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The Somerton Man Mystery - Tamam Shud

Few mysteries have been as enduring as the Tamam Shud case. The Somerton Man refers to a body that was found on Somerton beach, Australia, in 1948. While a corpse on a beach isn't inherently mysterious, the problem arose in the attempted identification of the body. Not a soul came forward to claim him, and he had nothing on his person that could lead to identification. Now, after 73 years, scientists claim to have solved one of Australia's most enduring mysteries using DNA.



One Final Cigarette as The Tide of Life Fades



Early on December 1st, 1948, two jockeys were taking their horses out for a stroll along Somerton beach south of Adelaide. When they pulled abreast of what was then known as the Crippled Children's Home, they found a man lying with his head propped up against the seawall. The man was fairly well-dressed in a brown suit with polished leather shoes on. His legs were extended with crossed feet. There was an unlit cigarette resting on his lapel.

The jockeys, in typical horse-person fashion, were impatient and didn't want to hang around to call the police, so they got another person to do it for them. While you may find this suspicious, and rightly so, as horses were involved, they likely had rented the horses and needed to return them. Or, were the horses eager to get away from the scene of their crime?

Horse-guilt aside, the police showed up and found that rigor mortis had already set in. They assumed that the man had died in his sleep after a drunken bender which ended with a trip to the beach to watch the sea. Police took the man in for an autopsy, or postmortem questioning as we like to call it.

Luckily for the Adelaide police, they had a famous pathologist hanging around. Sir John Burton Cleland found the man to be "Britisher" in appearance and in great shape for a 40-45 year old, lack of life aside. The physical fitness of the Somerton Man really stuck out to him. Here's a quote from Sir Cleland:


180 centimetres (5 ft 11 in) tall, with grey eyes, fair to ginger-coloured hair, slightly grey around the temples, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, hands and nails that showed no signs of manual labour, big and little toes that met in a wedge shape, like those of a dancer or someone who wore boots with pointed toes; and pronounced high calf muscles consistent with people who regularly wore boots or shoes with high heels or performed ballet.

The Somerton Man wore a white shirt, brown suit with double-breasted jacket, a red white and blue tie, nice shoes, a brown sweater, and no hat. Fashion police identified the jacket as American in tailoring, and they also had concerns about the lack of a hat. Wearing a hat was practically socially compulsory for men at the time. This dead man had committed a faux-pas.

At the time, it was fairly common for people to label their clothes. Strangely, every tag had been carefully clipped off of the Somerton Man's clothes. He also carried no wallet or any papers that could identify him. Police took this as a sign that he had committed suicide, which is exactly what the horses want you to think.

They tried to pull his dental records, but seeing as how 18 of his teeth were missing, they had a bit of trouble matching his records to anyone.

The autopsy was performed by Dr. Dwyer, and he stated the following:


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 second 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 hemorrhage, extensive congestion of the liver and spleen, and the congestion to the brain.

Dr Dwyer speculated that the cause of death was poison, probably an overdose of soluble hypnotics, or barbiturates. The Somerton Man's final meal had been a pie (or pasty) eaten around 3 hours before his death. Dwyer didn't think the pie had been the delivery method of the poison, although no delivery method could be identified.



The Somerton Man's body was embalmed on 10 December 1948, which made identification even more difficult. Luckily, a plaster mold had been made of the man's face, allowing investigators to create a death mask.


Further discoveries - Tickets, Shivs, and the Thread


The mystery only deepened as the investigation continued. Two sets of witnesses came forward after the investigation became a matter of public knowledge. None of the witnesses mentioned seeing suspicious horses or pasties.

First to appear was a couple who claimed to have seen a man matching the Somerton Man's description lying on the beach. In a classic case of "this is definitely not my circus, nor my monkeys," the couple saw the man raise his arm before dropping it limply to the ground. This action could be interpreted as a weak attempt at attracting help, but the couple was focused on something else, perhaps. They claim to have seen this all happening at 7pm on November 30.

