Unsolved Mystery of the Somerton Man Case

The Somerton Man Case or Tamam Shud Mystery is considered to be one of Australia's unsolved mysteries, it revolves around an unidentified man found dead in December 1948 on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. Aside from the fact that the man could never be identified, the mystery deepened after a tiny piece of paper with the words "Tamam Shud" was found in a hidden pocket sewn within the dead man's trousers. (It is also referred to as "Taman Shud.") Adding to the mystery, a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam's collection was later found that contained a scribbled code in it believed to have been left by the dead man himself.

On 30 November 1948, a jeweller called John Baines Lyons, went for a walk with his wife along Somerton Beach at about 7 pm. Near the foot of the steps which led down to the beach they saw a man sitting, supported by the sea wall. As they passed, he extended his right arm and then let it fall. They concluded that he was not dead, although possibly dead drunk, and walked on.

Around 7.30 pm, Olive Constance Neill, a telephonist, saw the seated man from the road above the seafront. It was a warm night and there were other people about, including a man in his fifties, wearing a grey suit and hat, who was looking down, possibly at the man on the beach. On 1 December 1948 at about 6.50 am, John Lyons went for an early morning swim. After he emerged from the sea, he noticed the man he had seen the night before still there. On inspection, he affirmed that the man was dead. He went home to call the police and then returned to the scene.

The man was lying with his feet toward the sea, still against the wall. He was well-dressed but he had no hat. He didn't appear to have suffered any stab wounds or bullet wounds. No bruises or blood were observed and there was no disturbance of the scene. He seemed to have died very quietly and peacefully, where he sat. His half-smoked cigarette had fallen out of his mouth and onto his lapel as he slumped but his chin not even blistered. Eventually the local people called him the Somerton Man.

The Mysterious Somerton Man

The police ambulance took Somerton Man to the Royal Adelaide Hospital on North Terrace. At 9.40 am, the doctor declared that he's dead and suggested that he must have a heart attack and sent him to the morgue for a post-mortem. The body was processed in the usual way, being stripped and tagged, and then refrigerated. There was nothing odd about a heart attack victim, but the contents of his pockets were logged, as follows:
  • Railway ticket to Henley Beach
  • Bus ticket to North Glenelg
  • American metal comb
  • Packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum
  • Packet of Army Club cigarettes with seven Kenistas cigarettes inside
  • Handkerchief
  • Packet of Bryant & May matches
He had no wallet, no identity documents, no money and no passport. He was wearing jockey shorts and a singlet, a white shirt with a narrow tie in red, white and blue, fawn trousers, a brown knitted pullover, a brown double-breasted suit coat, socks and highly polished brown, laced shoes, Snazzy.

On examination of the clothes, it was found that every identifying label had been removed. Dr JM Dwyer, the doctor who examined the Somerton Man, decided that he had died of some irritant poison and sent samples of his organs (liver, muscle, blood, urine and stomach contents) for analysis.

While the forensic tests were performed, the police set about trying to found out who he was. Detective Strangway of Glenelg Station and his associates began by checking all the missing persons reports on hand but Somerton Man fitted none of them. Then they checked his fingerprints, which were not on record. And after that they went to the papers.

At first two people were sure that he was Robert Walsh, a woodcutter, but this positive identification was withdrawn when one of them looked at the body again and decided that it wasn't him. In any case, Walsh was sixty three and Somerton Man was younger and had soft hands, which woodcutters don't. Another firm identification as EC Johnson rather fell flat when the man concerned walked into a police station and asserted very firmly that he wasn't dead. So Somerton Man wasn't EC Johnson either.

Then on 14 January, in response to a police appeal for unclaimed baggage directed to all lodging houses, hotels and railway stations, a suitcase was found in a locker at Adelaide's Central Railway Station. It had been checked in after 11 am on 30 November 1948, the last day of Somerton Man's life.

It was a nice, clean, respectable and not inexpensive brown leather suitcase. All the labels had been removed. The suitcase contained the following items:
  • Red checked dressing gown
  • Red felt slippers, size 7
  • Undergarments (four pairs)
  • Pijamas
  • Four pairs of socks
  • Shaving kit containing razor and strop, shaving brush
  • A Screwdriver
  • A cut-down table knife
  • A stencilling brush
  • A pair of scissors
  • A sewing kit containing orange Barbour's waxed thread
  • Two ties
  • Three pencils
  • Six handkerchiefs
  • Sixpence in coins
  • A button
  • A tin of brown shoe polish, Kiwi brand
  • One scarf
  • One cigarette lighter
  • Eight large envelopes and one small envelope
  • One piece of light cord
  • One scarf
  • One shirt without name tag
  • One yellow coat shirt (a shirt with an attached collar)
  • Two airmail stickers
  • One rubber (eraser)
  • One front and one back collar stud
  • Toothbrush and paste
The most interesting discovery in the suitcase was the orange Barbour thread, which was not sold in Australia. Identical thread had been used to repair the pocket of Somerton Man's coat. It seemed that the Barbour's thread in the suitcase and the Barbour thread in Somerton Man's coat were likely connected, so the suitcase probably belonged to Somerton Man. Also, the clothes are his size and the slippers would fit his feet. And some of the garments in the suitcase actually had labels with a name on them. The name, written on a singlet, a laundry bag and a tie, was T. Keane or T. Kean(*). The call went out and a local sailor named Tom Reade was said to be missing. Was Somerton Man perhaps Tom Reade?

