Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an episode in a new series of Myth Hunters (in the US, “Raiders of the Lost Past” in the UK). The documentary makers focused on a particular well-known group of Beale Treasure Hunters from some decades back: but for me, talking on camera brought a whole load of conflicting research strands to the front of my mind.
Specifically, people usually talk about the Beale Ciphers in a very polarized they’re-either-real-or-they’re-fake kind of way. But this doesn’t do the subject justice at all: in fact, to me the evidence suggests the Beale Papers are both real and fake at the same time. Which is a juicily paradoxical place to begin…
Firstly, the cryptology. I now believe that Jim Gillogly was just plain wrong when he concluded that what we now call the “Gillogly strings” are evidence of hoaxery. Rather, I have no doubt at all that they offer strong evidence of some kind of keystrings “poking through” the B1 ciphertext: nothing else makes any kind of practical sense to me. So on the one hand, I would say that I find the evidence that ciphertexts B1 and B3 do use some kind of genuine cipher system (because B3’s stats look extremely similar to B1’s stats) based on the DoI to be extremely convincing.
Yet secondly, the deciphered text of B2 doesn’t seem to tally with the account given in the text of the pamphlet. The writer writes: “To systematize a plan for my work I arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them”. However, the deciphered text reads:-
I have deposited in the county of Bedford […] the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number “3,” herewith […]
Paper number “1” describes the exact locality of the vault so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.
So who numbered the pages? The original encipherer (say, Thomas Beale?) as the ciphertext implies, or the writer of the pamphlet as the pamphlet text implies? The answer is simple: if the cipher is real, then the pages were numbered by the original author — but if the cipher is fake, it was the pamphlet writer who numbered them. There’s no middle ground to be had.
Logically, then, my conclusion is that if the cryptology demonstrates – as I think it does – that the Beale Ciphers B1 and B3 are genuine ciphers, then I think it is extremely likely that the pamphlet text is just a confection, a frippery. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that this implies that all the letters included in it are fake as well.
In which case, it seems that we have a new Third Way to proceed along: that while the ciphers (and possibly the name Thomas Beale) appear to be based on some kind of actual cryptography, everything else is probably something else entirely. Right now, my opinion is that the pamphlet is very probably some kind of retrospective whitewash (or do I mean ‘hogwash’?) wrapped around a genuine cipher.
Currently, the secret history of the Beale Papers looks to me like this: that while Robert Morriss probably was given a box at his hotel in 1822 by someone (Thomas Beale, why not?) to look after, when in 1845 Morriss forced the box open, it was simply to take what was inside for himself – there were no letters, no grizzlies, no stampede, none of it. But all Morriss actually found was some sheets of paper with numbers on and (I suspect) a Declaration of Independence: mystified, he eventually passed this on to a third party, who came to realise the relevance of the DoI to the sheets of dictionary cipher, and thus was able to crack the B2 ciphertext (though not the other two).
But as for the letters and the pamphlet… to my eyes, they’re nothing more than a fabrication, perhaps to justify Morriss’s breaking the locks, or perhaps to help Ward sell his pamphlets: possibly even both. But regardless, I don’t believe that anything much we find in the pamphlet (the ciphers aside) will help us move towards decrypting those ciphers. The secret is genuinely in the ciphers, sure, but I trust the rest of it not one jot.
Make of that what you will! 🙂