FBI calls on code-breakers to crack murder case

FBI sleuths have used the Internet to call for public help in deciphering two coded messages that could hold the key to a 12-year-old unsolved murder.

The decomposing body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick was discovered in a Missouri cornfield in June 1999. McCormick had died from a blow to the head.

No murder weapons or other forensic evidence have ever been found in the case - leaving FBI agents to follow the only available lead: two coded messages, scrawled on scraps of paper, which were found in the victim's pocket.

After 12 years, the FBI's Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Unit and the American Cryptogram Association are no closer to deciphering the 30 lines of code, which were written two or three days before McCormick's death. Investigators have now turned to the Internet to 'crowd source' a solution from amateur detectives online.

"We are really good at what we do, but we could use some help with this one," said Dan Olson, the head of the Cryptanalysis Unit, in a statement. "Breaking the code could reveal the victim's whereabouts before his death and could lead to the solution of a homicide."

Olson explained that no obvious patterns or system appeared to be at work in the cipher, making it much harder to crack.

McCormick, who was last seen five days before his body was discovered, had experimented with codes since childhood, though his mother told FBI investigators that she had no idea why, or what they meant.

On its website, the Bureau issued the following appeal to would-be code-breakers:

"The FBI has always relied on tips and other assistance from the public to solve crimes, and although breaking a code may represent a special circumstance, your help could aid the investigation... There is no reward... just a challenge and the satisfaction of knowing that your brainpower might help bring a killer to justice."

Details of the case, and copies of the codes are available from the FBI's website. Members of the public who have information on the McCormick murder, or can offer suggestions on the meaning of the code, are invited to do so here.