By Daniel Keane

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December 01, 2018 13:30:05

It has been 70 years to the day because the physique of an unknown man was found alongside the shoreline of a South Australian seashore. However will we ever know the reality about his id?

In summer season, the seashore at Somerton in suburban Adelaide is a glistening stretch of sand, surf and solar.

However on a light summer season morning on December 1, 1948, the positioning grew to become steeped in chilly case thriller crammed with rumours of spies, lovers and an untraceable poison.

We delve into how the story unfolded, why the case has been so laborious to crack and whether or not we are going to ever know the reality about who the “Somerton Man” actually was.

December 1, 1948: The way it all started

Slumped towards a wall at Somerton Seashore beneath the esplanade was a person’s physique.

His hair was truthful and his eyes have been gray.

He was carrying a brown swimsuit, had a clean-shaven face and seemed to be about 40 years previous.

He had a half-smoked cigarette on his lapel, and in keeping with a newspaper report his legs have been crossed.

Neil Day was one of many first folks to find the physique.

The then 16-year-old apprentice jockey and a mate have been using horses alongside the seashore.

“We by no means took a lot discover as a result of folks used to sleep on the seashore typically, particularly if it was a heat night time,” he mentioned.

“He was wearing a swimsuit — I believe it was a brown swimsuit, if I bear in mind proper. His face was straight up wanting on the sky, laying on his again.”

Not realising the person was useless, the 2 jockeys continued alongside for a few kilometres south in direction of Brighton.

“Once we got here again he was nonetheless in the identical place, so we went over to see if he was alright,” Neil mentioned.

“We could not see him respiratory so my pal Horrie hopped off his horse and lifted his leg.

“He was useless.

“It was a little bit of a shock as a result of I would by no means seen anybody like that earlier than.”

A person named Jack Lyons was on the seashore on the identical time and contacted police.

What Neil did not realise was the decades-long thriller their discovery was about to set off.

“I by no means had the rest to do with it,” he mentioned.

Police started an investigation they’ve by no means closed

In 1948, it was not unusual for police to search out our bodies alongside the seashore.

However there was one thing that set this one other than the deaths by suicide or alcohol.

The person had not washed ashore, his garments — all of which had their labels eliminated — have been dry.

And however for just a few private objects — two combs, a field of matches, a used bus ticket to the realm, an unused second-class prepare ticket, a packet of chewing gum and cigarettes — there was little to establish him.

A autopsy found the person had a “strikingly” enlarged spleen and inner bleeding within the abdomen and liver.

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Fingerprints taken from the body of the Somerton Man.


Fingerprints were taken from the body of the unknown man. (Supplied: Professor Derek Abbott)

However the post-mortem was inconclusive.

“There was no indication of violence,” the coroner wrote.

“I’m compelled to the discovering that loss of life resulted from poison.

“However what poison?”

The suitcase, the ebook and the thriller girl

In January 1949 a suitcase holding dozens of things was uncovered within the cloakroom of the Adelaide Railway Station.

It had been checked within the day earlier than the Somerton Man’s physique was found, and police suspected it belonged to him.

In it was clothes — and like these discovered on his physique — the labels had been eliminated.

A waxed thread not bought in Australia — the identical variety used to restore the unidentified man’s trousers — was additionally discovered.

The names “Keane” and “Kean” have been written on just a few different objects, however they provided no extra clues.

Odds and ends included scissors, a shaving brush, a knife in a sheath and boot polish.

However one of the intriguing items of proof was found 4 months after the person’s loss of life.

A pathologist re-examining the physique discovered a slip of paper within the man’s pocket which learn “Tamam Shud”.

When the phrases — torn from the poetry ebook the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam — have been translated from Persian, they learn “it’s completed”.

That was sufficient for coroner Thomas Cleland to deem the person’s loss of life “not pure”.

Shortly after the primary inquest concluded, police appealed to the general public to assist discover the ebook with the lacking phrases “Tamam Shud”.

An nameless businessman got here ahead with an identical copy.

Retired detective Gerry Feltus, who has investigated the case for many years, revealed to the ABC that the businessman was a chemist referred to as John Freeman, who lived not removed from the place the Somerton Man was discovered.

“His brother-in-law was studying a ebook and once they acquired to their vacation spot … his brother-in-law put the ebook within the glovebox of his automobile, and he did not take any discover of it in any respect,” he mentioned.

Mr Feltus mentioned that when the police made the call-out, Mr Freeman went out to his automobile and pulled out the ebook.

“Certain sufficient [on] the final web page, down the underside the place the ‘Tamam Shud’ would have been, [it] was lacking,” he mentioned.

“He contacted his brother-in-law and mentioned: ‘You already know that ebook you set within the glovebox of my automobile — that is the ebook the police are searching for.’

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“The brother-in-law mentioned: ‘No. It was on the again ground of your automobile and I used to be sitting there and I picked it up and fiddled by the pages and I believed it was your ebook so I put it in your glovebox.'”

