The Mysterious Rick McCormick Code
Analyzed by Ed Lake
April 9, 2011

On March 31, 2011, someone sent me an ABC News article about a code that the FBI trying to break in an unsolved murder case.  Here's how the ABC article begins:

The FBI is looking for a few beautiful minds to help solve a murder case. If you think you have what it takes to crack a code that the best cryptanalysts in the country have failed for 12 years to master, they'd like to hear from you.

On June 30, 1999, police in St. Louis found the body of Rick McCormick, 41, who had been murdered and dumped in a field. The only clues the FBI found about the time leading up to his death came in the form of two pieces of paper in his pants pocket: Handwritten on the scraps were 30 lines of numbers and letters grouped into several sections.

coded message #1

cryptic note #2
The ABC article also gives some information about the murder victim:

McCormick was a high school drop-out -- literate and street smart -- who had written encrypted notes to himself ever since he was a child. But none of his friends or relatives had ever been given the key to his cipher, according to the FBI. Investigators suspect the notes were written up to three days before his death and unlocking the code could lead to information about the time before his death.

There is also now a Wikipedia entry about the case.

So, the coded message might be something McCormick did as part of whatever hobby or activity or business he was involved with, and it might have nothing to do with his murder at all.

Analyzing the McCormick Notes

It's very clear there are patterns in the notes.  WLD seems to appear a lot, and a lot of groups of letters end in SE.   And there's an apostrophe in (194 WLD'S NCBE) that might be a place to begin.  Or you might start with these three very intriguing  lines:

(CDNSE PRSE ONS*E 74 NCBE)  * represents an unclear character

There are just too many lines and "words" that end with the letter E.   E has to have some other meaning. 

The reader comments on the ABC site  seem to have some very good ideas about what is needed to decode the message.  For example:

The puzzle's solution is, first, sociological (Who was this guy, and what was on his mind?) Second, it is linguistic (How did he talk to people when he speaking naturally and, especially, when he was tired?) Third and only a distant third, it is a cryptographic problem.

and I like this comment very much:

the scribbled out letters indicate that the writer must have been creating the code mentally as he wrote it down, therefore simplifying the possible complexity of this particular code.

One reader's comment also has the written text converted to typed text.  But I wouldn't rely on it.  He converted the last line to
D-W-M-Y HPL XDRLXI.   But, is it a Y or is it a 4?  And is it HPL or is it PTPL or PTP6?  If he didn't draw M's differently everywhere else, it might even be MI6.  And there is no I at the end of XDRLX.

Because the number 99.84.5 (or 99.84.52 or seems like it could be a key, I did a Google search and found another web site devoted to decoding this material.   Someone thought it might be an IP address and wrote:

I added the 2 before the une and found this. Location near Wichita, KS . On NW 120th Street. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. The plot thickens.

And what about 1/2 MUND PLSE?  That 1/2 could be another key to figuring things out.

I also wondered if it could be the writing of someone with dyslexia who was writing the way that made sense to him, since there seem to be some of these signs of dyslexia in the writing:

they may insert or leave out letters, such as could-cold or star-stair.

they may say a word that has the same letters, but in a different sequence, such as who-how, lots-lost, saw-was, or girl-grill.

    b-d confusion is a classic warning sign. One points to the left, the other points to the right, and they are left-right confused.

    b-p, n-u, or m-w confusion. One points up, the other points down. That's also directionality confusion.

The dead man knew how to read and write, but writing normally may have been like writing in Russian or some foreign language he found much more difficult to comprehend.

Note that on the first page he uses parentheses extensively, except for lines 2 through 7 where parentheses are used to enclose material within those lines.  But on the second page he uses parentheses only three times, on very short "sentences."  Mostly, he circles things instead.  This might be an indicator that he uses those techniques instead of indenting paragraphs, because indenting and blank lines to create paragraphs that are too confusing for a man who suffers from left-right confusion.

I think the FBI needs to have some experts in dyslexia (and/or some people with dyslexia) look at the coded pages to see what they can figure out.


There are 31 lines in the two pages of coding, not including the circled P1 or the (ALSM) or whatever it is the top of the first page.  23 lines end with the letter E. 
2 lines end with 1NC3 lines end with XL, 1 ends with XL 'R, 1 ends with (3 XoRL) or something like that, and 1 line ends with RLX.  There's a pattern there in the X's, L's and R's.

He seems to write the number one without serifs: |.  So, it's 1NC, not INC.  That makes me wonder if he doesn't avoid using the letter "I" unless he has to, because he too often sees it as the number 1.

But I don't know what all this means for certain.  However, I can speculate:

He could be using E as his equivalent to periods to end senteces.  And 1NC could be his equivalent of a question mark.   If so, it's evidently his way of describing how to draw a question mark:  Draw a 1 and a C.  Since he has a problem with periods, a question mark might be viewed as a backwards C atop a 1 or vertical line: |.

If 1NC is a question mark, then what does "TFRNE" mean?   The only time that string of letters appears in either page is in the two lines that would then be "questions."

If that seems nuts, try this:  XL might be his way of writing an exclamation point.  XL could mean "Extra Loud."  But, he might also see XL and LX as the same thing, if he had a problem with "left-right confusion."

That brings me to something on 
the fourth line of the first page, where he has two instances where the letter "I" is written with serifs (the horizontal lines at the top and bottom).  Here's the part of the line that makes me wonder:


If you use XL or LX as an exclamation point, and read the letters backwards all the way to the hyphen, you get:


At the time of McCormick's death, Al Gore was running for President with his wife Tipper by his side.

I know that's kind of far-fetched, but it does make some kind of screwball sense.

McCormick also used AL as the first two letters in line six on that same page, and he used AL as the first two letters in the first line on page 2.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see AL used anywhere else -- except possibly in that small line in parenthesis at the top of page 1: (ALSM)   Or is it (AC5M) ?

And, if that isn't crazy enough, I have this feeling that the first line of the second page just says "AL GORE":


Some of it seems fairly clear:


But, where is the O?  Could the SE's which appear all over the place have some meaning that relates to O's?  I keep thinking that if I can figure out where the O is, or what translates into an O, it might be the key to decoding everything, since those damn SE's are so common on the notes.

I also notice that he certainly seems to be using N's as equivalent to "and" in many situations, particularly situations where he seems to draw the N smaller than the letters before and following the N.   The example line above has one of those small n's.  But what could this possibly mean:


And he uses a plus sign (+) in situations where it may mean "plus" and not be a small T.  Plus a period?  But, then the E that is part of GORE is before the R.  How can that make sense?


These are just some thoughts I decided to put in a web page in case someone else can see something that might mean something along these same lines.  If so, email me at the address on

It's definitely something I don't have time to work on right now.  But some interesting thoughts could change that.

© 2011 by Ed Lake
All Rights Reserved.