When a letter was found in an inmate’s cell at the Fulton County jail, there was no indication that there was anything out of the ordinary about it. But on a hunch, the chief jailer sent it to a cryptographer who found a death threat that was hidden in plain sight.
The letter, found in the jail cell of Janorris Spears, wasn’t what it seemed, Fulton chief jailer Mark Adger said. It started, “What’s up? Listen!! My attorney came to see me.”
In reality, Adger said, the letter was a coded request to kill a jail employee. A cryptographer quickly determined the letter actually said, “Put a team together and cease this rat.”
Adger said it took the cryptographer less than an hour to translate, but to him, the code was “very sophisticated.” Letters corresponded to numbers, and a string of numbers would refer to another word.
The letter was addressed to a P.O. Box, and was being sent by Spears. It was found in October, but wasn’t translated until late November. Adger said the recipient named on the envelope was not a real person, and he did not know who was meant to receive the letter.
Spears has been convicted of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and armed robbery, among other charges, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
It was his gang connections that led jail employees to send the letter to the cryptographer to see if there was anything hidden in the words, Adger said.
Adger said after finding the “overt threat” against an employee, the county performed a welfare check. The employee, who had been out of work with an injury, was OK, and said she didn’t remember interacting with Spears.
Adger said the experience showed him how important it is to keep up with training, and said the jail — which already monitors prisoners’ phone calls — will begin to pay closer attention, so determine if inmates are using coded messages there, too.
“This was a really good get,” Adger said of the letter. “We take protecting our people real serious.”
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