The second couple to have seen the Somerton Man came around at 7:30pm and stuck around until 8pm. One of them claims to have seen a mysterious man leaning over the sea wall, looking at the Somerton Man. Both of them say that they could see the man lying on the beach, and the swarm of insects that surrounded him. According to them, they never saw the man moving. They remarked that they thought it was odd that he wasn't responding to the cloud of mosquitoes that covered him, but he was just drunk - is what they thought.

When the police rummaged through the deceased's pockets, they found a narrow aluminum comb of American make, an unused railway ticket from Adelaide to Henley Beach, a packet of Juicy Fruit gum, a bus ticket that may or may not have been used, a packet of Army Club cigarettes with 7 Kensitas cigarettes inside, and a box of Bryant & May Matches. The cigarettes and the matches were made by British companies. While sold in Australia, Juicy Fruit was more popular among children than adults. Army Club cigarettes were unsurprisingly popular among soldiers, and there were soldiers from two countries in Australia at the time, locals and Americans.

January 14, 1949, brought a bagful of new evidence which further muddled the case. Workers at the Adelaide Railway Station decided to check if they had any evidence lying around. To their delight, they found a brown suitcase which had been checked into the cloakroom after 11:00 on November 30th. The label had been removed from this suitcase as well.

Police thought the suitcase belonged to the Somerton Man, and so they seized it for investigation. Within the suitcase they found a curious collection. One size seven red checked dressing gown and a matching pair of felt slippers, for the man who likes to dress pretty. He, if indeed it was the Somerton Man's suitcase, also had a pair of brown trousers with sand in its cuffs, a coat made in America, four pairs of underwear and a pair of pajamas along with a few ties and an undershirt. Next we come to the more suspicious items, a pair of which had been filed to have sharp tips, a table knife that had similarly been turned into a shiv, an electrician's screwdriver, a small square made of zinc, a shaving kit, a spool of orange thread, some dry-cleaning marks, and finally a stencilling brush. This kind of stencilling brush was usually used by the third officer on a merchant ship for marking cargo. Police theorized that the zinc square had been used as a makeshift sheath for the knife and scissors so that the user didn't accidentally shiv themselves.



Hopeful that the suitcase would hold the key to the mystery, police checked the tags of the clothes within. Most of the tags had been removed from these clothes as well. The ties still bore a name, though, T. Keane. They also found Keane on a laundry bag in the suitcase, and Kean on the undershirt. Police theorized that the name Keane was left on the clothes because it wasn't the dead man's name. These cops were already thinking that this case was far too mysterious to be solved so easily, Occam's Razor be damned!

World War II had only just ended, and wartime rationing was still in effect. Clothes were a commodity, and while it was common practice to label your clothes, it was also common to buy second-hand clothes. Removing the tags from second-hand items was normal. The fact that they found stationary, but no letters, was strange to Adelaide's finest.

The orange thread found in the suitcase was not manufactured or available in Australia. That same orange thread had been used to repair a torn pocket on the Somerton Man's trousers. Suitcase and Man were therefore held together by a strange, foreign thread.

Police performed a nationwide search for a missing person by the name of T. Keane, which bore no fruit. Similar searches were performed in other English-speaking countries, with similar results. The dry-cleaning marks were also useless, after a nationwide search failed to provide any leads. Whoever washed those clothes lived their lives by the code of dry-cleaner/client confidentiality. The coat found in the suitcase was made in America, and had not been imported.

So far the police timeline had the Somerton Man arriving by overnight train from either Melbourne, Sydney or Port Augusta. After arriving, he went across the street to take a shower at City Baths (which was a swimming pool). For some reason, he avoided the bathroom at the Adelaide Station. The Somerton Man returned to the railway station, checked in his suitcase, and caught a bus into Glenelg, where he spent his final day.


Cleland's Autopsy



After the initial investigation, the autopsy was postponed until 17 June 1949. Until then, the body would be embalmed and preserved, distorting its features.

