The Taman Shud Case,[notes 1] also known as the “Mystery of the Somerton Man”, is an unsolved case revolving around an unidentified man found dead at 6:30a.m., December 1, 1948 on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia.
Considered “one of Australia’s most profound mysteries”, the case has been the subject of intense speculation over the years regarding the identity of the victim, the events leading up to his death and the cause of death.
While scrutiny of the case has been mainly centred in Australia, there has also been coverage of the case internationally.
According to the pathologist Sir John Burton Cleland, the man, of “Britisher” appearance, was thought to be aged about forty to forty-five and in top physical condition. He was 5ft 11in tall, with hazel eyes, fair to gingery coloured hair, slightly grey around the temples, broad shoulders, a narrow waist, hands and nails that showed no signs of manual labor, big and little toes that met in a wedge shape, like those of a dancer or stockman (who wore riding boots), and pronounced high calf muscles like that of a ballet dancer, a dominant genetic trait although also a trait often developed by middle and long-distance runners.[notes 2] He was dressed in a white shirt, red and blue tie, brown trousers, socks and shoes and, although it had been a hot day and very warm night, a brown knitted pullover and fashionable European grey and brown double-breasted coat. All labels on his clothes were missing, and he had no hat (unusual for 1948, and especially so for someone wearing a suit). Clean-shaven and with no distinguishing marks, he carried no identification, which led police to believe he committed suicide. His dental records did not match any known person.
When police arrived, they noted no disturbance to the body and that the man’s left arm was in a straight position and the right arm was bent double. An unlit cigarette was behind his ear and a half-smoked cigarette was on the right collar of his coat held in position by his cheek. A search of his pockets revealed a used bus ticket from the city to St. Leonards in Glenelg, an unused second-class rail ticket from the city to Henley Beach, a narrow aluminium American comb, a half full packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing Kensitas cigarettes (a different brand) and a quarter full box of Bryant & May matches. The bus stop for which the ticket was used was around 250 metres south of the body’s location.
Witnesses came forward to declare that on the evening of 30 November, they had seen an individual resembling the dead man in the same spot near the Crippled Children’s Home where the corpse was later found. A couple who saw him around 7pm noted that they saw him extend his right arm to its fullest extent and then drop it limply. Another couple who saw him from 7:30pm to 8pm, during which time the street lights had come on, recounted that they did not see him move during the half hour he was in view of them although they did have the impression that his position had changed. Although it was commented between themselves that he must be dead because he was not reacting to the mosquitoes, they had thought he was drunk or asleep, and thus did not investigate further.
When the body was discovered at 6:30am the next day it was lying in the position witnesses had observed the previous day.
An autopsy was held and found that the time of death was around 2 a.m. on 1 December.
“The heart was of normal size, and normal in every way …small vessels not commonly observed in the brain were easily discernible with congestion. There was congestion of the pharynx, and the gullet was covered with whitening of superficial layers of the mucosa with a patch of ulceration in the middle of it. The stomach was deeply congested…There was congestion in the 2nd half of the duodenum. There was blood mixed with the food in the stomach. Both kidneys were congested, and the liver contained a great excess of blood in its vessels. …The spleen was strikingly large .. about 3 times normal size …there was destruction of the centre of the liver lobules revealed under the microscope. …acute gastritis haemorrhage, extensive congestion of the liver and spleen, and the congestion to the brain.”
However, besides the revelation that the man’s last meal was a pasty eaten three to four hours before death, tests failed to reveal any foreign substance. Pathologist Dr Dwyer concluded: “I am quite convinced the death could not have been natural …the poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic”. Although poisoning remained a prime suspicion, the pasty was not believed to be the source of the poison. Other than that, the coroner was unable to reach a conclusion on the man’s identity, cause of death or whether the man seen alive at Somerton Beach on the evening of 30 November was the same man, as nobody had seen his face while he was alive. Scotland Yard was called in to assist with the case but with little result and a photograph of the man and details of his fingerprints were widely circulated throughout the world but no positive identification was made.
Due to the body remaining unidentifiable, it was embalmed on 10 December 1948, the first time in the memory of the police that such a situation had occurred.
