Last month, JC Hutchins received a creepy package in the mail containing a doll wrapped in vintage newspapers. ARGNet’s coverage of this special delivery was given the light-hearted title, ARG or Not, Please Don’t Send Me Creepy Dolls. Much to my co-workers’ chagrin, our mysterious benefactor adhered to the letter of that request, if not the spirit, in sending a follow-up package to my work address earlier today.
A Quick Refresher: The Initial Mailing
Back in December of last year, JC Hutchins jokingly shared a Facebook Marketplace ad for a creepy doll, with a single word in response: NOPE. A month later, he received a package in the mail from “Ray Stantz”, with a return address listed as Dan Aykroyd’s former Los Angeles residence, a house itself rumored to be haunted. Inside the box? The doll from the Marketplace listing, wrapped in 1930s era newspapers with a message scrawled in red ink saying “LOOK AFTER THIS CHILD”, along with a series of period photographs of masked figures, vintage stamps, and other curiosities that look suspiciously like coded messages.
Hutchins meticulously documented the package on his website through a series of videos and photographs, but little progress has been made since the initial delivery.
I Have a Sixth Sense For This Kind of Thing
When I found an unanticipated package waiting for me at my desk earlier today, I had a hunch something was amiss. The package may not have been from Ray Stantz, but “Dr. Malcolm Crow” sounded familiar. Sure enough, Bruce Willis’ character Malcolm Crowe made the house on 2006 Delancey Place his home in the movie The Sixth Sense.
Because of this, my trepidation at finding a box full of crumpled pages from the May 19, 1927 issue of the Philadelphia Record was completely warranted. Especially since something was clearly wrapped inside the front page. Unlike the prior mailing, messages written on the newspaper were limited to a single page: circled stories range from a young wife’s apparent suicide, a railroad accident that killed three, and the excavation of an Egyptian tomb. Numerous arrows point to the main item for consideration: a story about a farmer in Bath, Michigan who set off an explosion in an explosion that killed 38 people.
Other crumbling pages of the Philadelphia Record were considerably more pedestrian and left unmarked, although I was particularly amused to receive an advertisement for Wanamaker’s, a building I’m personally responsible for haunting. This time, what was inside the newspaper did most of the talking.
Doll Hands and the Subtle Art of Palmistry
Bundled up inside the vintage newspaper was a single doll hand lightly grasping an air plant. The doll hand’s ring finger is adorned with a winged dragon curled into a ring, and the underside of the hand is covered in what appears to be palmistry symbols. That assumption is reinforced by the contents of the final item in the package.
A Palmistry Pamphlet a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
The final item in the package was a letter addressed from the College of Physicians on 19 South Twenty-Second Street, currently home to the Mütter Museum. The letter is full of ciphered messages, with a different four-lettered word underlined in each missive.
- Along the envelope’s seal, an enciphered message reads “AHRB DIYO AVEQ HNQ EPTR WOE UDUD GKHT SHK TUHT”.
- Written on a Whitman’s Sampler matchbook, a message reads “BAY TIFWJ MC MTEMJR KM BAY“
- Written on a bill of sale for explosives, a message appears to read “Yjpak km kzi zoyd kjuk zsdrd dfoceasf cgei Oue ti s gnozdvewh / FOXE”
- Written on the back of the same photo of masked townspeople JC Hutchins previously received, a typed message: “Lxrtl pqyckhzy, vvq vphts rti ll kogf pgm xuxs zu nfkw hag pqzmaciei. / Xswus bu ba ipnc. Acn md zdnttr“
The final item in the envelope doesn’t appear to contain ciphered messages: rather, it’s a series of Palmistry cards, outlining three palm readings: lines for Criminal Tendencies, Great Artistic Ability, and Authorship.
Fiction Layered on History: A Delicate Balance
While this package appears to solidify suspicions that someone is trying to tell a story through the clues scattered throughout these mailings, it remains hard to tell exactly what kind of story that might be. Both packages pay homage to famous supernatural films in their return addresses, and both packages contain what appear to be coded messages: a series of curiously positioned stamps for JC’s package, and a series of ciphered texts for mine.
But most importantly, both packages seem rooted in actual history – the narrative here is literally wrapped up in the news of the day, and the unknown correspondent’s markings are drawing attention to actual tragedies that went to print over 80 years in the past. That much separation in time means few if any of those directly affected by the real events documented are still around…but it will still be interesting to see how the creator(s) navigate this story where the line between history and fiction may become blurred.
Updated to add: The Palmistry puzzle uses the Zodiac Killer’s cipher to spell out TenParcels.com which appears to be the hub for this experience, implying more parcels are going out to eight…lucky people.
The four ciphered messages have also been deciphered across Facebook, Twitter, and Discord conversations, using the following Vigenere keys respectively: HAND, PALMISTRY, SOLARCURSE, and TENPARCELSDOTCOM. Thanks to Ariock, addlepated, and freshness for letting me rest easy!
A Discord server has been created to follow the experience.
February 25, 2020 at 3:09 am
Started solving the code on the last photo. The first sentence is a vigenere cipher with a key that has been solved already. Also, the encoding uses the A+A=A style of encoding rather than the A+A=B style.
It gives (Rot13’ed): Fgrry lbhefrys, gur pyhrf ner ng unaq ohg guvf vf whfg gur ortvaavat.
The key is (Rot13’ed): gracnepryfqbgpbz
The two following sentences don’t seem to follow the same encoding, and I’m not planning to stay up later trying to solve them at the moment.