Can the Beale Ciphers be Decoded?
In 1885, a pamphlet, detailing a tale of hidden treasure and including three pages of numerical codes to solve for the location of the story’s secreted stash, was published by James B. Ward in Lynchburg, Virginia. Today, the story cannot be fully dismissed as a hoax or proven to be totally genuine. It would seem the only way to confirm the story is true, or at least hides something of value, is to solve the remaining two codes given in the pamphlet.
But can they be solved? Those who believe the pamphlet was written as a mere entertaining story to be sold for profit feel the unsolved codes are just random lists of numbers. If this is the case, then there is nothing to solve. They were created to add adventure to a story.
It is not wholly believed the lists of numbers are random, though. There are those who feel there is enough evidence to suggest otherwise; and that the codes do then conceal messages yet to be deciphered within them. Whether this decipherment would lead to the supposed millions worth of treasure, however, as said within the tale, continues to be another debated topic.
Nevertheless, the pamphlet recounts and demonstrates how one of the three codes was solved by the person entrusted with the box containing the Beale Papers. The method he used was a ‘book cipher’. Numbering each word in a copy of the Declaration of Independence and then taking the first letter of the word which corresponded to the number listed on Beale Paper 2, a message was revealed. It is roughly as follows:
“I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number “3” herewith; The first deposit consisted of one thousand and fourteen pounds of gold, and three thousand eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited November, 1819. The second was made December, 1821, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty eight pounds of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at 13,000. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number “1” describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.”
Yet, using the same method of numbering the Declaration and taking the first letters for Beale Papers 1 and 3’s numbers provides only gibberish. Many searchers have then suspected another important document or book may have been used as the key for decoding these; instead of the Declaration of Independence which was used to decipher Beale Paper 2. Bible passages, other government papers, classic books, etc. have all been tried on codes 1 and 3 without success.
I find, however, that written within the story is a sentence which leans towards the decipherment of the remaining two codes to actually suggest they use the same key as Beale Paper 2 (the Declaration), but seemingly with additional steps involved for decoding 1 and 3. The tale includes;
“The papers enclosed herewith will be unintelligible without the key, which will reach you in time, and will be found merely to state the contents of our depository, with its exact location, and a list of names of our party, with their places of residence, etc.”
It says ‘THE KEY’ not KEYS. For me, this passage implies only one key would be sent. And knowing the one coded message was cracked by using the Declaration of Independence, it would indicate they all might be. What might need to be realized are different methods of using the Declaration for breaking the codes.
Other strong support for the Declaration to be the key for the remaining two elusive ciphers is an extreme anomaly found when it is applied to Beale Cipher 1. Although a lucid message isn’t given, a string of numbers within the coded page deciphers to a very suspicious alphabetical sequence. Called the Gillogly String, after the cryptographer who discovered it, the letters abfdefghiijklmmnohpp indicates a possible message is to be found by using the Declaration as a key, but in a two stage process or layered steps applied.
Because the odds of this string being discovered is highly improbable if the numbers were randomly selected for the tale, many feel this offers proof something remains to be discovered within the Beale Cipher story.
Determining the additional steps or methods for using the Declaration of Independence to decode the Beale Ciphers seems to remain the challenge. And although this isn’t for certain, the possibility exists for this to be the solution to the codes of the Beale Papers.
Best of luck with whatever you seek!