Crime & Crowdsourcing – The Crowd acts as Investigator
Twelve years ago the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCornick from Missouri was found in a cornfield. It was immediately apparent that the police were dealing with a brutal killing. Two pages of mysterious codes were found in the victim´s pants pocket – which neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation´s cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) nor the American Cryptogram Association could ever crack.
Recent police and FBI efforts prove that crowdsourcing can be helpful in untangling serious crime cases. The FBI has published the codes in a crowdsourcing campaign asking the public to “Help Solve an Open Murder Case,” essentially writing crime-solving history. It was the first time that a crowdsourcing task was published in the aim of catching a criminal. CRRU chief Dan Olson admits, “Standard routes of cryptanalysis seem to have hit brick walls.” Olson says, “Maybe someone with a fresh set of eyes might come up with a brilliant new idea.” McCornick´s murder still ranks among the top unsolved murder cases in the US. In the meantime, the FBI has created its own crowdsourcing website, where you can read about victims and follow investigations. At forms.fbi.gov/code anyone with an Internet connection can get cryptography tips and take a stab at cracking the code.
Since the site went live, the FBI has received innumerable tips. Some from the crowd think the notes have something to do with driving directions, which the victim may have written himself (“tun-se” = turn south east, “rne” = right north east). Many think that Ricky McCornick dealt drugs and the code consists of customers´ addresses. One armature code-cracker guesses that the code is an unfinished song, since many parts of the note sound rhythmic and even rhymes at points. Another guess is 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”. The FBI is now checking the probability of these clues.
German criminal investigators have also begun using Facebook to ask for help in solving crimes. Six months ago the police in Hannover, Germany began looking for 20-year-old Cicek Ö. So far, with no results. As the police department made their Facebook debut, the criminal investigators in the case began receiving tips about the Hannover case. 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 the missing persons announcement was placed on 8,000 individual Facebook users´ pages. A speaker for the police department projected that, “Working off the assumption that each person has 100 friends, around 800,000 people will end up seeing” the announcement.