The use of crowdsourcing as a tool to help solve crimes continues to grow as law enforcement agencies discover the benefits of tapping the wisdom of the crowd. In essence the crowd itself gets to play hero and detective in a variety of instances.
For over twelve years Missouri police and the FBI have been trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Ricky McCornick. The mystery began with the discovery of the 41 Year old male’s body in a Missouri cornfield. Police had assumed they were dealing with a simple brutal killing until two pages of mysterious codes were found in the victim’s pants pocket. Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation´s cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) nor the American Cryptogram Association were struggling to break the code. The FBI published the codes in a crowdsourcing campaign asking the public to Help Solve an Open Murder Case.
When the site was launched in April 2011, the FBI received countless tips from the crowd. Some believed that the notes have something to do with driving directions which the victim wrote on the paper (e.g. “tun-se” = turn south east, “rne” = right north east). Many think that Rick McCornick dealt drugs and that the codes were his customer’s addresses. One amateur code-cracker guessed that the code was an unfinished song, since it contained rhythmic elements as well as traces of rhymes . Another one guessed that the author of the code could be dyslexic, since people suffering from the disorder often omit certain letters. Still, others were able to decode the word “place”.
Standard routes of cryptanalysis seem to have hit brick walls. Maybe someone with a fresh set of eyes might come up with a brilliant new idea.
CRRU chief Dan Olson
McCornick´s murder still ranks among the top unsolved murder cases in the US. In the meantime, the FBI created its own crowdsourcing website where you can read about victims and follow investigations. Anyone with an Internet connection can get cryptography tips and make an attempt at cracking the code.
Meanwhile German criminal investigators have also turned to crowdsourcing for help in a missing person case, using Facebook. Six months ago, the police in Hannover, Germany began looking for 20-year-old Cicek Ö. At first German police were struggling for clues until the criminal investigators in the case began receiving tips about the case through their recently launched Facebook page.
The police president Uwe Binias announced that the use of social networks will soon begin an official six month trial period. In the first weeks following the announcement the missing persons announcement was placed on 8,000 individual Facebook users´ pages. The police projected an assumption that if one person has at least 100 friends it is possible that approximately 800,000 people would have seen the announcements.