The Cipher Mystery of Paul Rubin

Updated on January 11, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

On January 20, 1953, a corpse was found lying in a ditch near the Philadelphia International Airport. A piece of paper was taped to the body on which was a cryptic typewritten message. What did it mean?

The mysterious encrypted message.
The mysterious encrypted message. | Source

The Mystery Man

There was no identification on the body and, in addition to the mysterious note there were other features for police to puzzle over.

The cadaver was that of a young man who was wearing casual clothes. He was described as white, five feet 10 inches tall, and wearing unusually thick lens tortoiseshell eyeglasses

In his sports jacket was a photograph of a small plane with a Nazi swastika on its tale that was surrounded by a group of U.S. soldiers, along with a spent .38 calibre cartridge shell. An image of Rodin’s Thinker statue was found in his wallet. There was also a small, broken glass vial.

Some other items were found on his person as outlined by The Futility Closet, “A copy of Galaxy Science Fiction, as well as a plastic cylinder containing a signal fuse, … a ‘fountain pen gun’ of uncertain purpose, four keys, and 47 cents.”

But the most curious item of all was the small piece of paper attached to his navel with adhesive tape.

United Press was moved to comment “The case contained all the elements of a cloak-and-dagger spy thriller with the coded note furnishing the most mysterious gimmick.”


Paul Emanuel Rubin

Eventually, the body was identified as that of Paul Emanuel Rubin, aged 18. He was a chemistry student at New York University who was on the verge of failing his term. The coroner found that death had occurred as a result of cyanide poisoning; there was enough of the toxin in his body to kill 10 people.

Rubin lived with his parents and they had not seen him since the morning before his body was found. His mother said she remembered seeing him cutting some strips of adhesive tape before he left the house.

As far as his parents were aware, Paul Rubin was in good physical and mental health.

At about 6:35 a.m. on the morning of the discovery of Rubin’s body a car entered the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The toll collector noticed something unusual, as the FBI investigation notes “The driver’s companion was hunched down in his seat, holding his stomach, and was obviously in pain.” The collector directed the driver to the nearest hospital but nobody with severe abdominal pain showed up.

Neither the car nor the driver was ever found. Three hours later, Rubin's body was discovered by a U.S. soldier.


The Cipher Message

Among all the numbers, symbols, and letters of the cryptic message found on Rubin’s body a couple of words stood out – Dulles and Conant. Could these be references to John Foster Dulles and James B. Conant? At the time of Rubin’s death, Dulles was about to be sworn in as President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State and Conant was to be appointed U.S. High Commissioner to West Germany.

Alarm bells went off in the intelligence community. Was this a warning about an attack on U.S. government officials? Were foreign spies planning something horrific?

But, nobody could make any sense of the cipher. The best code breakers were turned loose on the document but were unable to unlock its meaning.

The official word came out that “Our investigation of Rubin fails to reflect any subversive activities on his part.” On February 2, 1953 the FBI sent a teletype message to the Philadelphia Police Department saying “Intelligence squad detective advised today he was convinced Rubin case contained no intelligence aspect and had turned case over to homicide.”

Likewise, the homicide “detectives advised no further investigation contemplated, being convinced Rubin’s death was suicide.” The file, as per routine, was kept open but nobody was going to spend any time probing for answers.


Other Theories Abound

Since then, many amateur code-breaking sleuths have puzzled over the Rubin mystery. One of them, Nick Pelling, theorizes that Rubin’s friends could easily have unscrambled the message if they had been given access to his code tables.

Pelling points out that this was the time of the Red Scare and Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities witch hunt. Paranoia about communists pervaded all branches of the U.S. government.

This is how Pelling sees it playing out: “I suspect that the FBI collected up all Rubin’s code-tables and documentation, tried to break them (and failed), and then – because they perceived that National Security was somehow at stake, even if they couldn’t prove it – kept everything quiet. The paranoid logic being, of course, that if Rubin was a goddamn Commie, then all his code-breaking chums were probably all the same distressing shade of Red, and therefore not to be trusted anywhere near his note.”

A simpler explanation occurs to the writer. From the FBI file it’s clear that Rubin had an unwarranted high opinion of his own intelligence. Could it be that he produced a cipher that was pure gibberish and he simply left an unsolvable problem as a final mockery of those he considered inferior?

Bonus Factoids

Those who know about these things suggest that Rubin was, in part, using something called Trithemius code. This was an encryption method invented by the German Benedictine abbot Johannes Trithemius who lived from 1462 to 1516.

A friend of Paul Rubin told police the dead man had taken to referring to himself as Galen Templar after the fictional amateur detective Simon Templar, otherwise known as The Saint. Benjamin Birnbaum said he and Rubin frequently exchanged coded messages.

The FBI tested Paul Rubin’s typewriter but were unable to state conclusively that the cryptic message was created on his machine.

On several occasions Paul Rubin was seen wearing shoes of two different colours.


  • “Paul Rubin’s FBI File.” The Cipher Foundation, undated.
  • “Paul Rubin Cipher.” The Cipher Foundation, undated.
  • “The Secret History of Paul Rubin, Perhaps…? Nick Pelling, Cipher Mysteries, February 22, 2015.
  • “The Paul Rubin Cipher.” The Futility Closet, January 8, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      18 months ago from Sunny Florida

      What a mysterry this is and will continue to be apparantly. This is a good account of the facts, but I can see why the authorities didn't reach a conclusion.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      This is a real mystery. You have written a very good account of it.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)