there a TV show or music group with those initials?

Because they're the initials to the title of the song ("Nothing Can Be Explained") you found? It's four letters, you're going to find stuff, it doesn't necessarily mean it all is a puzzle piece.
posted by floam at 11:01 PM on March 30, 2011


Sounds like a job for Matt Blaze and/or Josh Benaloh.
posted by bz at 11:21 PM on March 30, 2011


It appears to be a real man that died, that would be pretty tasteless.

Guess I didn't look hard enough. Well, that just makes the whole thing seem even stranger to me.
posted by Edgewise at 11:29 PM on March 30, 2011


Because they're the initials to the title of the song ("Nothing Can Be Explained") you found?

Oh.

*sheepish grin*

Well, then, clearly the songwriter is the killer!
posted by amyms at 11:31 PM on March 30, 2011


Three victims, murdered in December 1971, September 1974 and December 1975 in or around Shelby, NC. The masked killer, an ex-military man with hidden homosexual tendencies, murdered his victims with an axe before performing sex acts with the bodies. Their remains were hidden on or near Mt Mitchell, having been transported in a trailer. Anybody finding the murder's prizes would recognise his signature.

Hey, this is fun!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:11 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


clearly the songwriter is the killer!

Little old lady got mutilated late last night.

Guilty party: Werewolves of London.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:35 AM on March 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I sometimes get sucked into these serial killer things and then I solve the crime and move on.

The solution is the killer is crazy good at killing people and this can create some great movies.

I really like the de-crazy pdf.

Come on people - why isn't there a rapper or band called DE-CRAZY and the lead singer can be Falcon Godwin.

I am changing my name . . .
posted by epjr at 3:52 AM on March 31, 2011


It appears to be a real man that died, that would be pretty tasteless.

I'm not sure it is a real man. There's no prior information about the case on the web, except those two St. Louis Today stories. SLT appears to be on line only back to 2007, so they obviously pulled these and put them up just for the occassion. The guy who wrote the stories, Shane Anthony, is still with the paper; but doesn't appear to have written anything for them between 1999 and 2009. Maybe it is an April Fool's gag.

Anybody here from St. Louis? Ever heard of this case?
posted by steambadger at 5:38 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the notes are about drugs. That would explain why there are so many numbers (prices, amounts, dates, addresses, etc.), why a code was being used (don't want to get arrested with a note in your pocket that says "PICK UP COCAINE ON THURSDAY"), and why somebody writing those kinds of notes might get murdered.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:11 AM on March 31, 2011


My question is more general and may be off-topic — Why would the FBI be involved at all?
What is typical and atypical in that regard?
posted by Glomar response at 7:12 AM on March 31, 2011


Taking a cursory back a few years through the archives, it doesn't seem as though there has been an April Fools prank on the site before. But the FBI has asked the public for their help in solving crimes in the past, such as in the April Tinsley case. I'd be interested in knowing if the public has ever actually been able to solve a case that the FBI has pretty much given up on.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:01 AM on March 31, 2011


they obviously pulled these and put them up just for the occassion.

There's a few more stories in their newspaper archives mentioning the guy. Anyone with a few bucks could buy those too, or use the information it gives as far as newspaper edition and page number to check other sources to verify.
posted by floam at 9:37 AM on March 31, 2011


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