The two daily Adelaide newspapers, The Advertiser and The News, covered the death in separate ways. The Advertiser, a morning broadsheet, first mentioned the case in a small article on page three of its 2 December 1948 edition. Entitled “Body found on Beach”, it read:
“A body, believed to be of E.C. Johnson, about 45, of Arthur St, Payneham, was found on Somerton Beach, opposite the Crippled Children’s Home yesterday morning. The discovery was made by Mr J. Lyons, of Whyte Rd, Somerton. Detective H. Strangway and Constable J. Moss are enquiring.”
The News, an afternoon tabloid, featured their story of the man on its first page, giving more details of the dead man.
On December 3, E.C. Johnson was no longer believed to be the missing man as he had walked into a police station to identify himself. That same day, The News published a photograph of the dead man on its front page, leading to further calls from members of the public about the possible identity of the dead man. By the fourth of December, police had announced that the man’s fingerprints were not on South Australian police records, forcing them to look further afield. On the fifth of December, The Advertiser reported that police were searching through military records after a man claimed to have drunk with a man resembling the dead man at a hotel in Glenelg on the thirtieth of November. During their drinking session, the mystery man supposedly produced a military pension card bearing the name “Solomonson”.
There were a number of possible identifications of the body made, including one in early January 1949 when two people identified the body as that of 63 year old former wood cutter Robert Walsh. Police were sceptical, believing Walsh to be too old to be the dead man. However, the police did state that the body was consistent with that of a man who had been a wood cutter, although the state of the man’s hands indicated he had not cut wood for at least eighteen months. Any thoughts that a positive identification had been made were quashed however when Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, one of the people who had earlier positively identified the body as Mr Walsh, retracted her statement after a second viewing of the body, where the absence of a particular scar on the body, as well as the size of the dead man’s legs, led her to realise the body was not Mr Walsh.
By early February 1949, there had been eight different “positive” identifications of the body, including two Darwin men who thought the body was of a friend of theirs, a missing stablehand, a worker on a steamship and a Swedish man.
A new twist in the case occurred on the fourteenth of January 1949, when staff at Adelaide Railway Station discovered a brown suitcase with its label removed that had been checked into the station cloak room after 11:00am on the thirtieth of November 1948. In the case there was a red checked dressing gown, a pair of size seven red felt slippers, four pairs of underpants, pyjamas, shaving gear, a pair of light brown trousers with sand in the cuffs, an electrician’s screwdriver, a stencilling brush, a table knife cut down into a short, sharp instrument and a pair of scissors as used on merchant ships for stencilling cargo.
Also in the suitcase was a thread card of Barbour brand orange waxed thread, “an unusual type” not available in Australia, that was the same as that used to repair lining in a pocket of the trousers the dead man was wearing. All identification marks on the clothes had been removed but police found the name “T. Keane” on a tie, “Keane” on a laundry bag and “Kean” (without the last e) on a singlet, along with three drycleaning marks; 1171/7, 4393/7 and 3053/7. Police believed that whoever removed the clothing tags purposefully left the Keane tags on the clothes, knowing Keane was not the dead man’s name.
Initially, the clothes were traced to a local sailor, Tom Keane. As Keane could not be located some of his shipmates viewed the body at the morgue, and stated categorically that the corpse was not that of Keane, nor did the clothes belong to the missing sailor. A search concluded that there was no other T. Keane missing in any English-speaking country and a nation-wide circulation of the drycleaning marks also proved fruitless. In fact, all that could be garnered from the suitcase was that as a coat in the suitcase had a front gusset and featherstitching, it could have been made only in America as this was the only country that possessed the machinery for that stitch. Although mass produced, the body work is done then the owner is fitted before it is completed. The coat had not been imported indicating the man had been in America or bought the coat from someone of similar size who had been.
Police checked incoming train records and believed the man had arrived by overnight train from either Melbourne, Sydney or Port Augusta. They believed he then showered and shaved at the adjacent City Baths before returning to the train station to purchase a ticket for the 10:50am train to Henley Beach, which, for whatever reason, he missed or did not catch. After returning from the city baths, he checked in his suitcase at the station cloak room before catching a bus to Glenelg. Professor Derek Abbott, who is currently investigating the case, believes the man may have purchased the train ticket before showering. The railway station’s own public facilities were closed that day and discovering this and then having to walk to the adjacent city baths to shower would have added up to 30 minutes to the time he would have expected to take, which could explain why he missed the Henley Beach train and took the next available bus.[notes 3]
A coronial inquest, conducted by coroner Thomas Erskine Cleland, into the death initially commenced a few days after the body was found but was adjourned until the seventeenth of June 1949. The investigating pathologist Sir John Burton Cleland re-examined the body and made a number of discoveries. Cleland noted that the man’s shoes were remarkably clean and appeared to have been recently polished, rather than the state expected of the shoes of a man who had apparently been wandering around Glenelg all day. He added that this evidence fitted in with the theory that the body may have been brought to Somerton beach after the man’s death, accounting for the lack of evidence of vomiting and convulsions, the two main effects of poison.
