July 27, 1988, Anna Maria Island

Mary Mary solves the puzzle

By Gib Bergquist

The FBI agent assigned to cover the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1966 came across some strange-looking shipping tags, which, at first glance, appeared to have been written in a foreign language. These tags were mysteriously being dumped into a trash receptacle in a restroom on the base. The agent gathered up the tags and sent them to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C. where the Cracker was, at the time, assigned as a fledgling cryptanalyst, which is just a bureaucratic name for a code breaker.

The agent who submitted the material reasoned that the tags could be part of some illegal operation, possibly gambling, and asked if the tags fit the format of a bookie code.

You horse players know that in order to record a bet, the bookie has to record the date, the name of the horse, the number of the race, the name of the track, the amount of the bet and the kind of bet — win, place, show, daily double, etc.

The tags were examined, and the Philadelphia FBI Field Office was advised that the tags had the format of a bookie code, but additional material was needed before the cipher could be broken and the tags read.

A discreet surveillance was set up and was successful in determining who was responsible for disposing of the tags in the trash container. Additional tags were collected and sent to the laboratory.

The suspect was identified as one Anthony C. Ciallella by sight and by his fingerprints, which were all over the shipping tags. He was an employee in the navy yard and ran his bookie business on the side, or, to be more exact, used his federal employment to gain access to the base and run his bookie operation.

Tony recorded all of his bets on shipping tags in a symbols cipher which he had devised to conceal his illegal operation. His cipher used a symbol such as a circle, a square, a cross, etc. to replace each letter in the alphabet and another for each numeral. Since he was the only person who knew the cipher, he felt secure in disposing of his records in the trash container after they had served their purpose.

Now, we all know that some of the letters in the English language are used more often than others. We tend to overwork the letter “e” and ignore others such as “z.” When the letters of the alphabet are arranged in their numerical order of occurrence in English text, we call it a frequency table, and it is a great aid in cracking ciphers.

Unfortunately, the unusual names of racehorses, names for example like “Hanky Panky,” “Ziggy,” “Xerox” and “Party Girl,” are in a class by themselves and don’t follow the normal frequency patterns of English text.

Now, in order to have any kind of case against Mr. Ciallella that would stand up in federal court, we had to solve his cipher. The Cracker went to the Library of Congress and checked out copies of the National Racing Form for the past month. This daily paper covers the names of all the horses running at all of the tracks in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

It was noted that one of the tags submitted was a little different from the others in that the four symbols appearing on the tag repeated themselves. We now knew that at some track in the not too distant past, a racehorse with a repeating name had run.

Then came the arduous task of pouring over all of the racing forms looking for that one horse with a repeating four letter name. About the third day of searching, the name just seemed to pop out on the page — a filly by the name of “Mary Mary” ran in the fifth race at Pimlico on June 3, 1966.

This gave us the letter equivalent of four of the symbols and from then on it was “duck soup” to determine the rest of the letters by fitting in the known letters into the symbol names of other horses.

On July 26, Tony was arrested by FBI agents as he dumped another load of shipping tags in the restroom. On his person was found a wad of bills and some more of the cryptic shipping tags.

When the case came to trial on January 18, 1967, Agent Bergquist was dispatched to Philly to testify as an expert witness.

When the Cracker entered the courtroom with his charts under one arm, he overheard Tony’s lawyer whisper to his client which is paraphrased here since this is a family newspaper, “Gee whillikers, the FBI has broken your code.”

The Cracker testified as to his findings as did the arresting agents. Ciallella took the witness stand in his own defense and testified that he didn’t know how the shipping tags got on his person or in the trash container. He said that he had the cash on his person because he had just cashed his paycheck.

However, the U.S. attorney was quick to introduce evidence to show that the check in question was not cashed until four days after his arrest.

The jury of 12 women returned a guilty verdict of gambling on a government reservation, and he was sentenced to five years in a federal penitentiary which gave him plenty of time to improve upon his cipher system.

As to Mary Mary, the little filly didn’t finish in the money at Pimlico, but, just by running that day, she made a very valuable contribution to the solving of a rather unusual bookie case.

Thanks Mary Mary.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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