June 30, 1999
West Alton, Missouri
The body of Ricky McCormick is found with two strange notes

McCormick’s body was decomposed by the time he was found, to the point medical examiners could not determine a cause of death. They were, however, able to identify his remains by his fingerprints, and determined he had died between two and five days before his body was found. Despite no clear evidence of cause of death, police believed McCormick was a victim of homicide, largely due to the location of his body, which was 15-20 miles from his home (McCormick didn’t have a car and public transportation did not service the area) and was often used as a dumping area for other murder victims.

The only clue found at the scene was a pair of notes in his pocket, written in an apparent cipher, the contents of which were not immediately released to the public. The FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) attempted to solve the cipher but were unsuccessful. Twelve years after McCormick’s murder, the FBI released the notes and asked the public for assistance. Public support was overwhelming; the FBI has requested those attempting to help use a special online form, rather than call the bureau or send e-mails, due to the influx of tips.

McCormick’s family does not believe the notes were from Ricky. In an interview with Riverfront Times, McCormick’s mother, Frankie Sparks, stated “They told us the only thing in his pockets was the emergency-room ticket. Now twelve years later, they come back with this chicken-scratch shit.” Sparks also described her son as “retarded” and “The only thing he could write was his name. He didn’t write in no code.” His cousin Charles McCormick also noted Ricky “couldn’t spell anything, just scribble.”

CRRU chief Dan Olsen believes McCormick wrote the letter, and has said “Even if we found out that he was writing a grocery list or a love letter, we would still want to see how the code is solved. This is a cipher system we know nothing about.” Those who wish to attempt to solve the cipher can submit their solutions to forms.fbi.gov/code.

McCormick’s murder remains unsolved.

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