Thomas Cleland speculated that as none of the witnesses could positively identify the man they saw the previous night as being the same person discovered the next morning, there remained the possibility the man had died elsewhere and been dumped. He stressed that this was purely speculation as all the witnesses believed it was “definitely the same person” as the body was in the same place and lying in the same distinctive position. He also found there was no evidence as to who the deceased was.
Cedric Stanton Hicks, Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Adelaide University testified that of a group of drugs, variants of a drug in that group he called number 1 and in particular number 2 were extremely toxic in a relatively small oral dose that would be extremely difficult if not impossible to identify even if it had been suspected in the first instance. He gave the coroner a piece of paper with the names of the two drugs which was entered as Exhibit C.18. The names were not released to the public until the 1980s as at the time they were “quite easily procurable by the ordinary individual” from a chemist without the need to give a reason for the purchase. He noted the only “fact” not found in relation to the body was evidence of vomiting. He then stated its absence was not unknown but that he could not make a “frank conclusion” without it. Hicks stated that if death had occurred seven hours after the man was last seen to move, it would imply a massive dose that could still have been undetectable. It was noted that the movement seen by witnesses at 7pm could have been the last convulsion preceding death.
Early in the inquiry, Cleland stated “I would be prepared to find that he died from poison, that the poison was probably a glucoside and that it was not accidentally administered; but I cannot say whether it was administered by the deceased himself or by some other person.” Despite these findings, he was unable to determine the cause of death of the Somerton Man.
The lack of success in 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.
Around the same time as the Inquest, a piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” printed on it was found in a secret pocket concealed within a trouser pocket. Public library officials were called in to translate the note, who identified it as a phrase, meaning “ended” or “finished”, found on the last page of a collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is perhaps worthwhile to note that the correct transliteration of “Taman Shud” from Persian (the original language of the Rubaiyat) is “Tamam Shod” or “Tamam Shud”. The paper was blank on the reverse and police conducted an Australia wide search to find a copy of the book that had a similar blank reverse but were unsuccessful. A photograph of the scrap of paper was sent to interstate police and released to the public, leading a person to reveal he had found a very rare first edition copy of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat, published by Whitcombe and Tombs in New Zealand,[notes 4] in the back seat of his unlocked car in Glenelg on the night of 30 November 1948. The man had known nothing of the book’s connection to the case until he saw an article in the previous day’s newspaper. The poem’s subject led police to theorise that the man had committed suicide by poison, although there was no other evidence to back the theory. The man’s identity and profession were suppressed by the court as were the reasons for the suppression.[notes 5]
The book was missing the words “Tamam Shud” on the last page, which had a blank reverse, and microscopic tests indicated that the piece of paper was torn from the book. The Rubaiyat’s last verse, immediately before “Tamam Shud”, is
And when thyself with shining foot shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the grass
And in your joyous Errand reach the Spot
Where I made One – turn down an empty Glass!
This Whitcombe and Tombs first edition uses the 1859 FitzGerald translation that has the phrase And when Thyself with shining Foot shall pass. FitzGerald’s 1868 revised translation replaced this with And when Yourself with silver Foot shall pass. In 1872 he again revised this to And when like her, oh Sáki, you shall pass.[notes 6]
In the back of the book were faint pencil markings of five lines of capital letters with the second struck out. 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:
In the book, it is unclear if the first two sentences begin with an ‘M’ or ‘W’, and there appears to be a deleted or underline line of text that reads ‘MLIAOI’.
