June 30, 1999; 41-year-old Ricky McCormick was found in a cornfield in West Alton Missouri. McCormick’s body had been decomposing in the cornfield for several days prior to being discovered and authorities had to use fingerprints to make a postive ID. Even after autopsy and toxicology, the rate of decomposition made it difficult for medical examiners to determine the cause of death.
The area where McCormick was found was used several times to dump murder victims before. With this in consideration, investigators classified McCormick’s death a homicide. His body was found 15 miles from his residence even though he didn’t own a car and public transportation did not service the area where his body was found.
Inside Ricky McCormick’s front pocket were two pages of hand written notes containing a complex cipher. McCormick was a high school dropout, and according to a family member he didn’t write in code and he couldn’t spell anything, only scribble. These notes consisted of 30 lines; seemingly random letters and numbers. Some of this code contains parenthesis, while other parts of it are circled.
McCormick alternated between staying with family and living on the streets. He was semi-employed at a gas station. He had been collecting disability at the time of his death, suffering from heart and lung ailments. He was an ex-con and his criminal record consisted of a handful of misdemeanors plus he had done a stint in prison for statutory rape.
A former girlfriend of McCormick stated that he sporadically traveled by bus to Florida where he acted as a drug courier for drug runners, shuttling marijuanna back to Missouri.
There have been many conflicting reports about McCormick’s mental condition. While he was awaiting tril for statutory rape, his public defender believed McCormick to be suffering from a mental illness or defect. He was tested by a local psychologis who found him to be mentally competent to stand trial.
Though McCormick was never diagnosed with any sort of mental condition, he was considered to be street smart with an active imagination, and also possessed a naive, childlike attitude towards the world.
McCormick’s girlfriend stated that a few days before his death, after he had returned from a drug smuggling job in Florida, he was shaken and anxious. He had gone to several hospitals for treatment of chest pain and asthma in the days befor his death. Some investigators believed he had been looking for a safe place to stay, believing that his life was in jeopardy.
In a 2011 statement by the FBI, “Breaking the code could reveal the victim’s whereabouts before his death and could lead to the solution of his homicide.” The Cryptanalysis and Racketeerin Records Unit exhausted its resources in trying to crack the cipher.
Members of McCormick’s family and other people believe the notes found in McCormick’s pocket were nonsensical script of a mentally disabled person, and other members of his family claim that Ricky McCormick had been writing in code since he was a boy. Experts, including that of the FBI agent in charge of the case, assert that the notes are authentic.
There are indications that the notes were personal in nature; small details in the handwriting, like the circles around potions of the code, could make it appear to be a to-do list. According to the FBI, the greatest challenge in the case is that McCormick possibly only intended for the notes to be read by himself. There are other possiblilities, one being that McCormick did not write the code, that the drug dealers he was working for had written it for him, or that he had been transporting the cipher from one place to another and was unaware of its meaning.
The FBI had dedicated an entire website to this case and has invited ameteur codebreakers to try and solve the cipher, as it may contain information that will help catch Ricky McCormick’s killer.
Are you a decoder? Are you willing to try and decipher the code? Let us know what you find here at Voices, past, present, and future.