The following story was written in late April 2014 by Marie-Lynn Richard with Charlie Shrem.
On January 27, 2014, Charlie Shrem was coming back from a conference in Amsterdam when he was arrested detained at JFK Airport. After his arraignment he received a curious letter postmarked in California signed Marcel Mellish which referenced his current situation. That was quick! The name didn't ring a bell. The letter looked batshit. Charlie posted it on his Facebook feed for a chuckle after his lawyer told him "It's the cost of being famous!" In essence it looked like the kind of letter the gatekeeper would throw out without ever showing the executive.
I returned last week from a 4 week razzia in Venice honoring Italian World War 2 Kamikaze pilots and learned of Bitcoin tsopujris during lunch with an old friend from our days as adecedarian defenestrators, Bishop Carl Bean.
I have read part of all of the news stories on the tismmes--and even saw the story on the Crime Channel TV show last nigh. I am not the least bit gruntled at the way those rantallion patzers are ballyragging you and Bobby Faiella.. If I had any balls I would put my head in a moose. I am so depressed at this situation that I felt the need for a little bit of cheering and rented the movie "Schindler's List" to get some well needed yuks.
You can read it here: http://charlieshrem.com/files/letter.txt
The formatting and integrity in this text file matches that of the letter itself.
I started working with Charlie on March, when he posted that he needed help launching his website. I knew who Charlie was but hadn't really researched him in depth. As it turns out, my new job was to be a professional stalker because I, obviously, had to distill all of his accomplishments into a biographical website in record time so we could announce the acceptance of the highly anticipated Bitcoin documentary The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin to the TriBeca festival. Charlie is so accomplished and involved in the community that I haven't even finished his website yet. You see, I got distracted...
It was around that day that I saw the letter in his feed. Having spent a lot of time in rec.arts.celebrity.gossip back in the day, and having worked on Abilify disease learning campaigns for Brystol-Myers Squibb, I thought the letter was simply one of those crazy obsessive fan letters. One thing was sure, it was mind-bogglingly random. However, out of concern for Charlie's safety, I submitted it to my spouse who has worked in the field of personal protection for many years and is freaky fluent in body language and mind reading. Maybe he could help me read between the lines.
After we all realized that none of the information in the letter was real, it became obvious that it wasn't a crazy fan letter. People who suffer from delusions (in a clinical sense) usually have a very specific cause they want to advance. Or, perhaps they are in love with a celebrity. In both cases they want to be known, found and contacted. Marcel Mellish is unknown, impossible to find or contact, like Satoshi Nakamoto!
(Artwork by Marie Lynn Rirchard)
We spent 3 hours into the night discussing the peculiar letter trying to figure out an angle to decypher it. We made a list of ways to manipulate the information. Stephan is a math person, I am more of a word person, Very much a n00b at crypto. I proposed that we should simply ask ourselves: "What could it be if it was the greatest secret message ever?" Because it will be easier to unscramble such a huge set of clues if we know what to look for. When I wrote to Charlie about it, I told him we should suspect this is a key pair containing a gift of bitcoins. This is when Charlie explained to me the concept of a brain wallet, something I was not familiar with in the context of cryptocurrency. It made even more sense.
Charlie showed the letter to a few people in order to provide analysis and help in understanding what this could be. One of them is Vitalik Buterin, current developer of Ethereum. Vitalik was speaking at The Future of Money in New York City and seemed intrigued by the idea. Now that more than six people have seen the letter and agree that it looks suspiciously like an encrypted message.
Time to open it up to pool decryption!
Charlie has compiled the notes below from our crazy week of thinking outside the box. He shared them with his friend Hal Finney. This happened at a time where his family were receptive but Hal was not able to provide help given his deteriorating health.
-- Notes from Charlie
Some odd things:
Normally, I would discount this as merely being sent by a paranoid schizophrenic, however there are too many oddities and a few people are started dissecting and decoding it
There are many double spaces, commas, and intentional misspellings. Words intentionally in Yiddish, that help the story, but spelled word. Oddities in the writing style, such as the last paragraph being justified while the others are not. The author proofread this, as he added a comma in pen on the last line, etc.
Few, who I have shared this with have suggested an underlying message, possibly a private key, or someone reaching out.
The letter was printed on yellow paper, when trying to do optical character recognition I found my computer unable to recognize even one letter or number, however simply changing it to grayscale I was able to recognize every letter and number. That leads me to believe the author did not want this being read by any automated USPS systems that scan letters.
1. The punctuation (,, .. ----- etc.)
2. The numbers
3. The capital letters
4. The justification (first paragraphs are not, last one is) Separate the key from the password?
5. The misspelled Yiddish-ish words (including in the return address ‘Gonif’ which mentions a thief!)
6. The old-timey words from 1920's Americana like quidnucs (someone who knows the latest gossip), Jewishprudence (case law)
7. The curious itemizations of places (i.e. there is no such thing as a Licensed Lava Lamp repair shop (LLL)Maybe draw those on a Google map.
8. The three physics courses. In Truecrypt I encrypt with three passes, the three classes make up acronyms POI, VGLMS, GACM
9. The quote, it is not encapsulated correctly, this is a person who write well and knows this. Why extra punctuation? No more room? See #1
10. We had a theory that turns this into a QR code. This needs to be explored.
11. I no longer have the envelope.
After we started pondering this odd letter, other work took over our brain space. And then Charlie had his trial and then his sentence to contend with. Throughout the last year, the odd letter didn’t factor in my communications with Charlie in prison. But it was always Charlie’s goal to publish this to the whole crypto community.
So here we are.
My take on this as a non-cryptographer: This has to be SUPER evident in order to prevent mistakes in long keys. OR, the sender is familiar with Charlie’s high-level technical abilities and expects him to webscrape or API to a site like http://brainwallet.org. But my money is on ‘So simple that it will make us feel stupid that we didn't see it right away!!
So Steem community, we’ve given ourselves a headache over this, now it’s your turn to use your brilliance and make us FACEPALM so hard that we we fall backwards!
Marie-Lynn and Charlie with help from Stephane Beaudin