Although the last character in this line of text looks like an ‘L’, it is fairly clear on closer inspection of the image that this is formed from an ‘I’ and the extension of the line used to delete or underline that line of text. Also, the other ‘L’s have a curve to the bottom part of the character. There is also an “X” above the last ‘O’ in the code, and it is not known if this is significant to the code or not. Initially, the letters were thought to be words in a foreign language before it was realised it was a code. Code experts were called in at the time to decipher the lines but were unsuccessful. When the code was analysed by the Australian Department of Defence in 1978, they made the following statements about the code:
- There are insufficient symbols to provide a pattern.
- The symbols could be a complex substitute code or the meaningless response to a disturbed mind.
- It is not possible to provide a satisfactory answer.
Also found in the back of the book was an unlisted telephone number belonging to a former nurse living in Moseley St, Glenelg which was 2,600 ft from the location where the body was found. The woman said that while she was working at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney during World War II she owned a copy of The Rubaiyat but in 1945, at the Clifton Gardens Hotel in Sydney, had given it to an army lieutenant named Alfred Boxall who was serving in the Water Transport Section of the Australian Army.
According to media reports the woman stated that after the war she had moved to Melbourne and married. Later she had received a letter from Boxall, but had told him she was now married.[notes 7] She added that in late 1948 a mystery man had asked her next door neighbour about her. Shown the plaster cast bust of the dead man, the woman was unable to identify it as Boxall.
Police believed that Boxall was the dead man until they found Boxall alive with his copy of The Rubaiyat, complete with “Tamam Shud” on the last page. Boxall was now working in the maintenance section at the Randwick Bus Depot (where he had worked prior to the war) and was unaware of any link between the dead man and him. In the front of the copy of the Rubaiyat that was given to Boxall, the woman had written out verse 70:
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore–but was I sober when I swore?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence a-pieces tore.
When questioned about the significance of the verse by reporters Boxall evaded giving a straight answer.
The woman now lived in Glenelg but denied all knowledge of the dead man or why he would choose to visit her suburb on the night of his death. She also asked that as she was now married she would prefer not to have her name recorded to save her from potential embarrassment of being linked to the dead man and Boxall. The police agreed, leaving subsequent investigations without the benefit of the case’s best lead. In a TV program on the case, in the section where Boxall was interviewed, her name was given in a voice-over as Jestyn, apparently obtained from the signature Jestyn that followed the verse written in the front of the book, but this was covered over when the book was displayed in the program. This was possibly a “pet” nickname she used. Researchers re-investigating the case attempted to track down Jestyn and found she had died in 2007. Her real name is considered important as the possibility exists it may be the decryption key for the code. In a video interview, Paul Lawson (who made the body cast) refers to her as ‘Mrs Thompson.’
Rumours began circulating that Boxall was involved in military intelligence during the War, adding to the speculation that the dead man was a Soviet spy poisoned by enemies unknown. When Boxall was asked in an interview whether he told the woman if he had worked in a military intelligence unit, he stated “No”, rather than denying that he had worked in an intelligence unit. The fact that the man died in Adelaide, the nearest capital city to Woomera, a top-secret missile launching and intelligence gathering site, heightened this speculation. It was also recalled that one possible location the man may have traveled to Adelaide from was Port Augusta, a town relatively close to Woomera.
Additionally, in April 1947 the United States Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, as part of Operation Venona, discovered that there had been top secret material leaked from Australia’s Department of External Affairs to the Soviet embassy in Canberra. This led to a 1948 U.S. ban on the transfer of all classified information to Australia.
As a response, the Australian government announced they would establish a national secret security service (which became the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)).
On 6 June 1949, the body of two year-old Clive Mangnoson was found in a sack in the Largs Bay sand hills, about twenty kilometres down the coast from Somerton. Lying next to him was his unconscious father, Keith Waldemar Mangnoson, who was taken to a hospital in a very weak condition, suffering from exposure, and following a medical examination, was transferred to a mental hospital.
The Mangnosons had been missing for four days, and it was believed that Clive had been dead for twenty four hours when his body was found. The two were found by Mr Neil McRae of Largs Bay, who claimed he had seen the location of the two in a dream the night before.
Like Somerton Man, the coroner could not determine the young Mangnoson’s cause of death, although it was believed it was not natural causes. The contents of the boy’s stomach was sent to a government analyst for further examination.
