In 1979, A Computer Programmer Used Code to Threaten Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash dueting with a Navy lieutenant in 1987. (Photo: Gary Rice/Wikimedia Commons)

A version of this post originally appeared on Muckrock.

Somewhat surprisingly, for the Man in Black, the FBI files on outlaw icon Johnny Cash are surprisingly tame. Well, once you get past that part where he burned down a national forest. After that youthful indiscretion, the file consists mainly of investigations into various death threats the House of Cash received over the decades —including one that stands out due to the odd choice of medium, and the even odder investigation.

In May of 1979, just days before the release of his 62nd album, Cash’s manager received a letter addressed to Cash with no return address.

Enclosed was a message from someone claiming to be an ex of one of Cash’s six daughters (the letter doesn’t specify which). As Cash’s manager herself put it, the letter is “non-sensible,” vowing that Cash’s daughter “won’t ever forget Xmas 1978 or me” (despite being mailed in the summer of the following year).

It also contained some rather dubious history lessons.

All pretty creepy, sure, but nothing Cash hadn’t seen before. What was new, and what pushed this from the “anonymous crank” to “maybe give the Feds a call” territory was what came after the letter—a surprisingly intimidating computer printout of a simple BASIC program wishing the Cash family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year … over and over and over, The Shining-style.


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