A three-dimensional inversion of P-wave travel-time residuals from local earthquakes reveals a remarkable pattern of low seismic velocities in crustal rocks immediately adjacent to the active portions of the New Madrid fault system. Seismic velocities are lowest in regions of greatest concentration of earthquake activity near two intersections of linear trends in seismicity. The maximum reduction in compressional wave velocity is at least 7 per cent in the upper 5 km of the crust and at least 4 per cent in the depth range of 5 to 14 km. The reductions are consistent with a velocity decrease which would be expected if crustal rocks in the source zone contain fluid-filled cracks in which pore pressure is a substantial fraction of external pressure. The presence or absence of such fluids may explain why some portions of the faults in and surrounding the upper Mississippi Embayment are active while others are not.