Following the death, the boy’s mother Mrs Roma Mangnoson reported being terrorised by a masked man, who, while driving a battered cream car, almost ran her down outside her home in Cheapside Street, Largs North. Mrs Mangnoson stated that “the car stopped and a man with a khaki handkerchief over his face told her to ‘keep away from the police or else’”. Additionally a similar looking man had been recently seen lurking around the house.
Mrs Mangnoson believed that this situation was related to her husband’s attempt to identify the Somerton Man, believing him to be Carl Thompsen, who had worked with him in Renmark in 1939.
The acting mayor of Port Adelaide and the secretary of the Largs North Progress Association also received threatening phone calls concerning Mangnoson.
Soon after being interviewed by police over her harassment, Mrs Magnoson collapsed and required medical treatment.
In June 1945, three years prior to the death of the Somerton Man, a 34 year old Singaporean man named Joseph (George) Saul Haim Marshall was found dead in Mosman, Sydney with an open copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam beside him. His death is believed to be a suicide by poisoning. Coincidentally, it is some two months after Marshall’s death that Jestyn gives Alf Boxall a copy of the Rubiayat, in Clifton Gardens. Clifton Gardens is only one kilometre south of Mosman. Joseph Marshall was the brother of the famous barrister and chief minster of Singapore David Saul Marshall. An inquest was held for Joseph Marshall on August 15, 1945; Gwenneth Dorothy Graham testified at the inquest and was found dead 13 days later face down, naked, in a bath with her wrists slit.
Following the inquest, a plaster cast was made of the man’s head and shoulders, and he was then buried at Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery. The Salvation Army conducted the service and The South Australian Grandstand Bookmakers Association paid for the service to save the man from a pauper’s burial.
Years after the burial, flowers began appearing on the grave. Police questioned a woman seen leaving the cemetery but she claimed she knew nothing of the man. About the same time, the receptionist from the Strathmore Hotel, opposite Adelaide Railway Station, revealed that a strange man had stayed in Room 21 around the time of the death, checking out on 30 November 1948. She recalled that cleaners found a black medical case and a hypodermic syringe in the room.
On 22 November 1959 it was reported that an E.B. Collins, an inmate of New Zealand’s Wanganui Prison, claimed to know the identity of the dead man.
There have been numerous unsuccessful attempts in the 60 years since its discovery to crack the code found at the rear of the book, including efforts by military and naval intelligence, mathematicians, astrologers and amateur code crackers. While no answer has been accepted as correct, a leading theory is that the code indicates the initial letters of words. In 2004, retired detective Gerry Feltus suggested in a Sunday Mail article the final line “ITTMTSAMSTGAB” could start “It’s Time To Move To South Australia Moseley Street…” (the former nurse lived in Moseley Street which is the main road through Glenelg).
In 1978 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation produced a programme on the Taman Shud case, entitled The Somerton Beach Mystery, where reporter Stuart Littlemore investigated the case, including interviewing Boxall, who could add no new information on the case, and Paul Lawson, who made the plaster cast of the body, and who refused to answer a question about whether anyone had positively identified the body.
In 1994 John Harber Phillips, Chief Justice of Victoria and Chairman of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, reviewed the case to determine the cause of death and concluded that “There seems little doubt it was digitalis.” Phillips supported his conclusion by pointing to the fact the organs were engorged, consistent with digitalis, the lack of evidence of natural disease and “the absence of anything seen macroscopically which could account for the death”. Three months prior to the death of the man, on 16 August 1948, an overdose of digitalis was reported as the cause of death for United States Assistant Treasury Secretary Harry Dexter White. He had been accused of Soviet espionage under Operation Venona.
Former South Australian Chief Superintendent Len Brown, who worked on the case in the 1940s, recently stated that he believed that the man was from a country in the East European Communist Bloc, which led to the police’s inability to confirm the man’s identity.
The case is still considered “open” at the South Australian Major Crime Task Force and the bust, still containing hair fibres of the man is in the possession of the South Australian Police Historical Society. Any further attempts to correctly identify the body has been hampered by the fact that the formaldehyde used to embalm the body has destroyed much of the DNA and other key evidence no longer exists, such as the brown suitcase, which was destroyed in 1986, and many statements, which have disappeared from the police file over the years.
- 1945 June 3rd: “George” Joseph Saul Haim Marshall was found dead of poisoning in Mosman, Sydney. A copy of Omar Khayyam was found open next to his body. Mosman is situated between St. Leonard’s where Jestyn lived and Clifton Gardens where she met Boxall two months later.
