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Cryptographic Crimes

The Use of Cryptography in Real and Fictional Crimes


Marcel Danesi

This book examines the use of cryptography in both real and fictional crimes—a topic that is rarely broached. It discusses famous crimes, such as that of the Zodiac Killer, that revolve around cryptic messages and current uses of encryption that make solving cases harder and harder. It then draws parallels with the use of cryptography and secret writing in crime fiction, starting with Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, claiming that there is an implicit principle in all such writing—namely, that if the cryptogram is deciphered then the crime itself reveals its structure. The general conclusion drawn is that solving crimes is akin to solving cryptograms, as the crime fiction writers suggested. Cases of cryptographic crime, from unsolved cold cases to the Mafia crimes, are discussed and mapped against this basic theoretical assumption. The book concludes by suggesting that by studying cryptographic crimes the key to understanding crime may be revealed.
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3. Cryptography in Real Crimes


← 56 | 57 →

Chapter Three


Cryptography in Real Crimes

Almost all crime is due to the repressed desire for aesthetic expression.

Evelyn Waugh (1903–1966)


As reported extensively by the newspapers, the murder of a victim named Ricky McCormick, in June of 1999 in St. Louis, is considered to this day to be one of the most mysterious in the annals of crime.1 The significant aspect of this cold case, for the present purposes, is that the police discovered two encrypted notes in the victim’s trouser pockets, which, according to the FBI, constituted the only clues to the murder. However, over the years, the cryptanalysts at the FBI have had no success in cracking the ciphers. There are over thirty lines of ciphertext, consisting of a mixture of alphabet letters, numbers, hyphens, and parentheses. Figure 3-1 shows an excerpt. ← 57 | 58 →

Figure 3-1. Excerpt from the Ricky McCormick Ciphers

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