In 1999, Ricky McCormick's body was inexplicably found in a Missouri cornfield — along with two pages of coded notes that have never been deciphered to this day.
On June 30, 1999, the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick was discovered in a cornfield 20 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Because he was poor and likely suffering from mental health issues, McCormick’s death might have gone unnoticed — except for the two pages of notes in his pockets.
Written in intricate, unbreakable code, McCormick’s notes have stumped elite and amateur codebreakers for years. Though his family insists that he could hardly spell, let alone develop a secret code, many are convinced that the notes found on McCormick’s body hold the key to his mysterious death.
Indeed, there’s more to the case of Ricky McCormick than meets the eye. According to those who knew him, Ricky McCormick was possibly involved in drug trafficking, and he was known to work with several dangerous figures in St. Louis.
But who killed him and why? This is the baffling story of Ricky McCormick.
The Boy With A “Brick Wall” In His Brain
Born on June 14, 1958, Ricky McCormick seemed to struggle with mental health issues from a young age. The River Front Times reports that he stood alone at recess, acted strangely, and told odd stories. McCormick’s mother, for her part, came to believe that her son was “retarded.”
“[A psychiatrist] said Ricky had a brick wall in his mind,” his favorite aunt, Gloria “Cookie” McCormick explained to the River Front Times. “He said Ricky refused to break that wall. He didn’t like the life of living poor and had an active imagination.”
By the time McCormick dropped out of high school, he could barely read or write. His family later stated that McCormick couldn’t spell, and instead would “scribble” according to KMOV. His cousin remembers that McCormick talked “like he was in another world” and may have been schizophrenic.
Lacking a high school degree, McCormick worked a number of menial jobs, usually on the night shift. He subsisted on his meager paychecks as well as the disability payments he received for his chronic heart issues. But in 1992, McCormick got in trouble with the law.
At the age of 34, McCormick was charged with statutory rape for having two children with a girl — known to his family only as “Pretty Baby” — younger than 14. Though his public defender believed that McCormick was “suffering from some mental disease or defect,” he was found fit to stand trial.
Ricky McCormick plead guilty and spent thirteen months at the Farmington Correctional Center. But when he emerged, his troubles would only deepen.
The Final Days Of Ricky McCormick
Following his release from prison, Ricky McCormick found a graveyard shift job at an Amoco gas station in downtown St. Louis. There, he came across several shady figures who may have played a role in his mysterious demise.
The Amoco was managed by two brothers from Palestine, Juma and Baha “Bob” Hamdallah. Both had violent reputations and, while in their employ, McCormick made a handful of mysterious trips to Florida. His girlfriend later told police that she believed he was smuggling marijuana for the Hamdallah brothers, and that he seemed scared.
Indeed, shortly after his final trip to Florida in mid-June 1999, McCormick started acting erratically. Between June 22 and June 25, McCormick visited two different emergency rooms, according to KMOV, complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath. He was admitted once, and turned away once, and was last seen on June 27 at the Amoco gas station.
Then, Ricky McCormick disappeared.
But no one noticed at first. No one reported him missing. No one knew he was dead until McCormick’s already decomposing body was discovered in a field on June 30, 20 miles where from where he lived and worked.
Though a medical examiner couldn’t determine McCormick’s cause of death, detectives suspected that he’d been a victim of foul play.
“It’s kind of a puzzling case,” Captain David Tiefenbrunn, the Bureau Commander of Criminal Investigations for the St. Charles County Police Department, said according to KMOV. “If I was to rely on my police instincts, there probably is some foul play. We just haven’t been able to prove it.”
With no leads, Ricky McCormick’s death might have faded into obscurity. But then the police found something strange in his pockets.
The Mystery Of Ricky McCormick’s Notes
When the police examined Ricky McCormick’s body, they found two pages of handwritten notes written in some kind of code. They sent the notes to the FBI’s Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) but the elite codebreakers couldn’t crack the cipher.
“It doesn’t happen often that we have an unsolved cipher of this length and significance,” CRRU chief Dan Olson told the River Front Times. “The characters are not random. There are many E’s, for example, that could be used as a spacer. There are many characteristics that suggest it could be solved, many patterns. The problem is we don’t know why it is not solvable.”
As the FBI explains on their site, cracking a code takes four steps: determining the language, the system, the key (i.e., shifting each letter to the right in the alphabet), and reconstructing the text.
But with McCormick’s notes, the FBI could only get to step two.
So, in March 2011, the FBI revealed the existence of McCormick’s notes to the public and asked amateur codebreakers for help. Tips soon flooded in. According to Fox News, codebreakers suggested that McCormick’s notes included reminders to take medication, the name “Seth,” and hospital terminology. But McCormick’s family wasn’t convinced.
They had learned about the codes alongside the rest of the public and expressed their doubts that McCormick was capable of writing in code. One family member said that McCormick “didn’t write in code. He couldn’t spell anything, just scribble,” according to Esquire. However, other family members remembered that McCormick had written in codes as a child.
The FBI, however, is insistent that McCormick’s notes contain some kind of message.
“We look at a lot of things that are gibberish, arbitrary strikes on a keyboard,” Olson explained. “This is not that case.”
To date, Ricky McCormick’s code remained uncracked. It’s unclear if he wrote the code, or if the code was written by someone else — perhaps by his killer.
Who Killed Ricky McCormick?
Though Ricky McCormick’s death remains unsolved, police have looked at a number of suspects. McCormick’s old boss, Baha Hamdallah, was known to be violent. And police also heard in December 1999 that a local drug dealer, Gregory Lamar Knox, had allegedly murdered a Black man who worked at the Amoco gas station.
Despite surveillance of both men, however, investigators could not link either Hamdallah or Knox to McCormick’s death.
As such, Ricky McCormick’s death remains a mystery — as does the context of the coded notes found on his body.
Were the notes a clue to his killing, or something else entirely? Perhaps they were simply a shorthand that McCormick had invented, decipherable only by him. Whatever they are, the FBI still wants to solve them.
“Even if we found out that he was writing a grocery list or a love letter,” Olson explained, “we would still want to see how the code is solved. This is a cipher system we know nothing about.”
After learning about Ricky McCormick’s death and the mysterious notes found on his body, go inside the mystery of the Somerton Man who washed up on an Australian beach with a strange note in his pocket. Or, discover the eerie details surrounding the death of Elisa Lam, whose body was found in the water tank of an L.A. hotel.