- 1945 August: Jestyn gives Alf Boxall an inscribed copy of the Rubaiyat over drinks at the Clifton Gardens Hotel, Sydney.
- 1947: Jestyn’s son is born.
- 1948 November 30. 8:30am to 10:50am: The Somerton Man is presumed to have arrived in Adelaide by train. He buys a ticket for the 10:50am train to Henley Beach but did not use it. This ticket was the first sold of only three issued between 6:15am and 2pm by this particular ticket clerk for a Henley Beach train.
- Between 11.00am and 12noon: Checks a brown suitcase into the train station cloak room.
- after 11:15am: Buys a 7d bus ticket on a bus that departed the railway station from North Tce at 11:15am. He may have boarded at a later time elsewhere in the city as his ticket was the sixth of nine sold between the railway station and South Tce however, he only had a 15 minute window from the earliest time he could have checked his suitcase (the luggage room was around 60 mtr from the bus stop). It is not known which stop he alighted at. The bus stopped at St. Leonard’s, a bus stop named after the nearby hotel. This stop is located less than 100 mtrs from the Moseley St address of the woman whose unlisted phone number was found in the book.
- 7pm to 8pm: Various witness sightings.
- 10pm to 11pm: Estimated time he had eaten the pasty based on time of death.
- December 1, 2am: Estimated time of death. The time was estimated by a “quick opinion” on the state of rigor mortis while the ambulance was in transit. As a suspected suicide no attempt to determine the correct time was made. As poisons affect the progression of rigor, 2am is probably inaccurate.
- 6:30am: Found dead by John Lyons and two men with a horse.
- 1949 January 14: Adelaide Railway Station finds the brown suitcase belonging to the man.
- June 6: The dead body of Clive Mangnoson is found 20 km away from Somerton by Neil McRae.
- June 6–14: The piece of paper bearing the inscription “Tamám Shud” is found in a concealed fob pocket.
- July 22: A man hands in the copy of the Rubaiyat he had found on November 30 containing the secret code. Police later match the “Tamám Shud” paper to the book.
- July 26: The unlisted phone number is traced to “Jestyn” in Glenelg. Shown the plaster cast by Paul Lawson, “Jestyn” could not confirm or exclude that the man was Alf Boxall. Lawson’s diary entry for that day uses the alias “Mrs Thompson” and stated that she had a “nice figure” and is “very acceptable” (referring to the level of beauty) which allows the possibility of an affair with the Somerton man. She was 27 years old in 1948. In a later interview Lawson described her behaviour as being very odd that day. The following day Sydney detectives interview Alf Boxall. “Jestyn” requests that her real name be withheld because she didn’t want her husband to know she knew Alf Boxall.
- 1950 May: Jestyn is married.
- 1950s: The Rubaiyat is lost.
- 1958 March 14: The Coronial Inquest is continued. The book, Jestyn and Alf Boxall are mysteriously not mentioned at all. No new findings are recorded and the inquest is ended with an Adjournment sine die.
- 1986: The Somerton Man’s brown suitcase and contents are destroyed as “no longer required”.
- 1994: The Chief Justice of Victoria, John Harber Phillips, studies the evidence and concludes that poisoning was due to digitalis.
- 1995 August 17: Alf Boxall dies.
- 2007: Jestyn dies.
- 2009: Jestyn’s son dies.
- 2009 March 19: It is noticed by an investigator that rocks have been placed at the foot of the Somerton Man’s grave in the Jewish tradition. The rocks point to evidence of Jewish visitors to the grave. A Jewish connection was considered very early in the investigation but was rejected as the body was uncircumcised.
In March 2009 a University of Adelaide team led by Professor Derek Abbott began an attempt to solve the case through cracking the code and exhuming the body to test for DNA. As the spy theory has become increasingly unlikely, DNA could link the Somerton man to a short list of family surnames greatly narrowing the search. The media has suggested that Jestyn’s son, who was 16-months old in 1948 and died in 2009, may have been a love child of either Alf Boxall or the Somerton Man and passed off as her husband’s. DNA testing would confirm or eliminate this speculation. In a current affairs program on the efforts of the team, retired detective Gerry Feltus, who worked on the case for many years, admitted that he knew the identity of the mystery woman but, wanting to protect the woman’s privacy, refused to disclose it.
