Man accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s death tried to send encoded message from jail, records show

Jail administrators at the Glynn County Detention Center noticed something weird on June 25: a postcard from one of the inmates with an indecipherable code on the back of the message.

Jail administrators at the Glynn County Detention Center noticed something weird on June 25: a postcard from one of the inmates with an indecipherable code on the back of the message.

It was a letter from 64-year-old Gregory McMichael, a retired district attorney investigator turned murder suspect after he and his son, 34-year-old Travis McMichael, were charged with malice murder in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

In an interview with FBI investigators, a jail administrator recalled the letter contained “letters and symbols that made no sense.”

The administrator told investigators she made a copy of the letter and brought it to the major at the jail. She told investigators her major said the letter “was against the mail policy” because inmates “can’t send anything out coded.”

The encoded message was addressed to a man who would -- months later -- testify in the McMichaels’ bond hearing as a character witness.

Glynn County jail administrators intercepted this letter and handed it off to the FBI. (Provided to WJXT)

Frank Hogue, the attorney for Greg McMichael, said the postcard amounts to gibberish and wasn’t an attempt to send a secret message.

“Frustrated, lonely, cut off from family and friends, Mr. McMichael composed a postcard to family friend Zach Langford, whom he thought would find it amusing, made up entirely of gibberish -- letters, numbers and symbols that have no meaning and in no way constitute a code with any decipherable message,” Hogue said. “We have conveyed the information above to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. We know that any efforts that they have made or yet made to decipher something that is indecipherable will lead them to abandon the postcard as meaningless nonsense.”

Jail administrators told FBI and Department of Justice investigators about other red flags arising over letters sent from Greg McMichael, including a postcard addressed to Travis McMichael from his mother. Administrators said the letter was “suspicious because the handwriting did not resemble the handwriting [they] were familiar with.” The postcard was returned because letters with initials, and not the full spelling of names, can’t be delivered to inmates.

In an interview with FBI investigators, jail administrators said about the postcard that “the writing -- the content of the postcard wasn’t from a friend or the mother. You could tell that it was from the father, and we don’t -- we didn’t know how it got sent out past us because that writing on the card was Gregory McMichael’s writing cause he has very distinctive handwriting.”

Hogue said Greg McMichael had never seen the jail handbook when he sent the card.

“The jail handbook is available on a digital kiosk that inmates have limited access to for limited time. Mr. McMichael had not used the kiosk to view the handbook when he sent a postcard to a neighbor using the neighbor’s first initial, middle initial and last name. The jail returned the card to Mr. McMichael, telling him that it was against the rules to send a postcard using initials for any part of the person’s name -- the name must be spelled in full,” Hogue said. “Mr. McMichael then placed the postcard in an envelope, addressed the envelope to his wife, who had in the meantime rented a post office box because their mailbox at home had been subjected to thefts and vandalism.”

The Public Affairs Office for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Georgia said in an email: “In accordance with DOJ policy, our office does not comment on active investigations, including confirming or denying the existence of those investigations.”

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.