As soon as the ebook was handed in, it revealed two last clues: a sequence of letters — believed to be a code — and a few phone numbers.

Whereas speak of spies and secret brokers ran rife, no cipher specialists have ever efficiently cracked the code.

The telephone numbers got here to nothing, apart from one which belonged to a nurse referred to as Jessie Thomson, also called Jo.

She lived simply a whole bunch of metres from the place the Somerton’s Man’s physique was discovered.

When she spoke to police in July 1949, she informed them she as soon as owned a replica of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, however denied understanding the Somerton Man.

Intrigued, police took her to see a plaster bust of the person’s head and shoulders, within the hope it could jog her reminiscence.

In response to reviews, she behaved unusually when she noticed it, however by no means revealed why.

Right this moment, the bust stays firmly locked away within the South Australian Police Historic Society’s museum.

Why has the case by no means been solved?

Regardless of just a few new items of data rising over time, the case remains to be a thriller.

Many of the key witnesses are actually useless.

SA Police informed the ABC it was an “open inquiry” that remained with the Main Crime Investigation Department.

Genetic testing on the Somerton Man’s hair, embedded within the plaster solid, revealed the person’s mom had European ancestry, however provided no additional clues.

Jessie Thomson died in 2007, six years earlier than her hyperlink to the investigation was made public.

Rumours swirled that her son Robin was the organic son of the unidentified man.

In 2013, her daughter Kate Thomson mentioned her mom knew the id of the person on the seashore.

“She mentioned to me she knew who he was, however she wasn’t going to let that out of the bag,” she informed present affairs present 60 Minutes.

Romance blossomed throughout investigations

Whereas sleuths all over the world have carried out their very own investigations over time, Adelaide College professor Derek Abbott has devoted greater than 20 years to fixing the case.

He discovered himself extra deeply concerned within the story whereas researching the connection between Robin Thomson and the Somerton Man.

Whereas Robin Thomson had died by the point Professor Abbott made the connection, his daughter Rachel Egan was alive and residing in Queensland.

Professor Abbott contacted her, and earlier than lengthy, the 2 developed a relationship. They married.

Professor Abbott mentioned evaluating the DNA of his spouse and the Somerton Man — her attainable grandfather — might show whether or not or not Robin was the Somerton Man’s son and whether or not Mrs Thomson had been in a relationship with the thriller man.

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The one downside?

No state authorities has agreed to the exhumation. Till now.

Lawyer-Basic Vickie Chapman informed the ABC the State Authorities had provided its conditional assist for an exhumation.

However there is a catch.

“If anyone can give you the funds to assist that, and there’s adequate supervision of this course of, then I’ll consent to it,” she mentioned.

Ms Chapman has had casual talks with police about an exhumation however mentioned that they had not indicated it was a precedence.

“We would wish to have a transparent plan as to what the exhumation preparations can be, what particles of fibre or tissue could be required for forensic evaluation, who would undertake that, the safety of that, the reinterment,” she mentioned.

“At this stage, I have not had any plan introduced or indication that there is finance obtainable, however I might in fact act as expeditiously as attainable, if these issues have been in place and accredited.”

Might or not it’s funded?

Professor Abbott estimated the price of an exhumation from the Somerton Man’s grave at West Terrace Cemetery can be $20,000.

It would not sound like a lot, particularly given the extent of curiosity within the case, however a earlier crowdfunding effort got here to nothing.

“We have got the mom’s aspect, we want the daddy’s aspect which is the Y-DNA and we additionally want the autosomes, which is a part of the DNA,” he mentioned.

“That is what we actually need as a result of it is from [those] that you should use that knowledge to go on genealogical web sites and discover shut cousins.”

Professor Abbott informed the ABC he was contemplating beginning a brand new crowdfunding effort, to assist discover the solutions to the questions he had been asking for greater than 20 years.

Ms Egan, who mentioned she was solely too completely satisfied to participate in genetic testing, mentioned she felt a bit of like Alice in Wonderland — on the verge of an abyss, not understanding how deep it went.

“There’ll nonetheless be many questions that stay unanswered however hopefully it’s going to give us much more details about who he was,” she mentioned.

“In a single sense it is irrelevant if he is genetically associated or not as a result of clearly he has a connection to my household.

“If we’re not his household, there’s one other household on the market who need to know what’s occurred to him.”

Whereas the world watches to see if this thriller will ever come to a conclusion, for Ms Egan it is private.

“Is the unknown man my grandfather, or not?”


  • Reporting and analysis: Daniel Keane
  • Images: Tony Hill, Greg Ashman, Chris Lockyer, Carl Saville
  • Art work: Ruth Stentiford
  • Editor: Jessica Haynes
  • Due to: Tim Leslie, Professor Derek Abbott, Gerry Feltus, Wayne Groom, Dr Carolyn Bilsborow, the SA Police Historic Society and the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority








historical past,







First posted

December 01, 2018 06:01:53


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