Abbott’s investigations have led to questions concerning the assumptions police had made on the case. Police had believed that the Kensitas brand cigarettes in the Army Club packet was due to the common practice at the time of buying cheap cigarettes and putting them in a packet belonging to a more expensive brand (Australia was still under wartime rationing). However a check of government gazettes of the day indicated that Kensitas were actually the expensive brand, which opens the possibility (never investigated) that the source of the poison may have been in the cigarettes that were possibly substituted for the victim’s own without his knowledge. Abbott also tracked down the Barbour waxed cotton of the period and found packaging variations. This may provide clues to the country where it may have been purchased.
Investigation had shown that the Somerton Man’s autopsy reports of 1948 and 1949 are now missing and the Barr Smith Library’s collection of Cleland’s notes do not contain anything on the case. Maciej Henneberg, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide, examined images of the Somerton man’s ears and found that the cymba (upper ear hollow) is larger than his cavum (lower ear hollow), a feature possessed by only 1-2% of the caucasian population. In May 2009, Professor Derek Abbott consulted with dental experts who conclude that the Somerton Man had anodontia (a rare genetic disorder) of both lateral incisors, a feature present in only 2% of the general population. In June 2010, Abbott obtained a photograph of Jestyn’s son that clearly showed his ears and teeth. The photograph shows that the son not only had a larger cymba than his cavum but also anodontia. The chance that this is a coincidence has been estimated as between 1 in 10,000,000 and 1 in 20,000,000.
Decryption of the “code” has been started from scratch. It has been determined that the letter frequency is considerably different from letters written down randomly, the frequency is to be further tested to determine if the alcohol level of the writer could alter random distribution. The format of the code also appears to follow the quatrain format of the Rubaiyat supporting the theory that the code is a One-time pad encryption algorithm. To this end copies of the Rubaiyat (also the Talmud and Bible) are being compared to the code using computers to get a statistical base for letter frequencies although the code being so short may require the exact edition of the book used. With the original copy lost in the 1960s, researchers have been looking for a FitzGerald edition without success.
As one journalist wrote in 1949, alluding to the line in The Rubiayat, “the Somerton Man seems to have made certain that the glass would be empty, save for speculation.”
The identity of the deceased man and even the cause of death remain unsolved to this day.
- While the words that end The Rubaiyat are “Tamam Shud”, it has always been referred to as “Taman Shud” in the media, presumably due to a spelling error that persisted. In Persian “tamam” is a noun that means “the end”. “shud” is an auxiliary verb indicating past tense, so “tamam shud” means “ended” or “finished”.
- The taxidermist who made the plaster cast testified at the inquest that he assumed the Somerton man had been in the habit of wearing high-heeled pointed shoes as both physical traits were found predominantly in women. Police had earlier investigated if he had been a stockman in Queensland based on the same traits. See page 7 of the Coronial Inquest
- Although named the City Baths, the center was not a public bathing facility but a public swimming pool. The railway station bathing facilities were adjacent the station cloak room, which itself was adjacent the stations southern exit onto North Terrace. The City Baths on King William St. were accessed from the stations northern exit via a laneway.
- This particular edition of the Rubaiyat has a different translation compared to other FitzGerald translations.
- Intriguingly, the day after the copy of The Rubiayat with the scrap of paper missing was handed into police, another Glenelg resident supplied a copy of The Rubiayat to police, stating that he too had found the book in the back of his car at the time of the discovery of the body. The Advertiser, “Army Officer Sought to Help Solve Somerton Body Case”, 27 July 1949, p. 1
- The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Comparison of translations It should be noted that all translations of the The Rubaiyat are paraphrased rather than direct translations and reflect the specific translators own style.
- The media usually refer to the woman as “married” or “recently married” and her statements as reported suggest this. However the woman’s marital status was never clarified. The telephone number was in her own name and unlinked to a husband. In 1948, a phone number would never have been issued in a married woman’s name unless her husband did not live with her. It is possible she may have been engaged soon after the incident. Jestyn’s son was born in July 1947 and it is now known that Jestyn married the childs claimed father in May 1950. It is also known he had previously married in 1936 and it is speculated that they had been waiting for his divoce to finalise, a process that could take many years at that time.
See Also: List of Unsolved Murders and Deaths
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