But when Tom Reade's shipmates viewed the body, they all said that it was not their Tom Reade. After a widespread searches through maritime agencies had revealed that no one was missing a T. Keane or T. Kean.

(*There is some mis-information about T. Keane, thanks to Mr. Peter Bowes for provide additional information on his website "The somerton man. The tamam shud mystery")

The clothes were also marked with drycleaning or laundry marks, which were applied to clothes when they were submitted for cleaning, so that the cleaner could identify them if their tag was lost. These marks were 1171/1 and 4393/7 and 3053/7 but extensive searches of laundries, and drycleaners found no one who used those combinations numbers.

A few days after the body was found, a coroner's inquest was conducted by coroner Thomas Erskine Cleland, commenced  but it was adjourned until 17 June 1949. Sir John Burton Cleland, a pathologist who investigate the body, re-examined it and made a few discoveries. He noted that the Somerton Man's shoes were remarkably clean and it seems have been polished recently. This shoes proved that he's not using it to wander around Glenelg all day. He added that this evidence also fit in with the theory that the body may have been brought to Somerton beach after the man's death. Beside, because the lack evidence of the two main effects of poison which is vomiting and convulsions, did not found on his clothes.

Interestingly, a tiny piece of rolled-up paper with the words "Tamam Shud" printed on it was found deep in a fob pocket sewn within the dead man's trouser pocket, around the same time as the Inquest. Based on the translation of the public library officials, the text identified it as a phrase meaning "ended" or "finished" which can be found on the last page of the The Rubaiyat authored by Omar Khayyam. The poems' themes meaning is that one person should live life to the full and have no regrets when it ended. At the back side of the paper was blank and soon the police conducted an Australia-wide search to find a copy of the book that had a similarly blank at the back side but were unsuccessful.

Few days later, a photograph of the paper with words "Tamam Shud" was sent to interstate police and then released to the public. This evidence later leading to a man who admit that he had found a very rare first edition copy of The Rubaiyat, which is translated by Edward FitzGerald, published in 1859 by Whitcombe and Tombs, New Zealand. It was found in the back seat of his unlocked car that had been parked in Jetty Road Glenelg about a week or two before the body was found. He had no idea between the book's connection to the case until he saw an article in the previous day's newspaper. Because he wished to remain anonymous. This man's identity and profession were withheld by the police.

Although there was no other evidence to back the theory, the poem's subject immediately led the local police to theorise that the man had committed suicide by poison. The book matched with the missing the words "Tamam Shud" on the last page, which had a blank reverse, and based on the microscopic tests indicated that the piece of paper was from the page torn from the book

Another clue also found in the back of the book. There were of five lines of capital letters with the second line struck out written with faint pencil markings. The strike out is now considered significant with its similarity to the fourth line possibly indicating a mistake and thus, possible proof the letters are code: 

 The Somerton Man Code

Code experts were called in to decipher the lines at the time but were unsuccessful.

In the back of the book was found another clue which is an unlisted telephone number belonging to a former nurse who lived in Moseley St, Glenelg, around 400 metres north of the location where the body was found. The lady said that while she was working during World War II at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, she admitted that she owned a copy of The Rubaiyat. However in 1945, she had given it to an army lieutenant named Alfred Boxall who was serving in the Water Transport Section of the Australian Army at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney.

According to the local media reports, the woman stated that after the world war she had moved to Melbourne and married. Later she had received a letter from Boxall, but had told him she was now married. In late 1948, she said that Boxall had asked her next door neighbour about her. However there is no evidence that he, who did not know the lady's married name, had any contact with her after 1945. Detective sergeant Leane shown her the plaster cast bust of the dead man, but she could not identify it. Police believed that Boxall was the Somerton Man until they found Boxall still alive, and he even showed his 1924 Sydney edition copy of The Rubaiyat, complete with "Tamam Shud" on the last page. Boxall was unaware of any link between the dead man and him, and now he's working in the maintenance section at the Randwick Bus Depot.

The lack of success in solving the code, determining the identity, and cause of death of the Somerton Man had led authorities to call it an "unparalleled mystery" and believe that the cause of death may never be known. An editorial called the case "one of Australia's most profound mysteries" and noted that if he died by poison so rare and obscure it could not be identified by toxicology experts, then surely the culprit's advanced knowledge of toxic substances pointed to something more serious than a mere domestic poisoning.

Tamam Shud: The Somerton Man Mystery by Kerry Greenwood;

Pic Sources:
Tamam Shud: The Somerton Man Mystery by Kerry Greenwood;


peterbowes said...

With respect, your information regarding Keane is not correct, perhaps you could call by here and see why the mistake was made

Tripzibit said...

@Peterbowes: Hi, thanks for your correction. Actually my reference about T. Keane is taken from Kerry Greenwood's book.

If you don't mind i will include your link as additional references.

Best regards,

peterbowes said...

Fine with me, the error has never been acknowledged by Professor Derek Abbott - however I did fix up the Wikipedia entry.


Tripzibit said...

@Peterbowes: Ok, thanks a lot for the references :) Very informative

peterbowes said...

hope that you're enjoying the ride - we are getting to the interesting stage / pete

Anonymous said...

This is the new overview

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