Cleland noted a couple of things about the body, whoever the man was, he was in top physical condition. He had well-developed, high calf muscles, like a ballet dancer. His toes were pointed as if they had been scrunched in tight shoes for a long time.

Cleland also remarked on both the condition of the man's shoes and the lack of evidence of vomiting or convulsions. The shoes were freshly polished, and shoes no signs of having been used to wander around town all day. Vomiting and convulsions are the most common symptoms of poisoning, and the lack of evidence for both seemed to indicate that the man had died elsewhere and simply been dumped on the beach.

Evidence released to the public in the 80s showed that Professor Cedric Stanton Hicks from the University of Adelaide provided Cleland with the names of two drugs that could be responsible, Digitalis and Ouabain. These drugs increase the output force of the heart while slowing its contractions. According to Professor Hicks, these drugs can be toxic in tiny doses and would be near-impossible to detect even if you knew to look for them.

Cleland had this to say during the inquest:


"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."

Following the inquest, a plaster cast of the Somerton Man was made in order to cast a death mask. This lead to the unintentional capture of several strands of the deceased's facial hair, which will come into the story later.


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - Poetry Gets Involved



Police love diggin around in pockets. Once they had taken everything that the Somerton Man had stuffed in there, they decided to go for the lint. Using a tweezer, they dug deep, and discovered a tiny scrap of paper mashed down in the fob pocket of the deceased's trousers. This paper read, "Tamam Shud", which is Persian for It is finished.



Experts from the public library identified the words as the final words found in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The paper's other side was blank.

The police sent out a nationwide call for assistance in finding the particular copy from which the scrap had been torn. Eventually a man came forward with a rare copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. This man's true identity has never been revealed, but Detective Sergeant Lionel Leane used the pseudonym Ronald Francis when refering to the man who found the book.

The copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that the man found was a copy of the poet, Edward Fitzgerald's, translation made in 1859. Published in 1941 by Whitcombe & Tombs, now known as Whitcoulls, out of Christchurch, New Zealand. Few books were printed in this edition.

According to Detective Gerry Feltus of the South Australian Police, who worked the case after it went cold, the man, Francis, found the book shortly after the body was discovered on the beach. Ronald Francis had left his car unlocked and parked on Jetty Road, Glenelg. After returning to his vehicle he noticed a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam lying in the rear floor well. At first he thought it was either his own, or his brother's copy. When the police call went out, he figured out that it was the book in question. It seems that Omar Khayyam had many fans in Southern Australia.

Police found the last page had been vandalized. The words, Tamam Shud, had been ripped out. Under microscopic inspection, they confirmed that this was indeed the book that produced the Somerton Man's sliver of paper. They found indentations in the back of the book where something had been written, all in capital letters. This appeared to be a code, and so, with yet another piece of evidence, the mystery only grew deeper.


This Guy was Totally a Spy, Right?




The code looked to be carefully written, with the second line stricken out, implying an encryption mistake. What appears to be an M/W is scribbled on the first line, it is commonly accepted to be an W but it is anyone's guess and it could even be both. Codes can get squiggly like that.

Unfortunately the code has never been cracked. Unlike the Somerton Man's DNA, he left no clue to crack this one. Many people, ranging from amateurs to professors to the Australian Department of Defense have made attempts. The Department of Defense claimed that the code was too short to break, and could be the product of a disordered mind.

Gerry Feltus, retired Detective, posited in a 2004 Sunday Mail article that the last line was the initials for:


"It's Time To Move To South Australia Moseley Street"

Moseley Street was the main thoroughfare through Glenelg, and the residence of Jessica Thomson.


Hello Nurse - Jessica "Jo" Thomson


Another interesting, and far more tangible, clue the police found in the back of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, was a telephone number. This number belonged to a Glenelg nurse, Jessica Thomson.

Police contacted her, and rushed to conduct an interview with their first real lead. Unfortunately, Jessica claimed to not have known the Somerton Man. She had no idea why he had her number written in his book, either. What a mystery, she might have exclaimed.

Jessica did co